In yesterday’s post, I demonstrated how Ovid’s Metamorphoses appears to have inspired at least one set of nymphs in the Voynich manuscript. This came as a surprise to me, since I assumed Ovid had only been the source for a number of plant mnemonics (see this post for a number of examples). Yesterday’s discovery, however, opens up the possibility that the Metamorphoses have found their way into other parts of the manuscript as well.
Today, I will show how Ovidian elements have also brought about a metamorphosis of the “four winds” page. I’m not sure what the correct foliation is, so I will just show the page as this one at Jason Davies’.
The folio shows what appear to be four winds, one in each corner, blowing towards the centre. The winds in the left corners each hide a human figure, while those in the right corners are inhabited by birds. It’s not clear right away which wind is which – depending on which system is used, general directions can be switched. I’m not an expert in this matter, so I’ll leave it at this vague comment for now – we’ll see what the imagery tells us and assign the directions like that.
Ovid does describe “the four winds”. They are named in book one, which describes how the earth was created:
Eurus, the east wind, drew back to the realms of Aurora, to Nabatea, Persia, and the heights under the morning light: Evening, and the coasts that cool in the setting sun, are close to Zephyrus, the west wind. Chill Boreas, the north wind, seized Scythia and the seven stars of the Plough: while the south wind, Auster, drenches the lands opposite with incessant clouds and rain. Above these he placed the transparent, weightless heavens free of the dross of earth.
As far as I can see, this description doesn’t tell us much about the Voynich image, apart from the fact that there are four main winds. I don’t even know if these winds are meant. Let’s keep looking.
Wait a minute… Yesterday’s story about Philomela and her sister Procne ends when the two sisters are transformed into birds.Could this be a continuation of this myth? We skip one part and continue here: Bk VI:653-674 They are transformed into birds.
Long story made short, after the queen, Procne, finds out that her husband has raped her sister, both women come up with a plan. They kill the king’s son and feed him the flesh. When the king finds out he has just eaten his son, he chases the women, and they turn into birds. That’s where it becomes relevant again, since Ovid tells us: “You might think the Athenian women have taken wing: they have taken wings. One of them, a nightingale, Procne, makes for the woods. The other, a swallow, Philomela, flies to the eaves of the palace“.
Could those be the two winds on the right? Let’s have a closer look at the birds. If they are the birds from the myth, we need one in the woods and one flying to the eaves of the palace. For my non-English native readers, eaves are defined as “the overhanging lower edge of a roof”.
If that isn’t a bird flying to the overhanging lower edge of a roof and one sitting in the canopy of a forest, I don’t know what is.
David Jackson mentioned a while ago on the Voynich forum (in this post) that he thought this page related to “The Phaseis of Ptolemy”, a system which connects certain winds to the behavior of birds. If this is true, I think the myth from the Metamorphoses has been overlaid on this scheme as a mnemonic device. David said he was still looking for the exact myth – so I hope this helps.
Then let’s turn our attention to the two human figures that adorn the remaining winds. On the top we have what appears to be a relatively attractive female figure (for Voynich standards), on the bottom a male one. The man’s wind is blowing diagonally from the corner towards the centre, but he himself appears to cast a mini-wind straight up towards the woman. Oh dear… Let’s just keep reading Ovid where we left off, and hope he explains this as well.
The story of the two sisters who have now turned into birds, continues in the final part of book VI. Ovid briefly summarizes how the sisters’ father, Pandion, king of Athens, dies an early death because of the tragedies that happened to his daughters. His son takes over the throne. One of his daughters, Orithyia, was beloved by Boreas, god of the north wind.
Here Ovid elaborates: Boreas first tried to seduce Orithyia in the normal, courtly fashion, but the girl did not answer his love. ” This was so while Boreas wooed her, and preferred prayers to force. But when charm got him nowhere, he bristled with anger, which is his usual mood for too much of the time, and said ‘I deserve it!”
The god of the north wind decides to take action, and “unfurled his wings, by whose beating the whole world is stirred, and made the wide ocean tremble. Trailing his cloak of dust over the mountain summits, he swept the land, and, shrouded in darkness, the lover embraced his Orythia…”.
So we have the god of the northern wind, Boreas, represented by the male figure bottom left, who redirects his course to kidnap the woman of his desires. This appears to be what we see in the Voynich image, though the wind is represented by actual icy air directed by the deity towards the object of his desires.
That concludes the Ovidian foundation I see in this imagery. I hope this might help others more qualified in windy matters to better understand the imagery and analyze this folio.