The motif used for ‘west’ offers us some useful information.
I’ll look first at what is drawn, then how it is drawn.
Why this ‘setting sun’ should appear to our right, even when the folio’s north emblem is turned ‘up’ will be treated in the next post.
The way of drawing west is very unusual. What is shows is an idea we only know from Egyptian history: a belief that when the sun sinks of an evening into the west, it enters into cul-de-sac from which it will turn and be reborn, in the east, from a flower. The Egyptian waterlily, usually called a ‘lotus’.
However, this isn’t a copy from some Egyptian monument, because Egyptians didn’t draw the sun with this sort of radiate face.
So we’re looking a mixture of Egyptian ideas and some other culture’s ideas.
The radiant sun is very familiar now, and could have been drawn in medieval Europe (perhaps), but in the early fifteenth century Europeans knew too little about ancient Egypt’s beliefs to have combined that sort of sun-face with an image of the lotus as a way to explain why the sun set in the west and rose in the east.
Earlier, when the Egyptian religion flourished (to the 3rdC AD), and Greek- or Latin- speakers were living there, you might see this kind of mixed imagery and we have many examples to show that people did express their ideas using a mixture of Egyptian and other cultures’ imagery.
Here are some examples:
*The ‘Nimrud bowls‘ discovered by Layard in Mesopotamia (9thC-8thC BC).
*various artefacts from Begram in Gandhara region (1stC AD)
* Ivory tablet discovered in a temple to ‘Apollo’ in the High Vosges.
One group of people, we know, had the longest residence in Egypt. They had been living there even before Alexander’s conquests, and played an important role as border-guards and marines. The Carians are often called ‘Greeks’ though their older language was different. Their unusual script is found from Nubia in southern Egypt to Delos to Gandhara in northern India and we know there were Carians in Persia when Alexander arrived there, and in Bactria. The group in Bactria (the family of the Branchidae) had been the priestly family with care of the maritime Carians’ religious centre at Didyma. But they had surrendered to the Persians and for their own protection the Persians took them to Bactria – where Alexander found them and slaughtered them all.
Since they are the oldest of the ‘Greeks’ to have been in Egypt, and to have been settled in inner Asia, their imagery is worth checking out. What we’re looking for is a group that might have
(a) believed, like the Egyptians, that the sun was born each morning from a lotus
(b) had a habit of drawing the sun with long, radiant ‘hair’ (which is also seen on other folios of the Vms.
(c) imagined the sun sinking into a cul-de-sac at night, ready to rise in the opposite direction
(d) used some or all of the stylistic habits that are in the ‘west’ emblem.
In the original post, I included all the historical context, background and some documentary references. But I hear that’s a bit much – so here are just the pictures.
(b) Coin from Carian troops, stationed in Thessaly under the Macedonians. Figure is Helios/Apollo – a sun figure.
This flower is the Carians’ rose – after which Rhodes was named (rhodos). It is a symbol for the world, just as the Egyptian lotus was, and probably the reason why we draw on our maps a star-shaped thing, but still call it the ‘compass Rose.
From the temple to Apollo in Didyma, we have a combination of rose and ‘platelet’ motif. Of course the motif in Didyma is usually described in purely Greek terms, as representing laurel leaves, or the horizontal trunk of a palm. We also know that part of it was reconstructed after various wars, and since we don’t have any records from the Carians and Phoenicians who worshipped here, we can’t be sure what they intended by the motif, but the point is that they did have in their repertoire a patterning like that used in the manuscript, and it is found there (apart from anywhere else) together with a form for the flower compatible with our manuscript.
Here are some items from Carian centres (including their colonies, founded from Miletos), as parallels for imagery in the Vms. We’re not looking for exact matches, but for mixed influences, ideally with an Egyptian component. Carian imagery is syncretistic. This figure is actually a sphinx: from the time when Persia ruled Egypt, as the Achamenids did before Alexander arrived.
A typical winged figure in Carian imagery is often called a Nike, or ‘victory’ in the Greek manner. But to avoid the assumption that the Carians were mainland ‘Greeks’ I call this figure the ‘Carian angel’. It is winged, but often shown on, or with the rose and/orpalm, the costume having a short skirt of the type worn by the older Hittite people, with whom the Carians were once associated, as Sea-Peoples.
Sun and cul-de-sac
We know of no other culture except the Egyptian which imagined the sun daily reborn from a flower; so if that is an idea found in our manuscript, or in the Carian imagery (I accept Herodotus’ statement that Miletos was originally Carian), there has to be the exact sort of blending of foreign with Egyptian belief here.
The Egyptians had also associated the sun with a lion-like character called Nefertem, and generally that idea of the sun as a lion is very often found, so when we see the figure of an aged lion in a cul-de-sac, on another Milesian coin, it could be another way of depicting the sun’s daily ‘death’ in the west, anticipating a rebirth from the east.
None of this proves that the material in our manuscript came from Carians – whether in the Black sea colonies, in Egypt, in Thessaly or even in the region around Gandhara (where the Delphic maxims are found written in Carian script). What it does show is that the elements used for the ‘west’ emblem are all present in their artistic vocabulary, and we know that they were (a) inclined to syncretistic imagery (b) present in Egypt for a very long time and (c) habitually assigned to guard the furthest limits of the kings they served.
The important point is that the west emblem reproduces an Egyptian idea, but in a form which shows non-Egyptian elements: the notion of the ‘cul-de-sac’ and the radiant human-like face. These things, and even an equivalence between lotus/rose and the platelet motif are found in Carian imagery.
Now the way in which the emblem is drawn should be considered, to see if it agrees with ‘Greek’ or with Egyptian or with some other people’s custom.
Postscript to Part A: Crusaders in the early 15th C were in a position to have close contact with examples of Carian culture, when they invested the Carian coast near the old centres of Mylasa and built Bodrum castle, using and partly demolishing what remained of the Mausoleum, a magnificent tomb to a Carian king during the Period of Persian rule and the rise of Hellenism. The wiki article on the history of Bodrum castle is preferred. added Aug.2nd 2012
Part 2: Stylistics ~ the lotus
The first example below shows a wall painting from Thebes, made during Egypt’s dynastic period. Below it, a careful modern replica provides a clearer picture of how the lotus was invariably drawn: with alternate dark and light sections, and a border formed by a band, and a combination of short, parallel lines, with dots.
.. the same conventions (including a band/gap) were employed in drawing the original ‘west’ lotus in fol.86v.. .
[I say the ‘original’ because there seems little doubt that our manuscript is a fifteenth-century copy of much older matter].
I have only found one example, in the medieval period, of a lotus drawn in comparable style. Without wishing to make to much of it, here it is for the record:
Note also the parallel hatching on the body and the acanthus-like detail.
Such work was produced from some few kilns in northern China.
The ‘west’ emblem expresses an idea only known from the records of ancient Egypt: that the sun was reborn from a lotus at dawn.
However, the Egyptian idea is joined with alternative ways of drawing the sun (as a radiant face) and includes the ‘cul de sac’ motif which is non-Egyptian.
Among the groups resident in ancient Egypt, exposed to their beliefs, and who had appropriate figures for the sun, and the ‘cul-de-sac’ as well as motifs equivalent to the ‘platelet’ type, were Carians. Called Greeks, their antecedents were closer to the Lycian and Luwian peoples. Their language (or ‘Greek dialect’ is now lost).
Concerning the Begram glass shown above, and its inscription.
Before the Christian centuries, a melding of Greek and Egyptian custom occurs in a script that is known as Old Coptic. Its study is highly specialised but if you like out-of-the-way linguistic trails I’d recommend Alin Suciu’s blog. It’s about… and I quote … “Patristics, Apocrypha, Coptic Literature and Manuscripts“.
As a rule people suppose that use of the Egyptian language did not spread much beyond Egypt itself. Finds at Begram could be taken to suggest tha there had been a centre of Egyptian religious style established there. The ivory below was found in Begram before the recent invasions.
*Carian-Achaemenid connections and the Hellenistic period
see (for a start):