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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