EDIT 1 December 2016: added overview images in the bottom.
Today we will have a closer look at the myth told on f79r, as shown below. I left the image quite large, because the narrative structure is slightly more complex than that in previous examples.
As I explained before, an uninterrupted flow of water (detail “1”) means the narrative flows downward, while a flow interrupted with series of dots (detail “2”) indicates an upward movement. As we can see in the image above, we can follow the stream downwards all the way till the feet of the pair holding hands in the middle. Similarly, starting in the bottom, the flow keeps “evaporating” upwards, until it reaches the same point. So our story will start on top, move towards the centre, and then continue from the bottom towards this same central point.
The images on this folio contain more symbolical elements than the previous ones, so my interpretations of what is meant will be exactly that: subjective interpretations. I am rather certain that this is the correct story, but I will not “read” all the images in the intended way, especially given the fact that they were first made well over a millennium ago.
Let’s see what we have to explain, top to bottom:
- An angry nymph holding a wavy-patterned object in one hand and a vertical pole in the other.
- Something that looks like a weird bunch of grapes.
- A nymph looking up at the “grapes” and a dark surface.
- Two nymphs on either side of the flow, grasping each other’s arms.
- The flow gets a different color in between these nymphs, a greenish grey.
- Two more nymphs facing each other, the one on the left is wearing a blue hat with a blue veil.
- On the bottom, a nymph holding on to a floating horizontal pole with vertical cross bars.
Let’s start on top. The chapter from the Metamorphoses depicted here is Book XI: The Tempest. The bottom part illustrates the next chapter. As always, I use Kline’s translation.
Our story begins when Ceyx, king of Trachis, departs on a sea journey, leaving his wife Alchione behind. Soon, however, the ship is caught in a violent storm. It appears to me that the top part of the illustrations on this page depict this storm overpowering the ship in a rather symbolical way, at times taking Ovid’s poetic descriptions rather literally.
There are a number of sentences in Ovid’s initial description of the rising storm that are captured quite nicely in the top image:
“The storm increases its severity, and the roaring winds attack from every quarter, stirring the angry waves… The waves rise up and seem to form the sky, and their spray touches the lowering clouds.”
So the storm is an angry nymph attacking the mast of the ship, touching the clouds and casting down a wave. A bit later, the storm is described again in martial terms quite befitting the image: “One ultimate wave, like a conqueror delighting in his spoils, rears up gazing down at the other waves.” This episode is a beautiful example of how the nymphs are embodiments of concepts, be those storms, constellations, gods or myths. That is why it doesn’t matter that much whether they all have breasts or not.
Ovid then describes how the ship’s integrity starts to give way to the battering waves. Rain falls from “melting clouds” and the sky is dark like the sea itself. “Look how the heavy rain falls from the melting clouds, and you would think the whole heaven was emptying into the sea, and the sea was filling the heavenly zones. The sails are soaked with spray, and the seawater mingles with water from the heavens. The sky is starless, and the murky night is full of its own and the storm’s gloom.”
Some sailors are stupefied, some start crying, others pray… “But Alcyone is what moves Ceyx: nothing but Alcyone is on Ceyx’s lips, and though he only longs for her, he rejoices that she is not there.”
In the face of death, the king can only think about his beloved wife, and even though she is with him in thoughts, he is glad she is not really there. And this is when the water takes on a murky grey colour, separating Ceyx and Alcyone like a veil. Both are standing on their separate platforms, and the king has been given boobs. Because Voynich.
As you can see, the flow of water starts to get interrupted here, which means we have to read from the bottom to the top now. Let’s see what happend next in the story. An especially powerful wave utterly destroys the ship. Ceyx manages to hold on to a piece of driftwood…
…until he is covered by large wave. All the time, he keeps thinking about his queen Alcyone, until he is dead.
This is when Ovid realizes it’s been a bit too mundane so far, so he kicks it up a notch. Back at home, Alcyone keeps praying for her husband’s safety, not knowing he has already perished. “She piously offers incense to all the gods, but worships mostly at Juno’s temple, coming to the altars for a man who is no more.”
The goddess Juno gets tired of this useless praying after a while, and decides to take action. She sends Iris, her most faithful messenger, down do the halls of Sleep with a mission. “Go quickly to the heavy halls of Sleep, and order him to send Alcyone a dream-figure in the shape of her dead Ceyx, to tell her his true fate.” So Iris is sent down to order Sleep to make Alcyone discover her husband’s fate in a dream.
Iris, on the left in the image below, is seen swiftly running into Sleep’s realm. Note how the water changes color here, as if it the flow itself is struggling between sleep and wakefulness. “When the nymph entered and, with her hands, brushed aside the dreams in her way, the sacred place shone with the light of her robes. The god, hardly able to lift his eyes heavy with sleep, again and again, falling back, striking his nodding chin on his chest, at last shook himself free of his own influence, and resting on an elbow asked her (for he knew her) why she had come...”
But how do I know this is Iris? Well first of all, she has been given the “arms back” running messenger pose, which by itself is telling already. But just to make sure, take a look at this fresco from Pompeii, late first century CE, made not much after the Metamorphoses, and not much before the first version of these images. One difference is that the Voynich attaches Iris’ blue veil onto her headgear, as is its preference. Just for fun, I add in Juno on the right as well, as she is drawn in the Callisto story. Mistress and messenger are reunited in the Voynich manuscript.
Sleep obeys, and orders the shapeshifter Morpheus to take on Ceyx’s form and visit Alcyone in a dream, to tell her of her husband’s death. And that brings us right back to the middle image. This time is is Alcyone who reaches through the grey veil of sleep towards her husband’s likeness.
The story is concluded when Alcyone discovers her husband’s body on the shore and attempts to commit suicide. As it happens, both of them are then turned into birds: halcyons.
This is where the term halcyon days finds its origin, for when these birds lay their eggs, there is a period of seven days without any storms, allowing them to breed in peace.
And that is how, once again, we get a myth related to life on the seas depicted by Voynich nymphs.
Additional note: Diane O’Donovan referred me to a post which shows that the ring-as-funnel motif indicates winds, as first noticed in relation to Voynich studies by Ellie Velinska. Since the figure on top is basically the personification of a storm, this analysis makes sense to me. Note how the water top left of the figure appears to evoke the “veil” or cape often seen on personifications of winds. Below I compare it to a Greco-Buddhist fragment of the wind god Boreas (Hadda, Afghanistan).