Astronomical Coincidences in the Voynich Zodiac

In a recent post, I wrote about how the Voynich Sagittarius’ pose might be explained by the illustrator choosing to represent him pointing his arrow towards a specific star/nymph, the only one holding her star low. If we follow the layout of star maps, the nymph would be in the right place to represent Antares or another star in Scorpio, low on the ecliptic and facing Sagittarius’ arrow.

There are a few more curious coincidences in the Zodiac section, some of which I will present here.

Dark Taurus: It’s hard to see because of a hole in the page, but one of the nymphs in the inner circle (the only one on the page that is not nude) appears to have an unusually long arm.

DarkTaurusOrion

When I noticed it, this immediately reminded me of the depictions of Orion that are found in medieval Arabic astronomical illustrations, and later in the Alphonsine manuscripts and their adaptations throughout Europe. Orion is either depicted as having a particularly long “sleeve” (which the Arabic astronomers called al-Kumm) or in some of the Alphonsine versions, as holding some sort of long cloth. This iconographic tradition persisted alongside others, well into the 16th C.

The position of this “nymph” in the composition, facing Taurus, is also identical to the position of Orion relative to Taurus in star charts. Orion is an easy constellation to find in the sky, and it can be used to locate Taurus. Isidore of Seville connects the two: “Orion astrum ante Tauri vestigia fulget“.

It could just be that the artist was trying to avoid the hole (if it was there before the drawing was made) and so made the arm longer to make room for the star. It seems to me that the hole was there before the drawing, but got larger and more frayed around the edges over time.

But in that case, why not shift the entire composition so that the hole wasn’t in the way, like he did on the reverse side (f72v1)? There would have been ample room to do that. It could be that he drew her there, in spite of the hole, to ensure that Orion was placed before the hooves of Taurus, as per Isidore’s description.

Dark Aries is another folio which features interesting coincidences.

The nymph directly above Aries’ head is depicted inside a barrel which is decorated with an angular pattern, which forms a triangle. The placement of this triangle shape right above Aries reflects the way the constellations of Aries and the Triangle are laid out on star charts and in medieval astronomy books. Aratus wrote that when the moon was bright, Aries could be located in sky the by finding the Triangle first, and in spite of Hipparchus’ objection that the stars of Aries are actually brighter than those in Triangulum, the idea that Triangulum was a signifier of Aries, also found in Hyginus, was repeated throughout medieval manuscripts. The phrase “Aries infra Deltoton“, was copied over and over (and sometimes rather miscopied, see Lippincott, 2006, p.21), and in the Voynich manuscript, we do indeed find Aries infra Deltoton: under a triangle.

The placement of a tub decorated with triangular forms above the head of Aries may well be a complete coincidence. It could also be that the illustrator, while decorating the tubs with random patterns, reached the one above the head of Aries and decided that a triangular design would be fitting for this one due the astronomical tradition of depicting Aries infra Deltoton. But it might just be also, that the nymph in that tub is meant to actually represent the constellation Triangulum, or one of its stars.

Pisces Triangle Barrel (upside down)

In many manuscripts, we find Triangulum in between the constellations of Aries and Pisces, mirroring the layout in the sky. Interestingly, in the Voynich a triangle pattern is also found on another barrel, near the bottom fish on the Pisces page (see above, flipped upwards for viewing convenience).  The fact that the triangle motif is found on both of these pages, near the constellations that Triangulum actually neighbors in the sky, is something I found noteworthy.

tri_constellation_artwork

Although I was hesitant to add this one, here’s another coincidence about the Dark Aries page. Right next to the posited “Triangulum”, there is another figure which looks distinctly male, wearing a cap. The tail to his star is unique: it is striped, and almost like a cape or scarf, it extends from behind his neck rather than being held. In the sky, right next to Triangulum, we find the constellation Perseus, often depicted nude except for a cap and a cape extending behind his neck.

That is as far as I’m going to go with this, although there are actually a few more such examples. A couple of coincidences is far from enough to make a statement about the way the whole Zodiac section works, and I don’t want to be guided by a theory, only to end up desperately stretching and twisting things to get every nymph or tub in this section to “fit” a constellation, so for now I’ll simply say that these are remarkable coincidences.

Additionally, even if these are intentional, it does not mean they necessarily form part of a system, or relate to the text. The illustrator could have added these touches as a reflection of his astronomical knowledge, spicing up otherwise repetitive work, and they may not be relevant to the overall meaning of the illustrations.

The examples discussed in this post struck me as worthy of presenting, but I can’t be sure that any of them are significant, and so far I have not found any consistent system throughout the whole zodiac section that would confirm these interpretations. The fact that the iconographic program is simplified after the first few pages of the Zodiac section would suggest a lack of such consistency throughout the section anyway.

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A Closer Look at the Voynich Pisces

VoynichPisces

As I’ve often stated before, I don’t consider the colors in the Voynich Manuscript to be relevant. Except perhaps the yellow, and some of the red, I don’t see any evidence that the person who added them understood the text. The blues, intentionally or not, often hide details that the illustrator had taken the time to draw, especially in Q13, so I regard it as particularly suspect, and ignore blue completely. One day I’ll write a detailed post about my views on colors in the Voynich Manuscript, but for now, let’s just say I mostly ignore the colors.

The Voynich Pisces consists of two fish heading in opposite directions. So far, nothing unusual. Each fish has a tailed star connected to its mouth, and that’s very, very unusual.  It is frequently stated that another unusual feature of the Voynich Pisces is that the two fish are connected by a line, but that unlike in most representations of Pisces,this line runs outside, rather than in between the two fish. This is where I disagree.

There is no line connecting those fish.

Let’s take a closer look:

VoynichPisces (2)

The supposed line is an impression entirely created by the blue paint. I don’t see any evidence of a brown line drawn by the illustrator underneath it. The artist originally didn’t connect the two fish.

Let’s clean up the image and remove some of that distracting blue paint to see what the Voynich Pisces was originally designed to look like.

VoynichPiscesNoBlue

We are left with two unlinked fish, each connected to a star.

This process reveals two interesting bits of information. First it shows that the Voynich artist comes from a culture, or is copying from a model, where Pisces is represented as two fish that are not connected by a line. There are several examples of Pisces as two unconnected, long-snouted, head-to-tail fish, although these are rare. I have found them only in manuscripts from France and from the Lake Constance area. If we add the criteria of these fish being in a roundel, then 100% of the ones I’ve found so far are from the Germany/Austria/Switzerland region. These long-snouted, unconnected Pisces seem to be a very distinctive style, specific to that area.

 

It also suggests that the person who added the blue may not have shared this background, and thus may have attempted to correct what he may have seen as a mistake and tried to connect the fish to better reflect a version of Pisces he was familiar with. He may have used an outside line either to try to reflect the actual configuration in the sky, or because he didn’t have enough room in between the fish to draw the usual S-shaped line. The latter scenario raises the possibility that the blue paint was added after the “mars” label.

It’s also possible that the blue line is only supposed to indicate that the fish are in water, which would also explain why the painter added blue on top of the fish, to show them as underwater.

Even if we were to consider the blue line as valid, it is worth mentioning that it doesn’t actually connect the fish. It only sort of wraps around them. It is not connected at either end to the fish or to the stars or to the stars’ tails.

Therefore the misleading blue line is best ignored. If we are looking for a match for the Voynich Pisces, the fish should not be connected to each other at all.

In closing, I’d like to draw attention to some images which are not of Pisces but of stars in the constellation of Cetus, from a 15th Century German MS which the Warburg Iconographic Database unfortunately only references as “Vienna, Collection Gutmann, Calendarium“. It really does seem to be a fascinating manuscript, especially in relation to the Voynich Zodiac pages, and I wish I could find more information about it and better scans.

Here is Menkar, with an almost perfect match to the Voynich fish. Note the snout, scales, fins, tail, and of course the star (the nearby “nymphs” are also interesting):

CollectionGutmann f28v

On the same page there is another fish with a star, which is unnamed:

GutmannCalendarium, 28v

And a few pages later (32r), another star from Cetus, Deneb Kaitos:

GutmannCalendarium, 32r