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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EDIT: As OutsiTer pointed out in the comments, there is another nymph with an arm but no star in Sagittarius, and here the star (with tether) has been added by the yellow painter:


And that’s all. A total of only 10 out of 244 nymphs in the Zodiac section don’t have stars. Out of these 10, 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 the 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.


4 thoughts on “No Stars upon Thars

  1. Hello author,
    1. In Sagittarius there is another nymph that the “yellow painter” has corrected. The last of the four above the outer circle.
    2. But if all these nymphs are deliberately left without their arms and stars, it means that the “yellow painter” did not understand the content of the text.

    Best regards


    1. Hi OutsiTer,
      thanks for your comment, and sorry I am only getting around to it now! It has been a busy time for me. I hadn’t noticed that nymph in Sagittarius, I’ll amend the post later today to reflect your input!
      About your second point, you may be right, however the main problem is that we don’t know if the absence of stars is deliberate or not: Even if some stars are deliberately left out, it could be that the scribe made an error in omitting some of them, which the yellow painter tried to correct: this might explain that he only corrected some of them and not all. But it is impossible to know for sure either way, unfortunately.


  2. Hi there. Thanks for pointing those out, i haven’t spent a lot of time with the zodiac section. I recently came across a belief that when a person dies, their soul goes to the star to which they are connected by a thread. This ties in with the fates and the spindel idea, where if your thread is cut, it is the end of your life. Hanging on by a thread…etc. I do not remember where i read it, it was an older reference i think, but not medieval. I wish i was paying attention because i think it may be connected to what you are showing here. I feel there is meaning to the stars and their tethering, and also to the poses of the nymphs. Could it be talking about precession? How some of the stars have moved with respect to each other over time? Hence the tether, perhaps, to keep it connected? Or perhaps the tethered ones are stars that the moon or other celestial bodies occult, it being not a tether but an indication of transit? I think nymph arm and leg poses all mean something, and i see a correlation with the no armed nymphs and one nymph on f80r in quire 13 has no arms but is instead covered by what appears to be red and white striped cloth. I identify her as Monaco, which although did exist before 1419, was not its own entity before that time, just a colony belonging to various other civilizations. (Flag is red and white stripe) (Name means single house, or living apart from others). I think arm positions are aligned with history and interaction but if you are a new entity, you don’t have any history or interactions to speak of, so in such a system, if drawn as a nymph, it would be depicted without arms. Perhaps some similar mechanism would explain these missing arms in the zodiac, beyond them not being drawn in by accident. Maybe other lone colonies without interaction? But with history. I think the zodiac pages show not astrological months, but ages, or 2160 years each, and that is why beyond Taurus there are very few clothes or architecture (tubs).to be found and almost eveyrone is nomadic. This would fall in line with the precession idea.


    1. Hi Linda, thank you for stopping by.
      In this post I just wanted to stick to a simple count and observations about these stars and arms. There is always room for speculation in each section; the problem is finding contemporary examples that back up these ideas.


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