Edit 19 June 2016: the contents of this post, like the others in the series, do not necessarily reflect my current views. While writing my paper, I have come to a better understanding of the systems involved. Please refer to this soon-to-be-published paper for an updated analysis.
This is the continuation of my previous post, A Metamorphosis of the Fixed Stars. Make sure to have read that one before continuing here, or you won’t understand much!
So to recap yesterday’s post, I am writing about five pages in the Voynich “bathy section”: f76v, f80r, f80v, f79r and f79v. I think these specific folios contain an edited depiction of the classical constellations, and the way they overlap with the horizontal circles on the celestial sphere. As a starting point, I am looking for correspondences with the Farnese Atlas:
Bradley Schaefer (2005) lists the following constellations visible on the Farnese Atlas. I will mark in green the ones I have matched already in my last post:
Draco, Cepheus, Bootes, Corona Borealis, Hercules, Lyra, Cygnus, Cassiopeia, Perseus, Auriga, Ophiuchus, Serpens, Aquila, Delphinus, Pegasus, Andromeda, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius, Pisces, Cetus, Orion, Eridanus, Lepus, Canis Major, Argo, Hydra, Crater, Corvus, Centaurus, Lupus, Ara, and Corona Australis.
The following constellations are missing, either because they are under Atlas’ hands, got removed by the damage on top of the globe, or by mere omission by the sculptor. I will still mark the ones I think I have identified so far: Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Canis Minor, Piscis Austrinus, Triangulum, Sagitta.
Just like last time, we will compare not only the pose of the figures, but also the way they cross the horizontal circles: Tropics, Equator or Poles. In the Voynich, crossing a circle equals touching water. So if one part of a nymph is above water and the rest below, the corresponding constellation crosses a circle in a similar way. As is evident from Bradley Schaefer’s paper on the Farnese Atlas, points of intersection with the Circles are of stellar importance when identifying constellations and the system they are based upon. Once again, I am not saying the VM constellations and the Farnese Atlas refer to the exact same system. I am referring mostly to the Atlas as a hypothetical starting point to establish an overview of the possibilities. In this post, I will introduce a number of other sources as well. When all those data have been collected, we will look into the specifics, and explore various possible corresponding systems.
For starters, let’s have a look at these three nymphs. In the post about Callisto, we saw that they represent on the left a pregnant Callisto trying to hide her big belly, on the right an angry Artemis, and below a bathing nymph, a follower of Artemis. The mnemonic narrative says that “random” nymphs were present bathing, but I still found the positioning of this particular nymph strange. Who bathes in such a position when an awkward confrontation between a pregnant “virgin” and an angry goddess is taking place? Luckily, the constellation layer offers answers.
These nymphs represent the closely associated constellations Crater, Corvus and Hydra. I found the best parallel in works derived from Aratus, a 3rdC BCE Greek didactic poet. Many Aratea copies depict a relatively short Hydra, and Corvus on the right facing a fat Crater on the left.The following image is taken from MS Harley 647 (9thC France).
Hydra is, as usual, depicted as a sea serpent lying on its back. This is why we get a conflict-loving-bathing-nymph chilling at Callisto and Artemis’ feet. The angry Artemis/Diana on the right represents Corvus (raven or crow). The pregnant, big-bellied, puffy-faced Callisto represents Crater, the cup (haha).
Interestingly, MS Harley 647 places the entire trio completely between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator, while the Farnese Atlas allows Hydra’s bottom to dip beneath the tropic and parts of Hydra and Crater to rise above the Equator. Looking at the horizontal water level in the Voynich, we could interpret the nymph as partially submerged, though the messy painting makes this hard to call. The nymph representing the cup behaves flawlessly though. Her bottom part is hidden behind Hydra, and her top part touches the vertical water flow (= the equator). For now, I conclude that the composition is more like Aratus, while the position between the circles is closer to the Farnese Atlas.
For the next one, let’s start the other way around. Let’s pick a constellation that crosses a Circle in an unambiguous way. How about Centaurus. I’ll keep comparing to the Harley Aratea as well, since that worked rather well for Hydra.
As we can see in the image above, this Centaurus has his head and a little bit of his upper hand above the Tropic (which I marked in blue for clarity). The animal it is holding is not a separate constellation – at least it wasn’t in antiquity. The stars next to Centaurus were seen as part of his constellation, but there was no standard form of depicting them. In this case, the artist has opted to show them as a hare carried by the centaur. Four our purpose, we can ignore it.
Now – there is no centaur in the Voynich – what do we do? Well, let’s look for an animal that has its head and front paw crossing a watery border.
There, one of the “transformed beasts” from Circe’s cave. Its head, neck and the top of its hand cross a watery border.The correspondence with the 9th century Aratea is strong. The difference with the Farnese Atlas is that the part extending above the tropic is drawn like his spear, not his hand.
And now the last one for this post. Both in the classical constellations and the Voynich, there is an image of a man holding on to a long, horizontal, cylindrical object. I’ll show them both, and we will compare the water line versus the Circles. For a nice visual parallel, I add a single image from a 12thC manuscript as well (Cod. Guelf. 1 Gud. Lat., fol. 62r ).
The constellation is of course Serpentarius, now known as Ophiuchus, the snake-bearer. What we notice in both the Atlas and the Aratea, is one striking similarity and one discrepancy with the Voynich image. The difference is that the snake’s head extends vertically and crosses a Circle, while the VM figure’s mast is just horizontal. Note though, that the bit on the right has been colored green.
What convinces me though, is the similarity which is especially clear in the Aratea image (bottom right). The Equator crosses Serpentarius below the waist, through the upper legs. Now look at the Voynich figure, and see till where the dark green paint reaches. It’s almost as if the nymph is standing in shallow water. So the water line is exactly in the place where we would expect it. One additional, final detail is the arm the nymph holds across his belly. Note how long, bendy and snake-like it is. Now compare this to the two bottom images, and see how the serpent loops around the body. The arm evokes the serpent.
No – one last detail. Look at the eyes of the Voynich figure, as well as those of the bottom left one. They look weird – hollow or closed. Well, the Serpent-Bearer was associated with Laocoon, a figure from classical mythology.
Laocoon was blind.