- Navigation and night-‘measures’ among the early monks in Egypt.
The stars’ processional measures remind us again of the mariner monks of Canopus, before that port’s loss in the mid-seventh century, but also imply the idea of a star in heaven for each place on earth. Writing in sixth-century Spain, Isidore seems to hint at something of the sort when he says,
“The standing of stars (De statu stellarum): A standing (status) of stars occurs when, although a star always moves, it nevertheless seems to stand still in some places”. (Ety. III.lxx)
Isidore says no more about it, but various aspects of the manuscript, and the history which I have outlined for readers, leads me to believe that there is some connection between the later use of this calendar and the activities of those who made the early cartes marines in north Africa, Genoa and Mallorca. As it happens, I had already found the closest comparisons for emblems now occupying the centres of the calendar roundels had, by the Hellenistic period, become those of certain centres around the sea-route of the Mediterranean and Black Sea – though in some cases our earliest image is on a coin of the Roman era. (I must reprint that post one day!). If this remains true, despite the ‘translation’ evident in some of those central emblems in the Voynich calendar, then we may have not just a calendar but an itinerary noting the times, and visible heavens through the mariners’ trading season – whose months, as I’ve shown, correspond to those included in these fold-outs.
(to save readers linking back, here is the passage from my post first noting this. From ‘The Voynich albarello. Deconstructing a phantom Pt 3’ voynichimagery (blog) January 27th., 2016.
There is no obvious indication in the Voynich manuscript’s calendar fold-outs that it is meant for astrological calculations; the number of its months do co-incide with the western Mediterranean sailing year – which formally ended in November but (as records show) actually continued to mid- or late December, resuming in March.
It was not easy sailing late in the year. Gregory XI departed from Avignon on September 13th., 1376, took ship from Marseilles on ships of Portovendres on October 2nd. of that year, but reached Genoa more than two months later, on December 6th. The distance between Marseilles and Genoa is roughly 190 nautical miles – about 350 kilometers. They had advanced, on average, 5 kilometers each 24 hours.
One sees why the months of January and February might be omitted from some types of calendar, and they are absent from the Voynich manuscript’s.
As ‘ministers’ to the earth, in the sense we have described in analysing the Carthage mosaic’s imagery, the stars in the Voynich calendar might also refer to the mysterious “liturgi”.
What exactly the ‘liturgi’ were is one of the most persistent questions about astronomy in Europe during the early centuries AD. They might been same seasonal ‘hours’ which were represented each by a triad on the tabula from Grand, but we know so very little about what they were, or what the term implied, let alone which stars they included, that my best efforts have turned up only four references, and these so short that they could be included in a single post. Eriugena knew something of them, but chose to say very little. To suppose them identical to the stars of the Canopic monks’ liturgical roster is of little more help.
Serapis along the eastern trade routes.
No later than the second century AD, Serapis’ cult had been carried eastwards through what is now northern Afghanistan, where it was united with early Buddhism, and also to India. In the east, he was more usually seen as a form of Herakles, whereas the Romans later envisaged him as offering “remedy for all ills’ in a rather different sense.
One statuette found in Begram, before it became a military airport, most unusually includes the modius upon the figure. Another from Gandhara shows the figure realising, at last, that earthly struggles are a battle with illusion. From India, we also have a solid statue of the god, as Heracles, donated by an Italian merchant family whose trade, as we know, extended across that range from the Mediterranean to India.
Another very interesting item recovered from Begram shows the Alexandrian lighthouse, on top of which are Hercules/Serapis and the ‘dog and dragon’: the last would appear on astronomical instruments, are included in the Otranto calendar mosaic, are hinted at in folio 70r, and as late as the 16th century were included as traditional figures in maritime charts made by a Breton, Guillaume Brouscon.
Already in the early third century BC, the “dog and dragon” represents those who roam the paths of land and sea. Their counterparts are, in imagery, the Dioscuri (alluded to, in my opinion, in folio 5v) and in terms of Mediterranean history, by the notable pair of the ‘Greek’ Carians and their blood-brothers (as it were) the Phoenicians.
I treated folio 5v here, on June 29th., June 30th., and July 2nd., 2015.
Heracles as funerary figure.
The Roman funerary bas-relief shown below is dated to the third, century AD and is now in the Borgia collection at Vetri. Unlike the Liria mosaic, this version of Hercules-the-bird-killer bears no bow. In both, however, the lower border is dedicated to that same theme of peace from strife which occurs in the Carthage mosaic. The figure in the pithos is not being boiled; he is hiding from Heracles, to whom he had given what he hoped might be a terminal mission. This image brings us back to the “life’s labours and Paradise” theme of the Carthaginian mosaic – but with the firmer divisions of the Roman’s 12-fold series.
Baskets of Asphodel.
Basketry from mosaics recovered in and around Carthage, the finer being the earlier. Often described as ‘Roman’ works, many were made during the period of Roman rule, yet show by the form of costumes and ideas expressed that much of the content referred to earlier practices and beliefs specific to the region.
9. There is so little written about the older idea of the liturgi that I’ll put what little I have to hand into a separate post, as postscript.
10. I have taken this information about the Liria mosaic, and other details (as you’ll see) from a long essay published by Davor Aslanovski, “Image cycles with deeds of exceptional individuals”, published in the blog Iconature, December 12th., 2014. It can be read here, though marginal to our present subject. The Liria mosaic is its Fig.20 and presents such a classic form of the ‘bird-killer’ motif that it would be very easy to attribute its later emergence in medieval zodiacs to such an origin. However, our evidence suggests quite the opposite: that Latin astronomical imagery, including its figures for the 12 constellations avoided direct imitation of ‘pagan’ forms, and was obtained quite intentionally from Christian regions, or from versions of one of a very few religiously-sanctioned texts, first and most often Aratus’ Phaenomena.
Those wishing to investigate the history of Latin manuscript depictions of animals (including those used to illustrate calendars and zodiac diagrams) should not neglect study of the Bestiaries, nor imagery in media other than manuscripts. A column, window, statue or misericord made for a church close to where a particular manuscript was made is not rarely very revealing of the draughtsman’s source, although these media interact, and the same is true in reverse: the carving might have its form at the direction of a cleric, and the content of a manuscript locally available to him. The small proportion of works remaining to us means that in provenancing a problematic image, one must consider the range of imagery which the maker may have had to hand.
Elly Decker’s publication must be considered an essential reference for any study of astronomical imagery in medieval Latin manuscripts.
Elly Dekker, Illustrating the Phaenomena: Celestial cartography in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, OUP, (2012). (I believe it is also now published online).