For Anton, Ellie and About fols.70r et. sqq.

Thanks to some recent comments in a thread begun by Ellie Velinska, I’ve returned to a post published in 2011, where I was comparing the patterns used on the map, with those used in other sections.  The aim was to see whether there was any constant significance discernible.  (Koen Gheuens has recently made some excellent finds, showing comparisons for this palette of  patterns, just btw.)

Some recent work which is being done by Anton Alipov, together with my long-standing view that each of the anthropoform figures has its star – not just in the calendar section, but wherever they occur – makes me think this item worth revisiting.

Because it’s easier than re-typing,  I’ll  start by adding the first part from my earlier post, though I add only the mosaic from Siena to illustrate one point.


Given that we have the inclusion of a star-flower around the circuit of figures in the month-roundels, and a possibility that the patterns might relate to a particular type of stone or goods of a specific type, then the link could refer to the responsibility accorded the stars, by their conferring a specific virtue (quality or ‘goodness’ on natural products and produce. So the patterns may serve as system of classification, related to days, months or the nature of the contents.

East of the Mediterranean, the agricultural sequence of days and produce was tied to the stars of the lunar path, where Europe’s calendar referred to the ’12’ of the sun’s way.

Nor do I assume the central emblems in fols 70r – 74v were first intended as reference to the zodiac ’12’ – they plainly don’t show the Roman zodiac sequence.  It is equally likely they were meant to refer to a series of ports or cities, in a line of regular commerce.

[That such systems were used is well known; here’s a simple one from medieval Italy.- added note 16/09/2016]

mosaic opus sectile Diena Lucca leopard Duomo Siena

Around the innermost ring of fol.70r (Beinecke numbering) the barrels are all marked with an identical pattern …though one uses an inset pattern of the same type used for the  ‘scintillations’ of water – which custom is seen in some fifteenth-century works just as it had been in Egyptian works as early as the pre-dynastic period.  I have turned the detail ‘right way up’ …


The basic pattern of those inner barrels occurs again in fol. 78r, showing what seem like pipes through which fluids run. We might then suggest that pattern of parallel lines of dots or short dashes indicates a material which is associated with water and evidently impervious to it, though one should never suppose that any literal intention precludes parallel reference to other, metaphorical significance.)


Terracotta is one obvious possibility since it is a common medium for water-pipes, which were certainly in use by Hellenistic times, some having been recovered in Ephesus (in Asia Minor), beneath the temple of Ephesian Artemis. Roman pipes were often of lead; some of Etruscan origin are made of a natural concrete, known as “Roman concrete” but I think this pattern can be taken to refer more generally to impervious earths. (A similar, if not identical sense is probably intended when this motif is used for such things as the impervious elephant hide).


One among  those barrels is marked with a  ‘plimsol’ line formed as we see the  ‘closed waters’ referenced in Egypt  ~ so altogether that having the ‘plimsol line’ might allude to amber, since it is the only stone (according to Aristotle Mete., 388b21) which is said formed by being chilled in water:  ‘refrigeration’.  If we refer to the star, though, the reference could be to Sirius or  the ‘water-bringer’ star, or again – if we suppose influence from the Arab star-names – that star could be Thurayya (Pleiades) as “water in the ground.”

…. reprised  from: ‘fol 86v: Stones retrospective 3: Stones and barrels’, Findings, (Sunday, July 24, 2011)


I had also considered a detail from folio 78r(below)  noting recurrence of the “Peg” and “Pole” motif.  The two motifs of ‘Peg and Pole’  refer respectively, as I understand them, to South/Homeward/Port side  and  North/Outward/Starboard side, respectively.


In one of the most telling images (folio 79r) the “home/port” is directly connected to a centre in Egypt, though whether it is meant for Alexandria, Canopus or Fustat (or even Herakleion) I cannot say.

The sequence of ‘water-barrels’ on folio 78r, however, I suggested at that time might refer to stages of a journey, and further that given the care with which the draughtsman distinguishes between the sort of lines which emerge from the one, and from the other, I posited a reference to the trade in oil and in wine. I also noted how the south-mark (‘Peg’) has the area below its ‘aegis’ filled with dots, as if they might represent seed, but the north has none.

That use of the Pole shown on the left in folio 78r (detail, above) to represent North, and the ‘Peg’ shown to the right (detail, above) is consistent through the manuscript.

In western custom, including cartography and the compass-diagram, the ‘Pole’/North was to become a fleur-de-lys and a custom in itself.

One notes, though, that the earliest example we have of a  compass diagram’s being includd on any western map or chart is in the work of a Jewish chart-maker from the Mallorcan chart-makers school (c.1375). Abraham Cresques was commissioned – probably by the King of France – to prepare a great illustrated version of an Islamic style of almanac.  We may suppose the work had taken a couple of years, to  judge by the amount of work needed to make and illuminate the map, charts and other matter in it, and further in reading and excerpting short passages from the numerous texts which inform the map’s labels.  By the time it was all finished, however, Mallorca now lay under direct Spanish control, the new ruler (not the maker) delivering so-called “Catalan Atlas” in person to the court of France.  This item is but one of a  substantial number which indicate that Beinecke MS 408 derives from precedents which had come from  southern, Jewish (Sephardi) owners or makers.  This compass-diagram has been mentioned here before, in relation to an early Genoese cartographer and to a figure which is placed in the equivalent position on the Voynich map that the compass is set on Cresques’ worldmap.[1]

Cresques compass rose

In any case, use in the Voynich manuscript of the Pole (left side in the detail from f.78r) and the Peg (right), appears to be quite consistent in the ‘bathy-‘ section of the manuscript.  For that reason, I suggested the reference of the detail from f.78r might be the northern and southern ends of a route.

I note that the draughtsman distinguishes carefully between the steams which emerge from the one, and from the other.  A further mark of difference is seen in the way that the area below the southern ‘aegis’ here has each small segment provided with a dot, where the northern has none.

Initially I posited that the two might refer to  oil and wine;  it also seemed possible that the reason for the ‘barrels’ being included along that stream might relate to the kombologion, by which time and distance was measured.  The kombologion was a string of beads given to the Egyptian monks and the ancestor of the western rosary – except that the number of its beads (108) was the same number as that of the stars which, in the earliest period, were sung to ‘affix’ them to the heavens, and these were then the number of the liturgi – the term from which descends our ‘liturgy’.[2]

Today, reading over those posts from Ellie Velinska’s thread, and from Anton, a further thought occurs to me.

The two “passages” which I had taken for passages of water, divided into stages by those bead-like ‘barels’ might in fact be meant for those of the ‘sea of heaven’.  I mean, that the ‘barels’ may maintain the same reference here as they do around the tiers of the month-roundels and represent the stars’ passage across the skies – the northern and/or the southern.  Naturally enough, orienting by the stars on a journey from the north is not the same as on the reverse line of transit.

And if they so mark a sequence of guiding stars (star-days?) – perhaps again as in the ‘bathy-‘ folios equated with the place over which each star nominally stands, so we might have a reasonable explanation for those impervious ‘barels’ having been laid so unequally along their respective lines.

From the manuscript as a whole, the impression I’ve gained is that the standard, literary dictionaries and literary prose probably need to be supplemented by more technical glossaries, and some notice taken of more than the forms for the ‘Arabic’ stars known to medieval Europe… or indeed, those adopted as the Greco-Roman standard by medieval writers in Arabic.


[1] see posts entitled ‘Angel of the Rose’ here and at

[2] Jim Tester, in his History of Western Astrology (p.116-118), had his “astrological” cap on too firmly. He failed to realise that –  the basis of astrology being astronomy – the answer to the “108” conundrum might like in pure astronomy, and not in the zodiac-obsessed astrology whose history he was writing. The factors of 108 are 27  and 4.  Twenty-seven is the number to which the circuit of lunar mansion asterisms was formally reduced for purposes of astronomical calculations, even after the introduction of the Islamic calendar’s “28”.  We see the ’27’ used, for example, by Ibn Arabi in Spain, and the Tamils who were the masters of such calculations in the estimation of early Baghdad, used it as the basis from which they performed calculations which were ‘astronomical’ in the literal and metaphorical sense.  We see the factors of 27 x 9 used for a calculating table made for the future Pope Sylvester I, while he was still Gerbert d’Aurillac: the best description one of his students could give was that it was an ‘abacus’ but the factors used and the richness of the making speak, rather to the fields of heaven and earth.  Those same factors, and a board, are recorded used to predict agricultural yields.. But I digress.  The ‘108’ are found by taking 27 for the horizontal line and adding others between the visible Pole and the horizon.

That a similar grid served to map the world (and thus suggest that the rhumb gridded chart revived pre-Roman custom) is indicated by Manilius.  I may come back to that last point another time.

For all typos and other errors, dear readers forgive us.  This is being typed at the last second before leaving for a while..


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