My paper on Hellenistic astronomy in the Voynich manuscript is coming along nicely, but, as was to be expected, it will take me a bit longer than anticipated. One reason for this delay is that I’m taking it more seriously than planned. With references and stuff. A second, that I keep finding new things as I go along. A third, that I tend to get sidetracked.

Such was the case today, as I spent my little available research time looking at pictures of Egyptian pendants. This happened after having read some interesting observations on Diane O’Donovan’s blog, like in this post where she compares several emblems for “south” on maps. A side note on an Egyptian pendant there got me looking for similar examples, and I will share the results in this post.

None of this has any pretense of being completely original, since Diane has written about these subjects already. I am merely providing new examples, ones that I find convincing. Either way, it will illuminate for my readers some of the many points why I believe much of the Voynich imagery originated in Hellenistic Egypt.

First, we will have a look at motifs on the Egyptian menat necklace. This ornate piece of jewelry was closely associated with the goddess Hathor, and symbolized protection and fertility. To keep it in place on the chest, it usually had a counterweight on the back.

Bronze, Faience, stone and glass. Length (of counterpoise) 14.5 cm. Excavated from the ruins of Amenophis III at Western Thebes in 1921 by the Metropolitan Museum Egyptian Expedition. In the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Alternatively, the counterweight held an aegis in place, essentially another form of the necklace. Pictured below is a Meroitic example. So this person would have had a counterweight on the back, to keep the front in place.

The more ornate versions of these menat counterweights were adorned with images, often associated with the goddess Hathor. It is in these ornamental scenes, more specifically the border surrounding them, that we find a convincing parallel for a border found in MS Beinecke 408. You will notice that the border contains an alternating pattern of parallel lines and an often dotted blank space.


What is really interesting, is that the older examples have five lines, which decrease to three as we approach the Hellenistic period. The Voynich image shows three lines as well. The depicted scene is almost always related to protective fertility goddesses, Hathor and later Bastet.

Speaking of Bastet. Her statuettes were very popular in Hellenistic Egypt, and many of them survive. They were symbols of fertility and especially divine protection, just like Hathor and the menat necklace. What is special about these statuettes, is that they often pay more attention to the elaborate decoration of Bastet’s dress and attributes, than to the goddess herself.

The Walters Art Museum describes a beautiful Ptolemaic example as follows:

The ancient Egyptians donated figures of their gods for use in temple rituals; smaller images served as amulets to ensure divine protection. Goddesses in particular were viewed as protective deities. From earliest times, Egyptian venerated a wide circle of feline-headed female deities, such as Sakhmet, Tefnut, Wadjet, and Bastet. This statuette of a standing Bastet has an usekh-collar with a lioness head in her hand as a protective symbol. The inscription on the base names the donor of the figure.

Since we will have a look at the patterns on Bastet’s dress, I add this description from another Ptolemaic statuette by the Met Museum:

Her dress has a complex pattern with alternating blank and hatched vertical stripes and fringe along the bottom edge. Bastet does not always wear a decorated dress, but it is much more common for her than for other goddesses. The patterning highlights its intricacy and quality; also, as some have suggested, the vertical banding may recall the striped fur of a cat.

The following image compares fabric patterns from late Egyptian or Ptolemaic Bastet dresses with patterns on the so-called barrels or baskets some Voynich nymphs are found in. Since this is meant to be a quick post, I will show the examples without much further analysis. Of course the match won’t be perfect, since the Voynich figures are not sitting in Bastet dresses. We will merely note the way patterns are used for materials, which might point to a similar cultural mentality.


(These are literally taken from the first three decent Bastet statuettes I found)

And now back to writing that paper.