Clear vision (cont.-4)

[dropped text re-inserted 16/10/2106]

Between treating knowledge of the Dioscuri in the Persian Gulf, early in the early Hellenistic period, and the presence of Latins in Dioskurias and the Gulf during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, I must pause to make it clear that  the image on folio 5v cannot have been the invention of a medieval Latin author.

Some readers I know will wonder why  a point so obvious should need a post to itself, but in Voynich studies one finds a curious divide between the way the written part of the text is approached, as against the pictorial.  Statements made about the one are typically  analytical, careful and the processes and conclusions both transparent and appropriately documented; about the latter, not.   Glance over bibliographies and footnotes and the omissions one finds in studies of the imagery, and in efforts to construct a  ‘history’ for the manuscript are obvious enough.

Perhaps the explanation is that many on both sides of the divide share a popular misconception that commentary on an image is largely drawn from gut-reaction. In fact, in the wider world,  it comes  from thought, from reading monographs, ancillary technical studies, fundamental texts and specialist papers, from conferences, formal training and quite a lot of practical experience. Whether the line of history is drawn as letters or as an image, it is a means of communication from a time that is not our time, expressed in forms that are not those of the 21stC.  The intentions of the original cannot be intuited nor understood by using nothing but eyesight and ‘common sense’.

The next post shows how each detail in folio 5v relates to the plants, their uses, and that unifying theme of the ship’s protection.

Then, at last,  to the Genoese  in the Persian Gulf during the thirteenth century AD and in Dioskurias by the fourteenth.  As preview – the arms of the city now on the site of old Dioskurias.



folio 5v allThe Dioscuri are represented in folio 5v in a way which informs us that the image it is not the brain-child of any medieval Latin.  Nor is its form here so likely to have been an expression of  the Roman world.  With the end of the Seleucid kingdom and the dominance of Rome in the Mediterranean, the Dioscuri ceased to be envisaged as patrons of the merchant-trader [1] and the shipman, and became primarily patrons of the horsemen.


Fresco. ‘House of the Dioscuri‘ Pompei (before 79 AD).

The Romans emphasised that character, generally adopting the iconography of  cult-centres in southern Italy, Sicily and Sparta, while chiefly referring to the pair as patrons of the Roman circus’ chariot-races. Castor, the revivified human brother, eclipsed Polydeuces who had been divine to the Greeks, though Polydeuces’ being the ‘bending one’ is occasionally reflected in the imagery.


(detail) sculpture attributed to Roman workmanship 1stC BC

Isidore of Seville inherited the Romans’ view and even knew a version of Dioskurias’ founding myth –  which meant it was known to a great many of the literate in  medieval Europe:

“Amphitus and Cercius, the charioteers of Castor and Pollux, constructed Dioscoria, the city of the Colchians, naming it after their name, for Castor and Pollux in Greek are called the Dioskouri” – and he wrote that word in Greek: Διóσκουρι.

Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae XV.i. 40

Medieval Europe maintained the astronomical image; they knew no other.  Of its character little was recorded.  Thus Isidore:

[The pagans] also set Castor and Pollux after their death among the most noteworthy constellations; they call this sign ‘Gemini’. Etymologiae, III.lxxi.25

and Aratus says little except that the Twins bring up the Charioteer and ..

“Beneath the head of Helice are the Twins”.

Aratus, Phaenomena §147

Latin physicians were generally antipathetic to the idea of twin births regarding them as a sign of  disease or deformity in the mother, and there is no general Christianised version of the Dioskuri.  Fortunately, the liturgical calendar included  some few – thus ensuring that twin births did not automatically result in the death of one, as happened in other parts of the world.

In folio 5v their form accords with Hellenistic style and attitude,  Polydeuces (on the left) remaining the more prominent of the two; both are given the strange, jagged hair-cut which we see on a coin of the Seleucid, Antiochus IV (r. 175 BC-164 BC) and their travellers’ hats are closer to that form than to the later Roman style.


The same,  characteristically Greek, forms appear in Sicily while its population was partly Greek and partly Phoenician.


Sicily Soloi AE 20 (3rdC BC).

By contrast, those caps, in Roman imagery, are shown in a Syrian style  often, if mistakenly, described as ‘Phrygian’.

Another interesting aspect of the image on folio 5v – one again mitigating against any Roman attribution –  is that the constellation was evidently envisaged a little differently from that in the Roman astronomical tradition which informs our own. See the second version of the composite below. (click to enlarge)


The lower star/flower [Gk: aster/asterion] which is directly below Castor’s head is then evidently meant for γ Geminorum, which star was later recalled by some writers in Arabic as having once had some character as a Bow.  [2]

In my opinion, then, the 3rd- 2ndC BC is most probable date for the earliest stratum in the manuscript’s imagery, as I said first  in 2010, and subsequent investigation of the various sections and folios has continually returned the same result. There is, of course, evidence of later phases of addition but the Hellenistic basis remains clear, and explains why we find a complete absence of Christian or of Muslim culture expressed by the forms or by the content of this imagery other than a very few, very late, and fairly superficial alterations to the original.

For a date around the 2ndC BC we may also mention that layout atypical for Latin European manuscripts but used even more often in the Voynich botanical folios than in the Anicia Juliana codex, a manuscript dating to the early 6thC AD, but whose content comes from eastern Greek sources composed between the 2ndC BC and 2ndC AD. The image being  first set down, and the text moulded around it, cannot be ascribed in these cases to any conflict between scribe and draughtsman, nor to the scribe’s being left too little room.  The page design is evidently original and just as plainly one that had been more common in the earlier centuries –  a very practical way to ensure that image and text were not wrongly matched.

Juliana Anicia Codex kentaureionfolio-8v







To argue a date before the 2ndC BC is possible, by reference to various details in other sections.  Most of these have already been mentioned but some among them are  (i)  the inclusion of an unmistakeably Egypto-Phoenician ‘bearded sun’ on folio 67v-2 ; (ii)  similarity between the Voynich ‘angel with the wand’ and  Nearchus’ medal and (iii) the form given the calendar’s feline, though the last is the least unequivocal.

For  a date later than the 2ndC BC as the earliest informing the imagery I can find little support in the internal evidence.  One might refer to Paul of Tarsus’ recording, in the 1stC AD, that a ship in which he sailed bore the ‘sign’ or figurehead of the Twin Brothers. (Acts, 28:11) – which indicates that among mariners the Twins’  older character was still remembered.   A papyrus codex from the following century, made in Alexandria, has extrapolated dimensions (the lower edge being damaged) of 280mm and 160mm, the latter exactly that of standard folios in Beinecke MS 408: [3

280-285 mm is one of the standard measures for the height of papyrus produced before the eleventh century in Egypt.  Again from the Cairo geniza a fragment of paper is said to have dimensions close to those of the ordinary folios of Beinecke MS 408.[4]

While I’ve seen no detailed study done of whether the old sizes of papyrus became those of papers produced after the eleventh century (when papyrus ceased to be produced) it may have come first with other exotics brought from Cairo, to Sicily and southern Italy:

Paper began to be used in Italy at the very end of the 11th century, first in Sicily, where the Normans followed Arab custom, and then in the northern trading cities. In the first half of the 13th century some paper was briefly made near Genoa, probably following Spanish techniques, but the major center of Italian paper manufacture developed after 1276 at Fabriano, in central Italy.[5]

Thereafter,  280mm becomes a standard dimension of Jewish manuscripts, and the Jews are noted as being among the earliest makers of paper elsewhere in Latin Europe. [6]

I do not think it unreasonable to consider the possibility – even the probability – that the matter now in Beinecke MS 408 came from exemplars that had been on paper or on papyrus before the present version was made on coarse vellum in the earlier part of the fifteenth century.

But given that the  older Hellenistic forms for, and conceptions of, the Dioscuri find scarcely[7] any echo in Christian Europe, and certainly I’ve seen no evidence for those jagged haircuts or for ‘bowed’  Polydeuces in Latin lore, so to maintain a theory of the work as a product of some medieval Christian ‘author’ must depend more on the proponent’s determination than the evidence provided by the primary document and its imagery.[8]




[1] The poet Simonides who was not properly recompensed by his patron, and who was then rescued by the Dioscuri from the building’s collapse which killed that patron, is usually said to have been rescued because his poem praised them.  It is equally likely that part of their role as patrons of the trader and traveller was to punish those attempting to default on payments promised. On Simonides see e.g.  J. H. Molyneux, ‘Simonides and the Dioscuri, Phoenix, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Autumn, 1971), pp. 197-205.
[2] Details are in Richard Hinkley Allen, Star Names, their Lore and Meaning, p.234.
[3] Papyrus 46.  The descriptions do not make clear whether they have extrapolated the dimensions and give the full folio size before losses, or whether this is the average of the folios as we have them, but the former would be expected.
Folio size is approximately 28 × 16 cm with a single column of text averaging 11.5 cm. There are between 26 and 32 lines (rows) of text per page, although both the width of the rows and the number of rows per page increase progressively. Rows of text at the bottom of each page are damaged (lacunose), with between 1–2 lines lacunose in the first quarter of the MS, 2–3 lines lacunose in the central half, and up to seven lines lacunose in the final quarter.
Compare – for its date –  a Greek papyrus of the late seventh/early eighth century AD (P.Vindobonensis G31535) which has dimensions of 285mm x 220mm.  On the latter and on contemporary technical terms relating to administration and geography see K.A. Worp, ‘Town Quarters in Greek, Roman, Byzantine and early Roman Egypt’ in Petra A. Sijpesteijn, Lennart Sundelin (eds.),  Papyrology And The History Of Early Islamic Egypt, (2004)  pp.227-271.
[4] First mentioned in the context of Voynich studies by the present writer.  For convenience, I quote from the post ‘Dimensions 160mm x 225 mm’ published here on March 6th., 2015.
… an alchemical text on rag paper from the Cairo geniza (typically 11th-13thC). The curator of the holding museum notes that its original dimensions were probably closer to the Vms’ than they are at present, the leaves having since been damaged. At present one leaf would fold to approx. 160mm, and has a width of  222 mm rather than the  225 mm which had been cited in the secondary source I cited originally.  Details of the work, including the type of hand, and translation of an alchemical recipe for silver, are included in  ‘Weights and Measures‘,  (23/07/2013).
[5] An excellent short history is offered by an article by Jonathan M. Bloom, ‘Revolution by the Ream:A History of Paper’, Saudi Aramco World, Vol.50, No. 3 (May/June 1999) pp.26-39.   The unillustrated text can be read online here.  In 1221 Frederick II decreed that any official documents put on paper would be deemed invalid.
[6] I regret having been unable to find time to locate this reference.  A cleric commented adversely on paper, which he had recently seen for the first time, and as a new material made by Jews.  His reaction was horror that one would write upon a vegetable material mixed with what he describes as old underwear.
[7] A couple of local shrines to a Christianised cult of the Dioscuri are known, but these focus, in the Roman way, on Castor the human ‘twin’ rather than on the divine Polydeuces/Pollux.  See e.g. Licia Luschi, ‘Antenati e dei Ospitali Sulle Rive del Fucino; Il Santuario di Giove e Dei Dioscuri in Località ‘S.Manno’ (Ortucchio): Note Sulle Divinità e la Continuità di Culto dalla Preistoria al Medioevo’,  Studi Classici e Orientali, Vol. 53 (2007), pp. 181-274.
[8] For the wholly Roman version of the Dioscuri being allegorised in Renaissance Italy see note to ‘The Ragged Brothers’ in  Donald Beecher, Renaissance Comedy: The Italian Masters, Volume 1 (2008)  p.275 n.2.

11 thoughts on “Clear vision (cont.-4)

  1. If any reader would like a quick test demonstrating the paucity of information about the Dioscuri through the whole range of Latin medieval literature, the Index to Seznec’s Survival of the Pagan Gods may prove helpful. Compare the range and detail in references to e.g. Mars, or Jove (Jupiter), Venus, Bacchus, Apollo etc. to those to the Dioscuri, singly or as a pair. There is simply nothing which would have given a medieval Latin ‘author’ the sort of information which informs their image on f.5v.


  2. I do not question your knowledge of issues relating to the issues related to a broad spectrum of knowledge culture of medieval studies, but when you consider that all the folio from the “herbal” associate with herbs and plants – is a combination of this aspect from astronomical to me is totally unacceptable. If you take this eventuality as possible, why do you question me the option to look at all the problems connected with the manuscript, which, as I try to prove symbolizes something completely different – I am aware of the case that the local establishment’s is ridiculous, so do not be surprised that these all your herbal theories (tomatoes and parsley) comparing with childish saiens fiction.


    • Gregor,
      I think you are addressing your remarks to the wrong person. You seem to think that I have referred to tomatoes – but those did not reach Europe before the sixteenth century, and while Talbot, Tucker and Bdid1dr say that the plants pictured in the manuscript are from the new world, I do not. You are also mistaken in imagining that what I offer here are “theories”. They are either posts exploring some question raised by the manuscript, or they offer (or intend to offer) technical analysis of an image with historical and other notes as context.


  3. I am not writing to you to advertise my website – I do not care for it that much, but to explain something to you, because you are one of the few people taking into account: no written text of the manuscript, but the illustrative aspect.


  4. Yes it is true that the confirmation of my ideas I have no evidence – and for this reason it remains only in the thesis, but this type of “manuscripts” there is no tangible evidence – everything that I suggest is based on intuition and, most importantly, on this that I found kind of the key to solve all the most important content of the Voynich manuscript – a kind of modus vivendi by which all Correct information encoded in the illustrations of the manuscript are to me quite obvious.

    I do not know whether you known, but in my blog I put my interpretation as part of the “herbal” – (historical).
    Think of it as a link, and no advertising. There is also a piece of my interpretation of folio 86v – the map of the world.
    Also part: astronomical, cosmological, the pharmaceutical is not for me, no mystery – there are far more contained content that go beyond the traditional and scientific understanding of contemporary knowledge about those historic times.

    I am aware of this, that my interpretations of the Voynich Manuscript seem to be very unfalsifiable, but this very thing by using confrontation to get the most satisfactory of all consensus. Well, because in the end this was the meaning of the manuscript that was eventually properly interpreted – and how this knowledge will be understood decoded is a different issue.


    • Gregory:
      Where you say of your Voynich writing that “it is true that the confirmation of my ideas I have no evidence” – I agree. I tend to think that ideas about the manuscript should be preceded by a body of evidence and derive from that evidence.

      Where you say that everything you say is “based on intuition” I agree. It seems to be based on nothing else.

      Where you say that you have “found kind of the key to solve all the most important content of the Voynich manuscript” I cannot agree.


  5. I see that you put my answer, it is good – I think the integrity of science, as well as the most ordinary human is worth more than any animosities and disputes. In this one thing to roll honest discussion based on the substantive rules.

    If you still want to continue the exchange of ideas (I understand that you may not want to) it, I’m curious how I confirm my interpretation of the facts of each folio Voynich Manuscript. After all, this is the interpretation.

    But after all, it is a way to confirm my thesis. According to the definition It is a fact existing condition of things, and the meaning of the ordinary event, which took place at a specific time and place. In this sense, the fact can not be an event that had not yet taken place, but you can talk about predicting future facts – that is, events that are likely to happen. These events, however, are the facts only when already happen.

    Like this in my blog two years ago I wrote folio 48V encodes information about the disintegration of the European Union (Brexit), folio 49R – a troubled countries of the West (Occident) with the Islamists (Orient).
    All the previous folio manuscript of part of the herb in a logical sequence of events responsible for all subsequent historical events.

    To prove the validity of my interppretacji anticipates that the folio 49V will concern the future (soon) the outbreak of the Israeli nuclear bomb – I think that this will be the most perfect proof of my theory.


    • Gregor,
      Your argument is that the maker of the fifteenth century manuscript and/or the first enunciator of the written text was possessed of information which, as far as our present state of history or of science is concerned, nobody on the planet knew in 1438 AD.

      So either you must argue that it is a book of a herbalist, gardener, pharmacist etc. etc. inspired by the spirit of prophecy, or you must argue that it is a work first composed after the invention of atomic weapons. To argue that the work had a single ‘author’ is now a fringe- position and Nostradamus as horticulturalist is also something of a stretch.

      One problem with the idea is that medieval gardeners (I mean laymen and labourers, not monks) were rarely of the class who learned to read or write, and those who did were barely literate, and had a working life which provided neither the leisure nor sufficient excess money to create vellum manuscripts of so many pages, illustrated in such detail.

      If you are to attract even one or two educated readers, you will have to try and study enough to address the more obvious objections from history and, as it happens, from the imagery.

      I have to say that I am occupied at present with other matters, and cannot say when any comments will appear.


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