Monday, September 9, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Dotted Stars

The stars with circle in the center are curious detail in the Voynich Manuscript.

So I decided to create a post where I can pile up medieval examples of such dotted stars.

Let's start with couple of 'starry' flowers from Pseudo-Apuleius herbals. The Hague, MMW, 10 D 7 is 10th century French manuscript ( visit here ) and Ashmole 1462 is 12th century England ( visit here ).

The Hague, MMW 10 D 7 also has drawing of the Virgin holding a dotted star (flower?).

The VMs stars could be just stars. Here is a dotted star that represents the Sun from the British Library Add MS 34652 ( visit here ) - second half of the 13th century, N. France or S. Netherlands.

Next, few dotted stars from England 1460-1500 illustrating a poem about the establishing of the Carthusian order from the British Library Add MS 37049 ( visit here ).

Dotted stars are decorating the outfits of the members of the Order of the Star, 1375-1379 France,
Paris Bibliothèque nationale de France MSS Français 2813 ( visit here ).

Aristotle explaining the effects of celestial bodies on plants, the British Library, Add MS 47680, dated 1326-1327, England ( visit here ).

We see a dotted star next to Solomon in 1455/58 German Biblia pauperum, Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 438 ( visit here ).

Codex Manesse (written between 1300-1340) Cod. Pal. germ. 848 (visit here ) contains a drawing of seven-point stars with dot in the center on the coat of arms of person named von Trostberg and on the page dedicated to Kristan von Hamle.

Coat of arms picturing a star with a dot in the center can be seen in  Chronik des Konstanzer Konzils (written between 1414-1422, XVI.A.17, National Library of the Czech Republic, visit   here ). The star belongs to Her Johannes Luti of Constance.

In short, dotted stars can be found in different contexts all over Western Europe, so they are not much help in solving the puzzle.

Winchester Cathedral floor tile. I'm not sure how old is this star.

 c1284-1316 the Alphonso Psalter, British Library, Add MS 24686

12th century, Vendome, Bibl. Mun. MS 0117

Astronomical manuscript, the Paul Getty Museum, English, 13th-15th century, MS Ludwig XII 5 ( visit here )

Notebook of Thomas Betson of Syon Abbey, 15th century, St John's College, Cambridge, MS E.6      ( visit here ).

St John's College, Cambridge, MS K.21, English, 13th -14th century  ( visit here )

The Hague, MMW 10 C 20, Germany, c 1475-1500 ( visit here )

The Hague, RMMW, 10 C 23, 15th century, Germany, ( visit here )

Zurich, Zentral Bibliothek, MS C 101 ( here ), 15th century, wandering monk Gall Kemli, in Latin and German

David Suter reminded me about the stars by Albrecht Durer, so I picked a few from woodcuts - end of 15th - early 16th century

BD suggested the Bethlehem star, so here is the silver star marking the supposed place of birth of Jesus in the Church of the Nativity.

Cheryl  Lynn Helm suggested the dotted stars in the Babylonian astrology and although they are far from medieval I'll include them for those interested.


  1. Hi Ellie! I've noticed on various other pages of astrology and astronomy, quite a bit of discussion sometimes involves the "Pleiades". Further discussion of Pleiades sometimes turns into discussions of various gods and goddesses. In turn, some of the goddesses are referred to as Nymphae. Round n-n round we go again, eh? And, of course, when it comes to stars and Mary: we have the star of Bethlehem..........

  2. Hi Ellie
    There are distinct traditions behind the different forms in western manuscript art, which wasn't so keen on invention as authenticity and faithfulness to some older model.
    So, for example, the image for the Order of the Star, 1375-1379 is likely to employ this style by reference to illustrations for Gregory of Tours 'de cursu stellarum'. That in turn is text in which Gregory brought, but adapted the habits of eastern Christian monks to the needs of his community, for whom the Egyptian-Syrian stars were not visible to mark the night watches. Perhaps his text refers to a text which he had from the eastern monks too.

    (ii) Crusaders' heraldic emblems. European heraldry is a bit of a mystery and arises rather late, but it is believed that some of the knights' emblems derive from what they saw in medallions of brass that were used as identification-tags by the Saracens - it's a very long story, involving north Africa too but basically Syria again.

    (iii) another example closer and earlier, but found in northern France, is the ivory tablets found beneath a pre-Christian temple in the High Vosges. The temple is described as a Celtic temple to Apollo. The stars are 'flower' stars. The imagery is an interesting meld of Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Syrian, and Roman, though with some elements (such as angels in the corners) usually associated with Jewish and much later Persian style.

    (v) earliest of all - the six-pointed flower seen in coins and other imagery associated with Harran. In that case the flower-star is normally six-pointed until the roman era.

    Six-pointed 'flower-stars' are usually supposed related to Syria and the Holy Land.

    Eight-pointed 'flower-stars' are normally (before the Roman era) Mesopotamian.

    Five-points are invariably given stars in the Egyptian tradition - from the pre-dynastic period onward. (I'm told this is due to an homophony between the word 'five' and 'star' which saw stars envisaged (generically) as hands). But before the time of Persian rule at least, Egyptians didn't draw their stars as 'flower-stars'

    That's a pretty rough sketch of the situation as I understand it. Doubtless exceptions will be found. :)


  3. Hello Ellie; I think a tendency for many Vms theorists is to look to the heavens and other remote , abstract , or otherworldly corollaries . If instead we analogize in the other direction, as with Shakespeare's Brutus: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves..." the hidden subject matter might appear more readily....and then may ultimately prove equally profound or dramatic in implication.