fol 3v Preliminary

I am including this folio for its apparent incongruity with that  ‘template’ offered in a previous post.

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These leaves are surely not drawn with near-photographic accuracy; neither the ‘quieter’ nor the ‘louder’ mnemonics are evident.

When first surveyed, the only initial clues are the maker’s evident care in representing

(i) the relative size of the fruit-as-flower

(ii) the fruit’s apparently oozing a milky liquid

(ii) that  liquid’s running down the full length of what one supposes is a stalk or stem.

(iiii) and placing, precisely at the ‘Theophrastan point’,  something which no stipule.

Identifying the group, and its component plants, was a chore. In this post and the next, it may seem that the identification was easier or more arbitrarily done than in fact it was – but two blog-posts –  just to set out the conclusions and their reasoning –  is quite enough I think.


It should be  kept in mind that our first sure proof  of the manuscript’s presence in Europe occurs only two centuries after its inscription, and that is due to a  signature attributed (quite reasonably) to the period from 1611 to 1622.

We are told the  manuscript was brought from elsewhere to Prague (at that same approximate time) and brought by a wayfarer who was handsomely compensated.

A tradition links it (and thus, as could be inferred, the messenger too) to  earlier England.

Yet bananas are pictured in this manuscript, and the myrobalans, and even the clove-plant, though no living specimens of the last, at least, were seen in England (as we are told) until a decade after the manuscript’s delivery to Prague.

In 1633 some plantain bananas were brought ‘from someone known to England’s chief physician’ and these, the first ever known in England, came not from  Ethiopia or the Indian Ocean, but from Bermuda.

How, then,  can one explain the inclusion here of accurate figures for so many plants of that type unless we assume that the manuscript’s imagery, at least, had originated elsewhere. The botanical section provides more than simply information about the appearance of these plants: it contains embedded  reference to  their  varieties, useful parts, and technical applications. In 1438, da Gama’s ships had not yet turned the Horn.

‘Old vellum’ for the manuscript is no answer: it cannot explain the manuscript’s material consistency: for inks and pigments, handwriting style and more.

The issue is a conundrum only so long as one’s  mental horizons  remain those of the relatively small region of the world occupied by medieval Europe.

The simplest answer is here the most logical: that ms Beinecke 408 represents a copy of material gained from elsewhere, though perhaps it did reach Prague from England. Initially, it must have been developed in regions where these plants grew ~ devised for and by persons deeply familiar with each plant’s form, uses, commercial value, and cultural associations in their native regions.

It would be more convenient, perhaps, if we could ascribe the work to some European who happened to pass through: as a gentleman botanist-physician, a western Christian missionary, a Genoese trader or a Mediterranean-born Jew or Muslim. Quite apart from the absence of either emblems or stylistic habits typical of  Europe, of Christianity, of Muslim or even Islamic art more generally, I doubt that any person who  not born, raised, or long resident east of the Mediterranean, and primarily engaged in a related trade could have enunciated these drawings.

At best, a foreign visitor might have commissioned in the east, or having come to the west made there a precedent copy and there is nothing in the imagery to prevent that having occurred first as early as the Carolingian period. Only some few additions to the astro-meteorological section, to fol.86v, and perhaps to what was once the end of the bathy- section imply subsequent updating… of the imagery.

Fol. 3v is another folio in which the maker’s reflexive associations imply an eastern homeland for the makers of the botanical section and its closely-related ‘phama’ section.

Tomorrow: fol.3v in detail.