The Voynich Sagittarius: A coincidence?

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Following a recent post on Nick Pelling’s website, I was scouring the Voynich nymphs once again to try and decide which one is my favorite, and the search led me to an observation which I would like to share here.

(Before I begin, I want to apologize for the unanswered comments to my last post! I  have been away from home for a long time and need to get back to some of my source material to provide proper answers and also to finish writing up part 3 of that series of posts. Hopefully that can happen next month…)

Several Voynich bloggers and researchers have looked into various aspects of the f73v Sagittarius’s clothing, facial hair, weapon and pose (see for example the 2003 crossbow analysis by Jens Sensfelder over at ciphermysteries.com, or these blogposts by JK Petersen, or the work done by Marco Ponzi and Darren Worley on Stephen Bax’s blog, or the many discussions on the subject on the forum).

I would like to entertain a different angle on the Voynich Sagittarius’ pose, based on the overall composition of the roundel illustration in relation to the circle of nymphs around it.

First of all, if we focus on the surrounding nymphs, we can see that the layout is unusual. Starting at about 11 o’clock, they are all oddly squished together, which is strange, as by the time he created the Sagittarius page, the illustrator would surely have become used to placing 10 nymphs in the innermost circle, as he does easily on f72v1, and without too much difficulty in 73r. Elsewhere, there can be up to 14 nymphs in the inner circle. It can also be noted that the illustration on  73v isn’t limited by the size of the page (there would have been room to draw a slightly bigger circle) nor by the presence of neighboring illustrations (such as in the Gemini/Cancer foldout). The cramped quarters of the initial nymphs may well be deliberate, which might indicate that something else is going on. It might be ok for these nymphs to be packed together like sardines if it ensures the correct placement of another, more important nymph.

Let’s get back to the crossbowman. His arrow points directly towards a nymph at around 8 o’clock. This nymph is remarkable: out of all the human figures in the zodiac section, she is the only one who holds her star with her arm stretched downwards. There is no apparent reason for her to do this: there would have been ample room for the artist to draw her in the Classic or Brandish pose. Could Sagittarius’ unusual pose actually be an indication, pointing towards this nymph?

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Why might this nymph be holding her star like this, and why would she warrant a special nod from the crossbowman? Here’s one theory:

The nymph at 11 o’clock in the inner circle seems to be the first one that was drawn, and among Voynich researchers there appears to be some consensus that the order of the nymphs on any given zodiac page should be read from the inside out (inner circle first, outer second, additional top nymphs last).

If we begin counting the days of Sagittarius following this plan, the 11 o’clock nymph (n°1) becomes November 22nd, and eight nymph-days later, the downwards star nymph (n°9) is November 30th. November 30th is the last day of the liturgical year, St Andrew’s day, which was and still is widely celebrated by Christians of all denominations around the world. It is immediately followed by the fist day of the next liturgical year, aka the first day of Advent, and indeed the next nymph, the tenth one in the inner circle, can be seen holding her star up high.

Of course the apparent interaction between Sagittarius and Nymph n°9 might just be coincidental, or it could be some sort of drollerie-style naughty joke, but the theory I’ve presented here just might explain both the nymph’s pose and the crossbowman’s pose as a coherent whole. The crossbowman might be drawn in this way so that his arrow can behave like the hand of a clock, marking an important time: St Andrew’s day, the end of the liturgical year, and the transition to the beginning of Advent, the new year.

In any case, for now this means that Sagittarius Nymph n°9 will have my vote in Nick Pelling’s Best Nymph poll!

Edit: In light of Rene Zandbergen’s comment below, I have to revise my opinion, as the dates for Sagittarius were different at the time of the Voynich manuscript’s creation. Instead, could the position of the crossbowman’s arrow reflect Sagittarius’ orientation in the sky? If we look at the constellation Sagittarius in the sky, it has its’ arrow pointing towards Scorpius, so might Nymph n°9 represent Antares, or another star in Scorpio?

Edit 2: Marco Ponzi recently directed me to this amazing picture of a (undated) Mongolian volvelle featuring a bow and arrow:

zurhaicircle

 

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6 thoughts on “The Voynich Sagittarius: A coincidence?

  1. Nice 🙂

    I am fairly convinced that the pose of the nymph in question is significant. On the other hand, I don’t think that we have here a calendar, but more some celestial information.
    Of course, that’s my opinion.

    More seriously, in the first half of the 15th century, the Sun did not enter Sagittarius on 22 November but 10 or so days earlier. (Hope I got size and direction right). That means that St.Andrew’s day is out…

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    1. Thank you Rene!
      Dang it, you’re right about the Sagittarius dates being different back then! Based on a few manuscripts I’ve just looked at online, it looks like Sagittarius started a few days earlier, perhaps a week but still enough to rule out St Andrew’s day.
      Is there some sort of online calculator to find out the dates for the signs at a given time in history? I’ve done a quick search but can’t find anything useful.
      Although that part of my theory is probably wrong, I still think the alignment between the crossbowman’s pose and the low-star nymph could be deliberate, (it would account for the awkward nymph spacing and the unusual Sagittarius pose). While I’m speculating, here’s another theory about this alignment: in the sky, Sagittarius’ arrow is pointed towards Scorpius. So nymph n°9 and her low star just might then represent Antares, or another star in that constellation… who knows?

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      1. If the pointing of the bow is important, then the star must almost certainly be Antares (Cor Scorpii). The nymph holding her arm down might parallel Scorpius’ downward pointing tail, while the archer points at her body.

        In this context it may also be worth nothing that this nymph has a rather androgynous face and a marked expression, which I would read as malicious or furious. This would be in line with Scorpius’ unfavorable reputation.

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        1. Hi Koen, yes, as I said Antares would make sense in alignment with Sagittarius’ arrow, but I wouldn’t necessarily read the facial expression as you do. Whether or not s/he is Antares, his/her frowny face could also just be a reaction to having a crossbow pointed at her!

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