Elevated souls Pt 2a. ‘Astro —-‘

  • Header image: (left) stars of northern latitudes; (right) declination and right ascension  -image courtesy ‘Sky and Telescope’.

Previous two:


David Pingree

In 1982, the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes (Vol. 45) published the paper:

David Pingree,  ‘An Illustrated Greek Astronomical Manuscript. Commentary of Theon of Alexandria on the Handy Tables and Scholia and Other Writings of Ptolemy Concerning Them’.  ( pp. 185-192).

I begin by mentioning it for several reasons.

The late Prof. Pingree is one of the “two Davids” whose works are among those indispensable for study of what some pre-modern peoples knew about stars and – most pertinent to our chief study – how they thought about and imagined the heavens.

The ‘other David’ of the two is David A. King, whose works include the Ciphers of the Monks, in which King drew attention to the same Picard instrument whose orthography for month-names is – as I think Pelling first observed – closely similar to that of the Voynich month-names’.

Since the matter of  ‘Occitan month-names’ is among those affected by metaphorical ‘palimpsest-ing’,  I add more detail.

Writing in 2004, Shaun Palmer credits Stolfi with the proposal and (quite properly) notes that Pelling had come earlier than himself and independently to hold a similar view.  Pelling’s book (2006) then treated and illustrated the issue in  detail (pp. 21-23).  Those three  references should give you a clear idea of the evidence and substance behind this now-widely-accepted view.Searching for ‘Occitan’ today at voynich.nu I found the references given on this point to be an anonymous blogpost of 2012  and a note of thanks to Don Hoffman for providing Zandbergen with bibliographic details of King’s book. Following the principle that  “no acknowledgement asserts no debt”, readers might assume all  unprovenanced matter on that page (which is copyrighted  to  the owner as is every blogpost)  must be a result of the owner’s own research, crediting Zandbergen accordingly.

That paper by Pingree is chiefly concerned with the manuscript Ambrosianus H. 57. sup. (= 437). The ‘tables’ in question are known as  ‘Ptolemy’s Handy Tables’ but were compiled from Ptolemy’s data a century later, by Theon of Alexandria.  Researchers working on the Voynich manuscript might like to consider, in addition, matters associated with Ptolemy’s Geography, as balance for a tendency to associate Ptolemy solely with astrology, or even solely with astronomy. See e.g.

  • Dmitry Shcheglov, ‘Hipparchus’ Table of Climata and Ptolemy’s Geography’, (available through academia.edu)


Question 1: Is there Astrological matter in the month folios?

Caution Newcomers should be aware  that nothing in the manuscript has yet been proven related to any branch of occult or pseudo-scientific practice including that of astrology, though  speculation has been so common –  thanks initially to Wilfrid Voynich and his inflation of the ‘Rudolf rumour’ – that many imagine it has been proven beyond doubt.  Yet the stars are part of the natural world and natural, too, may be their observation and depiction.  To represent the theological position of the earlier medieval west, we may refer again to  Augustine:

Amiens Cathedral exterior: Virgo = Threshing               see   labours of the months.

Who can fail to perceive how great is the difference between useful observations of the heavenly bodies in connection with the weather, such as farmers or sailors make … and the vain hallucinations of men who observe the heavens not to know the weather. or their course … but merely to pry into the future ….

from Augustine’s Letters  55 15

  • Anne Lawrence-Mathers, Medieval Meteorology: Forecasting the Weather from Aristotle to the Almanac (2019)
why is the astrological  idea a problem?

Objection 1.  The idea’s introduction depended entirely on ideas about John Dee’s connection to the manuscript, in combination with consideration (only) of the month-names and central emblems from the month-folios.  The latter were taken to depict the ‘signs’ forming a tropical zodiac, rather than taken literally as a depiction of the physically-visible constellations which appear in sequence through the seasons of the year.  The conflation of constellation with astrological ‘sign’ is endemic in Voynich discussions, even today.  

Even if the emblems did constitute a representation of the zodiac ’12’ there is no necessary connection between their depiction and that aspect of mathematics which defined astrology in the medieval world.  In other words, there is no necessary connection between a depiction of the ecliptic constellations and tropical- or sidereal astrology.  

That the opposite idea should be so prevalent in Voynich writings today is due to the fact that most modern readers, living in an industrialised society and urban environment, don’t need to know the stars as people did in earlier times.   Today, we use clocks, watches and phones to know the time; we learn from the weather man what sort of weather we’ll have today; we rely on automatic or printed calendars to tell us where we are in the cycle of months and seasons.   Reflection from city lights, and nights spent indoors (or outdoors) under artificial lights means  many see none but a few of the brightest stars in the night sky.   And all this, together, means that the word ‘zodiac’ instantly evokes the motifs of ‘birth-signs’ and daily horoscopes for us today, and thus seems the ‘most obvious’ interpretation for any comparable series, especially if stars are depicted. 

 Thus, the constant error has been an imposition on a manuscript  six hundred years old, the hierarchy of ideas proper to twentieth- century urbanites.

Things were different six centuries ago.

Objection 2.  No  zodiac sequence contains (as the month-emblems do) two goats, or two sheep,  or a sheep and goat adjacent to one another.

This issue and others raised by the month-emblems are rarely even noticed today by Voynich writers. and of the few who do notice, fewer speak, and of the very few who do mention a problem, the majority do not address that problem so much as seek a way to turn back into the fold any who show signs of doubting that “its-a-zodiac-and-zodiac-means-astrology” proposition chain.    In private conversation a Voynichero once said that he didn’t include both pros and cons in his own writings  because “if your mind is too open, your brains fall out” – which sounds to me like some conservative slogan gone wrong. 🙂

Objection 3. Even if we grant that,  in adding the month-names later, the person who did that truly  believed  the emblems represented constellations from the zodiac, more cannot be deduced from it than  he had  regarded the series as a series of months and their stars.  It is no support for an idea that  “months+stars means astrology”.  

Objection 4. is that the the Voynich series names only  ten months, and the months omitted (January and February) are – perhaps coincidentally or perhaps not –  the months when the fields were dormant, and when  ships of the Mediterranean stayed in harbour. The ‘sailing year’ ran from March until (nominally) November but the historical records show that in fact ships of the harbours where the most competent seamen were based might continue  sailing coast wise even as late as December.

Other points:

  • An argument that the remnants of two cut pages following  the month-diagrams  had once contained two more diagrams of that sort is – like theorised astrological purpose – only speculation at present. 
  • As I’ve explained elsewhere, correlations of month-name, month-marking constellation, and associated ‘labour’ were not uniform  even within Latin Europe., and the correlations made in the month-diagrams between emblem and month-name are not those of the northern latitudes (England, Germany and northern France).
  •   When responding to a Voyichero’s query,  Prof. Ewa Sniezynska-Stolot of the Jagiellonian University in Cracow – whose area is given as the history of European art, especially its traditions of astrological imagery-  also mentioned calendars in connection with the month-diagrams’ central emblems.  Here the difficulty is that her opinion was a short note written in response to a Voynichero’s query and it appears she was given no indication there was any reason to doubt that the content in this manuscript might have any but a medieval Latin European origin.  The answer of an expert is typically provided within the framework of the question posed.  Not knowing that explains why William Friedman got so little from Panofsky, where Anne Nill had received so much more  – and we’re not talking word-count here.
  • Nor do we know what Sniezynska-Stolot was shown of the manuscript at the time (2000), or whether in colour or copy-flo.   As translated by  Rafel Prinke and  reported in Reeds’ mailing list, her note has a distinctly off-hand tone.

By  13 Jan 2001 her note’s content was already reported to Reeds’ mailing list and members were discussing it in  connection with specific problems of the kind no longer acknowledged as existing by the most conservative faction and whose discussion is thereby discouraged, with ‘blanking’ from the record of any non-conservative who might do so. 

Still – let’s move on to one possible hint of the astrological… and trust our brains won’t fall out. 🙂

Astrological versus (purely) Astronomical

Exaltation and Depression?

Consider the following pair  from the first of the ‘April’ diagrams (folio 70v-ii), keeping in mind that the fifteenth-century draughtsman could draw ‘nicely’  but for reasons as yet unclear, didn’t wish to.  What message are we to take from their presentation? What aspects are we supposed to  read as meaningful? What about their postures, for example?


Did the original maker  intend the male  figure is to be read as ‘elevated’/’exalted’ and the female as ‘dejected’ or dismayed?   Or are our  subjective reactions focusing on details he would have dismissed as irrelevant?

If he meant attention paid to their posture, we must realise that such terms as ‘elevation’, ‘exaltation {Gk. ὕψωμα]  and ‘dejection/depression’ [Gk. ταπείνωμα] were used technically of the planets in Byzantine astrology, while  “seldom, if ever, found in the West” -as Pingree observes, though he finds that their illustration  in  Ambrosianus H. 57. sup is drawn ‘in western style’.

Indeed, the draughtsman’s style may be western, but it has  little in common with that of the person who drew the unclothed figures in the Voynich month-folios, except perhaps a common implication (also found in certain Islamic texts) that when figures from polytheistic religions are presented, the images should express moral censure. (see further, below) I say ‘perhaps’ because we have no proof thus far that the Voynich figures were intended as deities or anything of the sort. Neither have I seen any argument which proves that  the Voynich manuscript depicts any of the five planets, let alone all of them.

*The planets proper, the ‘wandering stars’, included only Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn in medieval times.

re planets…2001

In 2001, a member of the first (Reeds’) mailing list responded to Robert Firth’s comment on the fact that the ‘celestial’ folios hadn’t served as key to the written text as many hoped they might,  by saying  that “we” ‘ ..have quite a number of good (even if not dead certain) [identifications]:- the Pleiades and Aldebaran; – the seven planets; – two sets of twelve labels in 12-segmented circles; – one (or two?) set of 28 segments, “obviously” indicating the mansions of the moon. (12 Jan 2001).  All members of that list, at the time, would have known which of them had contributed each item, with what evidence and what argument (if any) but as yet I don’t know. If you can enlighten me on the point, please do. I’ve seen nothing one could call a cogent argument for it between 2008 and today.

detail) Milan, Ambrosianus H.57.sup. f.112v. Venus – on which see Pingree (1982) p.32

The unclothed pagan deities for each planet are depicted with a certain censure in the Ambrosianus manuscript  –  e.g. Venus (right) is depicted as as a debauchee – given the face of a young and pretty woman but a body heavy, old and exhausted from bearing children by various fathers. I see little obvious similarity between the draughtman’s style and that in the Voynich month-folios.  Expressions of moral censure in depiction of figures from polytheistic religions are  also seen in some Islamic works, notably in the  ‘Book of Marvels’ ‘Kitab al Bulhan’ (MS. Bodl. Or. 133) a seventeenth-century work (or copy) where Voynich-like “glyphs” were also inscribed.

That-last point was initially brought to notice by – I believe  – by Nick Pelling in his review (2008) of Okasha El Daly’s book. A detail (‘Crab’) from the same Bodley ms was later considered by one Voynich blogger whose blog I cannot find online today. In two posts of 2013 the present writer commented on several of  images from that manuscript, together with  other examples of ‘Voynich-like’ glyphs.

An image posted to pininterest by Marco Ponzi associates a detail from the Bodleian ms with one on folio 67v 2. His commentary may appear elsewhere but I’m not willing to join that site to find out.  (Again, if anyone already has more detail, I’d be happy to include it in the comments section below this post.)

On the Greek astrological terms and their significance see e.g.

  • Roger Beck, (2008) A Brief History of Ancient Astrology, pp. 57-8
  • Roger Beck, (2017) A Brief History of Ancient Astrology  pp. 242ff.
  • Chris Brennan, Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune.
  • James Evans. Time and Cosmos in Greco-Roman Antiquity (p.135). Evans’ equating ‘Chaldean’ with ‘Babylonian’ is over-confident.
  • Tamysn Barton,  Ancient Astrology (2002).

Neither  Aratus/Cicero’s Aratea, nor Manilius’ Astronomica  (written  c.30–40 AD) makes use of the planets, a point to be kept in mind given the date for Vat.gr. 1291 and possible  pre-Christian (but anti-Greek? anti-polytheist?) origin for its ‘women of an hour’ (see previous post).

Manilius in the west

Goold believed that before his election to Pope, Gerbert d’Aurillac had found in Bobbio a copy of Manilius’ Astronomica bound (as Gerbert said) with a copy of Boethius’ text on mathematics. Other scholars have doubted this, attributing the west’s knowledge of that text (as we have it) to Poggio Bracciolini’s practice of  commandeer manuscripts from monastic libraries by his position as papal secretary.  The ‘discoveries’ were then copied (at a price) for members of the Italian literati, who appreciated Poggio’s ‘little arm’. His own view is recorded in one colophon, which translated reads “This oration, formerly lost owing to the fault of the times, Poggio restored to the Latin-speaking world and brought it back to Italy, having found it hidden [sic] in Gaul, in the woods of Langres.” If he had acquired it from Bèze abbey, that copy is unlikely to have been older than the 11th-12thC.

Again with the older period in mind, and possible bridges between  pre-Christian astronomical works and the early fifteenth century when the Voynich manuscript was made, I’ll add here part of the description of Niceforous’ visit to Cyprus in the fourteenth century.  There was still a Lusignan ruler in the island, one who with his chief scholar George Lapithes asked the noble visitor from Constantinople to summarise for them as many astronomical texts as they could gather. They brought him copies of Ptolemy’s works, including the  Tetrabiblos, called Ἀποτελεσματικά ετράβιβλος in the Greek – but also,  according to  Niceforous (I quote from another paper by Pingree):

“all the books that still existed composed about such matters, by Ptolemy’s predecessors and by more recent authors as well as those that had been written in antiquity and by the  Chaldaeans and the Persians”. 

  • George Lapithes and David Pingree, The Byzantine Version of the “Toledan Tables”: The Work of George Lapithes?’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 30 (1976), pp. 85+87-132.

Pingree offers evidence and argument for a/the Greek translation of the Toledan Tables’  in Cyprus during the first half of the fourteenth century, to which same period, as it happens, I assign their ‘return to the Mediterranean’ phase for  the majority of parts in the Voynich manuscript.

Ambrosiana H.57. sup. – evolution 2ndC AD – c.1458..

Claudius Ptolemy lived in the 2ndC AD.  Theon of Alexandria in the 3rdC AD.   So then, discussing the content in the Amrbosiana manuscript, Pingree tells us:

We may conclude, then, that the original [i.e. the Ambrosiana] manuscript was copied in 1358, and that a series of owners for the next century added to it, rearranged it, and annotated it. It is likely that the manuscript was copied in Byzantium, and remained there while these changes and additions were being made to it. There is no absolute proof for this supposition in the manuscript itself, but it is known that the texts in Ambrosianus H. 57. sup. were copied in part from Laurentianus 28, 7;3 and that manuscript can be shown to be Constantinopolitan. (Pingree, op.cit. p.186)


There is no doubt, on the evidence of the script, that the codex could have been written in Constantinople in 1357-58. It is in the style associated with the Hodegoi scriptorium over a period of about half a century.  Western connexions of this scriptorium are not apparent. If they existed they would be more likely at this time to have been with Venice than with Southern Italy.   (ibid. p.192)

.. yet when it comes to those miniatures …(emphasis is mine)

The consensus of opinion is that the style of the miniatures is basically Western, though with an admixture of Byzantine elements. Islamic tradition lies behind the curious iconography, in which the planets are shown with their day- and night-houses, exaltations and dejections: this is seldom, if ever, found in the West. No immediate model has been located in an admittedly cursory search. An artist active in Southern Italy or Sicily may be indicated by the mixture of Italian and French styles. It is not impossible that an artist of, say, the Neapolitan school was working in Constantinople in the mid-fourteenth century – a time when others (Barlaam of Seminara, for example) travelled freely between that city and Italy. No artist answering to this description can, however, be securely documented in Constantinople at this time. Nor can it be assumed that the manuscript was decorated in the same place as it was written: the illustrations may be later additions. Indeed, they look very much as if they are.    (ibid. p.192)


For those who managed to come so far   –  here’s the sweet….

B. Astronomical?

Returning to the pair on folio 70v-ii, a closer look at the female figure…Short-ish hair, large head, figure’s right side drawn with a swelling line, indicating a breast. But where the figure’s left breast would be, there’s only what appears to be a piece of skin, marked with lines evoking sutures or something of that kind. Obviously not a skin-graft  (skin-grafting, history of)

We have a word for females who display just one breast. It’s from the Greek: a- (ἀ-) which means lacking and mazos (μαζός), which means breast   ..so, …”without breast”= Amazon.

Classical Greek and Roman imagery doesn’t depict Amazons  lacking a breast. They show a figure who is usually short-haired,  sometimes in armour which can include a breast-cover, or with only one breast covered by clothing and/or armour.

Interestingly, on fol. 70v-ii, the breastplate has been understood by the draughtsman to be of the high-collared type. The two images (at right) are shown simply to demonstrate that high-collared breastplates,  for females, are not entirely unattested.  An amazonian caryatid in Dresden wears armour very similar in deign to the Keralan type. That caryatid is described (by a seller of prints) as  ‘an ancient wall sculpture’. I can only say that their definition of ‘ancient’ is unusual.

The Keralan tradition marks by such means one of the eight chief patron- ‘mother’ goddesses, known to be warrior-women when necessary.

To this day women archers may don a breast cover in addition to the cover always provided for the forearm by the long, skin-tight sleeve and/or by a wrist-guard which might be better called a forearm-guard (but isn’t).  These were traditionally made of thick leather; The present day Olympian (below) wears ones of modern materials.

When you consider that women in pre-Renaissance Europe didn’t normally ever handle a bow, and that  the two drawings in the lower register were made  two thousand years apart from each other, the conceptual image informing the physical image per se has evidently survived remarkably well. The fifteenth-century draughtsman understood his exemplar.


So now – which star(s) if any might have been identified as  ‘Amazon’ by any tradition of star-lore, at any time between the 5thC BC and 15thC AD? Here are two possibilities from the Greco-Latin-Arab traditions with which I think readers will be most familiar.


  1. alpha [α] Virginis (Lat.Spica) ?

According to the 15thC Yemeni, Ibn Majid, the star α Virginis serves as the manzil (lunar station/mansion) and in that context is known as Simak al A’zal, ‘warrior without a spear’ (Tibbett’s translation p.100). And the figure from the first April diagram certainly has none.  However, women of the Arab tribes in Arabia, and more particularly of the Yemen, appear from the early accounts to have been treated more on par with men and in the pre-Islamic period to have been decidedly martial. By comparing with both older and early medieval works, it appears that until the seventh century AD, α Virginis may  have been often envisaged as a female warrior, one who roared or howled in the attack.   As Virgo, she is still armed in an image within the 9thC Byzantine manuscript Vat.gr.1291.

9thC Greek  (prob. from a late classical source)

A star-ceiling made in Egypt under the patronage of the Roman emperor Tiberius in 50BC, shows Virgo holding a ‘spike’ staff of some kind. The image shown here (below, right) is  as illustrated by Wallace Budge.

1stC BC. image in late-Hellenistic Dendera. If the spike is papyrus, the use of palm and scroll as alternative is understandable.

While Virgo’s spike-star  was generally envisaged as a stalk or sheaf of wheat for most of the Latin period, the alternative tradition was not forgotten, and the late image seen below shows how it was preserved – as a martyr-like palm branch held delicately by a more passive and ladylike virgin angel.

So if this is the intention behind the ‘Amazon’ on folio 70v-ii, her being without a weapon may be due to the same cultural attitudes (not necessarily Arab) which sees  the ‘ladies of an hour’ drawn with arms deprived of strength in Vat.gr.1291 folio 9r- as we also see   in the month-folios of the Vms.


In both instances, the informing ideas appear to me  indicative of deep-seated belief that the stars had effective power to harm and I doubt such fear derives from the classical Greeks or from the Orthodox Christians of ninth-century Constantinople. That Vat.gr.1291  has drawn on ideologically opposed traditions is evident if one compares the charming figure for Virgo in the ‘helios’ diagram (folio 9r) with the frankly unnerving and skeltal ‘ghost’ which is one of the few figures un-erased from the same manuscript’s planispheric ‘night sky’. (right)

So let’s return to the charming Virgo.  Unlike her counterpart on folio 23r of that manuscript, hers is not  the stocky body we associate with Europe’s late Roman art. She is envisaged as a slender and elegant messenger, whose ‘spike’  now appears more like rolled scroll. (angelos means ‘messenger’.)

This may be a good moment to remind readers that Alain Touwaide said the Voynich manuscript’s appearance suggested to him the sort of Byzantine hospital workers’ notebooks called iatrosophia, though it wasn’t one.

Touwaide has studied such manuals within his wider area of specialisation, and among his publications  is

  • Alain Touwaide, ‘Byzantine Hospital Manuals (Iatrosophia) as a Source for the Study of Therapeutics’, in Barbara S. Bowers (ed.), The Medieval Hospital and Medical Practice  pp.147-173 of Vol. 3 of AVISTA Studies in the History of Medieval Technology, Science and Art, (2007).

I agree that in the  Vms, we have a compilation of matter brought together for an entirely practical purpose, and find it possible the ‘bringing together’ may have occurred in comparable circumstances, and even within the Byzantine sphere, but having already treated in detail a large proportion of the Vms’ imagery,  I am glad that I am not in the unenviable position of having to differ from Professor Touwaide on the ‘practical handbook’ issue, or the ‘compilation’ issue, though I should have been obliged, unhappily, to do so had he said the whole was a work of medicine, or even of astrological medicine.

  • at the moment I can’t refer you to the printed version of Touwaide’s Voynich talk (or, rather first Voynich talk) at Mondragone.  The book is unobtainable, and Stephen Bax’ site where it had been shortly reviewed is presently infected by some virus.  Maybe later.

2. gamma [γ] Orionis.

Hinkley Allen informs us that in  “the Alfonsine tables” (no version or copy is specified) the star γ Orionis has a previously-unattested name, as  Bellatrix – a term from Latin and which means again, a female warrior.

Note – Ptolemy’s Tables, Alfonsine or Toledan Tables in Voynich studies

I was surprised to find no mention of any of these tables in Voynich writings or chats until speculations about occult topics had taken been current for about ninety years.

One would have thought an examination of standard sources for astronomical knowledge would be tested first before resort was had to speculation, but things went the other way.  Perhaps, yet again, we must attribute this oddness in the study first to Wilfrid Voynich’s tale, and a feeling among some that support for the ‘Rudolf’ idea had to marshalled.   However that may be, even today (Nov.2019), I find no mention of the Toledan tables at Nick Pelling’s site, or at voynich.nu.  I believe there was some talk of them in comments to Stephen Bax’ site, but at present it is under ‘virus interdiction’. I hope to check it and properly credit anyone who posted there if/when the site and its comments return.

Otherwise, I have found nothing about the Alfonsine or Tioledan tables (do let me know if you know better) until 2002 (ninety years after Voynich acquired the manuscript), when Luis Vélez’ says in  Reeds’ mailing list (Tue, 16 Jul 2002):

Thus, students of medicine at Bologna… learnt astrology [sic.] for four years, including grounding in Euclid’s geometry and Ptolemy’s Almagest. In addition, they learnt how to use instruments such as the astrolabe and the quadrant, and were taught how to use the Alfonsine Tables along with their canons. ..


Hinkley-Allen suggests ‘Bellatix’  was gained by mis-translation of an Arabic term, ‘roaring lion’.  I should have been inclined to dismiss this altogether, as mere transposition of some term for a star in Virgo – except that it survives experiment extremely well.  Experiment involves cultural and specific context, in addition to the image’s individual characteristics and drawing-style.

As you see, where the chap looks quite upbeat, the female looks decidedly “down”, doesn’t she?

Those interested in the written part of the Voynich manuscript might care to research uses for the opposition between elevation/exultation and subjection/ being downcast as applied by older works to matters other than planetary dispositions.

And with these two feasible identifications, mentioned  I’ll leave the astronomical and astrological possibilities for you to think about, except a last note that in another place, according to Tibbett’s note, al ibn Majid identifies Bellatrix with Orion’s hand [lit. Yad al Jauza’, usually Betelgeuse],  and it is in connection with this passage that Majid relates a condensed ‘cipher’ mnemonic for some fairly technical and mathematical matter.

Should it be of interest to any reader, description of that ‘cipher-mnemonic’ runs from the last paragraph on p.87 to the end of the first paragraph on f.88 in Tibbett’s English translation..

Postscript: From the research into historical and cultural context – I think one topic should have been mentioned, viz. the Indian tradition.  Thus, our Bellatrix (γ Orionis) is still recorded as ‘Yad al Jawzã’ al-Yusrã’ on astrolabes made in Lahore by a ‘dynasty’ of astrolabe makers in the sixteenth- and early seventeenth centuries.

  • see e.g. Mubashir ul-Haq Abbasi and Sreeramula Raeswars Sarma, ‘An Astrolabe by Muḥammad Muqīm of Lahore Dated 1047 AH (1637-38 CE)’, Islamic Studies, Vol. 53, No. 1/2 (Spring-Summer 2014), pp. 37-65

In the same context, the ‘serpentine’ extension behind Betelgeuse may allude to the ‘Ketu’ (headless body) of Rahu Ketu in Tamil and Hindu astronomy.  The sources differ considerably and I don’t want to give an impression that I place much importance on it.)

Also, we know that the Indian and Muslim traditions were both still present in Iberia during the fourteenth century, as Chabas and Goldstein (among others) have said:

quote stars Jews Spain astronomical tables 14thC Indian trad


I had meant to now talk about chorography, and identifications of stars with places – not by astrology but by an older system of observation and  a mythos of locality.. as well as by nominal superimposition of  celestial and terrestrial co-ordinates (made easier in medieval times if one had an astrolabe).

I would have begun from the classical sources’ identification of Amazon lands, by Herodotus and later authors, illustrated by a couple of maps, and then moved on to the technical correlations for star-and-place as well as the various astrological equations of peoples and regions …. coins, legends, Manilius, Dorothea of Sidon etc., remarks on Genoa’s colonies in the Black Sea (from c.1290s to the time the Plague came..) and so, eventually,  to Ptolemy’s co-ordinates.

But this post is already a trying length, almost 4,700 words, so I’ll leave all that material from my logs aside, except to say the Voynich ‘strings’ may bind place and star.

The star-place correspondence system has to be conceptual or temporary because the vernal equinox moves, as the first minute of right ascension doesn’t.  Then there are also the eastern navigator’s “fetterings” but …alas.. who’d ever read so much?

At least you have some sources for this last and  far from unimportant section.

edit (6th December 2019).

Can’t get the ‘comments’ to include this image, so here it is. Proof of relevance to c.1420.  See second of the comments following this post.


Specialist opinions – notes to Panofsky’s comments of 1932.

Header Illustration: detail from an astrolabe dated c.1400, showing month-names in Picard orthography.  illustrated by David A. King in Ciphers of the Monks: a forgotten notation system (2001). See also clip at the end of this post.
Two posts previous:

– – NOTES to Panofsky’s 1932 assessment, grouped by subject —

Notes  5, 6, 7, & 11    re: ‘Spanish’/”provincial French’ calendar month-names. Occitan; Catalan; Judeo-Catalan)

IN 1932, Panofsky said the manuscript seemed to him to be from ‘Spain or somewhere southern’ and that “the names of the months … undoubtedly by a later hand, seem to suggest Spanish”; while in 1954, answering Friedman’s Q.7, he described those (later-added) calendar’s month-names as ‘provincial French’.  The two are not necessarily incompatible, and while it has become the custom today to suppose the month-names  Occitan, southern dialects – on which I concentrate here – include a range of  Occitan-affected variants, merging with Catalan-related forms near the border and – as example – in old Genoese.  The map shows the general range for various Occitan-related dialects. I would also mention that while here I am only concerned to elucidate Panofsky’s thinking, some researchers (e.g.  Thomas Sauvaget), do not think the month-names are in a southern dialect at all. There is also the curious, recurring hint of some link between the month-names and (northern) Picardy or at least to some PIcard scribe/s living c.1400.  The last element, so-far unexplained, occurs again in my last Comment in this post.

For any revisionist who might be interested, the dialect and orthography of the month-names still deserves careful study and I add a starting-list of references. However, as I said, this post is about Panofsky’s localisation of the manuscript. and his view of the month-names.

Dialect map courtesy of Quora

Pelling in 2009, thought the month-names’ dialect might be that of Toulouse, while in 2011  a Catalan named Arthur Sixto put the case for Catalan.

  •  ‘Old Occitan‘ – brief wiki article recommended for its bibliography.
  • Notes on ‘Occitan’ included in  ‘Military cryptanalysts: Panofsky’s responses of 1954‘ (January 19th., 2019) in Comments to Q 7.
  • Pierre Bec, ‘Occitan’ in Rebecca Posner and John N. Green, Language and Philology in Romance (1982).  pp.115-130. Technical, philological. Good maps.
  • a resource for comparing medieval French orthographies: Dictionnaire du Moyen Français (1330-1500)
  • for Anglo-Norman (which gives  e.g. septembre; setembre, setumbre).

Spanish dialects affected by Arabic in regions also affected by Catalan and Genoese see.

re: Genoese (locally called zeneize).

  • Carrie E. Beneš (ed.),  A Companion to Medieval Genoa, (Vol. 15 in the series: Brill’s Companions to European History).
  • Schiaffini, A. (1929). Il mercante genovese nel medio evo e il suo linguaggio. Genoa, Italy: SIAG

the reference to Schiaffini I owe to Franz Rainer, ‘The Language of the Economy and Business in the Romance Languages‘, Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics.

The case for Catalan –  Sixto, Ridura and Erica


I’ve quoted Artur Sixto‘s comment before, but here for convenience:

“To me the months [names] seem to correspond slightly better to Catalan than Occitan. June for instance, spelled with “ou” corresponds to Catalan pronunciation, in French writing. “ny” would be Catalan relative to Occitan “nh” or French/Italian “gn”. So the person might have ties with the North of Catalonia (and could have a French influence) …. Interestingly, many Jews in Catalonia spoke Catalanic, a Catalan dialect close to Shuadit, i.e. Judaeo-Provençal (i.e. Judaeo-Occitan).”

-comment made to ciphermysteries (February 17, 2011).

Soon after, Sergei Ridura left a further comment (February 17, 2011). Translated, it reads in part..“It is possible that MS-408 was owned by some Catalan, possibly in Naples, since … there is a word that is more typical of Italian than  Occitan..”

Why Ridura chose Naples, I don’t know. I should have thought Genoa more likely, since Genoese is recognised as having more in common with Occitan and Catalan than with Italian. In addition, Genoa had constant connection with the Occitan and Catalan-speaking centres as a consequence of Genoa’s monopoly of that sea-route, which then extended around the peninsula to England and Flanders.  in the map below, Genoa’s routes in orange; Venice’s in dark green.

detail of map from Farrellworldcultures wiki site

However – Ridura’s comment, and Sixto’s were made to this post at ciphermysteries.

So again, thoughts shared by Erica that Pelling published on Nov. 24th., 2018 under a post about ‘quire numbers‘.(link is to a copyright image from Pelling’s book of 2006).

Here’s what Erica had said:

Nick, I think that what you call a 9 is actually an “a”. This seems to correspond with the way we abbreviate numerals in Spanish: (I start with quire 4) 4ta (cuarta), 5ta (quinta), 6ta (sexta), 7ma (septima) 8va (octava), 9na (novena), 10ma (decima) etc. The “a” indicates that the noun being modified by the numeral adjective is feminine. If it was masculine, you would use an o as in cuarto, quinto, sexto, etc (4to, 5to, 6to). I think the 9 shaped a is an “a” occurring in a final position in a word. This same symbol is also found throughout the manuscript’s cipher alphabet (also almost always occurring in a final position?) Something to think about. Also note that the 8th quite reads 8ua. Back then “u” was used instead of “v”…..

comment to ciphermysteries (November 24, 2018). (Pelling’s interpretation of the non-standard forms is that while thinking in Latin, the scribe “was actually writing … an ugly mixture of Arabic numerals and late medieval -9 Latin abbreviations: pm9, 29, 39, 49, 5t9, 6t9, 7m9, 8u9, 9n9, 10m9, 11m9, [12 missing], 139, 149, 159, [16 missing], 179, [18 missing], 19, 20.”

Note: I have always found Pelling’s site a valuable resource when hunting the origin and/or precedents for a well-disseminated idea. HIs posts are helpful, not least for their accurate documentation- which can help limit the ‘ground-hog day’ phenomenon – and because Pelling still allows opinions to be aired that imply doubt about his views.  (Not that his belief in free expression inhibits his own!). Pelling’s site, and  Reeds’ mailing list and bibliography, have proven most helpful to mapping the origin of current opinions about the manuscript, and I expect to refer to them often.
  • Variant forms within Catalan. See e.g. ‘Mallorcan, Menorcan, Ibizan and Formenteran‘, Rio Wang (Oct. 7th., 2010)
  • and for other mentions of Catalan and Occitan, of course, consult Jim Reeds’ mailing list (see cumulative bibliography Page).

Before any discussion about Erica’s thought could occur, it was so vigorously rejected by another contributor that she withdrew it, apologetically.  It happens too often that a potentially interesting line of thought is being quashed in this way, as if whatever does not serve a currently-popular theory becomes  “off topic” by definition.

Obviously, a Spanish- or a  ‘Catalan’ discussion might develop along lines which raise doubt about other theories – honestly and deeply believed by those promoting them – but  silencing a discussion by adopting a tone of absolute authority is pure ‘Wilfridism’. In this case, what are usually seen as ‘quire marks’ in Latin style may be so, and are widely supposed so, but it is not beyond question. And, after all,  Erica is Spanish, just as Sixto and Ridura are Catalan. Presumably they have reasons for their views, ones which may be considered and reasonably debated, but others deserve the chance to engage with them.

Apropos of quire signatures, it’s certainly ‘off-topic’ here, but it should be noted that their location and style differs between regions and periods, and so they too serve as aids to provenance. I have chosen this extract because written by the Beinecke librarian (later Vice-Provost) who wrote the catalogue entry for Beinecke MS 408. The first edition of her book appeared in 1991.

Note on Andorra – spoke Catalan before Catalonia at large:

“While the Catalan Pyrenees were embryonic of the Catalan language at the end of the 11th century Andorra was influenced by the appearance of that language where it was adopted by proximity and influence even decades before it was expanded by the rest of the Crown of Aragon”.

The local population based its economy during the Middle Ages in livestock and agriculture, as well as in furs and weavers. Later, at the end of the 11th century, the first iron foundries began to appear in Northern Parishes like Ordino, much appreciated by the master artisans who developed the art of the forges, an important economic activity in the country from the 15th century. wikipedia article.

Ramón Llull the Majorcan, father of literary Catalan.

The speech of Majorca has been recognised as separate from, though related to, Catalan.  Despite this, Lull’s treaties on philosophy, the sciences and poetry have seen him regarded as the father of literary Catalan.

When  ‘name-an-author’ was still an regular aspect of the Voynich manuscript’s study, as it was for a century, several persons (including Petersen) wondered if it might have been written by Ramón Lull. The idea was floated before the NSA’s involvement, but still circulated during those years (1944-1978) and has since re-emerged periodically.


Nothing has ever come of the idea to my knowledge and most discussions involving Llull have been driven by the assumption that the text is enciphered (which may be so, but it is not proven); or that Llull invented an artificial language and/or wrote in cipher (which ideas I’ve never seen supported by evidence);  or by a curious – because anachronistic – focus on the figure of Rudolf II, who as you may know is alleged by just one, fairly insubstantial (and never substantiated) item of second-hand hearsay to have bought our less-than-royal-standard manuscript for a fantastic price at some time between 1583-1612.

We know only that the name of a physician ennobled by Rudolf was at some time inscribed on the manuscript’s first folio. The inscription has never been suggested written in Rudolf’s hand and it is a foolish assumption to suppose that every book owned by anyone coming near Rudolf must once been his.   My (minority) opinion of the ‘Rudolf’ rumour – whose only source is exactly the same as that for the ‘Roger Bacon’ notion – is as Salomon’s judgement on the latter:

short list of Lull-Voynich references
  • from Les Enluminures website (Item sold but images still available online at present)L

RAMON LLULL, Ars brevis, and Ars abbreviata praedicanda, versio latinus II   In Latin, decorated manuscript on paper, Southern Netherlands, c. 1490-1550; and Germany, c. 1490-1520

  • The three references in d’Imperio, Elegant Enigma (open in a new tab to enlarge)

The Ferguson Collection at the University of Scotland includes many of Llull’s works.

Jacques Guy mentioned on the first Voynich mailing list (Wed, 12 Jun 1996) that one Llull MS in that collection was owned by Wilfrid Voynich. Guy lists it correctly as Glasgow University Ferguson MS 192, but the website address he gave is now out of date.  It is currently: http://special.lib.gla.ac.uk/manuscripts/search/detail_c.cfm?ID=44369

Guy, quoting the catalogue description, dated that manuscript to the 15thC, and noted that the north Italian scribe is named in MS. 76 as “John Visio”.

Lull was a desultory subject in that mailing list, chiefly in relation to themes of artificial language and cipher.

Joao Leao considered him, together with Hildegarde of Bingen (who had also been considered earlier by Manly and Petersen).  See e.g. Leao’s post of 24 Aug 1994.

On Thurs, 30 Oct 1997 Jorge Stolfi mentions that one of Llull’s books contains moveable paper wheels “to help the reader generate word pairs”.

Such forms are sometimes called ‘preaching wheels’ today (cf. Rota Virgili). Their purpose was to aid  retention and retrieval of texts committed to memory – in an age largely reliant on memorisation. Their heyday was the thirteenth century.   On diagrams of this type and Llull – see especially:

  • Mary Carruthers, The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture (second, revised and updated second edition 2008) pp. 329-338.

NOTE: It is a reflexive habit for modern Voynicheros to imagine that subtlety and complexity of thought had ‘evolved’ as European culture aged, but this is very far from the reality, and I would strongly recommend for those whose only knowledge of medieval attitudes is passing acquaintance with digitised manuscripts,  that they should read cover-to-cover Carruther’s Book of Memory as a crash-course in medieval Europe’s “ways of seeing”.

Other references:

In general, the English and Scots seem to have cared  most for Llull’s Ordre of Chyvalry, translated and printed by William Caxton from a French version of Ramon Lull’s ‘Le libre del ordre de cavayleria’ together with Adam Loutfut’s Scottish Transcript (British Library, MS Harley 6149), ed. by Alfred T. P. Byles (London: Early English Text Society, 1926), pp. xxvi-xxx [concerns the texSt at ff. 83-109 in Brit.Lib. MS Harley 6149. The foregoing from the British Library catalogue entry].


Note on Judeo-Catalan and Judeo-Occitan/Judeo-French. (and Picard).

There has been some debate about whether Judeo-Catalan existed, a current wiki article (tagged ‘this has multiple issues’) asserts it did not.  I have not looked into the question. though I note the following paper can be downloaded from academia.edu.  If read online, the automatic translator does a fair job if you don’t have Spanish.

entry for ‘‘Cervera’ in the Encyclopaedia Judaica includes the following:

An inventory from 1422 suggests familiarity of Jews with Judeo-Arabic philosophy and Greco-Arabic sciences. That this was typical of Catalan communities in general we can deduce from another library that originated in Perpignan and ended up in Cervera in 1484. The discovery of some sources in Hebrew and Judeo-Catalan has immensely enriched our knowledge of the Jews of Cervera. 

That article has no footnotes; bibliographic references are abbreviated.


An paper published in 1947 suggested that while Jews in medieval France spoke the vernacular as a matter of course, Jews did not necessarily know the Latin scribal conventions.  I include this chiefly for its reference to a Picard in association with an astronomical work (because it has been noted by many since Pelling* first mentioned it, and independently found by more than one later writer  – I can think of Don Hoffmann and the late Stephen Bax offhand – that the closest orthography we have for the Voynich calendar’s month-names occurs on an astronomical instrument made in Picardy and discussed by David King in his Cipher of the Monks: a forgotten notation system. (2001).  I add a clip at the end of this post.

*Pelling first….‘  or so I had thought, but today cannot see a post about it on ciphermysteries.

In 1947 Levy wrote,

There is only one document extant in Old French that is to be attributed to a Jew. At Malines in 1273 Hagin le Juif translated the astrological treatises of Abraham ibn Ezra from Hebrew into French. He did it at the behest of his patron, Henry Bate, who wanted to render it into Latin.  Even so, it was not Hagin who wrote it down. He was forced, by his calligraphical inability [i.e. to write formal Latin style], to dictate the translation to a Christian scribe, Obert de Montdidier. While the language makes this work an integral part of the Judeo-French genre, the dialectal peculiarities reflect the Picard origin of the scribe.

  • from: Raphael Levy, ‘The Background and the Significance of Judeo-French’, Modern Philology, Vol. 45, No. 1 (Aug., 1947), pp. 1-7.
  • On medieval Picard orthography and pronunciation see catalogue commentary to Brit.Lib. MSs Additional 10292, 10293 and 10294.

A reference often mentioned in the scholarly literature, and which discusses the Greek element in Judeo-Catalan is:

  • Paul Wexler, Three Heirs to a Judeo-Latin Legacy: Judeo-Ibero-Romance, Yiddish and Rotwelsch (1988). Wexler does not ascribe this element to the dispersal of Jews from formerly Byzantine Sicily or southern Italy, nor to the often repeated statement that before the revival of Hebrew from purely liturgical language to one in daily use, Greek had been the lingua franca of Mediterranean Jews.

For the very keenest linguists, papers fifteen and sixteen may be of interest, from

  • Yedida K. Stillman, George K. Zucker (eds.), New Horizons in Sephardic Studies (SUNY Press, 2012)


Next post: further notes to Panofsky’s original assessment in 1932.