Please note: My posts are not intended to set out a “theory” about the manuscript, nor to support such a theory by finding evidence for my own hypothesis while ignoring all contrary data.
The posts are intended to provide an historical locus and content for the work by reference to its imagery; to explore anomalies, and explain as many cultural allusions in the imagery as I’m able, given the limits of my time, resources and personal skill. The process necessarily leads at times to revision of earlier ideas, but in general I have found little since 2009 to change my initial opinion (given in an article sent to cipher mysteries) that the botanical section relates to the eastern sea and its trade in vegetable products – for dyes, medicines, perfumes, incense, furniture, ships’ supplies and repairs.. and so forth. I remain convinced that the codex suggests it has been put together for one or more members of a peripatetic profession.
Almost inevitably, accumulated evidence draws one towards probable conclusions, but these posts are not written to set out and support any prior argument; the posts are about the manuscript, not about “my theory of the manuscript”.
Neither are the posts stand-alones. Obviously, evidence gained from one section of the manuscript, and described in detail in one post, need not be reproduced in every post about that section or chronological stratum. When necessary, I link to or re-publish earlier posts that relate to a new point. And yes, occasionally as the research advanced I changed my mind about a detail, or an interpretation I’d made earlier. But less often than one might expect, considering that I first heard of the Voynich manuscript in 2008. 🙂
This Index will take you to March 30th., 2013. Otherwise, Posts by date now goes to the end of 2014.
A few summary posts for each section begin the survey. These demonstrate method and establish a general context.
Fol.86v contains so much information that is crucial to any proper perspective about the manuscript’s purpose that I have included almost of its analysis within this general survey.
Quotations from Augustine are to demonstrate that obviously non-Latin and heterogeneous imagery in Beinecke 408 could still have been accepted by western religious on the authority of one or another of their noted theologians.
“Genus subjectum divinae artis est ens”.
The Survey’s divisions:
1. Botanical Section
2. The world and the Voynich manuscript
2b Scripts and Manuscripts
see also: comment on the Beinecke library’s description of the manuscript.
I had not intended to include in the Summary any reference to the month-roundels (aka. ‘astrological roundels’). I felt them better left for a comparative discussion next year, because so much more is needed by way of detail and historical background. However, in response to a request, I’ve added a few posts, these focussed on the theme of the starry or earthly shield-and- aegis:
3b. Month roundels. (a.k.a ‘Astrological roundels’)
4. Stylistics and Details: aegis and ‘wolkenband’ as example.
Section 5 is a series of private posts – sorry!
5. … and back to the west – Patterns of the ‘ivory road’
- Implications of an ivory tabula from Grand in the High Vosges.
- Gregory the Great and imagery of the veil.
- The Carolingian tidal wave: pictorial evidence of contact with North Africa and inner Asia.
- Hiatus… and twelfth-century renewal.
1. BOTANICAL SECTION
Who would be so mad as to think that a living thing made by Gd, especially one planted in paradise, can found fault with? Even the thorns and thistles …are not rightly to be found fault with. Even such herbs have measure, form and order.
Augustine of Hippo, On the Nature of the Good (xxxvi)
* System and Science (Introduction)
* fol.16r Hempen-fibres and dyes
* fol 53v step-by-step ~ Template post (Sesamum spp.)
* fol.1v Cloves
* fol. 2r ‘Paper and Rolls’ Tetrapanax papyrifer et.al.
Posts with background as well as botanical ids.
* f.90r Lawsonia inermis. Henna (reprint from my earlier botanical blog)
* fol.34v ‘Wooden apples’ group: Xylocarpus spp. and Aegle marmelos (identification near end of post)
Postscript: re Dana Scott’s comment on folio 28v
fol.4v – Clematis. in post ‘Alchemy’s sweet scent’. – near end of post.
fol. 13r – Musaceae and Europe (reprint from ‘Findings’)
fol.34v – Xylocarpus spp and A.marmelos. ‘Wooden apple’.
fol.43 – Mangroves.
series of related posts:
see also INCIDENTAL POSTS
What the botanical section shows most clearly is that the people who first made its imagery knew intimately many plants gained from routes of the Indian ocean and along the ‘silk’ roads, to at least as far as southeast Asia. All appear to me to be plants which we know had commercial value. It is noteworthy that the drawing is very literal for the leaf, pod, raceme, and habit of growth for the plant or plants which define the grouping.
Not all the plants depicted were traded into medieval Europe; the appearance of some was not known to western botany for a decades, and in some cases (see myrobablans and bananas), for centuries after the manuscript was made. Most importantly – the botanical section represents a group of plants perceived as related or interchangeable. European habit was to picture just one plant at a time. The Voynich manuscript is filled with indications that its content did not originate in western Europe, no matter where the last stage of our present codex was completed.
2. THE WORLD and THE VOYNICH MANUSCRIPT
“Speak as you will; I am determined to endure your circuitous course and not to weary in it…”
Augustine, Soliloquies Vii, 13
* A map… .
* folio 86v ~ Introduction to a map
* ” ~ A curious orientation
* ” ~ from the North ~ the river roads ‘of Paradise’.
* ” ~ the East roundel ~ Lotus and Paeony
* ” ~ Towards the South ~ South-East roundel
* ” ~ South towards West ~ (Stage 1, )
* ” ~ The West roundel – (password needed)
* ” ~ The Centre. (not written up yet)
2.2 Details (and see also INCIDENTAL POSTS ):
* the Angel of the Rose (detail in the north-west roundel).
* A question of scale. A note on methodology.
The inset section [North roundel] in fol.86v shows a connection to the
portolan-style maritime maps and charts that were produced by the Byzantines and Genoese of Trebizond, in Genoa itself, and later in the Balearic islands before the last quarter of the fourteenth century. Folio 86v as a whole does not however suggest an origin in Europe.
Fol.86v seems to reverse the positions for east and west, a phenomenon found in other works and explained. Its organisation overall is compatible with Asian conventions, though the matter might conceivably have reached the west as early as the 9th-10thC AD.
Postscript (9/12/2012): because so many small details imply an Egyptian character, I’ve added a note to the post ‘Curious Orientation’.
Belated acknowledgement – (April 20th.2013). I’ve been told that others before me suggested f.86v was a map. I have never seen any explanations similar to mine, but I think it right to point others towards a blogpost on ciphermysteries dated May 29th in 2010. There P. Han comments on a comment that had been made to his own blog, in which the person had mentioned portolan charts. That might even have been me, though early in 2010 my research was in its earlier phase and I’m not sure I’d got to portolans by that time. In any case, it appears not to be a suggestion of P.Han’s himself.
Pelling also refers to a single sentence from Joel Stevens which agrees with my views, and is hereby acknowledged. Pelling wrote:
“Back in 2008, Joel Stevens suggested that the rosettes might represent a map, with the top-left and bottom-right rosettes (which have ‘sun’ images attached to them) representing East and West respectively”.
… but after that our views diverge.
Neither Joel nor anyone else before me, I think, adjusted to compensate for the map’s ‘east – is -left’ and so treated the 3-point emblem as a clock, or the North, or a magnet etc. Anyway, see for yourself at ciphermysteries post, April 20th., 2010.
2 Supplementary. ~ SCRIPTs and MANUSCRIPTs
If any new or unheard-of writing is produced or recommended by a handful of people without reasonable confirmation, we believe it not, but those who produce it. – Augustine
* 13thC England and fol.28v (re Dana Scott’s comment)
I do not know what I shall have for dinner tomorrow, but I do know in what sign of the zodiac the moon will be. There is nothing shameless in that.
.. neither is that material which the ancients called Hyle to be called an evil..
Augustine: On the Nature of the Good 18.
* Welcome to the Diagrams (Introduction)
* ——– A nice link-up. centre-marks, SantaColoma’s diagrams, Pelling’s discussion of astolabes and nocturnals.
* fol. 67r-ii (Tidal calculations), Moons and Nymphaea
* fol. 67v-i (directions & emblems) Chronological strata
* fol. 77r ‘Five elements’ (updated)
Additional notes on diagrams:
No geometrician has ever professed to teach God.. (Soliloquies 11).
* Eight languages and tajnopis’ cipher (re: f.57v)
The diagrams ~ exclusive of those in the as-yet untreated sections ~ appear to describe the disposition of the world in relation to the heavens and the effect of the heavens upon the earth. They include emblems which are compatible with an early- and even a pre- Hellenistic origin.
Their explanation of the world does not appear to be to astrological but more practical, even if having a different focus in different sub-sections. Some of the diagrams and sections appear to refer to use of the stars in navigation, others to meteorology ~ in a way which I should think more likely akin to treatises by e.g. Theophrastus, Aristotle, Al-Biruni and/or the Brht Samhita or in the later period, the Kings Mirror.
Theoretical content informs f.77r, I believe, whereas f.67 in its entirety reads to me as basic instruction in practical maritime methods.
4. ‘BATHY-‘ Section
It will do no harm to a man who is sailing.. to forget from what shore he set sail, so long as he knows all the time whither he is directing his course.
Augustine, On Free Will. 61
5. MONTH ROUNDELS
Nor is light itself evil when that light we can see with our eyes is worshipped [by others] instead of the light of wisdom, which is seen by the mind.
Augustine: Of true religion 39
“Other climes, other customs”. Because it is widely supposed by many that this series of roundels refers to the European (i.e. Greco-Roman) tradition and no other, I did not think I should treat them until the reason for my contrary view had been explained.
Quite apart from the uncertainty of their origin, there is the problem that they are so often spoken of as ‘astrological’ diagrams when the internal evidence suggests no more than some reference to the calendar.
That idea of their forming an ‘astrological zodiac’ is so prevalent that whether or not I agree with it, the idea appears at present not to be open to discussion, so one must justify in advance any challenge to the general belief, and for that reason I’d intended to omit that section of the manuscript from my initial survey.
I was particularly hoping to avoid referring too early to the idea of the roundels being related to a ‘Helios zodiac’ genre, but in response to a reader’s request, I did put up (perhaps unwisely) a couple of posts on that subject. Others will remain closed for the moment.
A. ~ Questions about ff. 70r-73v …
* fol 70r ‘Of Fishes and Fleury’
* fol 72r-i ‘Cross-eyed feline & Red splash‘ (cf. Ottonian ms.)
* fol 72v ‘… Balances
B~ Reconsidering the ‘zodiac’ imagery.
Introduction ~ ‘Across the North’ routes and prototypes.
Additional Notes ~ ff.70r-73v
* Ottonian manuscript (re f.72r-i)
* ‘Helios zodiac’ genre and ms Beinecke 408 (a mosaic found in a building dedicated in the 6thC AD includes a ‘helios’ mosaic with a standing human archer.)
(and section 5)
STLISTICS AND DETAILS – see INCIDENTAL POSTS
* Aegis and Wolkenband (four posts).
PATTERNS of the ‘IVORY ROAD’ see INCIDENTAL POSTS
The form given the month roundels is not uncommon, and their overall form echoes that of ‘shield’ imagery as such, rather than imagery specific to depiction of the 12-figure zodiac. This is itself is of interest.
Other sections allude to a similar idea of the protective shield and again evoke the idea of an aegis in style as well as in evident intent. Use of a ‘peg’ motif for the centre of the ‘aegis’ style used in the bathy- section appears to maintain an originally Egyptian usage.
The ‘month-folios’ do not show clear affect from regions east of the Caspian as other sections of the manuscript do, even if in both cases the form given the ‘nymphs’ is similar enough to permit the treatment of these sections in parallel.
Precedents for the bodily proportions given the ‘nymphs’ are found in pre-Christian Kiev, earlier in Achaemenid Persia, and in other lands on the eastern border of India, in which there lived over the centuries a mixture of Greek-speakers, Persians, Indians, Scythians and others. While the Greco-Bactrian and Indo-Scythian kingdoms flourished around the beginning of the Christian era, a Greek presence occurs simultaneously in southern India. This may have been due not only to roman trade as such, but an influx of those fleeing the advancing tide of Roman militarism.
Images below from pre-Christian Kiev (right), Achaemenid Persia (6thC BC) left, and (centre) the Indo-Scythian region c.1stC AD. The important things to note are the relative and non-literal proportions. The examples to the left show head regularly made as large as torso; those from Kiev show legs sharply attenuated below the knee.
It is evident to me that the great majority of the ‘nymphs’ are personifications, and not portraits of any real persons.
In the month-folios they represent stars, as I believe they do at one level of meaning in the ‘bathy’ section.
Close correspondence between the ‘nymphs’ as pictured in the month- folios, those in the ‘bathy-‘ section and again if to a lesser extent in the astro-meteorological section offer an element in common which to some extent cuts across the noticeably different approach between the ‘zodiac’ roundels and the rest of the manuscript.
The ‘nymphs’ are shown in energetic movement, sometimes argued an indication that they embody cues to the written text.
This may be so, but if it were I should expect that their postures would refer to numerical data about distance, astronomical position, depth, time, commercial weights and equivalents and matters of direct relevance to navigation, time and commerce.
Echoes of the same style of figure occur relatively late in some Persian works.
As example, here is a link to the 13thC manuscript from which the imagery comes that is shown below. Known as ‘the Book of Antidotes’ or ‘-Remedies’ this work is associated especially with Mosul, whose reputation for superior astronomical instruments appears to pre-date the seventh century and the advent of Islamic rule.
In the same context the sophistication of the Antikythera device and of early Chinese inventions must be taken into account. (see e.g. this brief history of automata). Such skill is also attributed to a people locked behind the ‘Gates of Alexander‘, whose location is disputed.
Mosul, of course, is another of the areas that passed directly from Achaemenid to Macedonian control in the 4thC BC.