Ring o’roses – the Cardinals (recap for recent readers)

One difficulty with publishing an extended study online in post format, especially over a considerable time,  is that newcomers find conclusions stated without explanation, the explanation given somewhat earlier.

One or two recent followers have been puzzled by my saying that the Voynich map is bound with east to the left and have asked me to explain.

One might adopt a simplistic explanation by saying it is a south-oriented map mistakenly bound north ‘up’ but the internal evidence shows that it was designed north-up, and its former North emblem (now in the north-west) is so plainly its ‘signature’ that it cannot be inverted. It also proved an important key to the map’s origin.

However, here’s a very brief recap of the four cardinal emblems taken from the more detailed treatment given as preliminary to the detailed analysis in 2011-12.

For more of the historical background, comparative imagery and so forth, see the list of  Pages at the bottom of this post – or any other. There’s a sequential list of the earlier posts about this folio in the Page:  ‘The Voynich map. Folio 86v (Beinecke foliation 85v-and-86r).

I’d remind readers that subsequent work caused me to alter my opinion of a few details – chiefly a fairly recent realisation that the ‘minimap’ is not meant to be a map in the formal sense, but only to mark the important sites of an itinerary – and thus that the  ‘castle’ I had earlier proposed as token for  Laiazzo was actually meant for Constantinople. In a recent post I’ve briefly explained how and why an itinerary sketch may differ from the conventions of a map.

As the viewer sees it, the larger part of the map shows the sun rising above a flat mountain-top or plateau, this emblem located to the upper left of the page.

Opposite, we see the sun apparently happy to sink into the passage along which it will pass during the night  to re-emerge at dawn from the  ‘lily of the east’.






East and West are thus plainly distinguished. And as bound, the map’s East is to the viewer’s left.

To conceive of sun-rise as   rebirth from a flower – whether depicted as lotus or ‘lily’ – is not a Latin mentality, at least not as expressed in Latin art, although I suppose one might (if absolutely determinedto push an all-Latin theory) invent some plausible line of argument from Marian theology.

The fact is that dynastic Egyptian art is the first in the Mediterranean to depict the world  ‘rose’- as a lotus flower, but as emblem for East, the  ‘lily’ motif occurs most relevantly for our study in a mosaic which also contains the earliest known representation of Sagittarius as a fully human, standing archer.

That mosaic is in the synagogue of Beth She’an, and I introduced it to Voynich studies while tracing the history of the Voynich archer figure.

In that mosaic, once more,  East is intended to lie to the viewer’s top-left  and it also shows to the top right, in the position for North a winged figure who seems to carry a scroll, just as does the Voynich map’s Angel of the rose – which originally occupied the equivalent position.

(I am sorry that the scroll is so hard to see in this detail; the latest set of Beinecke scans are rather more  bleached-looking than the earlier ones, something which also has the effect of making the vellum seem smoother and more equalised than it is in fact.)

S0 – when the Voynich map is oriented, as it is now in the manuscript, with east to the viewer’s upper left and North to the upper right,  the west is marked by that image of the sun  sinking into the west –  confident of re-birth from the east/’lily’.

Note that the map’s “beginning and end” mark is set here,  and nearer the lily than the sun.

It is a placement which poses an interesting puzzle, the answer to which inclines one more towards a Jewish and Majorcan provenance for the manuscript’s fourteenth-century history (or rather, the history of its content’s precedents).

I won’t explain it here; those interested might take a few hours to consider closely the design of Abraham Cresques’ great map made for the court of France, and commonly known as worldmap in the ‘Catalan Atlas’.

For ‘South’ the Voynich map uses an emblem with a very long (and again primarily non-Latin) history, one which I outlined earlier in more detail than can be repeated here.  I refer again to the original posts.

Finally, there’s the itinerary which now occupies the north roundel, containing little additional indication of the cardinal points.  Here first as it now appears in the manuscript, with north to the upper right corner, east to the viewer’s left and south below…

.. and here with South ‘up’ (-ish) and with East now to the viewer’s right-hand side.

All these matters have been treated before.

As far as I’m aware, I owe no credits for precedence for any of them, but if a reader should know better, I should be very grateful indeed for details of who, when, where and so forth in order to get it right.


    • No, that is one reason that efforts to create ‘alternative’ explanations of the map have failed, just as efforts to interpret the drawing had failed to get anywhere. The map has north up and east to the viewer’s left. As I have said, the explanation which seems obvious to a modern mind – i.e. that it is a south-oriented map, is contradicted by the internal evidence. I also showed a number of examples where we find north up but east left. The nearest to Europe and relevant for a number of other reasons was a mosaic made in the 5th or 6thC AD, in Beth Shean. The same also contains the first know example of Sagittarius depicted as a standing human archer.


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