The emblem for East is self-explanatory.
The emblem for South is based on astronomical lore older by far than the Greeks, but the original maker of this image probably associated the sign with the southern heaven’s ‘anchor’ stars and in particular with alpha Carinae, which we call Canopus.
Those who regularly sailed or walked the ways below the equator knew that no single star occupied the southern celestial Pole, but that its position might be triangulated using three of the brightest in the vicinity. Over time, those used for this purpose changed, and also changed according to latitude. Some options are illustrated below, and another example shown at the end of this post.
Indian belief placed a mountain named Vadavamukha [the mare’s mouth] or Kumeru at the southern limit of the world. Christianity spoke of the circle of hell in the far south, and Greek myth imagined the ship of Canopus there, forever beached on the far southern island.
The Arabs assumed that Canopus marked the point of the southern Pole until at least the tenth century, and in poetry and proverb, it remains so still.
The three-dot motif on fol.86v may therefore refer to Canopus simply as the southern ‘anchor’ star, known as Agastya in Indian tradition. Or (depending on where we have this map on folio 86v), it may reflect real knowledge of the heavens as they appear below the line of the equator – in such places as Java and the Spice islands.
During the Hellenistic and Roman period, those who journeyed south for trade had surely seen them.
In any case, to associate the notion of the anchor with such a pattern was obvious, since in the Mediterranean, the ordinary stone anchor was commonly made with three piercings, formed as an equilateral triangle.
A ‘tattooed’ version was found carved into a sculpted hand there, but whether it signified dedication or consignment of a ruined piece to the waste, one cannot know. The finder describes it as an amulet.
The motif is found, about the same time, painted on Persianised and Hellenistic works in the Mediterranean. It is then associated with a female maritime figure who (despite a common confusion) is neither a Scylla nor a Medusa. She holds in one hand the palm-branch of maritime measures (for determining height and distance in astronomical measure) and an emblem of the knotted string known today as the loh, kamal, or kombologion which complemented it.
This figure represents a deity of the southern underworld, where ancient and medieval people imagined an endless sea. Devotees, however, had believed the south the origin of life and earthly plenty..
A Hellenistic portrait of Cleopatra identifies her with the same older figure, the body made as sea-born Aphrodite, the character of that ‘other’ Demeter expressed by the grain, but more to the point by the vine and grapes of the ‘vine road’ and on the Egyptian-style disc above her head has been included same three-dot motif.
Such syncretism allowed Hellenistic Egypt’s wide variety of peoples to recognise their own deities in the one figure.
In sum: the emblem used for south is an old one, constant in its significance of a southern ‘fons et origo‘. For an Egyptian equivalent for the boundary line and its regularly-spaced three dots, see the illustration at right.
Postscript: I should add that Mediterranean works of the 1stC AD often refer to the southern limit using a circle of dots. Below is the first example, the Mainz astronomical globe.
The Romans used the motif of the dotted (rather than barred) circle, but since most of Romans’ art and culture was derivative – certain techniques of their architecture taken from the Etruscans, other elements from the Carthaginians or Greeks and so forth, so in this case one cannot say how old the motif may really be, or where they had it from.
The same motif is seen represented on the Mainz globe (c.150 – 220 AD)as a pair of asterisms placed fore and aft of an old constellation that was depicted as a serpent-ship in Egyptian works, but which appears in other forms from the earliest times and which is represented in Egypt as in Cycladic art, surviving to appear in the Artemidorus papyrus in Egypt during the 1st-2ndC Ad, and in Coptic works to the Byzantine period. The constellation itself was still known to Schiller in the seventeenth century – but during the interim it had been generally eradicated from the set of figures accepted by imperial Rome.
Though the circle around the three stars in fol.96v’s ‘South’ emblem is marked by vertical bars (which in Carian imagery signifies an original and solid ‘foundation’), the dotted circle may signify the equivalent here. Below is illustrated the pair of asterisms from the Mainz globe . One lies below Orion and Lepus, and the other perhaps 45 degrees distant but at the same (celestial) latitude.
The second example is from a glass fragment found in Vindolanda, definitely from a Roman stratum and dated to late in the 1stC AD. (Note the ‘lacing’ design about the rim: it occurs on some vessels in the manuscript’s pharma section).
Here the pair of dotted circles appears to imply not the extremity of the sky but the sense of the Latin ‘ad extremum’.
A martial character, and an eternal, unrelenting opposition ‘from the foundation of the world’ seems to have attached to the ancient astronomical figure, too, implied by numerous pre-Roman era examples. One interesting Mycenaean ring shows a woman endlessly toiling at the tiller, burned by the relentless sun.
In relation to fol.86v and its south emblem, we may say that if the circle around the three stars conveys a sense of absolute limit or original foundation, it is perfectly apt, reinforcing implications carried by other motifs in this same folio: namely that it derives from a time before emperors and invaders imposed a uniform monotheism on all Mediterranean peoples.
This three-dot motif must be distinguished from another, used to represent the beginning of the year. It refers to stars forming the first asterism (Ar: manzil) in the series of 27 or 28 marking the lunar year.
There is next to nothing available online about the manazil that is relevant. I can only suggest this Brill page. The wiki article is not pertinent in the present case, since it seems to restrict itself to one, very particular, application for the term and does not so much as mention the term’s usual reference, which is astronomical. Nor were lunar calendars of ancient Arabia, which named months by the manazil, only given mnemonic verses for each day by Muslim scholars. These verses, as Serjeant notes are very ancient still in some cases, though in others plainly affected by the later (post 7thC AD) innovations and religious culture. The Arabs had developed their agriculture, its rosters and their astronomical knowledge millenia before the advent of the Muslim faith.
Nor were the manazil ever used primarily in their native lands for formal astrology, as some English language websites assume – though in that way most of western Christendom heard of them, and used them. All in all, I can only refer readers to some reputable printed text, such as Nasr’s Introduction to Islamic Cosmology, or Emilie Savage-Smith’s study of Islamicate celestial globes. – sorry.
In Scandinavia, in the sixteenth century, there emerged (or re-emerged) a type of tabula or rod described as a clog calendar. The older ones are carved in bone or ivory, but others made in wood.
On one, made c.1500 in Sweden, the sign for the year’s ‘beginning’ is made V-shaped. Its points are not emphasised; they are not formed as a right-angle. So if it is related in any way to astronomy, it is more likely to refer to the narrower ‘triangulum’ formed by the first manzil in Aries, the two principal stars being known as the “Measurers’ stars” in Arabic works.
(2) Canopus in New Zealand
The links between Hellenistic (or older Egyptian) peoples and those Maori mariner peoples who to New Zealand during the medieval centuries has often been raised.
I don’t intend to raise it here. But the Maori legend of Canopus, and their three white stars as ‘anchor’ (in this case the three white stars in Crux) is recorded and well illustrated here: