Spanish-lapidary-barrels – for David Jackson

My readers may be interested to hear that David Jackson is about to explore the possibility that the calendar’s “nymphs in barrels” might refer to ‘per degree’ astrology in connection with stones, and he is looking in particular at the lapidary of Alfonso X, known as ‘il Sabio’. (ALSO seen as  ‘Alfonzo’ in some sources)

For those who may have come only recently to Voynich studies, I should say now that this is not an idea which has no basis. It is not a hunch or flight of fancy; for over the years, many researchers have come to similar views – both in the general and in the particular.

David sets out upon a path solidly prepared. This post is a guide to just some of the earlier mentions in Voynich studies. Readers are welcome to print it off for future reference, though any quotation from it should include the name of the researchers mentioned. Otherwise, copyright for this post is waived).

Spanish: the first person to investigate the ‘Spanish’ connection was considering Ramon Lull, as possible ‘author’ of the assumed cipher. I think that person was Newbold, although I may be mistaken.

The same idea was revived or re-discovered by Luis Velez in 2002 on the first mailing list.(see here)

One of Nick Pelling’s posts ‘A brief history of generated texts…’ includes notes about Lull which are interesting in themselves and which also suggest in some way, or at some remove, connection to  Ibn Arabi’s Bezels of Wisdom, on which I reason to comment some while ago when speaking of the various structures employed for memory-based learning.

Lull was from Mallorca (Majorca), born only thirty years after Arabic ceased to be the official language in common.  I’ve also been drawn to that island by a number of different lines of research into this manuscript. As as those who follow the work will know, however, I came to the Jewish chartmakers there, not to the Christian clerics.

Erwin Panofsky had also said, in 1931 that he thought the work ‘from Spain or somewhere southern’.

and one might cite many more researchers and experts who, over the past century,  reached comparable conclusions.  Artur Sixto, for example, thought the month-names were in a French Occitan but Judeo-Spanish.

So David’s now considering Spain and Spanish regions is not unreasonable.

Alfonzo X ‘il Sabio’.  I’m not sure how much time would be needed to find, and list, the great many references to Alfonzo made earlier by Voynich researchers, but they would certainly make this post longer than anyone would want to read.

Most recently Marco Ponzi explored the astronomical works produced for Alfonzo  and I, while considering who Baresch had in mind for his ‘noble man’ had reason to refer to Alfonso too, by reference to a poem ascribed to him. Marco published his ideas at Stephen Bax’ site, and my posts were published here on November 15th., 2015 and November 16th., 2015). They reproduce the original poem, and an article about it that had been published in the Quarterly Review of 1822, and so might have been known to Newbold, Wilfrid Voynich and others.

So once more, David certainly has sufficient precedent to justify his departing from the presently dominant theory.

In addition, we know that the works which gave Alfonso his reputation for learning had been gained in greater part from multilingual Jewish subjects, Jewish Arabic texts and their Jewish translators.

It is unsurprising, for that reason, to see ‘angel wheels’ in the thirteenth century Lapidario as in a sixteenth century ‘Introduction to Kabbalah’ made for Francis I. I still cannot say certainly what led Panofsky to recognise Kabbalah in the imagery of MS Beinecke 408, but perhaps the diagram shown following – folio 105r in that ‘Introduction’.. by Jean Thenaud. ( Genève, Bibliothèque de Genève / Ms. fr. 167).

Aries from Alfonso's lapidary
Aries from Alfonso’s Lapidary
Intro to Kabbala angel tiers
(detail) folio 105 r from Genève, Bibliothèque de Genève / Ms. fr. 167 (click to enlarge)

Note (18th.April 2016 – For those interested in Jean Thenaud and his sources, as well as a “long Cabbalistic poem which remained in manuscript”  a useful first reference is Philip Beitchman,  Alchemy of the Word: Cabala of the Renaissance, SUNY Press (1998). Thenaud is referenced in an article ‘French Manuscripts’, in the Journal of the Paul Getty Museum, Vol.16 (1988).


Per degree astrology.

Diagrams showing the ‘wheel’ of the parantellonta have certainly been referenced often in Voynich studies. The first which I saw presented in this connection was by Dana Scott, though it was soon met by a different one, to which Rene Zandbergen often refers.

(It was a matter of some concern to me, by the way, that Dana’s always insightful comments and intepretations of the Voynich imagery were usually met with nothing but silence on the second mailing list, and his botanical identifications – of which there were many – were constantly ignored.  To some extent, when “Steve D” decided to make use of them, this was remedied, but I think Dana’s work as one of the oldest, most independent researcher in that list were not paid more attention and the respect they deserved. He seems to have focussed on English manuscripts, rather than central European ones, but I cannot see how such a small difference should have prevented proper recognition on that list.)

Alfonso was also a contemporary of Roger Bacon’s, and thus the range in time accords with the opinion of various appraisers who, having to rely on the appearance of the manuscript, attributed it to the thirteenth century.  Now we may attribute the present collation and/or copy to the date indicated by the University of Arizon’s radiocarbon dating: 1405-1438.

With regard to precedents for ‘per degree astrology’…

Nick Pelling’s post of May 12th., 2009 opens with a characteristic acknowledgement of prior research by others, and I have never seen Pelling lead others to suppose by omission that his work was a ‘new idea’ rather than an additional dimension to previous study.  He wrote,

“For years, it has been suggested that the structure of the Voynich Manuscript’s “zodiac” section (where each 30-degree sign has 30 nymphs / 30 stars linked to it) might be encoding some kind of per-degree astrology information”

Given the extraordinary difficulties which stand in the way of any researcher trying to discover, and then correctly cite, the original research into anything ‘Voynich’ that general remark is fair enough. The same barriers to research have made Pelling’s post , by default, our threshold for the topic.

See, “Per-degree astrology, old and new…

So once more, it is clear that David’s interest in this subject is based in solid and sober precedents, and is no theory-driven flight of imagination.

Nymphs~ Barrels and stones.

I found no one  I could cite in 2010 when I began writing up my investigation into the possibility of a  “stones and stars”  aspect to the ‘nymphs in barrels’, and no-one had been able to refer me to any precedent, so I had to begin from scratch.

The reason I looked into it was the amount of detail on the barrels; the connection implied to stones, and what I knew about the level of interest in ‘gnostic gems’ and lapidaries through the medieval period until Kircher’s time.  It was interest in those ‘gnostic’ and astrological images in gems which proved a major impetus to the decipherment of hieroglyphic script among Kircher’s contemporaries.

There was also the fact that we see complex patterns on the map (folio 86v; Beinecke foliation 85v and 86r).  And of course Rudolf’s jeweller Missoni used stones like lapis lazuli and jade, whose sources lay within areas referenced by that map. [ one blogger wrote in detail about Missoni, but my search engine doesn’t bring it up today. Perhaps Rich Santacoloma?]

I was not exploring the astrological, but the lithological connection.  Posts to the old blog ‘Findings’ in which I began and continued that research are briefly excerpted below, but the most recent post is here, in a post dated to  December 6, 2012.  Part of it is reproduced, for general interest, and David’s reference.

baskets blog detail

baskets from fishes roundel






I doubt the nymphs were provided with such detailed ‘barrels’ for purely ornamental reasons, although somewhat similar patterns are seen in types of basketry, such as those shown (left) from a Greek manuscript of the twelfth century AD.

Those are bread-baskets but such a connection with stars is not inexplicable. From sources as diverse as  Heliodorus’ Ethiopian Taleto certain earlier medieval manuscripts, stars are likened to bread, either as loaves or as broken pieces. (and see scholia on epiousios)

Another reason for taking such care over these patterns could – in the context of this manuscript – be intended to reflect a system similar to that used in f.86v to distinguish forms of shoreline and terrain: that it is may embody some connection between a given star and one or another among the precious and semi-precious stones, interest in which subject has always been pronounced and not always limited to the zodiac and planets.

A good deal has been written  on that subject, so I won’t enlarge on it here, but certainly an interest in  ‘gnostic’ gems and signets was one reason for the support given  Kircher’s efforts to translate Coptic and hieroglyphs.

Classical authors had written on the nature of stones, and Theophrastus of Eresus among them.

A typical attitude toward the subject in its assumption of eastern authority for such a system is expressed in the fifteenth century by Arnauld of Saxony (Arnaldus Saxo)

Hii lapides fuerunt assignati in templo Apollinis a rege Persarum consilio omnium astrologorum tam Egyptiorum quam Caldeorum secundum cursum signorum et planetarum et horas.

These stones are so established by the king of Persia, in the temple of Apollo, as by all the astronomers of [ancient] Egypt and by the Chaldeans’  for the course of signs, planets and hours.

Ref: Arnaldus Saxo ‘Liber de coloribus gemmarum’, Berlin, Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Cod. lat. qu. 285, fol. Ir°- 9v° [XIVe s.]

Another possible reason (not necessarily exclusive) why star holding nymphs might be pictured in barrels, and that is their simple function as ‘observers’ of the world below.


Within ‘Findings’ the first post on this subject was entitled,  ‘The Map (fol 86v) and ‘barrels’ – patterns and stones’  (April 6th., 2010).

where  I listed some the more useful references I’d used:

Judy Hall, “The stone horoscope: evidence for continuity of ancient esoteric tradition and practice. Are an authentic astrological practice and archaic ideological narratives concatenating sky and stones embedded in The Greek Alexander Romance?” Bath University 2007.

Annibale Mottana, ‘Nicander on Stones and Inorganic Materials’, Rendiconti Lincei, Vol 17 p.333 (December 2006)

***** FARLANG WEBSITE LIBRARY – source works from the ancient, medieval and (fairly) modern world.  It includes an English translation of Theophrastus’ book on stones. (Note 18th April 2016 –  It used to include Dioscorides on stones, but this doesn’t appear on the site today).

In the same post,  “I have been unable to find any evidence that maps used a systematic [lithological] notation prior to the nineteenth century. That certainly doesn’t mean that no such system existed, since the gems and minerals have been engraved for more than five millennia – only that if a consistent lithological notation was developed, I have not found any studies of it.”


Diodorus Sicilus  (1stC bce) described Arabia as a source of “outcrops of all sorts of gemstones of remarkable colour and radiant brilliance.” The passage is also cited in a very good introductory series of four sessions from the British Museum. The pages include interactive maps and relevant archaeological matter. (I see today that access to that site is now blocked)

Arabia was once an important source for gemstones, according to Dioscorides’ de material medica (65 CE) which also speaks of “Roman trade routes as far as Indian Ocean. although notably absent …is any mention of the smagadus”. Harris, op.cit. p.52.  Nice images, and translated English text of Dioscorides at:

Other notes and sources given in the same post, though I was more interested in stones as minerals than as subjects for astrology:

Pliny the Elder,  N.H. books XXXIII to XXXVII “are devoted to the properties and man-made products of minerals, including a book on precious metals, base metals, earths, stones used primarily as building materials, and precious stones or stones with unusual properties. Book XXXVII [lists] thirty-eight authoritative sources… [but of those] only …Theophrastus’ remains to us.

“After Theophrastus, the next directed study of minerals to appear in Western Europe was the sixteenth-century treatise De re metallica by Georgius Agricola, also known as Georg Bauer. …Agricola’s definition of metals extended to include a wide variety of minerals and stones. It is widely considered to be the first text of modern geology. Although compiled in 1562, De re metallica did not appear in print in England until 1912 and then only through a private printing available through subscription only”.


On  July 14th., 2010 in a post entitled in part ‘Stones, stars, Monks and Zoroaster’ I explored the supposed ‘Zoroastrian’ character of the Peri lithon timion, noting that  while Cumont and Bidez concluded that work must have been written in verse, but that I did not think this necessarily the case, “for chant tends to rely on methods such as internal homophonies, rhythm and parallelism more than formal versification, particularly in the east, as the call of the Muezzin, or the chant of the Buddhist testify. Litanies, too, may be delivered in a near-monotone, and most are structured so that the lines end with identical, or near identical phrases”.

[added Note 18th. April 2016 – In this context, I refer readers to Emma May Smith’s recent observation that the ends of lines in the Voynich text show certain characteristics not found elsewhere in a line.  See ‘Agnostic Voynich’ and comments to Voynich ninja forum.]

I published more posts about stars, stones and barrels, but I doubt they will help David in the line he intends to follow in his research.

A summation published on July 24th, 2011 includes the following extract from Al-Biruni’s work. I felt it was relevant, given the content of much else in MS Beinecke 408, and because al-Biruni  studied in India, was heir to the traditions of inner Asia, and was part of the court and culture within the court of the Caliphate in Baghdad.

This might, perhaps, be of service to David and others wishing to investigate the idea of stars and stones:

Stones and Planets according to Al-Biruni:

Minerals of Saturn: Litharge, iron slag, hard stones. Lead. Pepper, belleric myrobalan, olives, medlars, bitter pomegranate, lentils, linseed, hempseed.

Animals of Saturn: Black Animals and those living in holes in the ground; oxen, goats, horses, sheep, ermine, sable, weasel , cat , mouse, Jerboa, also black snakes, scorpions and other poisonous insects and fleas and beetles. Aquatic and nocturnal birds, ravens, swallows and flies.

Plants of Saturn: Oak-gall tree, citron or myrobalan tree. olive tree and also willow, turpentine tree, castor-oil plant. and all those which bear fruits with disagreeable taste or smell, or hard-shells such as walnuts and almonds. Sesame.


Minerals of Jupiter: Marcasite, tutty, sulphur, red arsenic, all white and yellow stones, stones found in ox-gall. Tin, white lead, fine-brass, diamond, all jewels worn by man. Wild pomegranate, apple, wheat, barley, rice, durra, chick peas, sesame.

Animals of Jupiter: Man, domestic Animals and those with cloven hoots such as sheep, oxen, deer, those which are speckled and beautifully coloured, and edible, or speaking, or trained such as lions, cheetahs and leopards. Birds with straight beaks , grain eating, not black, pigeon, francolin, peacock, domestic fowls, hoopoe and lark.

Plants of Jupiter: Trees bearing sweet fruit without hard skin such as peach, fig, apricot, pear and lote-fruit, companions Venus as to fruits. Roses, flowers. herbs sweet-smelling or tall, such Plants as are light and whose seeds fly with the wind.


Minerals Mars: Magnetic iron, shadna (lentil-shaped stones) cinnabar, rouge and mosaics (fasifusa). Iron and copper. Bitter almond, seed of turpentine-tree.

Animals of Mars: Lion, leopard, wolf, wild pig, dog, destructive or mad wild beasts, venomous serpents. Flesh-eating birds with curved bills , nocturnal, water hens, bats, all red birds, wasps.

Plants of Mars: All bitter, pungent and thorny trees, their fruit with rough skin, pungent or very bitter such as bitter pomegranate, wild pear, bramble. Mustard.leeks, onion, garlic, rue, rocket, wild rue, radish, egg-plant.


The Sun:

Minerals of the Sun: Jacinths, lapis lazuli, Yellow sulphur, orpimemt, Pharaonic glass, marble, re-algar, pitch. Gold and whatever is coined therefrom for kings. Orange and maize.

Animals of the Sun: Sheep, mountain goat, deer, Arab horse, lion, crocodile, nocturnal animals which remain concealed during the day. Eagle, ring-dove, turtle dove, cock and falcon.

Plants of the Sun: All tall trees which have oily fruit, and those whose fruit is used dry, such as date-palms, mulberries and vines. Dodder, sugar-cane. manna. tarangubin and shir-khisht..

Minerals Venus: magnesia and antimony. Silver and gold and jewels set in these, household vessels made of gold, silver and brass, pearls, emeralds, shells. Figs, grapes, dates, origanum and fenugreek.

Animals of Venus: All those wild Animals Which have white or yellow hoofs such as gazelle, wild ass, mountain goat also large fish. Ring-dove, wild pigeon, sparrow, bulbul, nightingale, locusts and inedible birds.

Plants of Venus: All trees soft to touch, sweet-smelling, smooth to the eye like cypress and teak. apple and quince. Sweet and oily berries. fragrant arid coloured, herbs, spring flowers and has a share in cotton.



Minerals of Mercury : Depilatory, arsenic, amber, all yellow and green stones. All coins struck with name and number such as dinars, dirhams and coppers, old gold and quicksilver, turquoise,coral,tree-coral. Pease, beans, caraway, coriander.

Animals of Mercury: Ass, camel, domestic dog, fox, hare, Jackal, ermine, nocturnal creatures, small aquatic and terrestrial Animals. Pigeon, starling, crickets, falcon, aquatic birds and nightingales.

Plants of Mercury: pungent and evil-smelling trees. Savoury herbs and garden stuff, canes and things growing in water.


The Moon:

Minerals of the Moon: Nabatean glass, white stones, emerald, moonstone. Silver and things manufactured of silver, such as cups, bangles, rings and the like, pearls, crystal, beads strung. Wheat, barley, large and small cucumbers, melons.

Animals of the Moon: Camel, ox, sheep, elephant, giraffe, all beasts of burden obedient to man and domesticated. Ducks, cranes, carrion crows, herons, chicks, partridge.

Plants of the Moon: All trees the stem of which is short such as the vine and the sweet pomegranate. Grass. reeds, canes, flax, hemp, trailing Plants such as cucumber and melon


Smaragus: the pleasing and soothing nature of its color upon the eye. Later references in other texts to the medicinal use of this stone indicate that simply gazing upon it produces a healing effect, thus Theophrastus’ comment that signets of smaragus are to be “looked at.” (= cynosure?) later classical authors applied the term to a wide variety of green-colored gemstones, including emerald, serpentine, and green marble. Theophrastus vaguely refers to several forms of smaragus found in Babylon, Egypt, Laconia, and Tyre, but identifies the copper mines of Cyprus as the most accessible and well-known source for the stone. This statement indicates either malachite or dioptase, a copper cyclosilicate mineral sometimes referred to as “copper-emerald,” cited Harris op.cit. p.49


Best of luck,  David!



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