Tag: Manuscripts

Another Byzantine Wind Diagram

A 16th-century copy of a Byzantine wind diagram from BN Grec 2493, fol. 165v.

This Byzantine wind diagram, also titled “Diagram about thunder, storms, rainstorms, and earthquakes,” closely resembles the previous Byzantine Wind Diagram. Both come from latter 16th-century manuscripts. This particular copy was never finished—the elements are missing from the center of the diagram, the “παναχῆ” is also missing in this copy.[1] Once again, we see the aspects in the inner circle, the second square is meteorological phenomena, the 12 winds, the signs of the zodiac, south and north poles, and the captions indicating from the right and left parts of the cosmos.

As with the other codex, Royal MS 16 C XII, this codex (BN Grec 2493) contains three texts on the astrolabe—the catalog entry identifies them as Philoponus’s, an anonymous text,[2] and Gregoras’s along with scholia on that last work—and a variety of anonymous astronomical diagrams. The codex also includes texts by Theon of Alexandria.


  1. The image is b&w, so I can’t tell what color inks are used, but the division of inks between the different words also resembles that used in the other diagram. That is, the title, the caption along the perimeter, the poles, the signs of the zodiac, and the four aspects appear to be in a different (red?) ink.  ↩

  2. I suspect this is the text typically attributed to Ammonius, but I haven’t had the time to confirm that suspicion.  ↩

Byzantine Diagram of Planetary Aspects

A manuscript table of planetary aspects in a codex of Greek mathematical works (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Phill. 1553).
A manuscript table of planetary aspects in a codex of Greek mathematical works (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Phill. 1553).

A sixteenth-century copy of a Byzantine diagram showing the basic astrological configurations of the planets: “Table of the whole circle of the 12 zodiac signs and how it is divided into aspects.”[1] The table gives the degrees between the planets in each aspect, the symbol used to indicate that arrangement, and the distance in signs between planets in a given aspect.

The table of planetary aspects with some basic translations.
The table of planetary aspects with some basic translations.

Imagine looking down on the circle of the zodiac, the various aspects are illustrated in the following diagram.

The basic planetary aspects illustrated on the zodiac.
The basic planetary aspects illustrated on the zodiac.

This table of planetary aspects is in ms. Phill. 1553 in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. Phill. 1553 is a sixteenth-century codex that includes various Greek mathematical texts by both classical and Byzantine authors, e.g., Ptolemy’s harmonics along with a commentary, excerpts from Ptolemy’s Syntaxis, and the common trio of astrolabe texts—Philoponus’s, Ammonious’s, and Gregoras’s (as well as a scholia on the last work).


  1. More mechanically, the word σχηματισμούς translates as “configurations,” but here it means aspects, that geometric relationship that planets can have to each other.  ↩

Digital Manuscripts

Elly over at Medieval Robots revels in how digital humanities are making medieval and early modern material available to broader audiences (see her “How Early Modern Animal Jetpacks Went Viral). I too am delighted to see digital resources making so much material available both for scholarly use and for the interested audience. Recently the Vatican has started making its collection of Latin manuscripts available (maybe they’ve been there for a long time, but I just learned of them): Manoscritti digitalizzati. Let’s hope they continue adding to the few hundred that are already posted.

Killing a few minutes looking through these manuscripts I came across a great copy of Rabanus Maurus’s encyclopeia, “De rerum naturis” from 1425 (Pal. lat. 291). There are wonderful illuminations throughout. A few caught my attention.

The chapter on portents opens with this great illustration of different prodigious creatures—a dog-headed person, a cyclops, monopod a Sciopod (thanks to Elly at Medieval Robots for reminding me what these creatures are called), headless people with faces in their chests—all pretty standard from the encyclopedia tradition, especially Pliny’s Historia naturalis (for a nice collection of monstrous race images, see Rensodionigi’s Flickr collection).

A standard set of prodigious creatures found in many encyclopedias (Pal. lat. 291, fol. 75v).
A standard set of prodigious creatures found in many encyclopedias (Pal. lat. 291, fol. 75v).

I don’t recall previous seeing, however, a small male figure with rather prominent, erect genitalia floating in a sort of cloud:

An aroused prodigious creature (detail Pal. lat. 291, fol. 75v).
An aroused prodigious creature (detail Pal. lat. 291, fol. 75v).

I also like the beasts, some of which seem to be hungry (and since when did unicorns and elephants not get along>):

A unicorn skewers and elephant; a canine-looking creature with a beaver’s tale seems to be eating itself while another is finishing off a human hand, and the legs of a bird-like creature are sticking out of an alligator (Pal. lat. 291, fol. 86v).
A unicorn skewers and elephant; a canine-looking creature with a beaver’s tale seems to be eating itself while another is finishing off a human hand, and the legs of a bird-like creature are sticking out of an alligator (Pal. lat. 291, fol. 86v).

And, of course, the obligatory zodiac:

The zodiac (Pal. lat. 291, fol. 109v).
The zodiac (Pal. lat. 291, fol. 109v).

Whether you are a scholar doing research or an interested person looking for something amusing, there’s no end to the fun you can have looking through these manuscripts.