Response to Nick Pelling’s post Pt 3

So far, folio 85v-1 (Beinecke Library foliation) appears to be bound so that South is up. As explained earlier, knowing which points mark North and South doesn’t automatically assign points for East and West.

fol 85v-1 Sth up east leftfol 85v1 Sth up West left

Floral and/or medicinal reference clearly informs their ‘complementary opposition’.

folio 85v-1 East and West

Perhaps the mottos for winds in the western quarter will help resolve the question. (In the illustration below, west is ‘up’ and south to the viewer’s left).

Bede wind-wheel west upTheir mottos ( largely from Isidore, incidentally):

[S]Auster vel Nothus “Pluuias cum fulmine initio,” or “I begin rain and lightning.”

Austro or __ Magnos educo calores, or “I draw out great warmth.”

Affricus or Lyps; “Crebra crebro fulmina iacto,” or “I hurl thunderbolts one after another.” ;”

[W]“Zephirus or Favonius;”Tellurem floribus orno,” or “I adorn the Earth with flowers.”

“Chorus or Argystes;” “Susstando (?) nubila pando,” or “Supporting, I spread out the clouds.”

Circius or Tracias.” “De me grando uenit,” or “From me comes hail.” –

[N]Septentrio vel Aparctias [N ] “Frigora conficio,” or “I bring cold.”

Zephyrus – due west – motto: ‘I adorn the earth with flowers’.  All very well, but could describe either  –  so now cross-reference with the Sawley map.

In the locus for Zephyrus, an angel with finger raised in gentle admonition carries something shaped like a book with an ornate cover. In fact it isn’t a book, but a medicine box; this is Raphael whose name/function means ‘Rescue’ or ‘God’s medicine’. I regret not having any digitised images of similar imagery from the medieval works, but see at least the  N.G.A.’s comment, made in describing a fifteenth century picture of St. Raphael by Fra Lippo Lippi.

angel Sawley West or WSW

Raphael (and Zephyrus) have been placed next to North Africa and Spain, the former being where, in Jewish legend, Noah settled after the great Flood either with a book containing all knowledge of antediluvian medicine, or there being instructed directly by its provider, Raphael.1 Accounts of Kairouan before the Arab conquest suggest that indeed the extreme ascetics resident there had come originally out of Egypt. By the fourteenth century, Kairouan’s older population (described as Jews) had been expelled, though it remained a notable centre for the study of medicine. As the painter set Raphael on the Sawley map, he was doubtless aware that the new corpus of natural medicine entering Europe via Sicily, Spain and France had come from that region, but who could object to medicinal knowledge originally conferred on Noah by the archangel Raphael?

1.e.g. Julia Cresswell, “Raphael gave Noah a book of medicine to take onto the ark, though another story says that Raphael founded the tradition of medicine when he taught Noah about all the medicinal plants, after the flood”. (Watkins Dictionary of Angels…). However on such matters, it is best to consult Ginzberg’s great collection of Haggadah – which, to my joy, I find is now online –  all  four volumes!

If it will be granted that folio 85v-1 reflects attitudes  current in twelfth- and thirteenth-century England, with its connection to Norman Sicily and France ~ then there is enough reason to suppose the figure with the bottle represents this corpus of physical medicine, possibly imagined of great antiquity. That its application required some basic knowledge of ‘alchemy’ was also known, though the techniques were probably not much more than distillation and reduction, to judge by comments made by Roger Bacon in his acerbic ‘Errors of the Doctors’. I’ve quoted that passage  before, but here again, for convenience:

§15. The fifth deficiency [of physicians]  is that they are ignorant of [i.e. do not study] alchemy and of agriculture; while on the contrary it is quite evident that practically all simple drugs are discussed in these two subjects. There are a great many difficulties which arise on account of the lack of knowledge of alchemy, because the art of medicine [currently] teaches the use of the virtues of drugs without [instruction in] their substance, yet it is necessary to do this in an infinite number of cases on account of the whole mass of poisonous earthy material. No distinction between them can be made except by means of alchemy, which alone gives the method of extracting each virtue from any substance whatsoever; because it is necessary in working with drugs that there be resolutions and dissolutions of one thing from another which cannot be made without the aid of alchemy which gives the method of resolving any one substance from any other.2

2. Mary Catherine Welborn, ‘The Errors of the Doctors according to Friar Roger Bacon of the Minor Order’, Isis, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Jul., 1932), pp. 26-62.  (p.43). And compare with  Treatise of the Errors of the Physicians of Damascus, composed first in Arabic by Jacob ben Isaac (fl. AD 1202), a contemporary of Maimonides (1185-1204) and so of the generation before Bacon’s (c. 1214–1294).

The fact that the best physicians tended to be Jewish was no doubt a difficulty for the narrower-minded, but the fact is that the knowledge and approach taken by Jewish doctors was very generally recognised as superior, and their being (as many sources note) the greater number among trained physicians meant that even as the rise in nationalist-inspired xenophobia rose through the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, physicians were often partly or entirely exempted.  It was not much different in the near east, where non-Muslim physic and pharmaceutical texts written by Syrian/Nestorian scholars set the standard for centuries.3

3. e.g. In the early fourteenth century:  “Many a town has no physician who is not a zimmi [e.g.](Christian, Jew or Zoroastrian)…. No Muslim occupies himself with it: everyone repairs to the study of (Qur’anic) law”.  Ibn ul-Ukhuwwa (in c.1329).

But now, I think, we are entitled to assign the rather unhappy looking pharmacist or sandalani to the south-west, his medicine bottle with its unusual cap certainly quite unlike any version of the Latin urine flask.

folio 85v-1 chemist Zephyrus West


Consideration of all the above leads me to describe the bottle-holding figure not as physician, or pharmacist but as ” sandalani” a form I admit to creating from the Arabic and not the Latin. A sandalani served as pharmacist and scent-maker as well as advising on medicinal ingredients and so forth. 4

4. Pharmacies were called in Arabic as-Saydanah and pharmacists  as-saydanani or as-saydalani “[..because..] in Arabic a person who sells amber is called anbari [and, as] sandalwood was used in pharmaceutical preparations, [s0] the person who traded in sandalwood was called [sandalani] in Arabic.

In popular imagination, as in literature, scent itself was often regarded as a kind of medicine, and the land of Arabia was constantly described as having air redolent with natural perfumes. This character for the region is found as early as the second century BC, in the writings of Agatharchides of Cnidus 5 and who speaks of Sabaeans use of scent in much the same way that later Europe would approach the idea of ‘gradation’ in medicine:

Sabaea [in the southern part of Arabia] abounds with every luxury to make life happy in the extreme; its very air is so perfumed with odours that the natives are obliged to mitigate them with odours having an opposite tendency, as if not even nature could support happiness in the extreme. .. “6

5. quoted, with much more detail in..William Vincent, The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, Volume 1 pp.31-2

6. Agatharchides’ own work is summarised on this website . His Description… might even be considered as possible candidate for the unknown written text which we suppose informs the imagery of the bathy- section in the Voynich manuscript, so long as one accepts that the matter may be to some degree “fictis et umbratilis” .

In the 1stC AD,  and somewhat surprisingly,  Dionysius Periegetes gives Arabia’s chief [sailing?] wind as the Zephyr:

the Arabian [sea] the Zephyr, the Persian [sea] the paths of the Eurus (v. 929–930)

So with all that in mind, I hope you’ll agree that the wind Zepyrus, associated with the Arabian sea, the proverbially perfumed land of Arabia, and on the Sawley map with North Africa and the medicine of Raphael is the better assignment for this figure with the little flask.

folio 85v-1 East and West



For West,  Zephyrus sandalani:  “Tellurem floribus orno,”

folio 85v-1 chemist Zephyrus West

I suspect the copyist had not-exactly-classical Latin and created a figure from his reading the phase as’: “I [bear] the adornment of earthly flowers” where classically translated it should be  “I adorn the earth with flowers’.


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