Astronomical figures and greater Khorasan -introduction

note in red added 10/04/2017

That elegance and self-sufficiency characteristic of the botanical images is not found in those which include  anthropoform figures – often called “nymphs’ in the secondary literature. [1]

A further distinction between these two major divisions (the third being the map) is that while both appear to have originated in the Hellenistic environment, first enunciation of the botanical imagery is, for the most part, best attributed to the 2ndC BC,  whereas the style of the  ‘nymphs’ folios’ accords better with the period from the 1st-3rdC AD.

Again, the botanical folios – as I’ve demonstrated – have content which refers consistently to the southern,  maritime, routes across the Great Sea and in their later phases of addition (chiefly pertaining to the stylised roots), show affect from Indian and southeast Asian custom, [2]

but for the ‘nymphs’ imagery, the nearest comparable forms are found chiefly along the old “lapis lazuli” route by which Egypt and Mesopotamia had been linked to what is now northern Afghanistan since the 4th-3rd millennium BC, it connecting to the overland ‘silk road’ that was in operation before the time of Alexander.  By one or other of those ways, lapis lazuli was being brought into the western Mediterranean, and reaching England, by the ninth century AD, a time when we know that “trader-envoys of Khorasan” travelled to as far south as Cordoba – about which more in a later post.

These overland and maritime routes of the east are included in the Voynich map (Yale f.86v; Beinecke foliation 85v-and-86r), but it is worth emphasising that the map did not originally include any reference to the Mediterranean Sea, nor to Jerusalem, nor to to any place in mainland Europe before a substantial revision was made which I date, again, to the Mongol century and most probably to the time of the Avignon papacy.

At that time, the content which had first occupied the North roundel was moved to the North-west, at the cost of symmetry and loss of one directional ‘rose’ or ‘wheel’.  In its place, and in a rather different style of drawing, a small vignette was set, describing a route from the eastern coast of the Black Sea, through the ‘chimneys’ of Cappadocia and past a site which I had thought meant for Ayas (Laiazzo) until early in 2017, when closer study of the historical and archaeological matter led me finally conclude the ‘castle’ meant for Constantinople under Latin rule.  From there, the route proceeds towards Alexandria and Cairo.  Again, Jerusalem is not included, but the site of Laiazzo Constantinople is marked by a building ornamented with crenellations of the sort which may denote ‘imperial’ but which –  for Italians at home – signified more particularly their imperial or ‘Ghibbeline’ party. In the wider world, the ‘swallowtails’ did not carry that significance and were used in crusader castles, or in Caffa, simply as mark of a more-or-less self-governing enclave of Latins.

There is  only one ite marked on the continent of Europe, even so: indicated by a triangular courtyard with an attached tower. I have proposed its identification as Avignon, or (possibly) Peñiscola, but admit being puzzled by what appears to be a great flame emerging from the tower.

Avignon-or-Peniscola and Laiazzo

In the illustration below, I show the routes of the Voynich map laid upon another fifteenth-century production, though this being by a Venetian cartographer it conforms to the Latin convention and so it will be more easily read by most of those following the blog. ( added 12/11/2016 –  To the same end, I have put geographical east to the viewer’s right, though the map has East to the left, and west to the right, north ‘up’ and south ‘down’).

The blue routes are the matter found in the main part of the Voynich map, with the rectangles marking the ‘corners’ the topmost is the East; The content of the present North roundel (the minimap) is shown by the green route and that single site in mainland Europe.  I have also added (in dark red) an indication of where scripts occur which include the “ornate P-form” gained from the Aramaic family, but also found among the Voynich glyphs. And finally in orange, the range proper to the plants I’ve identified in the botanical folios.  The composite below was made after, and as a result of, analysis of individual folios across the range of the manuscript and from each sub-section of the manuscript, in addition to very detailed exposition of the Voynich map.  That the conclusions from these various studies should lock together so well is not due to my having had any prior  ‘theory’ but simply a result – I should hope – of having correctly understood the intention of those folios and sections.

 (Imagery of these Voynich glyphs courtesy of Nick Pelling)


Unlike the de Virga map, on which I’ve laid these things,  the Voynich map does not accord with the custom of any Latin work: not in conception, nor  design, nor range, nor  priorities nor arrangement of the cardinal points.  Contrary to popular belief, it contains no “T-O” diagram, and does not in the least accord with the tradition of the Latin mappamundi.  It does show certain details in common with early (14thC) examples of the western  ‘rhumb-gridded’ cartes marine  –  sometimes termed ‘portolan’ charts. 

I consider especially significant that the Voynich map, while having its North as “up” has the  East to the viewer’s left.  This  practice is not known to me from any western tradition in making ordinary maps, though the concept is not wholly unprecedented.  East-left was usual in earlier Egypt and occurs in astronomical imagery – both the original  Persian-Indian imagery, and in derivative imagery within Latin Europe.  In relation to depiction of the constellations, it occurs in some sky-maps even as far as Japan, and simply to break the monotony – since this post is no more than an overview of matter already treated in detail in earlier posts, here is the proof of that custom in earlier Japan –   please don’t infer any argument that Voynichese is Japanese. 🙂


Star-ceiling from a tomb in Nara. 6th-8thC AD.


[1] nymphs were spirits of earth, places and rivers and (pace not embodiments of astronomical figures although some nymphs, like some animals and humans or demi-gods were imagined elevated to the stars.  To equate the figures in the Voynich manuscript with both stars and classical ‘nymphs’ one would need, at the very least, some intermediate reference to geography.

[2]I had intended, throughout this post, to add links to the earlier posts in which these things were treated in detail to add evidence and context to what is here offered as assertion.  Unfortunately, my time is short – I’ve been called away to attend to other matters – so rather than leave the post to wait indefinitely, I offer it with apologies for that missing apparatus.  Those with sufficient patience and interest, I hope,  will find the more detailed work through key-word search or through the Index pages that are in the header.

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