No Stars upon Thars

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One of my favorite things about the Voynich Manuscript is that no matter how many times I’ve looked at it, every time I do there’s always something I hadn’t noticed before that jumps out at me.

In the Zodiac section, each of the signs is surrounded by circles of nymphs who hold stars… Except, some of them don’t. In this post, I’ll try to stay away from speculation and from further references to the Sneetches, and just present a brief census of those nymphs who don’t have stars.

Throughout Pisces, both Aries, and both Taurus pages, each nymph has a star, either connected by a tether (tail) or holding it directly. Things start to go awry in Gemini, where three nymphs are depicted without stars: the male-looking nymph pictured above in the outer circle, and two female-looking nymphs: one in the inner circle and the other in the outer one, both of which appear to be also missing an arm.

In two of these three cases, it appears that whoever applied the yellow ink tried to make up for this by awkwardly adding a roughly star-shaped blob of yellow ink, although this is much fainter for the one in the header image.

In Cancer, two nymphs in the second and outer circles are also each missing both a star and an arm.

Everything is back to normal in Libra, but in Leo, almost indiscernible due to the fold in the parchment and severe fading, we find another such nymph (I had to tweak this image slightly to make the lines a little clearer): No arm, no star.

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In Virgo, one nymph in the inner circle is again missing both her star and her left arm.

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In the inner circle of Scorpio, we find another instance of a starless, one-armed nymph, which the yellow painter has again attempted to remedy, this time also adding the tail on the star to connect to the nymph.

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Finally, in Sagittarius’ outer circle, one nymph has no star and no arm. I had doubts about the nymph behind her too, but although her arm and star are faded and covered by a green blob of paint, their outline is still definitely visible, whereas for the next nymph, the parchment was clearly never marked.

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And that’s all. A total of only 9 out of 244 nymphs in the Zodiac section don’t have stars. Out of these 9, 8 are also missing an arm.

Initially I was inclined to search for some significance in the absence of stars. But the fact that along with the star, the arm is also missing most of the time, as well as the fact that on several occasions the yellow painter has attempted to correct this by adding stars back in later, leads me to believe that that their lack of stars is possibly an oversight by the illustrator.

In he first five pages of the Zodiac section, the nymphs are more elaborate, each drawn with various tubs and clothing, and there is still some of this in Gemini, whereas afterwards the illustrator mostly adopts a simplified, more generic style for the procession of nymphs that takes place in the second half of the Zodiac. Whether or not this transition has meaning is uncertain, although I tend to think it probably does, due to the occasional reappearance of nymphs with tubs/tubes and/or elaborate headdresses and clothing afterwards. However we can imagine that the artist grew tired of the tedious, repetitive process of drawing nymph after nymph and star after star. Illustrating the second half of the Zodiac section must have been a rather monotonous task, and I can easily envision him muttering some variation of these medieval scribes’ complaints as he completed the section.

This is not to say that the stars and arms of these nymphs are necessarily devoid of meaning. On the contrary, in this section the illustrator seems to make a point to differentiate between tailed and un-tailed stars, and even the yellow painter knows when to add a tail to a star or not when he tries to correct the illustrator’s omissions. The fact that he knows the difference is one of the reasons why I believe it is likely that the yellow painter was an integral part of the Voynich’s original creation and understood the subject matter.

If the missing stars are accidental, the results of this census might shed some light on the illustrator’s process. In my opinion, from Gemini onward, the fact that it is not just the stars but also the arms that are missing seems to indicate that unlike the more complex nymphs in the previous pages, the nymphs and stars on these pages may have been drawn in two passes: in a first pass, the body (I would guess this may have been in order to secure correct placement, to ensure that they would all fit in their circle while leaving enough room for the labels), and then in a second pass the artist went around adding each nymph’s left arm and star, forgetting one every now and then. It may even have been nymph->label->arm and star.

It seems to me that if each nymph had been drawn as a whole, left arm included, in a single pass, the arm and star would probably not have been forgotten.

But none of this is really certain, and the possibility that the absence of arms/stars is significant cannot be ruled out.


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