Green Sea, Ireland and eastern ciphers -edited

Thinking about that compendium with the green seas, and in which the map of Ireland is given  an entire folio to itself, I returned to an earlier series of posts to refresh my own memory of Odoric of Pordenonne (Pordenone in medieval records) and his fellow Franciscan, James the Irishman.  In the blogs now closed, I batted on about both of them over several posts.

What makes it worth offering readers another note on that topic are some details in this fairly obscure source, which however can be read online:

Fitzmaurice, E.B. and A.G. Little (ed.)., Materials for the History of the Franciscan Province of Ireland AD 1230-1450 (V. Collectanea Franciscana I. ed. A. G. Little, M. R. James, H. M. Bannister. eds.) Manchester University Press.

On page 34:

To these sources should be added the evidences of the [Franciscan] friars’ activities as travellers or missionaries in the east, as shown in the Itinerary of Simon Simeonis (1322-4) and the voyages of Brother James of Ireland, the companion of Odoric de Pordenone (an. 1331)

Note – the usual spelling in secondary accounts today is Symon Semeonis.

And about the same time… Richard_FitzRalph.


Back in 2009,  Nick Pelling was intrigued by an inscription in the last folio of the Voynich manuscript, suggesting that it read ‘por le bon Simon Sint’.

His post is entitled ‘Por le bon Simon Sint’ and it was published on on June 23rd., 2009.


back to the Franciscan materials.  From the same book cited above (p.132)…
[entry for the year] 1331, James of Ireland, Companion of Odoric de Podenone in the Far East.
Die quinto Aprilis dedid de mandato G. Gastaldionis fratri Jacobo de Ibernia socio B. fratis Odorici amore Dei et fratris Odorici marchas duas denar. Aquil. (Venni, Elogio Storico de B. Odorico (Venice, 1761) p.27, from a volume of the Archives of Udine, f.207, ter.)

but the reason I felt I had to share this is a short passage on the following page (p.133).

The MS. of Odoric’s work from which Marcellino da Civezza printed his text (Munich, Bib.Reg. MS 903) was written in 1422 and transferred from Ireland to Ratisbon in 1529. It probably belonged to an Irish Franciscan house. (p.133)


And so this post isn’t a total disappointment for newer readers, here’s some earlier musing of mine about eastern cipher systems.

‘Eastern Cipher Methods’, Findings (blog) , Monday, January 30, 2012.


At the moment I have a bee in my bonnet about encryption systems east of Suez from the 12thC or earlier, and especially ones based in mathematical values translated/translatable into alphabetical ones.


So far, three have really intrigued me:

(i) the Triangle of Yang Hui – 13thC – well before Pascal’s triangle.

a better illustration of it  from the wiki article – which says (NB):

 It is known as Pascal’s triangle in much of the western world, although other mathematicians studied it centuries before him in India, Greece, Iran, China, Germany, and Italy.

For interactions during the Mongol era see Smith, History of mathematics, Vol.1 p271-3. Also mentions Odoric [of Pordennone] giving his dates in Canton as 1286-1331.


  1. An Indian system which .. I won’t try to summarise. See here.

Intro [to the linked article] says.. and note last phrase:

 This system of learning was known as the Ka-Ta-Pa-Ya-Di Shankya in Sanskrit and it was also familiar at Kerala and was known as Paralpperu in Malayalam from where it has really originated.

Basically it reduces an abjad/syllabary of 34 parts to notation using nine numbers plus zero.

(see Sanskrit chart on same linked page).


The Paralppery system was used to calculate the calendar- see here:

Now, I’m still inclined to see the south Arabian minuscule (Ssabaic) as our closest match for Voynich script, though the Indo-Greek looks very like it, too.

Some have argued seventeen forms for Voynich letters – I’m not going to argue that point, but I suppose that if 34 can be reduced to 9+0 then half as many can be too.

Or one might create an alternative 34: for argument’s sake the 32 points of the compass, and two pole-stars or something of that kind.

It would be a pretty radical change to the order of sounds, fthe original Indian and Malayalam systems following the usual rote order, whereas this couldn’t. Actually the number of points (with the Poles) easily reduces to 9.


  1. Chinese again: the ‘wandering teacher’ called Chu Shi-ke wrote a book called ‘The Precious Mirror of the Four Elements’ – a maths text dated to 1303. His name is also romanised as Tchou Che-kie, Chu-Shih-Chieh, and he is sometimes called Chu Sung ting. Zhu Shijie

The wiki article has Zhu Shijie (also seen as Chu Shih-Chieh), giving the title of his work as Jade Mirror of the Four Unknowns (四元玉鉴, Siyuan yujian) though elsewhere the title is translated as ‘True reflections of the four unknowns’. The work was published in 1303.

rather an impressive person..

  He treats polynomial algebra, and polynomial equations, by the “coefficient array method” or “method of the celestial unknown” which had been developed in northern China by the earlier thirteenth century Chinese mathematicians, but up till that time had not spread to southern China.


KONANTZ, E.L.:’The Precious Mirror of the Four Elements’, China Journal of Science and Arts, Vol 2, No 4, 1924.

And here’s an article of interest, I think, though not Morocco from the eleventh century onwards:

Azizi, Abdelmalek; Azizi, Mostafa, ‘Instances of Arabic Cryptography in Morocco’, Cryptologia, Vol.35, No.1 (Jan 2011) pp.47-57.


Cryptography and Steganography were used in the Maghreb and several ideas were introduced before 1600 (Arithmetical cryptography based on the factorization of integer and the calculus “Hissab Al Jommal”, signature and the use of the ideas of cryptography to insure the security of transactions and inheritance deeds). In this paper, we give an overview of some instances of cryptography which we have found in the Maghreb (from the 11th century to the 17th century): however, there are undoubtedly many other cases to be found in the manuscripts that have not been studied yet.



Bacon died before the return of Odoric or James.

Roger Bacon: 1214/1220–1292;

Odoric of Pordenone: 1286?-1331 or c. 1275/85–1331

Traveled between 1314/1318


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