… and these are Hours with no Zodiac Pt.2

In the crook of her left arm, the figure at the centre of the Carthage mosaic holds a torch or cornucopia – though which it is impossible to say.  She is not meant for Luna – there is no sign of the moon’s crescent horns – and she upholds the vault of the heavens, or the earthly salt waters. To identify one with the other was not uncommon.  Egyptian stars sail through the celestial seas too.

The way her arm is shown, pressing against the upper curve, makes of her almost a type of Atlas; but one sees much the same stance in Caryatids from the Aegean at Delphi  or Amphipolis, halfway between Athens and Byzantium.    Of some such figures the Shepherd of Hermas was evidently thinking:

“clothed with linen tunics, and gracefully girded, having their right shoulders exposed, as if about to bear some burden. …  although so delicate ..  as if about to carry the whole heavens.”

mosaic Carthage central figure Walker

Unlike them, she is shod and seated, the prerogative of a queen.  A star lies low in the picture; it looks if it were attached by a string, but that may be result of the drawing and not the intent of the original.  Far more telling are the plants to either side. That to her right appears to be the dying branch or the star-flowered asphodel, which means that other is a shoot, or an ear of wheat. That pairing, together with torch or with cornucopia, signify the pair who rule the hidden afterworld, and on whose generosity the fruitfulness of the world was believed to depend. Among the months (as well as one can say) the same appear be those placed at the point of life’s ‘ebb’ and its ‘flow’, the one between September-October and the other between April-May. Evidently these points of the year were not marked by those  of equinox but perhaps the first rising and last setting of a particular constellation or star, or some other regular phenomenon.

These emblemata, usually as Asphodel and the Grain, are those respectively of  Άͅδης or Haides and Persephone (Roman Proserpina) she who is always the image of her mother, Demeter/Ceres.

grain and asphodel Persephone and Hades

Grain and Asphodel: life in death.

Within Carthage there was once worshipped an important female figure, whose attributes are largely unknown today but who appears in various forms: in Egyptian style as a version of Isis or of Mut (whose name sounded in Egypt as both as  ‘mother’ and ‘death’); or in Iberian form in a way Madonna-like to modern eyes.

Coins for Zeugitana, minted in Carthage in the mid-fourth century BC, show her crown of wheat with the horn which locates the capital on the left ‘horn’ of Africa, and with the Egyptian asp, the last disappearing from the type within the next century.

Below right she appears in purely Hellenistic form, as more clearly a type for Demeter-or-Persephone. In Sardinia (which unlike Sicily had its own mint), we see just the wreath by the middle of the fourth century BC, and from Gagnet’s drawing it appears, appropriately, that this simpler headdress was worn by the central figure in the Carthage mosaic.

coin Carthage mint 350BC corn asp horn

Carthage mint c350 BC (image courtesy Wildwinds)

coin Carthage 350-270 BC Tanit with wheat crown

stater: Carthage, 350-270 BC.










She must have been widely known in the older western Mediterranean, Phoenician centres (Libyan-Punic) having been dense there before the coming of Rome. They included more than are shown in the map below and extended along the coast of France to as far as Marseilles.

map-phoenician west

western Mediterranean centres (after Aubet)

Below are two figurines in terracotta which illustrate the universalism which is a constant in Phoenician imagery.  Both were recovered from Ibiza and are believed to represent the same deity as that shown on the coin above.  She is equated, on the left, with the Egyptian Isis-Mut and on the right, in Iberian style with a maternal type which to modern eyes resembles early Iberian madonnas, or the soul-carrying Michael. Between them is a coin of Ashkelon with a central figure Athena-like (as Neith or Serqet), carrying an emblem of the Carthaginian deity.  Other imagery shows the Ashkelon figure mistress of the bitter sea (Marina, or Myrina?).

Phoenician figure Tanit Puig des Molins Ibiza Balearic islands Egyptian influence

Tanit. found in Ibiza in the Balearic islands.

coin Ashkelon with Tanit sign in right hand

faceless figure on a coin from Ashkalon. The lunar horns are on its head and the ‘tanit’ sign in its right hand.

Tanit terracotta from Puig des Molins Ibiza Balearic islands cf late bronze age Crete and Mycenae










Yet another from Ibiza shows well the sort of patterns used in terracotta; both the  ‘ingot’ and the ‘platelet’ are here, the object taking the same form as those months depicted in the later papyrus from Egypt, while the patterns employed are among those used in the Voynich manuscript, in its calendar’s ‘barils’ and in the map on f.86v. What we do not find is any use of Renaissance-style straight- line hatching, or cross-hatching, nor any interlace so beloved by earlier medieval Latin manuscript art – all three elements being absent, too, from the Voynich manuscript’s imagery.

pattern Ibiza Tanit terracotta

folio 86v west 600px

‘Platelet’ motif in association with setting sun, and the east/lotus which here indicates a promise of rebirth in the east. The element of itself is not uncommon and in Greek works a similar form is used for the wreath of laurel.

The calendar in the Voynich manuscript shows no obvious sign of affect from the Indian Ocean or eastward of it, unless it be the format as a folding book – now bound into the manuscript.   Though I have concluded that each section finds its common origin in the Hellenistic Mediterranean,  I doubt if the subsequent histories of each section are identical, or that they came together (again?) any earlier than the twelfth-to-thirteenth centuries.  With regard to the botanical section and the associated ‘leaves and roots’ sections, however, it is as well to pause here to note the role of the Phoenicians in the opening of the East to Alexander and his successors soon after those coins were made, and particularly what appears to have been a pre-existing knowledge of the routes, and of the plants to be found there.

Alexander’s men remarked on how the Phoenicians with their army recognised and gathered the strange plants they encountered, even – and remarkably – aware of the curative properties of plants found in the terrible Gedrosian desert.  Perhaps it was not altogether strange, for Herodotus said that they had been first brought to the Mediterranean shores by kings of Egypt, and from a home somewhere along the shores of the eastern sea.  Phoenicians were included among those peoples who acted as partners in the Hellenistic Greeks’ efforts to improve their access to the Indian Ocean trade,  where Hellenistic culture persists into the Roman era, especially beyond that empire’s boundaries.

Salles’ comments may be cited here.[5]

… the Greeks and their partners, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Israelites, Persians, Mesenians .. slowly entered the Indian Ocean. They had to create regular exchange networks, to find commercial agents and markets, to ensure steady sources of raw materials, etc. It took a long time to set up this system, which became effective and started really functioning only in the reign of Augustus…(r. 63 BC – 19 August 14 AD). Thus, historians and archaeologists have now to look for emergence of a “Greek and Partners” diaspora along the coasts of the Indian Ocean (p.264):

and concerning interaction of Semites and Greeks more generally in that region:

A funerary stela from a cemetery on Bahrain honours a kubernetes, that is a pilot stricto sensu, perhaps in the wider sense of a nakhuda, a master of a ship in traditional Arabic terminology in the Indian Ocean: his name Abidistaras is Semitic, and at the presumed date of the inscription, late second or early first century BC, he may have been Gerrhaean, Characenian or even Bahraini, but he was Greek speaking. (p.261).

see also Josephine Crawley Quinn, Nicholas C. Vella (eds.), The Punic Mediterranean, OUP (2014).

His fifteenth-century ‘descendant’ as a mariner and navigator of renown is Ibn Majid, whose description of the navigator’s star lore and ancillary techniques makes clear that this is a matter of long apprenticeship and constant learning.  His list of texts recommended for study range through the history of earlier astronomy, from the Greeks to Ptolemy, and to the Islamic astronomers of Maragha. He thought well of Ulugh Beg.

On that northern route between the Mediterranean-and-Black-Sea and the far east which includes both Maragha and Samarkand, Hellenism had flourished until about the third century AD and it is by way of that region, I believe, that we owe those sections in our present manuscript (MS Beinecke 408) which include imagery of ‘shapely ladies’.

These only returned to the southern Mediterranean, in my opinion (to judge from matter in Sassoon MS 823), together with astronomical information reflecting the history and recent advances made in that wider region, and in what had once been the eastern borders of the Persian empire, where Hellenistic study of astronomy appears to have been strongly influenced in the first instance by Ujaiin (memory of which would result in the notional ‘Arin’ as prime meridian marker on Islamic instruments), and afterwards later maintained and encouraged by enlightened rulers in Islam.  I have explained my reasons for this opinion about the ‘ladies’ folios in various posts.

al-Tusi at his desk in the observatory at Maragha

al-Tusi at his desk, high in the observatory of Maragha

I am not, need it be said, arguing great antiquity, or even an identical source, for the written part of the text as for the manuscript’s imagery –  at present that would be an argument ex nihilo.

Over a period of at least a millennium and a half, and perhaps nearer two – between the early decades of the Hellenistic empire and the thirteenth century AD –  possession of such matter inevitably passes to one community and then another, each of whom is  affected by its own customs and beliefs which enable alien ideas in imagery to be consciously or unconsciously re-interpreted even if not re-formed. That it still remains possible to  recognise the antiquity of the manuscript’s  basic chronological stratum bears testimony to the reverence with with antique knowledge was generally regarded in the pre-modern era, but also suggests an intent to maintain the imagery in all its essentials, which very strongly suggests that it served, of itself, to transmit information regarded as essential – that the imagery forms a independent speaking narrative as is not present simply as a replaceable and dispensible “illustrations” to the written text.

It is again a remarkable tribute to the fifteenth-century copyists –  who were in all probability living in Latin Europe  –  that neither any cultural chauvinism nor the late medieval Latins’ characteristic self-confidence resulted in this case in that radical alteration of foreign imagery which usually occurred on its entering that domain.  This again is another point in favour of the content’s having been recognised as containing information of rare and apparently remarkable character and/or value, even then and even there – as I hope I have shown to be so.

Were the imagery illustrations from any text of the herbal genre, or any work of astrology, or from any other genre whose iconographic vocabulary had a counterpart ready to hand in Latin Europe before the fifteenth century, one would expect the Voynich imagery to display a greater degree of ‘translation’ – as normalisation –  than it does.

In this manuscript, signs of such effort are very few: some centres for the month-folios and notably the archer figure have been re-formed; we have the repeated ‘correction’ of the ties linking the two fishes in the centre of folio 70r and re-working for the ‘hours’ imagery after folio 70r.

Otherwise, it comes down to what some have described as the work of the ‘heavy painter’ and that which appears to be the result of efforts made by an overseer/censor, though in truth his own appreciation of imagery which conveys attitudes contrary to Latin customs in art, or to those contrary to Christian doctrine seems either to have been very narrow or was overwhelmed by the bulk of such material here, or indeed hampered by a general instruction to maintain the original as close to its original form as possible.

bless its pointed little hat

(left) detail from folio 70r (right) Hellenistic-period gem. Imitation lapis lazuli. Blue glass.

One clear example of the ‘overseer’ at work is the way a non-Christian cruciform emblem, pictured at the top of folio 79v was correctly copied by the draughtsman, but then painted over to make it more nearly resemble a Latins’ religious cross.[6] In my opinion it is a critical emblem, denoting the ‘measurer’ of stars and of the year, a primitive ‘Jacob’s staff’ derived from the merkhet, used with the bey – from which latter I trace the origin of the eastern mariner’s measuring ‘wood’ known in the west as a loh – though once again I have already treated the relevant detail from folio 79v. (Those impatient with such matter might recall that Baresch sent copies of folios from the manuscript to Kircher from an understanding that the content had been obtained from Egypt and presumably – since he refers to Kircher’s appeal while working on hieroglyphics – ancient Egyptian.)

It is also characteristic of the manuscript’s ‘censor’ and his limitations that he failed to recognise – until after folio 70r was made – the implications of its ‘barils’, and absolutely failed to recognise the significance of  a small object marking the top of the umbrella-like ‘aegis’ where it appears in the manuscript.  It has a constant sense of referring to North Africa, chiefly to the idea of Egypt-wards as the “port-side” or “homeward” – that is, the south, and perhaps more precisely still to the point in Egypt marked today by a pillar still called by the Egyptians “the pillar of the Horsemen’.  One could hardly expect him to have known better; and not even the internet has made it general knowledge yet, but precisely the same informing thought can be seen on Phoenician coins from the eastern Mediterranean made contemporary with those showing the Carthaginian ‘Demeter’, all dating to the first decades of the Hellenistic era – i.e, the mid-fourth century BC. (Alexander was born in 356 C and died in 323 BC.)  The coins shown below are from Byblos; I apologise for not having access to larger images;  I have already treated this in detail elsewhere, in regard to folio 75v – first in ‘Findings’ on July 10th, 2010, and as reprint here on February 19, 2015.

peg motif and coins of Byblos c.330s BC


..  but now to return to the mosaic and its ‘net of time’, and the reason why the vessel-carrying figures in the Carthage mosaic explain those who travel in their ‘barils’ on folio 70r of Beinecke MS 408.


Part 3  in three days’ time.



5. Jean-François Salles, ‘Achaemenid and Hellenistic Trade in the Indian Ocean’, in Julian Reade (ed.), The Indian Ocean in Antiquity, Routledge (1994),  pp.251-267.  See also Duane Roller’s commentary in his translation of the geography in Eratosthenes, Princeton University Press (2010): “sailing farther, there are other islands, Tyros and Arados, which have temples like those of the Phoenicians. Those living there say that the islands and cities that have the same names are (were?) Phoenician settlements.(ibid.p.92). The point is that there is no necessary conflict between matter relating to the eastern end of the maritime routes, similarities to and references to the eastern Mediterranean.

6. I first discussed this point, and the detail on folio 79, on the blog ‘Findings’ on Wednesday, May 12, 2010, in a post entitled “Christian imagery in the Voynich”, reprinted in this blog as ‘Item on folio 79v’ (Nov. 29th., 1914) 2014.



  1. Ah, Diane ! Wandering afar afield (as is your wont) ! Your latest discussion (caryatids?) made me sit up straight and write to you ASAP ”
    Caryatids: Diana’s ‘sisters’. B-408 discusses Dianthus (the floral specimen which we call the Carnation.or ‘Sweet William”.. Here and there, in various journals or discussions in re the triangular ‘roof’ which is supported by stone caryatids (women/goddesses-guardians of the portices) in many large stone buildings (everywhere in the world) — I have tried to alert you.
    Most often, most of my attempts to donate to your discussion pages, herein, usually don’t get passed by my virus protection software. So, I’ll try once more (using our favortie mode of ciber-communications.
    A tout a l’heure!


    • Bobette,
      To explain the history of an object, one has to explain history – which is not so much ‘wandering far afield’ as tracking a form of imagery and its informing ways of thought to their proper place and time.

      Perhaps by the end of this series of posts, the point will be clearer (I hope.)

      I’m interested in what you say about your comments being blocked by your own virus protection. A few people have said that when they tried to link through another website, such as voynich.nu, they received a warning notice. However, I have checked with wordpress, and on another computer with its own antivirus protection, and they tell me that the only reason for this notice is that wordpress uses a secure and private address which prevents phishing, and since it does not give unnecessary information to site-seekers, some return a message that the site’s information “cannot be verified”. By logging into wordpress itself, then going to the site, the problem seems to vanish. I have checked the site itself running several antivirus programs. All come up clear. Not sure what else I can do about that.

      As always, if you want to leave a comment, but have troubles with the comment section working properly, you’re welcome to email me direct, and I’ll post the comment on your behalf.

      About the caryatids – many take the weight on their heads, and some on both hands, but only a few on one. None that I know are seated. And this combination also tells us that the figure is not a ‘Lady Bountiful’ in the Roman style.


  2. I do sometimes forget that not everyone reads every post – this treatment of the Carthage mosaic comes in the context of forms which, while seeming to resemble the Roman zodiacs (as does the early Christian Roman Vat.gr.1291), yet differ from them and relate to a pre-Roman or non-Roman view of the heavens and its disposition. It relates, too, to the growing evidence for the immediate exemplars for MS Beinecke 408’s having come, not from northern or central Europe but further south, and within what was (during the 13th and 14th centuries) the common cultural sphere of England-France-northern Spain-Mallorca and North Africa, the interactions of which, and external visitors to, are exemplified (by reference to the only site in Europe marked in folio 86v) by the Avignon court and the Juifs du Pape, and also, of course, the life and library of Mosconi co-opted by Pedro IV, the Jewish chart-makers exemplified by Cresques, the mercantile links exemplified by Datini, and the international links exemplified by such persons as the Franciscan emissaries to the east, and those who came to the court from as far as China.

    Yes, the manuscript’s influences do require one to voyage ‘even as far as China’ with regard to the botanical section, and certainly as far as the older period in the south-western Mediterranean for the astronomical folios’.


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