Hours with no zodiac Postscript: liturgi and grid-systems

[Header shows a globe from a fresco dated to the mid-first century AD]

Sorry the post is so long, but for later reference, it will be most convenient¬† to have all this on one page. The second half is quotes from the sources, which you can always skip. ūüôā

My sources for the liturgi reduce to four. Not even the wonderfully entitled and (truly) learned Prayer, Magic, and the Stars in the Ancient and Late Antique World by Scott Noegel, Joel Walker Walker(eds.) has an entry for the term. That book is still a fine study, published by Penn State University Press in 2010.

For that reason, I transcribe the full text of my second source; a link is given to the first; the third reprints part of a post from ‘Findings’ – my first research blog.¬† Finding the fourth is left to you, dear reader.

Before going further, let me explain where this is heading, in relation to the Voynich manuscript’s calendar section and its figures in their tiers and ‘barils’.

detail fol 70r rotatedI’ll admit to having slowly come to the point where I now have a theory on this one small matter –¬† and that is : that the reason for the fifteenth-century copying relates to the maritime and chart-making practices recently gained from the Jews, and chiefly those¬† of northern Spain and Mallorca, within the region which is described for the fourteenth century as the ‘Avignon region of influence’.

Gerona was also within that region of influence. The city was a notable centre of Cabbala and the birth place of Nahmanides,¬† which might be why Panofsky said he saw Kabbalah as one influence in the manucript –¬† though on this I must guess because he never explained the observation.

Below, in the upper register, I’ve put one example of the sort of carte marine I mean.¬† The lines are usually supposed extended from the wind-rose compass: hence ‘rhumb-gridded’ charts, but I’m not sure that all of them were made by reference to the wind-rose. Cresques called himself master of bussola and qumbas, and I think by the second he meant the sort whose points were named by stars.

Kabbalah intro map and coinsThe lower register shows (right) coins showing emblems for ‘Adrinopoli’, one of the towns on the map. On the left we see the diagram from a manuscript called ‘Introduction to Kabbalah’.

If you imagine each of the map’s city-sites identified not by buildings but by its token emblem, say that to be seen on pre-Roman or Roman coins¬† (and I really will get round to re-posting¬† parallels for the Voynich centres) – then the grid system can be envisioned as that created by lines radiating from a circuit of figures – as¬† ‘tyches’ or angels etc., each of whom looks after the place over which it stands, and the lines may then be identified with the radii stellarum.

It offers way for ‘geographic astrology’ to be considered spiritual, yet remain closer to astronomy than astrology. It also connects to the emblem in the north-west roundel in f.86v as precedent for the ‘compass rose’, and then again to the Genoese ‘eye-shaped’ map of 1457, about all of which I’ve written elsewhere.

Jean Richer wrote on this topic, though made the error of supposing the ancient Greeks had the same zodiac as the later Romans’.¬† Nonetheless, it is clear that some habit existed of marking direction and identifying sites by symbolic astronomical forms. See Richer, Jean, Sacred Geography of the Ancient Greeks
Astrological Symbolism in Art, Architecture, and Landscape, SUNY (1994).

Here’s an example of the general idea. This is from Renaissance Italy,¬† the Duomo in Siena, and to show its older precedents,¬† I add another from Tunis under Roman rule.(click to enlarge)

mosaic opus sectile Siena Lucca leopard Duomo Siena

mosaic Roman provinces TunisiaYou get the idea.

If, as I think, the centres used for the Voynich months were originally emblems for various cities, then the names for the figures around them might be angels’ or stars’ or surrounding towns, or … goods.

Slightly differently expressed again, a ring of angels and parantellonta – which last some identified the liturgi – in a form gained from Jewish sources, preserved in the Lapidario of Alfonzo X.

Taurus wheel from Lapidary of AlfonzoA number of Voynich researchers have offered images of the parantellonta as parallels for the Voynich star-holding figures.

The first I saw mentioned in this way was offered by Dana Scott, although I have also seen others produced by Rene Zandbergen and most recently by Marco Ponzi, who used another diagram from Alfonzo the X’s Lapidary as part of a presentation in May (see¬† this page of Stephen Bax’ site).

Ponzi came too late to Voynich studies to see my first comments on ‘stones and stars’ in relation to the ‘barils’ (another I should reprint, I suppose), and I doubt if he follows my developing argument for a southern rather than a northern context for the¬† exemplars used to make¬† MS Beinecke 408.¬† That makes the convergence all the more interesting.

Since May, when Ponzi produced that presentation, his attention appears to have shifted and his more recent offerings on Stephen Bax’ site appear only to relate to German-speaking regions of central Europe,¬† something which I think is rather a pity when his Spanish studies had such promising beginnings.

The Lapidario was translated by¬†¬† Yehuda ben Moshe (Yhuda Mosca) –¬† whom I’ve already had reason to mention.

So now to the Liturgi, and our very few sources on them. After the quotes, some thoughts about what we might learn from Martianus’ description of use to studying the Voynich calendar.


1.¬† In the long passage quoted below, Tester refers to” …an ‘anonymous Gnostic’ who associates the liturgi with angels and archangels .”

This sounds to me like a reference to the unknown author of ‘Pistis Sophia’, the text of which can be read online, and in English. See¬† pp.156-7¬† of Philip David Scott-Moncrieff, Norman McLean, L.W. King, and H.R. Hall, Paganism and Christianity in Egypt, CUP, (1913).

I would also refer readers to¬† Hans-Joachim Klimkeit, Gnosis on the Silk Road, (1993). It’s not an easy read, but shows the level at which we should be prepared to find language and ideas working in some of the astronomical folios.


2. from [S.J] Jim Tester, A History of Western Astrology, Boydell Press (1987) pp.116-117.

Martianus Capella’s ‘The Marriage of Mercury and Philology’.. Books III to IX are in fact a summary encyclopaedia of the seven liberal arts. Book VIII is concerned with Astrologia, and it is wholly astronomical.. the author does not even bother to give the names of the [zodiac constellations] because, he says, ‘everybody knows them’…

[but in Book II, 200… Philology on her arrival in the sphere of fixed stars, having jumped out of her litter]¬† “saw the immense plains of light and the springlike calm of the ether, and now she saw the differences and the shape of the decans, now wondered at the eighty-four ministers (liturgi) of the heavens standing near, and saw besides the shining globes of the many stars…’ etc.

We know about the decans, of course, though we are not used to finding them personified as they are here, and as they are occasionally elsewhere …

But what are these ‘ministers’ the liturgi, of which there are apparently eighty-four? The footnote in the Teubner edition sends us to Firmicus Maternus (a century earlier than Martianus Capella), who deepens the mystery: ‘Some authorities, wishing to go into more complications in the matter (sc. of the decans), attribute three divinities to each decan, because they wish to be known as ministers (munifices) that is, liturgi; so that nine ministers can be found in each sign, and each decan is equipped with (i.e provided with ~ D) three ministers. Then again, they divide the nine ministers which they say are established in each sign among countless powers of divinities; by these, they say, sudden chance events, pains, sicknesses, colds and fevers are caused, and all else that comes upon us unexpectedly without our knowledge, and monstrous birth are also caused by them’. Three liturgi in each decan, nine in each sign and therefore 108 in all, according to Firmicus. Neither he nor Martianus explain any further.

Modern scholars do not help. Franz Boll (Sphaera, 1903, pp.392 ff) merely follows Bouch√©-Leclercq, and he Saumaise before him, and says that the liturgi belong to the sphaera barbarica [better: the sphaera barbara ~ D.]… and are paranatellonta, the stars which rise with the decans. This is also the view, unsupported by evidence, of a modern editor and translator (into Italian) of Book II of Martianus Capella, Luciano Lenaz.¬† However, they clearly are not paranatellonta.

Not only is there no list of 84, nor 108, such stars, but in Martianus they are obviously like the decans and similarly personified, and separated from the stars; and Firmicus does not even hint at such a solution, but treats them as divisions of the decans (though of course it is possible that paranatellonta could be so used). The early commentators, such as John Scottus Eriugena and Remi of Auxerre in the ninth century, both drawing on older glosses, are at a loss. Eriugena says: “Liturgi means ministers. The space between the earth and the firmament is divided into 84 “varieties” (variaetates).’ And Remy says the same and adds ‘liturgi according to some authorities are divinities which inflict sickness on mortals.’¬† It looks as though their eighty-four varieties are derived from a possible but unlikely interpretation of diversitates in Martianus, and [N.B.] their sicknesses come ultimately from Firmicus or at least the same tradition.

So what are liturgi? And why are there 84 or 108 of them? There is no certain answer. They are not mentioned by any other ancient astrological writer, and there is no reference to them in Bede’s astronomical works or those of later commentators. It is fairly safe to assume that Martianus had little or no idea of what they were but merely listed them with the decans in the same way as an anonymous Gnostic quoted by Boll puts them in a list that includes angels and Archangels! Firmicus Maternus may possibly have known more, but it looks unlikely. His three liturgi per decan is too tidy, and too complicated at the same time. It looks like a guess, making liturgi thirds of thirds, and it gives an odd unit of 3¬Ĺ¬į, a third of the 10¬ļ decan,which looks like the ‘ninths’, the novenarii, of later astrology. These were probably of Babylonian origin. So were the lunar mansions, of which there were 27 or 28.

~ Jim Tester


3. a reprint of an extract from ‘Findings’ prompted by Firmicus Maternus’ saying, rather oddly,¬† that some persons increase the number “because they wish to be known as ministers (munifices) that is, liturgi“.

(The tone reminds me of Cassian’s reporting a similar idea among monks in early Christian Egypt, and again it concerns the ‘affixing’ of stars, which seems to have mattered quite a lot.¬† Apparently would-be important monks strove to be holier-than-thou [to achieve an ‘apostolic’ status?]¬† by chanting more psalms to ‘affix’ the stars to heaven than the next chap did.¬† That sort of enthusiasm was becoming a problem among the monks of Egypt when Cassian visited them in the third century, and he was fortunate enough to be there when the issue was resolved)

reprinted from ‘Chant, [learning and] litany’. Findings, (blog), May 13th., 2010.

[By] about the third century AD… the habit of chanting the evening and the night hours was already established in the earliest monasteries in Egypt.

Cassian went to visit some, and witnessed a curious dispute among the monks on this matter, one which shows that there were still older traditions in existence, and at the heart of the problem.

He witnessed its resolution while visiting the Tabbenitic monks and reports:

In different degrees they strove, each according to his own powers, to fix [affix] an enormous number of Psalms, and some were for fifty, others sixty, and some, not content with this number, thought that they actually ought to go beyond it,–there was such a .holy. [sanctimonious(?)] ..difference of opinion .. that the time for their Vesper office came before the sacred question was decided; and, as they were going to celebrate their daily [ he specifies later ‘evening and nocturnal’] rites and prayers, one rose up in the midst to chant the Psalms to the Lord.

And while they were all sitting (as is still the custom in Egypt), with their minds intently fixed on the words of the chanter, when he had sung eleven Psalms, separated by prayers introduced between them, verse after verse being evenly enunciated, he finished the twelfth with a response of Alleluia! And then, by his sudden disappearance from the eyes of all, put an end at once to their discussion and their service.

Whereupon the venerable assembly of the Fathers understood that by Divine Providence a general rule had been fixed for the congregations of the brethren through the angel’s direction, and so decreed that this number [of 12] should be preserved both in their evening and in their nocturnal services. And then they added to these two stories, one from the Old and one from the New Testament, adding them simply as extras and of their own appointment, for those who liked, and who were eager to gain‚Ķ

This seemingly fortuitous event actually maintained the traditions of the sea Рand the Tabennitic monks were mariner monks, who served Byzantium as their pre-Christian ancestors had served Egypt, or Rome.

The mariner’s custom was¬†for the pilot to chant the periods of the night, those by which the course was being steered and (to use Majid’s idiom) the stars ‘fettered’, but with the crew hiring a person to tell stories “as extra and of their own appointment, for those who liked, and were eager to gain.”¬†Those customs could¬†still be observed¬† in practice forty years ago, and were recorded by Sergeant on the run from Hadramaut to Zanzibar.


4. records of the Egyptian monastic hour-stars. (records of the European are near-incomprehensible. Not even McCluskey tried to translate Martin of Tours on the subject).


COMMENT with reference to MS Beineke 408:

There are three points which I think deserve consideration:

First is that order in which Capella has¬† ‘Philologia’ see the heavens after leaping from her litter (plainly, the constellation so-called, and which is termed the ‘bier’ according to the ‘sphaera barbara’ because it is dragged about the northern Pole).

He says first that she saw “the differences, and the shape of the decans, now wondered at the eighty-four ministers (liturgi) of the heavens standing near, and saw besides the shining globes of the many stars…’

I think we are supposed to imagine the globe transparent, in much the way the older astronomical figures presumed that the constellations were viewed from above, not in the limited view from any one spot on earth.

The ‘differences’ are the first and furthest, then the decanal stars of Egypt,¬† and finally the ’84’ nearest her – that is, nearest the Northern Pole – or, to refer to the older Babylonian scheme, those within the highest “Enlil” band of the three tiers into which the sky was divided.

On that point, a bit of wiki-article, for convenience:

The Babylonian GU text arranges stars in ‘strings’ that lie along declination circles and thus measure right-ascensions or time intervals, and also employs the stars of the zenith, which are also separated by given right-ascensional differences…

Declination and right-ascension, anchored by the horizon and the position of circumpolar stars, including the Pole, is also the very natural basis for naked-eye navigation, a science older than writing and thus older than urban astrological systems.¬† The Omani navigators, and earlier still the Yemeni tribe, the Azdi, were acknowledged as most expert in this science in the Islamic world –¬† for which reason Ibn Majid is generally believed one of the Azdi.

Whether by way of knowledge brought to the western Mediterranean by a branch of that family who came to rule in Muslim Spain, or by an older (and acknowledged) fraternity between the occupants of the left and right horns of the African shore, the fact is that Majid thought little of any Mediterranean pilots save those of the western shore of North Africa, speaking of them as kin and as alone having a similar body of inherited lore. This, of course, is in the fifteenth century.

All others he terms dismissively, ‘Egyptians’.

If indeed our persons in ‘barils’ mark the hours, and these are also in the system of mariners’ measuring stars,¬† the same known in various ways to others as e.g. the ‘angels of the day’ – overseers of the decanal divisions in a ratio one per three etc., – then there are two readily available grids which might be tried, and which we know were used.¬† The first is formed by taking the nine star-points of the sidereal compass – that is the stars for the Poles and those of the eastern horizon – to serve as vertical axis, and the 27 divisions of the lunar path used in mathematical calculations, though 28 is also useful in calculating time.¬† The other system is related to it: the rhumb-grid by which time and position ( effectively the same) were defined.¬† Again one takes the nine divisions of the vertical axis, and for the horizontal axis, instead of the lunar mansions, the 12 ‘double hours’ of the 24 hour day are used.¬† The last gives (9 *12 = ) 108.¬† The same number is obtained if the globe’s four quarters or seasons are considered by formal ’27’ manzil¬† (4 * 27 = )108. By convention, however, the southern pole was often omitted, and the lower two points of the compass might be amalgamated, or the non-point system simply reduced to 7, as also occurred with the wind-compass, which had its simpler and its more complex forms: thus 7 x 12 gives the smaller number of 84.

The manazil of the Pleiades was the one dropped to make the calculators’ “27” (also used in the meditations of ibn al-Arabi, composed in Spain and one of those ‘encyclopedic’ type whose associations bear study).¬† This could explain the ‘double segment’ which appears on folio 70r’s lower tier and also the doubling about the border which occurs in another folio and again in the mariner’s tables by Brouscon.¬† I’ve referred to Brouscon’s charts in a post or two here, so if you like you can see why I thought his work relevant despite its late date.

Envisioning three stars within each decan, together with one overseeing ‘minister’ from the higher section of the sky (beyond touch of sun or moon)¬† would be another star-grid of ‘four’ x 27,¬† though in that scheme is present a constant, if silent fifth – the Pole.


Astrology says the ‘decans’ are separated by 10 degrees, but in practical terms they are seen rising from the horizon about ten days apart.¬† I’ll let the wiki say it:

The rising of each decan marked the beginning of a new decanal “hour” (Greek hŇćra) of the night for the ancient Egyptians, and they were used as a sidereal star clock beginning by at least the 9th or 10th Dynasty (c. 2100 BCE).

Also: Since the circle was known to contain 360 degrees, as the Babylonian system had it, and although the number of days in a year was calculated as 365 by the Egyptians, there was a natural expectation that each degree had its star rising in the ecliptic, and the idea of an eternally recurring number must also have had its fascination,¬† 360/108 giving 3.33…¬† Might this be the basis of that near-infinite proliferation of thirds of which Firmicus complains?

And this is not to forget that in another folio from MS Beinecke 408 we have (in my opinion) a tidal calculation chart whose origin appears to be surprisingly early, to judge from the form of lotus at its heart, one which would appear to have origins from well before the Hellenistic era. (But then Baresch seems to have known that, didn’t he?).

City emblems established by the Greeks and others for each city, and which showed an astronomical ‘tutelary star’ as patron, were re-worked, re-assigned and re-interpreted under Roman rule. The confusion of a once-elegant system, well suited to mariners and messengers etc., was lost and route-maps became vital.


non. seq.  РGoodread РLooking for something about Egyptian astronomical math during the period of Persian rule  РI mean written records about the impact of Babylon nian on Egyptian astronomical math  РI was completely distracted by a book so well written, that even though it was mostly familiar, I just had to keep reading. Better than a breakfast-cereal packet.

I’ve ordered my copy.

  • Calvin C. Clawson, The Mathematical Traveler: Exploring the Grand History of Numbers, Springer, (2013).




The coins illustrated were made under Gordion III¬† for the site abelled by the map ‘Andrinopli’, or one close to it.¬† The location of the historical ‘Hadrianoplis’ is debated.

One of those coins shows, on the observe, the Egyptian and Semitic ‘mother with the tiller’ but now combined with Hercules-Serapis, to be identified now with the¬† Emperor . A different pre-Roman image appears on the observe of the other; still from the older period¬† but now a conflation of Medea with the sun.

Medea was reputed to have come to the Greeks from a city on the eastern side of the Black Sea, and one supposes her worship important in that region.

On cities known as Hadrianopolis see also ‘Drynopolis’ in William Martin Leake, Travels in Northern Greece.

Egyptian astrologer’s map with ‘wind rose’ – from Evelyn Edson and Emilie Savage-Smith, ‘An Astrologer’s Map: A Relic of Late Antiquity’, Imago Mundi, Vol. 52 (2000), pp. 7-29. The image linked above includes translation of the original Greek inscriptions.





  1. Too late for this post, I’ve seen a paper available as a pdf online. Lucia Belizia, ‘Paranatellonta in ancient Greek astrological literature’, translated from the Italian into English by Margherita Bellizia. You can download it from


    I’d appreciate a review by any reader well acquainted with the astrological traditions.

    – speaking of which, there are also the passages from Hermetic texts describing the decans and degrees. Those from the LIber Hermetis were translated by Robert Zoller though I’ve not sighted a copy and it appears to be out of print.


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