[1730 words. This post is a scrap-bag of notes possibly useful to linguists and cipher-people in regard to the diagram.]
The diagram is unusual in having seven surrounding bands, four of which bear inscriptions, the intervening three being left blank. The number ‘7’ has encyclopaedic value and enough commentaries upon it to fill an encyclopaedia, but considering the nature of the manuscript’s various sections – including its apparent connection to the east-west trade in luxury goods which I’ll describe later – it is possible that these diagrams are not only meant to be used as charts, but that they also served as templates for the manufacture of instruments made in more durable materials such as brass, gold, or ivory.
If this chart is considered in that way, then the presence of a single inscription outside the seven bands offers a natural equivalent for the position of the Pole, or for that part of an astrolabe known as the “throne”.
One might then posit that the seven bands represented seven climata, or some from the those seven plates which made a complete or ‘perfect’ [Tamm] astrolabe. In most cases fewer plates were needed or used. If the inscription referred to a Pole of the northern or southern heavens, I should expect this inscription to be one used before the introduction of the magnetised needle. Thus, Boreas or Boras [Gk], Aquilas or Aquilo [Latin] etc.etc. see ‘Windrose‘ and ‘Anemoi‘ for the classical Mediterranean.
Seven climes (?)
The ‘climes’ were not always defined in the Ptolemaic style; in an epic by the great Persian poet, Nizami, there is a story which is described as typically Zorastrian, about a Persian king who is informed by the architect engaged in building a dome for each of the king’s seven wives that seven climes exist, each ruled by one of the seven planets and having its assigned colour. The king, Bahram, then orders the domes constructed to suit that scheme, thereafter visiting each wife on the appropriate day of the planetary week: she from India on Saturday; of the Turks [presumably on Sunday]; of Khwarazim [Monday]; of the Slavs [Tuesday]; of Morocco [Wednesday]; of Rome [Thursday]; and of Iran [Friday].
His ‘seven climes’ are all within the northern hemisphere.
I recommend the wiki article not least for its picture of 12thC Azerbaijan, its multicultural character and range of scholarly and courtly learning. Azerbaijan is also famous for its vegetable-dyed rugs.
The back of an astrolabe provided natural correspondences between the co-ordinates of earthly cities and the constellations on the instrument’s facing plates.
Tom Wujec’s YouTube video demonstrating a 13thC astrolabe. Comes with transcript in numerous languages.
Courtly games of heaven-and-earth
Among their other uses in medieval Europe, Islamic astrolabes were used for a kind of parlour-game, a ‘heaven and earth stations’ game which is again reflected in Dante’s Cantos. In his first edition, Dante appended to his Table of the fixed stars the Arab star-names in addition to the Latin positional descriptions “for the convenience of people using Islamic instruments” – in other words so that they could follow with their own instruments the course of his journey through the (7 and 9) circles of his heavens and hell.
The diagram’s centre is doubly-fourfold, which makes unlikely a primary reference to the zodiac’s twelve divisions and their months, though the design is still applicable (among other systems) to that of the wind rose.
About the central space are four figures, one certainly and another probably female, while the other two are perhaps male. Of the latter two, one has short-cropped hair and a face turned completely from the viewer, while the other (towards whom both female figures reach out) has the left profile visible as he(?) turns towards the female on the viewer’s left.
Why the faces of the two (?)male figures should be partially or completely hidden is an interesting question of itself, but overall we may discount any close association here to the story of Noah’s three sons repopulating the world after the Flood, and similarly to that variation (noted on Cresques’ compendium) by which Noah himself founds a fourth centre, in western North Africa.
Ideally, now, I should go through the names for winds, directions, seasons, constellation and continents in every language known to humankind, checking which contain natural pairs of the same gender. Frankly, the thought bores me to tears, so I’m going to use the excuse that it’s another for the linguists, and move on.
If we suppose for the moment that the external inscription does refer to a notional Pole, and likely the northern, then it is important to note that none of the figures lies directly between that point and the centre. If they are winds, none are from the due south or north. This would apply to the four seasons, but also reminds me of Majid’s comment on the indifferent value for mariners of winds from the Poles:
The four cardinal winds are light winds. The remaining ones have technically-formed names, and all are mentioned in the following verse:
The wind from al-Saba comes from the rising of the Sun/But a little towards the Pole, while Shama slightly to the west of it (Pole)/ Between Canopus’ setting and the west comes Dabur/Canopus’ rising shows the place of al-Janub.
(on which see Tibbetts, Arab Navigation…. p.142)
Technical and/or Social information?
Technical information was inevitably associated with social matter: religion, proverb, poetical allusions and so on but essentially there are two ways to go here: to see the diagram as primarily technical, or to see it as primarily concerned with the network of country-language-native lore etc.
In view of the 17-glyph string, I’m going to put the technical matter first.
The most obvious set of seventeen in connection with stars, directions and so forth are the seventeen stars which named the points of the compass in the Great Sea. Each, inevitably correlated to a given nation on the earth, but I won’t pursue that point.
Seventeen points can name a 32-point compass scheme, since apart from the poles, which are unique, all the rest name by their rising a point on the eastern side of the diagram, and a point on the western by their setting. So 2+(2×15) =32.
The seventeen points used by Arabs in the Great Sea are usually said to be (I quote Tibbetts):
1. Al Jah/Al Simmiya – α Ursa Minoris – Pole Star: Celestial NORTH
2. Al Farqadan – β, γ Ursa Minoris .
3. Al Na’ash – α, ζ U. Majoris .
4. Al Naqa – α, β Cassiopaeia
5. Al ‘Aiyuq [Bedu: ‘Aiug] – α Aurigae .
6. Al Waqi – α Lyrae
7. Al Simak – α Persei [Tibbetts gives Arcturus]
8. Thurayya – Pleiades
9. Al T’air – α Aquilae: nominal EAST
10. Al Jauzah – Orion: (Astronomical East)
11. Al-tir – α Canis Majoris
12. Al-iklil – β, δ Scorpionis
13. Al ‘aqrab – α Scorpionis
14 . Al himaran – α, β Centauri.
15. Suhail – α Carinae.
16. Al-Sulbar – Tibbetts gives for Sulbar; Achernar [a Eridani]; I believe it Crux, but anciently the southern ‘mandorla’ ε Eridani.
17. Qut b Suhail – the empty space/ ?Larger Magellenic cloud / ?Octans Celestial SOUTH.
These were the stars by which the directions were named; not all appear in that part of the sky named for them.
In terms of medieval western Christendom, one would have to turn to Biblical accounts of Adam to explain the disposition of a world by reference only to two male and two female figures. Adam is said to have had three sons, but only Cain and Seth survived long enough to procreate.
Ideas current in medieval Europe about Adam include those held by ‘Adamite’ sects which existed in one sort of another from the 2ndC AD to the 15thC. Their philosophy does not seem suited to life as international traders, and I cite the Catholic Encyclopaedia for them chiefly because it offers direct links to our primary sources on the subject, and because it includes the delicious information that Begards, a later ‘Adamite’ group, having taken possession of an island in the river Nezarka, gave themselves up to a shameful communism! 😀
We know very little about the older Adamite cult, as of the older Noachian cult but both appear to have been once widely prevalent from Egypt through to Arabia. Ibn Washhiyya in the Nabataean agriculture speaks indirectly of it as central to that culture. The Syriac book of Adam [Testamentum Adami] is available online. Ethiopic and Arabic versions also existed.
In the apocryphal Book of Adam (iii. 16) it tells how the ‘Angel of the Face’ or Michael appeared to Cainan and told him that his son, Melchizedek would be leaving ~ the reason being that Melchizedek and Shem were charged with taking the body of Adam to inter it in the centre of the earth. Where the ‘centre of the earth’ was located differs from one religion to another, but a couple of source suggest it was on a mountain in India or in Sri Lanka.
This, of course raises a further possibility that the similar ‘flower’ in the centre of the South roundel in fol.86v refers to Sri Lanka (Taprobane) too.
I might add, in view of the idea that this diagram could be a key to script, language(s) and/or cipher that the Book of Adam (written the Syrian script) it is said that:
All the languages there are in the world are derived from Syrian … In the writing of the Syrians the left hand stretcheth out to the right hand, and all the children of the left hand (i.e. the heathen) draw nigh to the right hand of God; now with the Greeks, and Romans, and the Hebrews, the right hand stretcheth out to(sic) the left. [Both Hebrew and Syriac are written from right to left, but Greek and Latin from left to right.]
I’ve nearly reached the 1500 word mark..
added Nov.4th. 2012
STARS and things…(thanks to Steve Ekwall).
On the idea of an antediluvian [Adamite] language, identified by certain among Kircher’s contemporaries with Chinese, see e.g.
Thomas C. Singer, ‘Hieroglyphs, Real Characters, and the Idea of Natural Language in English Seventeenth-Century Thought’, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 50, No. 1 (Jan. – Mar., 1989), pp. 49-70.
I am indebted to Steve Ekwall here. Had he not made me puzzle over the association between stars, dots and the masculine (when the elements page shows a non-gendered figure), I’d probably never have thought to hunt up this article again.
I have a particular distaste for the sheer silliness of the 17thC, when men with leisure prided themselves on an ability to logick, but never understood that logic is not reason.
The point here…
In 1654, John Webster – following notable scholars of the previous and current generation – was discussing the development of some new, universal medium of communication, not as a new language but as an undoing of effects of the Tower of Babel. China was sometimes argued as still having the speech of Adam, because the flood didn’t go so far: as they decided by ‘logick’ and from the obvious fact that Noah probably couldn’t have sailed so far in forty days. (See what I mean?!)
But back to Steve’s comment, very much to the point:
John Webster proposed that the idea that in a universal written system, “man” could have as its mark an asterisk.
… as a universal sign for “man” [it] is “inventive or acquisitive”; it is an artificial sign standing as a mark for an idea, not “dative” from God or the logos.
~ In other words not standing for a word, but hieroglyphik-style ~
1. A full century after the date of the Voynich manuscript’s parchment, there come some evocative images from the handbook known as that ‘Nautical charts and Atlas of Guillaume Brouscon. His diagrams include several which illustrate the way a seven-scallop form relates to the compass rose, and in which a motif similar to the south’s ‘three-dot’ is used repeatedly.
Those details occur on a single folio, and on it too is pictured a pair of angels, one whose face is open to view, while the other is turned away. Between them they stretch the knotted rope: harpedonaptes (?).
= pdf link.
2. This post was going to be the first for this folio, but it seemed so nebulous I have made it ‘Part 2’ instead.
Added note (20/02/2015)
Thanks to a reader, asking about proper form, I realise I omitted proper credit here to Nick Pelling, who precedes me in recognising similarities between the form of this diagram and that of the astrolabe, volvelle etc. See his blog-post ‘Astrolabes, nocturnals and the Voynich manuscript’, ciphermysteries.com (July 1st. 2010).