17th Century Swimming Girdle?

One of the thinner comparisons I’ve made is the odd image on f79r to a floating device of some kind. I posted it on my main site, mostly to see how others felt about it. My daughter did not feel there was a hope of a connection… I agree with her to some extent, in that this object could be explained in many other ways. Here is the image:

Voynich Manuscript f79r "floating man"

Voynich Manuscript f79r "floating man"

On my site I point out Francis Bacon’s inclusion of a “swimming girdle” in his New Atlantis:

“We have ships and boats for going under water and brooking of seas, also swimming-girdles and supporters…”

But I had no way to compare this f79r object with what Bacon was thinking of when he wrote the above. So what of the “pegs” seemingly inserted in the device? That it is slightly curved around the back of the man/woman? Are they actually floating, or is he standing there? But the interesting thing is, as long as I have had this posted on my main site… and from my hits counter, it must have been seen by thousands of people… it has not elicited the same positive and negative responses my optical comparisons have. It’s actually gotten no response. I suppose it is because it’s been assumed you can have a swimming girdle in a 1460 herbal or pharma, for instance (and perhaps you can, I do not yet know… but conversely, why one would include one there), but not advanced optics… so whether a bad or good comparison, no one really cares. Well I do, actually, because I see the anomolies of the Voynich as the best potential footholds to it’s secrets.

So I got back to the image recently, and dug around for any references Bacon may have had in mind when he mentioned his swimming girdle. I wanted to know what he was envisioning when he thought of it, and of course, if it could in any way look like the f79r floating man. I found a book by one Daniel Schwenter, who in 1636 wrote Deliciæ Physic-Mathematicæ. In his book he describes many interesting inventions. Among them are the diving bell and fountain pen… but also, a “Schwimmgurtel”, or “swimming girdle”. Here is the illustration:

Early Swimming Aide... the "Girdle"

Early Swimming Aide... the "Girdle"

I would be the first to admit that it is not a great match to the odd device in f79r. For one thing, it is shown “unstrapped”, and would, in use, be wrapped around the person. But at the same time, it struck me that when I speculated on the Voynich illustration as being a swimming girdle, ala Bacon’s, I did not have a reasonable explanation for the two “pegs” standing upright from the device. Of course on the actual swimming girdle, it turns out there are upright parts, and they are filling tubes. The fact that they are there, and have a use on the real device, made me take new notice of the comparison I had made. I would have no explanation for the tubes continuing downward on the Voynich “version”, however, if that is what they are.

Schwenter was only copying a schwimmgurtel which was previously… I don’t know when… described by one “Frantz Rößlern”. A German friend of mine looked at the name as seen in the book:


…and he gave this input:

“I would read “Frantz Rößlern”, or, in a slightly more modern style, “Franz Rößlern” or “Rößlein”. First letter of the last name might indeed be a “K”, though I’d prefer “R”.”

So I don’t know who this is, but I would like to see his original version of his own device. And then, in the title page of Deliciæ Physic-Mathematicæ, Daniel Schwenter graciously confused the issue a bit by showing a swimmer with the same, or similar device:

Having Natatorial Fun 400 Years Ago

Having Natatorial Fun 400 Years Ago

Where it appears they are either simply lying on the device, or perhaps they are using a different device, with two tubes or barrels strapped to either side of a swimmer. Or, conceivably, a long tube… much like a “noodle” used today… wrapped around the person’s stomach, and trailing off either side? I don’t know for sure.

So what we do have, though, is a person floating against, or on, some device, in the Voynich, with one arm hooked around a standing peg or tube. And we find that the type of swimming girdle as would have been known to Bacon, would have been a long, inflated set of bags, with tubes. I do not think it inconceivable that an artist representing such a device to illustrate it, loosely as is the habit of the Voynich artist in any other case, would not do so as shown on f79r. This, especially, if they only saw the image Bacon saw… the Schwenter one… and didn’t realize it was being shown unstrapped, and extended. This is obviously not a slam-dunk case, but it does make me hold the comparison in higher regard than I did before I saw a real swimming girdle.

As one last, interesting exercise… imagine for a moment, the f79r man straddling an actual, 16th or 17th century swimming girdle, one of the type most likely in the mind of the author of the New Atlantis at the time it was written:

Just Messing Around (I think)

Just Messing Around (I think)

Well that certainly is a stretch. Isn’t it? H. Richard SantaColoma

Daniel Schwenter

Daniel Schwenter

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4 Responses to “17th Century Swimming Girdle?”

  1. “De Aqua” Voynich theory on YouTube… | Cipher Mysteries Says:

    […] water, compares (at 1:21) a detail on f79r with a sextant (Rich SantaColoma recently blogged that the same detail reminded him of early “swimming girdles”, though I suspect neither have it right), […]

  2. MetalGuru Says:

    The 17th century swimmimg girdle looks quite like a swimming device I’d seen carved on an Ancient Assyrian relief. Clearly underwater, two Assyrians…soldiers?…are swimming, each holding onto a large bladder. There is a breathing tube in the swimmers’ mouth, and it is suggested they are breathing the air from the bladder…perhaps their nostrils are clipped shut? This would be, then, ancient SCUBA gear, (no doubt used for covert purposes, given the bellicose m.o. of the Assyrians.)
    The device itself was made from the stomach of cattle. the ‘breathing tube’ was a reed, and also served as the means to inflate it. But fully inlated, this same object would keep a person buoyant, allowing them to float about on the water’s surface.
    A second illustration that proto57 has included, ‘Having Natatorial Fun’ appeasr to show another swimming tecnique that goes back to the ancient world…that of lashing tightly together bundles of reeds on whcih to float.

  3. proto57 Says:

    So it’s been around for some time… thanks for the tip, Metal.

  4. “It’s Newer Than You Think” | The Voynich-New Atlantis Theory Says:

    […] But at the time, truly believing this could be a modern work was still quite an outlandish thought. The post about the below image was similar, but from […]

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