Chronological strata revisited

Note: This post may not appeal to readers who espouse a wholly European Latin origin for matter in MS Beinecke 408.

1. Indications of Egyptian or Egyptian-influenced matter in MS Beinecke 408.

EAST-left ( re MS Beinecke 408 folios 67v-1, 85v-1 and others). See previous post here.

For the Egyptians, direction was a consequence of time, contingent upon the sun’s location. The Egyptians had one word that meant both “west” and “right” and another word meaning both “east” and “left”… The sky’s right side (west) faced them in the day and its left side (east) faced them at night.. (p. 36)

Joanne Conman, ‘It’s about Time: Ancient Egyptian Cosmology’,  Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur, Bd. 31 (2003), pp. 33-71. Here citing Allen, Middle Egyptian, 2000, 21; also Lesko, Ancient Egyptian Cosmogonies and Cosmologies, 117.

[Some among the possible] expressions for ‘north’ and ‘south’ .. clearly imply a beholder who is facing south. This is corroborated by the fact that the Egyptian words for ‘east’ and ‘west’ could also be read as ‘left’ and ‘right’. The precedence of south over the other directions is also reflected by the usual order in enumerations (south, north, west, east). (p.39)

Maartyn J. Raven, ‘Concepts on the Orientation of the Human Body’, the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol.91 (2005) pp.37-53.

In the Egyptian model, the sky apparently undulated as it turned, having two dips and two hills. If we look towards the south, the sun first appears low on our left-side, crosses before us while increasing in elevation, then sinks lower, disappearing on our right-side, before finally reappearing on our left-side with each revolution. If the sun marks a point on a line that bisects the entire sky dome, half the turning sky is ahead of the sun (on our right) and half the sky is behind the sun (on our left). So at dawn, when the sun first appears, the right side of the sky faces us, while at sunset, the left side of the sky faces us.

Joanne Conman, ‘It’s about Time: Ancient Egyptian Cosmology’, Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur , Bd. 31, (2003), pp. 33-71.

EAST (Marsh Flag/Iris as ‘Fleur de Lys’)  (re folio 85v-1)

  Note: One of the hieroglyphs that is used to mean ‘East’ is classified by Gardiner among items of temple furniture and emblems. Independent of such purpose, its form allows interpretation as either of the two plants described as ‘shari’ or as  ‘suph’, markers of the boundary. The two plants were the flag (Iris) and the spear-like rush. It has been suggested that the Iris is the original fleur-de-lys, and by Voynich researchers that, as the fleur-de-lys, it is the flower pictured on folio 85v-1.  I disagree that such was the draughtsman’s intention, but it is certainly true that the flower is seen in that folio associated with the figure in the east position. It is also true that early imagery of a fleur-de-lys in Europe associates it with some form of pole weapon as spear or pike and that in all cases the idea is something like à outrance.  Hence…

 Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)

Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)

During the first centuries of the Christian era, Biblical influence on Coptic could be observed in the Bohairic dialect term for the Red Sea as phiom enshari – “the sea of the water plant Shari”, comparable with the ‘sea of reeds or rushes’… the … translation* of the Hebrew term yam suph. The water plant Shari is comparable with the flags – a species of iris…” (p.5)

Copisarow, Maurice, ‘The Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Hebrew Concept of the Red Sea’, Vetus Testamentum, Vol.12, Fasc.1 (Jan., 1962), pp. 1-13

*Copisarow sees the translation as ‘erroneous’ but his own research shows that the attributes of the ‘shari’-as-iris transferred over time to the rushes.  Curiously, he seems to miss another of the points which his work clarifies – namely, that these plants by their presence presented the appearance of a boundary-marking screen or picket of ‘spears’, clearly marking the no-man’s land between domains of the land-deities and those of the waters. In reality as in metaphor, they were interchangeable. Copisarow seems about to reach this perception when he writes:

[the two terminal features, the Gulf and the bank of the Nile] .. derived from the .. common noun sph in the sense of end. … In the course of time suph as border of the Nile … (p.5)

 but he cannot have done, for he remains puzzled that the  yam suph, the border sea of the desert should have become “entangled” … in the swamps of the Nile (loc. cit.)


GREEN SALT SEAS ( re MS Beinecke 408 folios 72v, 75v, 78r – 79v, 81r- 82v, 84r. See also earlier posts to this blog)

“[In dynastic Egypt] the Red Sea is primarily seen as part if the vast domain of the Goddess of the Great Green. Originally, the Egyptian term [which translates as] the Great Green Water applied equally well to the Red Sea, Mediterranean or any other sea, the actual location being determined by the subject matter. At a later stage this term was enlarged by the addition of words denoting direction, people and comparative size or slope of land, thus evolving new names for different seas – as for example … Very Great Green Water of the North Land, i.e. Mediterranean Sea ..” (p.1)

Copisarow, Maurice, ‘The Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Hebrew Concept of the Red Sea’, Vetus Testamentum, Vol.12, Fasc.1 (Jan., 1962), pp. 1-13.

TIDES and MOONS  (fol 67r-2)

In the following passages, the cast of mind is illuminated which informs a type of calculation which we find employed by mariners of the medieval Mediterranean. See post  ‘Moons and Nymphaea‘  As professional know-how, its transmission was quite independent of any formal texts; it is interesting in this context that Majid refers to all Mediterranean mariners as ‘Egyptians’ save his western brethren, the Barbary men.

  Joanne Conman notes in relation to the Egyptians that time and direction were not easily separable concepts, since they saw the sky as active rather than as a stationary background, and the sun (being attached to it) served as mobile meridian. (p.71). If we suppose that the same applied to their idea of the moon, then you have the rationale behind the calculations of sun-moon ‘meridians’  which inform those tidal calculations by moon’s horizon ‘hour’ and the horizon/rose.

… without a stationary sky, our modern conception of absolute directions cannot and does not work. For the Egyptians, direction is dependent upon time and the two cannot be separated. In the ancient Egyptian model, west and east are dependent on when; what time it is. Rather than being seen as regions of the sky, directions must be understood as times connected with certain regions of the sky. The right/ west side of the sky is day and the left/ east side is night. For the Egyptian, a direction is quite logically equated with a time or a state of being. (p.36)

Joanne Conman, ‘It’s about Time: Ancient Egyptian Cosmology’, Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur , Bd. 31, (2003), pp. 33-71

Once aware of the common attitude informing Egyptian thought and the process of calculations by the lunar ‘meridian’, and the antiquity of the latter, so  the reader may be less shocked when it is pointed out that the centre for folio 67r-2 is a formal version of the Egyptian white nymphaea,  marker of the night hours.

Similar, but not identical ‘lily centres’ appear in other folios of MS Beinecke 408, but these have a  rather different frame of reference in my view.

In fol.69v-1, for example, the factor of 28 suggests the series of asterisms on the lunar path, known as lunar inns. The Indian term is nakshatras and the Arabic manzil. I’ve referred to these before, as no  doubt other researchers before me have done. What I think may not have been done before is to point out that this series served as a ‘horizontal axis’ for the Yemeni pilots’  navigational grid, its divisions effectively marking the progress of the ‘moon-meridian’.

Folio 69v-2 divides the circuit only into nine points, which – to remain consistent with this maritime theme – suggests allusion to the nine critical points of the eastern sidereal ‘rose’ – these being the two poles, the single marker for the east-west line, and two divisions each to either side of it.

Much of the  information I’ve included here was offered much earlier to the cryptologists and linguists, but was perhaps offered too early – before the blog posts presented much by way of historical notes and detailed analysis of the folios.

This next passage from Conman’s paper is added only because it might, just possibly, shed some light on the reason Roger Bacon’s hands are placed as they are on his portrait sculpture.  They make little sense  unless one supposes that the top might turn. A number of eastern embassies had reached the western Mediterranean by Bacon’s time, and his contact with one at least may have been direct.  The following is included in a discussion of Egyptian ideas about time:

a [Chinese] book called The Mathematical Classic Concerning the Dial and Gnomon … included some material that may date from 1000 BCE. The gai tian model conceived of the sky as a concave dome over a convex earth. The sky dome turned from right to left. The sun and moon were attached to the dome, but still had a (much slower) proper motion of their own from left to right.

I think that’s enough for one post.


One thought on “Chronological strata revisited

  1. once more, rather than edit and republish, a footnote here:
    The description quoted above, where the Chinese gai-tan model is said to be “a concave dome over a convex earth” appears to be mistaken. Diagrams and explanations in other sources explain and picture it differently, and in keeping with information we have from many other sources. Perhaps in this case, again, the effect of Needham’s error led to more.

    For the correct version see e.g.
    which is:
    Shu-Chiu LIU, ‘Three early Chinese models’ in Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 7, Issue 2, Historical models and science instruction: A cross-cultural analysis based on students’ views, Article 1 (Dec., 2006).


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