I have written before about how the Voynich nymphs on a number of folios allude to the Greco-Roman constellations. At this point, it may be useful to provide an overview. The “constellation-nymph folios” are the following:
- f.76v: Winter constellations (north) or the Hercules/Engonasin group. The constellations above the ecliptic that were most prominent during the winter months. I will analyze the figures in depth later, but the most important one is discussed in this post: He Who Doesn’t Kneel.
- f.79r: the equinoxes, analyzed in this post (part 1) and this post (part 2).
- f.79v: Southern constellations, will be the subject of the current post.
- f.80r: the Sun, planets and a number of constellations. This folio still poses some problems and will be revisited later.
- f.80v: Summer constellations. The constellations of the North Pole region and those associated with summer and the annual flooding of the Nile. See Summer Stars.
Additionally, folios 77r, 77v, 82r and 82v are related but seem to have a somewhat different focus. They appear to form a transition into a subsection about phenomena like rainbows, rains and winds. Folios 83r and 83v certainly belong to this type as well. So the constellation project is limited to three folios (76, 79 and 80) with some possible overlap on 77, 82 and 83.
Nymphs playing constellations – recap
The constellations are not represented in their usual shapes, but instead they are embodied by nymphs. I believe this is the case because the images on these folios integrate the viewer’s assumed knowledge about the constellations into a broader didactic-mnemonic synthesis. The actors are naked and their attributes are limited, because this “blank canvas” state allows them to more easily incorporate the desired information.
For example, f.80v teaches about the constellations associated with summer, but also about the flooding of the Nile during the same season. Up until fairly recently, the Nile’s cycle was of vital importance for anyone who had any business in or around Egypt. So imagine a text something like this: The inundation of the Nile occurs during the months […..] which is also when the constellations […] are prominently visible in the sky.
Instead of drawing the constellations and the flooding Nile, these concepts were integrated into one slightly absurd image. Instead of a picture of the river and the trio Hydra, Corvus and Crater, we get three nymphs “acting” like the constellations whilst standing (and in Hydra’s case, lying) in the swelling river.
Like this, the imagery exploits our brain’s learning preferences. If you want to remember something new , you should:
- Associate it with a preferably absurd image to activate the strong visual part of the brain.
- Connect it to something you already know (I assume the Aratean constellations were known already).
- Exploit linguistic puns.
- Activate the spatial part of the brain, about which see Method of loci.
About the last point, it might be worth noting that the images on these folios do make use of the various “loci” on the page, climbing across the top, along the margins, through the middle and over the bottom. They are often connected by “paths” of water or pipes, further reinforcing their spatial interconnection.
South of Capricorn
Now on to f.79v. It includes three nymphs, four creatures and one nymph-fish-hybrid.
This is one of only three folios where nymphs share the stage with animals, which is remarkable in itself. The nymph standing in the fish’ mouth is also absolutely unique: no other nymph has any contact with an animal, or is a human/animal hybrid.
On this folio, I’ve had an “anchor” for a very long time, an identification about which I am so certain that it can serve as a point of reference for identifying the other elements on the page. The nymph with the cross-shape embodies Argo Navis, the half-ship that sailed the south of the heavens.
The cross, like many nymph attributes, needs to be read on several levels to be understood completely. It likely does refer to a navigator’s device, as proposed by Diane O’Donovan. The star Canopus, part of Argo Navis, was one of the most crucial stars for those travelling at sea. A fine example of a cruciform measuring tool can be seen in these hieroglyphs from the Ptolemaic period. I choose this example because it implies a complete disconnect from Christian imagery since Jesus wasn’t born yet when this cross was carved.
My own proposal was that this cross-shape was meant to invoke a cruciform naval standard or small sail found on the stern of Greco-Roman ships, and hence also on depictions of Argo Navis. The naval standard can be seen on countless coins, usually held by Astarte or Nike (Victory).
The stylis (naval standard) was always placed on the stern, the back part of the ship, which is also the visible half of Argo Navis. Hence, I propose that the cross-nymph is derived from one of these very common goddess-with-cruciform-standard types, and that her surroundings are meant to bring to mind the stern as it was commonly depicted.
The fact that Diane reached a similar conclusion through an independent path of investigation, focusing on different aspects of the image greatly increases the likelihood of this nymph’s referring to Argo Navis or its most important star Canopus.
Note added 3 July 2017: it may be worth mentioning that the water structure behind the nymph appears to refer to a triangular sail. See for example the following images from Florence Plut.13.16:
The Fish that is called Southern
So the cross-nymph is a great anchor: we are in the southern part of the night sky. What else lives there? One obvious candidate is Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish, which is a separate constellation unrelated to the more well-known Fishes of the Zodiac.
I wrote about this nymph, and the reasons why I believe it refers to the southern fish in great detail in my paper, pages 43-45. The fish of the constellation lies on its back, just like the nymph. It is also said to be drinking Aquarius’ water flow with wide open mouth. The nymph has her mouth open as well, and a stream of water ends in her face.
Now, as a general rule, the base on which nymphs stand (or lie, in this case) gives a clue about the constellation. In this case, we are dealing with a weird tube-like thing.
The Southern Fish being a southern constellation, much of its mythology takes place in Egypt. It is said to be Oxyrhynchus, a fish species revered in southern Egypt.
That’s one thing: the fish associated with Piscis Austrinus has a pretty big nose. The Egyptian statuette is from the Late Period. Note the horns and solar disk on the fish’ head, linking it to the cow goddess Hathor, or Isis in the subsequent Greco-Roman period.
In the star lore of Greco-Roman period Egypt there seems to have been very little that was not somehow connected to the popular Isis-Osiris cycle. So too the Southern Fish. It is said that after Set chopped up his rival Osiris’ corpse and tossed the pieces, the penis was eaten by this fish. So, does the base refer to the fish’ nose, or Osiris penis? Maybe both.
It is also worth noting that there is another nymph which stands on a similar structure, and most researchers interpret this as an ejaculating penis.
I must admit that I have had my reservations about the right image’s phallic nature, but in the light of this comparison, I must reconsider. The story actually continues that Isis crafts a prosthetic penis for Osiris and manages to mate with his reassembled, fake-penis body and become pregnant. So yeah…
In conclusion, Argo Navis and the Southern Fish firmly anchor this folio in the southern sky. I’ll cut the post here and discuss the remaining figures in the next one.
 Some type of animal is among the nymphs on f80v, and another folio is occupied by two birds and two nymphs. I don’t count the “Zodiac” emblems because those are clearly set on a different stage than the surrounding nymphs.
 The image is from this site, which was brought to our attention by forum member Searcher.
 Admittedly, the water hits the nymph in the eye or cheek rater than in the mouth. I have no idea why this is the case.