The Hours speak Greek – preface and collected notes (expansion)

irrational moon

from the blog, ‘Bad Atheist’, post by Bill ‘Celebrating the Irrational‘, July 30th., 2013


 ‘Preface’ is a quotation from a letter written by the Emperor Manuel Komnenos.

I have it via Maria Papatyches 3 fol 76v detailthanassiou’s article on  Stephanos of Alexandria – who just might be the ‘Magister Stephanos’ mentioned as authority in one of the 15thC herbals…

Explaining the difference between worshipping stars and using them to calculate effects, the Emperor said,

“.. the stars are not a creative cause, because their bodies are irrational and insensitive. Therefore we do not ask them in expectation of an answer, but, knowing by observation their nature and hence their temperament … we infer…”

fol 70r Sirius tiers





Addition – 16th May 2016.

Two newcomers to Voynich studies have told me that they found the first, terse version of this post impossible to follow, so I’ve decided to add a passage from  ‘voynichretro’  I was explaining that a person’s language(s) inform their ways of seeing, and thus of expressing their vision in the drawn line, just as is the case with the written line. When we can discern the informing language, our provenancing skills increase.  I wrote:

I’d say that these surrounding  figures in the calendar section were first made* by a person who heard and used Greek every day. It need not have been his ‘national’ language, or even first language: but he was very comfortable with it, because:

llower star detail

  1. The objects held convey the idea of the flower and the star as one thought, implying that the same term referred to both. Greek ‘asteriskos’ (star flower) is attested by the 4th century BC, in Theophrastus of Eresos’ study of plants. (371 – c. 287).  Relevance of Theophrastus’ works for study of this manuscript is something I’ve urged now for some years, though so far as I’ve had feedback, without much luck. [see note at end].
  2. The figures’ being ‘star-holders’ or ‘-grippers’ again suggests the Greek word for ‘astrolabe’. Its formal etymology is given as ἀστρολάβος astrolabos, “star-taker”. However, other medieval imagery from western Europe show the sense was understood rather as ‘star-holder’, or even by interpreting astro-labein as if from the Latin –laborare, ‘to labour’, according with names given parts of the instrument, and with Augustine’s dictum that the stars were not lords, but servants. (in effect: laborant sidera).
    and, finally, as I wrote some time ago on Voynichimagery‘ :

3. I’m fairly sure the ‘ladies’ are personified stars, and in this case hour stars, with a multi-lingual pun implied, part of which is the Koine (Hellenistic Gk) , ὡραῖος [hōraios], from the classical Greek ὥρα or ‘hour’ ~ also linked by etymology to the Greeks’ idea of beauty – considered as that which is proper to one’s present time in life. The word ‘hour’ appears in Middle English during the 13thC AD.

 ‘Folio 70r: Star-hours & months ~ for the mathematicians’, Voynichimagery‘ (08/10/2012):

* first made – not likely the fifteenth century copyist.

and this ‘Greek’ vocabulary extends to other folios where the ‘ladies’ are pictured, but we also find indications of a link to the Yemen, or at least the maritime culture of the Red Sea and Indian ocean pilots, many of whom were from Omani or East African descendants of the older Yemeni tribes, the Azd tribe being renowned in this regard. However, the history of the maritime trade between the eastern and western seas is far older, extending through the Roman imperial era and the previous Hellenistic era, to as early as the third or fourth millennium BC in the case of lapis lazuli, and as far as south-east Asia not later than the end of the second millennium B.C.

(hope that makes the following a little clearer.)




f. 75r detailIn a post to Findings,  ‘Pegs, Poles and Parasols I (fol.75r)’, published Sat. July 3rd., 2010, though updated (21 Sept., 2010) to add details of van Rensburg’s article , I wrote that the female figure, star and ‘hour’ in the Voynich images might all three have links not only allegorical, but cemented by homophony. That post was speaking of the descending figures in f.75r, but the same (save the literal reference to ships) should apply also to the ‘hours’ in their tiers –  in that section which I read as an  [eternal] calendar.

“…Such a reading for this drawing in fol.75r – that is, as a maritime map whose female figures represent ships, [their home ports] and/or available navigation stars, offers an explanation that accords not only with what has been seen so far of the manuscript’s content, but also with the known history of this trade.

Indian goods continued to be acquired in Zanzibar as late as the middle of the twentieth century.

The hori (hari, or hawari) and its presence in Socotra, Southern Arabia, and India is very thoroughly discussed by van Rensburg in a recent article:
Julian Jansen van Rensburg, “The Hawārī of Socotra, Yemen”,  The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology (2010) 39.1:99-109.

… I do not doubt that this type of boat is known in Hindi as hōrī [as van Renburg said] (op.cit., p.100).

Socotran hori

… “the hawārī belonging to the African fishermen [on Socotra] were brought with them from Somalia and Kenya, while the Arabian fishermen bought their hawārī (!) either from vessels visiting the island or directly through India via a nominated broker. In some cases, especially along the north-western coast, fishermen had obtained their hawārī directly from either Yemen or Oman.” ibid.

To me this suggests the relic of an older maritime culture in the region, since the wood from Tectona grandis which is reported to be used for all the present-day hawārī of Socotra is, equally, native to Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand, which earlier had direct trade through the archipelagoes, with east Africa. The region from Hadramaut to east Africa has long been associated with the migration of the Arabian tribe of the Azd, renowned for their navigational skills. But for the contrary view see van Rensburg op.cit. p.101.

composite Dendera Durer Sagittarius and Scorpius___________

_I referred again to this correspondence in the present blog, Voynichimagery.wordpresHours two, saying with an effort not to sound as confident as I am, that:

[I’m fairly sure]… the  ‘ladies’, are personified stars and in this case hour stars, with a multi-lingual pun implied, part of which is the Koine (Hellenistic Gk) , ὡραῖος [hōraios],  from the classical Greek ὥρα or ‘hour’ ~ also linked by etymology  to the Greeks’ idea of  beauty – considered as that appropriate for one’s present time in life. The word ‘hour’ appears in Middle English during the 13thC AD.)



and then again, in 2014,  putting up some notes for students who were (for a time) interested in this manuscript:

The “ladif. 75r detailes” in this [‘bathy-‘ ] section offer what I believe is a visual ‘pun’ or [to put it another way] an homophony which operates at three levels, and which depends not least on knowledge of the fact that a type of ship used for the Indian Ocean trade, made of teak in east Africa, was called by variations on hawari, hörï, horï and so forth.* The terms offered a natural equation with the ‘star of the hour’ (i.e. ship star and) [Gl.] ‘ouri, which informed the whole three millennia of Egypt’s astronomical history and imagery.

* wordpress does not allow me to insert a long ‘o’ or ‘i’ and in the passage above, I’ve had to replace the bar with an umlaut.




and finally – in 2015, back on this blog, the point came up again as I compared my views with P. Han’s in a post entitled, ‘Concerning stars’ voynichimagery.wordpress, (March 31, 2015).

NOTE – very recent research has led me to believe that there may be a ‘gnomon’ of sorts represented in the manuscript, but not on folio 75r.

What I thought in 2015 was…

… I find some points of agreement with the views expressed (here) by P. Han.  I’ve always held that the ‘ladies’ are not meant to be read literally, but as figures representing – among other things – stars employed in navigation and time-keeping. I came to that opinion independently, and a tad earlier, I think, than P.Han’s page, but since I didn’t read much that he wrote, and I doubt he read much of what I wrote, it’s a case of the evidence itself being interpreted by two people to achieve two independent conclusions.   It might be just as well to be very specific here about where I do  and don’t agree with P.Han’s views.

re folio 75r. [ 72v on the Gallery site]: I do think the figures represent stars (and deities associated with those stars and at a second tier of reading – possibly also alluding to sites for whom each of those stars-and-deities were tutelary/Tyches – and thus through reference to the ‘ouri, houri, hawari homophony, there may be a simultaneous reference to the ships and peoples who travelled the Red Sea from those harbours or towns). 

I read this waterway as a literal depiction of the Red Sea from the old canal cuttings as head, to about Aden or so in the south.  Whether all the stars/figures belong also to the Milky Way, is not impossible ~ most stars that named points on the eastern [here – Yemeni] sidereal compass were within it. But I think that point is one for a conclusion after each is positively identified, not one that can be adduced from any reading of the image.

[Han thinks the lady with the long pointed ‘nail’ might be holding a gnomon]  – I don’t think this is correct. Shadow sticks need to be placed firmly in the ground, or attached to a wall.  On the other hand, it might be an insignia – an indication of identity.  The system by which saints’ pictures were identified without inscriptions was by such insignia (“emblemata”) and the system is known to derive from the customs of dynastic Egyptian image-making. I’d ask whether there is any reference to a deity/star “of the gnomon”. Could be.


BUT – Manuel Komnenos was speaking on the subject of planetary astrology in relation to medicine, and  I find no reference to medicine, the planets or astrology sensu stricto anywhere in the Voynich manuscript.

The ‘irrational bodies’ I should think were adopted to avoid any suggestion of star-worship or related forms of heteradoxy, not in order to demonstrate an interest in astrological uses.

  • and it could be Greek as once spoken in the Yemen or Alexandria or Syria.

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