folio 116v – reprinted notes from ‘Findings’

The last page: ‘Iraqeyn?’ – first published in ‘Findings‘ (Blogger) Wed. December 7, 2011.

These are just a few additional notes that I want to keep, about the figures on the manuscript’s last inscribed page and the lines I want to take in reseaching it further.

At the top is a very faint object which appears vaguely anthropid, but can’t say much more. Even in ‘zoom’ it is illegible. [Note: the new Beinecke scans seem to show it as having the head of a bird or dragon and three letters between it and the sheep deserve attention – 13 April 2016]

Beast over sheep f116v
The other two figures – a [fat-tailed?] lamb having feet marked with star-like additions; with below it a female figure who may represent Arabia/Yemen, or even  the region known as Dacia in classical times, modern Romania.(Connection between this region and Arabia is attested).

fol 116v detail sheep and hatted figure

[Note – this was a first mention of the subject in my published work. Subsequently, further studies removed the question mark in my mind about whether a far-tailed sheep was intended; I concluded that it was. Further research also shifted my attention increasingly towards the Yemen, and away from Dacia – 23 April 2016]

Those stars upon the lamb’s legs, just above the hoof, could be meant in two completely opposed ways.
signifying either: ascendancy, in the common metaphor comparing all ascendancy to that of star(s)
a sign that the animal – as totem creature – would be hobbled and prevented from advancing. (After the idea of the hobble, or the caltrop).

Supposing –  for the moment –  sheep and female figure are both emblematic, or ‘totem’ creatures, as seems to the the case with the fauna in the water-section too (aka balneology section), then it could refer to Christians, or – among many other possibilities – be a reference to the Aq Qoyunlu, the ‘White Sheep’ Turcomans.

I’m inclined to think it would mean both at once, if it is a deliberate picture and not a pen-tryout etc.: that is, a pun on ‘Aq Qoyunulu’  – with the ‘Aq’ meaning both white and ascendancy, most of the east having inherited the habit of referring to ascendancy or triumph by the term which simultaneously meant the ascendancy of a star. ‘Ak-‘ is from Egyptian.

But it’s a natural habit; we do the same ourselves, speaking of people as ‘rising stars’.

(Westermarck makes some interesting observations of the prevalence of the eastern habit among the Berbers in north-west Africa, too).

Anyway, after Tamerlane took Damascus, the Aq Qoyunlu were given the land around Amid[a] in Greater Armenia, links for which are given in the previous post.

It had been an important region for the Church of the East, throughout most of the previous thirteen hundred years, Amida itself being one seat of the Patriarch of the Church of the East [the Nestorians’ highest office], while the other patriarchal seat was in the ancient Elamite capital of Susa until the coming of Islam, when the Patriarch spent much of the time, in Baghdad or in Nisibis.

At some stage* the notion of the two Iraqs dveloped, meaning Arabia and Mesopotamia to as far north as Armid. And invoking this idea of  ‘Irakeyn’ [‘the two Iraqs’] it was the slogan of the Ottoman Sultan Süleyman I, as he advanced into Armenia to take Amid[a] in c.1534.

* I haven’t checked yet. [ Note: I hadn’t checked when the post was first written, but later did.  April 23rd., 2016].

So,.. maybe the two ‘two Iraqs’  as Irakeyn was already an etablished reference. Need to see whether it had been an administrative description of the Sassanians and later. (Not Greek or Roman).

The idea of Arabia and Mesopotamia forming one community is new to me. Perhaps it began with Christian descriptions of the northern and southern centres of the early Church of the East.

Whatever. Point is that this combination of the sheep and the female figure might again refer to the notion of the Irakeyn – or to a journey between the newly-gained city of the ‘white sheep’ and the other, Arabian, region cupposed its complement.

Posted by Diane at 5:27 PM

With a postscript comment by me:

AMID or ARMIDA is now known as Dyarbakir.


A post originally published through Findings on May 26th., 2010,  The “Zodiac” – Bulls and Month Names with updates made September 7th and September 15th 2011, again  mentions folio 116v


I was surprised  to find how fragile is the evidence for that identification as Occitan, and how uncertain  the interpretation of the inscriptions themselves, even if Occitan is posited.

Shaun Palmer’s site, for example, says that the identification was made by:

pasting … a sample of the so-called “Michitonese” found on the last page of the Manuscript, f116v… into Xerox’s XRCE Language Guesser, it suggests Catalan_utf8 for it, hence the noting of modern Catalan and Occitan names..[because] the script may be related to that ‘Michionese’.
Shaun himself said, on the same page, that Nick Pelling had earlier reached a similar conclusion concerning possible Occitan, so Nick has precedence if the inscriptions do turn out to Occitan, though at present our only evidence is that “Catalan_utf8” represents Xerox’s best guess. Shaun’s beautifully magnified copies of the inscriptions are re-presented here.
script michiton ol_dab_s

“Michitonese” script in MS Beinecke 408, folio 116v. appears to read: michiton    ol_dab_s.

( don’t accept the goat’s milk and -liver interpretation, but others seem happy with it.)

16 thoughts on “folio 116v – reprinted notes from ‘Findings’

  1. Diane

    I’m pretty sure the top object is a leg with the foot and five toes pointing upward. The lower leg connects on the bottom with what appears to be a bare bone. Could that be related to the crosses on the sheep’s legs?

    Also the woman seems to have had her lower legs damaged, especially the one on the right. Creepy.


    • Koen, apart from a couple of instances in the ‘bathy-‘ section where the copyists slipped into their own cultural habits and tried to make the women pretty, all the ‘ladies’ faces are marred, and their bodies rendered in a way that ensures the reader will feel no sexual attraction – though I suppose some people will find them so simply because unclothed. Another of the myriad indications that the first makers were not part of the Latin European (or indeed the Byzantine or Islamic) world. In all of these it was a fundamental doctrine that the human body was created ‘in the image’ of divinity. Only war or judicial punishment was allowed to deface or deform, and when Torquemada brought back face-branding for those found guilty of heresy, he was called to Rome to justify reviving such a barbaric antique practice. He referred, I believe (though I haven’t checked this) to the precedent of Byzantine law in the Balkans. Thing is, between the end of the Roman era and Torquemada’s, we get nothing but pretty ladies or old crones in Latin manuscript art. Latins could not imagine a female naked except to one purpose. Some might say it’s a cast-iron mindset and still the norm for Europeans and offshoot communities.

      Also, one reason (among a number) that I attribute the addition of mnemonic elements in the roots of the botanical folios to a later period than the rest is that I consider folio 16v alludes to footbinding which, as far as we know, wasn’t introduced into China until the tenth century. Curiously enough it is associated with a ‘dancer on the lotus’ so the practice might have been older among some, unknown, community even earlier.


  2. I’m starting to understand why you see the two sections mnemonics as totally different creatures. From footbinding to Cerberos, that’s oceans in between.

    The only explanation I see is that the root section mnemonics are an inheritance of the Hellenistic stratum. Most likely first centuries CE.

    Hmm. Does this mean that all large plant mnemonics refer to areas east of the Indus as well, and that they may have been introduced along with the Eastern stylistic fratures?


    • Koen,
      I’ve said that the system informing the botanical images (which you call the ‘big plant pictures’) is pre-Dioscoridan, and relates well to Theophrastus’ classification system, and what we know of the pre-Dioscoridan custom of making composite images. I also find nothing reflecting Christian culture or custom in imagery, nor anything characteristic of Muslim thought and custom in iconography. I have to say though that I have also seen nothing in those botanical folios which require knowledge of any Greek myth for their interpretation, or indeed any particular corpus of belief. That’s one of the characteristics of the section which is quite remarkable, and I cannot think of any other from which such habits are lacking. The botanical mnemonics refer with apparently equal apatheia to (what I read as) the Jewish lulav, the Chinese footbinding, the custom of female circumcision, the festival of Holi and so on without so much as a hint of approval, identification (as distinct from familiarity), or disapprobation either. I have no idea what religious or mythic ideology the makers might have had, and am frankly glad of it. I shouldn’t have liked to learn the whole pantheon of Hindu, Greek, Egyptian or Chinese figures as pre-requisite to reading [that is, understanding] that imagery. 🙂

      About the system you see in the ‘roots and leaves’ section, I cannot comment. I never saw it, and have yet to form any opinion for or against your interpretation. The questions which I think you must address, I’ve already indicated in our correspondence.


  3. Diane

    To get back to this image. Some question has been bothering me, and there’s no way I can find the answer myself: when were the nymphs modified? And were they modified in one go or two?

    For example the one in this post. It must have been a relatively late addition, right? Like post 4thC CE. It has the same unusual proportions. BUT its face appears relatively intact. Smooth lines and no red marks.

    There are some other nymphs as well, where the marring, as you call it, hasn’t been done.

    So all nymphs are drawn in the same unusual proportions, but not all of them have been marred. And it seems safe to assume that the nymphs originally did not look like this.

    Is it perhaps possible that someone performed the marring on an existing copy, and did not get to all the figures? And that this was copied as if it was part of the original later?

    And more importantly: if there is a nymph like this in what appear to be marginalia, doesn’t that imply that this was the drawing stile of the one-but last copyist, which you place some centuries before Beinecke 408?

    On the other hand, analyzing the bathing section I keep being surprised at how much of the original intentions are still recognizable, for example in the nymphs’ facial expressions and some other subtle details. Which would imply that all copyists who got their hands on this material through the centuries (millennia) were very skilled and managed to implement new cultural preferences without letting much of the original go to waste.

    So I’m confused… Help? 🙂


    • Koen,
      My individual investigations – into the question of what this detail means or that, or where we find stylistic habits like this or like that, and so on and so forth.. have led me to the point where if I answer one question it’s in the context of everything so far learned about the whole. Which is a roundabout way of saying that the answer on any point may seem arbitrary or subjective because a reply can’t be a couple of thousand words long, which is what I’d really need at this stage to explain with appropriate cross-references exactly why I’ve reached one conclusion or another.

      What it looks like to me is that way back when – say 1st-3rdC….

      [fn] which is the high-point of eastern Hellenistic meld with Buddhism – the vessels in the pharma section, for example, appear classically Buddhist and southeast Asian in style, and (among other things) the calendar roundels’ centres don’t look influenced by Asian style but have a basis in the same non- and pre-Roman environment imo…

      … if you had a copy on papyrus or leather or other media of a Hellenistic or Alexandrian frieze, (or mosaic, or whathaveyou) and carried it eastward, you would encounter cultures and religious communities who objected to the depiction of the human form. The idea seems to be that to create too close a likeness to a genuine, living thing, was either to lay claim to a god-like ability or, alternatively, to invite a living soul from who-knows-where to inhabit it. Or, people were just against naturalistic depictions of living beings, and of ‘higher souls’. For the first centuries of Buddhism, there was no portrait made. The attitude was pervasive through much of Arabia, in parts of Mesopotamia and at different times extended throughout the whole Byzantine domain (though in that case the prohibition was only against depicting the deity, Christ, Mary .. and some others). If, as you and I hold, the ‘ladies’ are star-souls, and for much of the ancient and medieval world stars were feared as malevolent “eyes”, then there’d be a natural avoidance of seeming to invite those ‘star-souls’ into effigies and images. (How am I doing, trying to be bried? 🙂 ). So having a codex or scroll or whatever that was immensely useful, and perhaps the foundation of one’s family wealth, the way to keep it without having gossip and rumour destroy one (and/or the material) would simply be to demonstrate that one had no intention of making magic. It’s hard to grasp just how great and general these attitudes were in the non-Greco-Roman world. Scholars have argued that it was partly an effect of the Egyptians’ attitude to forming imagery and hieroglyphs. Alan Scott’s Origen and the Life of the Stars I also found very helpful in an indirect sort of way.

      So that’s what I think happened. An originally Hellenistic work was preserved in an environment, or among a people, for whom what we call ‘naturalism’ was anathema, and what we have is a copy descended from one in which the “ladies” imagery had been deliberately marred. It is a great regret to me that along with various other bits and pieces lost in 2013 was a note I’d made from an account by a traveller who sailed in a boat owned and sailed by persons the traveller described as Jews, and in that account the traveller remarks at how every one of them was in some way physicially maimed: one had a missing eye, another a broken hand or scars etc, and they kept referring to each other’s imperfections as they travelled. Now to me, this shows they were not Jews of any sort known now, to whom self-harm of that sort is distasteful. The regulations of the Islamic empire classed groups as subjects who paid taxes or as Muslim, and the classes of acceptable non-Muslims were also set. So as with all such systems, it was the administrators who limited and defined their classes.

      I’d expect that the first reformation of the female figures would have occurred whenever the matter went east, but if the same customs continued to affect the persons who retained the matter, then the same practices would occur. The not-imperfect figures I ascribe to the fourteenth- or fifteenth century copyists, who had learned to draw in European style and couldn’t help the occasional lapse into their own habit of making females look pretty.


      • Very to the point 🙂 thank you.

        So it’s a bit like smuggling. This might also explain why the imaged have been deformed on the one hand, but still retain much of their original characteristics on the other. We almost must assume a conscious hiding of the human form instead of a ‘blind’ adapting copy.

        I guess this even might explain why no exact parallels can be found. The nymphs remind one a bit of this, a bit of that, but still it’s not quite the same.

        Doesn’t it also mean that from my perspective, if I wish to argue that the bathing section has only undergone stylistic changes in its post – Hellenistic history, that the art style of the nymphs is not problematic? And that my main problem, compared to the way you see it, is that what I describe in this section is not of the makes-you-rich kind but rather the historical value kind? So it was preserved because of its presumed antiquity instead of its usefulness. Unless, of course, the keepers had found a new use for it, perhaps linked to the text.


      • Koen,
        If I’m correct in my reading of the botanical section and map etc., then the manuscript describes the routes to the east, and the ‘spices’ etc., which made the fortune of entire European nations a little later, and had earlier caused the Karimi to become a metaphor for mind-boggling wealth. When you add to that content such as the calendar (which co-incides with the sailing season’s months) and various details which find their echo in the customs of chart-makers in the new style of the cartes marine, then altogether I must suppose the motive behind the fifteenth century compilation was not altogether intellectual or antiquarian. But of course you must draw the conclusions you find most probable.


      • Diane

        I think you are right in your conclusion that intercontinental trade is what may have kept this material alive and relevant. What I observe in the root section also fits that context, though I see a different mentality there than in the big plant mnemonics. I don’t find this problematic at all, since we both agree that the manuscript is composite.

        The observation though, that large parts of the manuscript are useful for the eastern trade, need not imply that all parts are.

        I also agree with your view that whag happened in the 15thC was a mostly non-invasive copy. Perhaps even a blind copy. Did the Venetians really understand everything you describe in the large plant roots? Would they have been interested in footbinding and such? Would they have comprehended the mnemonics system to its finest details? That seems unlikely.

        Hence, I believe that the 15thC copy was indeed manufactured for monetary gain through trade, BUT that whoever had it copied did not understand everything. This is why we see a mixture of material that still has some relevance, and material that had become obsolete, apart from its historical value.

        This implies that this material was already one ‘book’ before Beinecke 408 was made, and perhaps even before or slightly after it went east. The fact that we can still recognise Egyptian custom in the bathing section appers to me to imply that alterations were kept to a minimum in subsequent copies, even though, in my opinion, the copyists must have lost the ability to fully understand the imagery after the 10thC or so, just to say something.


      • Koen,

        I see that our points of view differ in one important way: you see the material as having remained in the Mediterranean until taken up by Latins (i.e. European Christians) interested in the India trade.

        I take a diametrically opposite view: that the Hellenistic basis for the content is so greatly affected by eastern style in drawing (including the mnemonics in the botanical folios) that I believe the Hellenistic matter had survived in the east for at least a thousand years before it came again to western Europe. The disparity between the ‘ladies’/astronomical and meteorological sections on the one hand, and the botanical and roots-and-leaves section on the other reflect the different environment within which each had survived – as I see it. That they came together to give us the content now in Beinecke MS 408 tends to obscure the very different character of the parts. What best explains their combination, I think, is that usefulness to the east-west trade, overland across the north and by sea across the south. The map (f.86v/85v-and-86r) shows how they interact.

        My conclusion about the constant thread denoting purpose for the whole was only reached after spending quite some time analysing the imagery throughout. The single constant seemed to be that line of the east-west trade, with the imagery in the botanical and roots-and-leaves section speaking to the southern, maritime route while the astronomical ‘ladies’ section appears to me to have had the original layer – Hellenistic as we agree – affected in a similar way to other astronomical imagery that is known to be related to advances made at Maragha (Maragheh).. in a region whose history of astronomical study and pre-Islamic astronomical religion goes back to the Hellenistic era. Whatever the antiquity of the matter, parallels to imagery from the non-Latin al-Tusi tradition expressed by the former Sassoon 823 strike me as convincing, and it certainly came from the higher, overland, route through the Black Sea and Aegean. (Do I sound like a dying pirate handing over a treasure-map? 🙂 ) There is also that finding by Don Hoffmann, which indicates, if it does not prove, a possible link to the Persian tradition in astronomical instruments. The dates for the Sasoon manuscript, the historical context, the dates of those instruments and more.. lead to to conclude that the ‘ladies’ sections arrived relatively late into the west, though I remain open to a possibility that the calendar’s centre emblems are taken from forms that may be Caroline. So altogether it isn’t only the iconography in those sections but the historical and archaeological and other matter which separates them from the botanical and ‘leaves and roots’ section.

        The people who traded across the maritime routes weren’t mostly westerners. I think it unlikely that westerners had any part in the formation of the imagery in either the botanical section or the roots-and-leaves section, and actually I don’t think it was brought into mainland Europe by Latins, though I might be mistaken of course.

        I perfectly agree that the fifteenth century copyists didn’t understand what they copied. As a matter of fact the post which is due to go up in a week or so talks about processes of translation between iconography in one visual tradition to that in another.


      • PS – about footbinding etc. During the time we are considering, only wealthiest class in China practiced footbinding, and the way that the Chinese lived meant that if you could get the business of one great house, you were set: politically and financially. So yes, having medicines to heal the broken foot, the scented woods which formed a huge part of the trade into China, the dyes for robes.. and so forth … would logically all be part of the same “India trader” stock-in-trade. Actually, apart from necessities for crew, ship/caravan most of the 40 botanical folios I worked through produced a constant reference to (a) important festivals and (b) luxury goods. But that’s just me.

        It was not least that ‘crippled foot’ which persuaded me that the mnemonics in the botanical folios cannot have been added, or at least the last not added, until the 10thC or later.


  4. Diane

    You say that I “see the material as having remained in the Mediterranean until taken up by Latins (i.e. European Christians) interested in the India trade.”

    I actually think such a scenario is unlikely. I agree with your observations about the style of the plants and human figures. Now of course, this eastern style may have been applied in Egypt as well, but I don’t see why I would want to argue such a point. For all I know, it went to Borneo and back… It’s hard, if not impossible to determine where the material actually went, and it’s not the most important question either way.

    Just to say: I think your argument that the style is Eastern/Hebrew is very convincing. The same goes for your analysis of the large plant mnemonics. The fact that there is a clear Eastern influence is not something I argue against.

    As we talked about before, what I do maintain is that every single brush stroke of certain quire 13 folios can be explained as a product of Hellenistic Egyptian culture, later redrawn in “Eastern” style. The later stylistic adaptations explain why we don’t recognize the figures as Greek or Egyptian. The same goes for the root section. I find your proposals about the way the material reached Europe and latest parts of the pre-Beinecke 408 timeline very convincing.

    Another difference in approach may be that you see MS Beinecke 408 as the result of material that has “lived”, changed and grown together with those who maintained it. While I can see something like that for the large plant mnemonics, I actually prefer a “minimal amount of copies” approach, positing perhaps as few as one or two invasive copies between the Hellenistic base and Beinecke 408. It all comes down to whether the Eastern influence can be attributed to one stratum or multiple ones.

    I had actually used one image (Engonasin+Lyra on p112) from LJS 57 in my paper, and I hadn’t realized yet that it is the Sassoon you often mention! I’ll rework this a bit to add a clear mention of your precedence. Looking at this manuscript more closely, I see why you consider it important and I must agree. That diagram on p111 and the way its lines are drawn as if loosely without a ruler. To a large extent, the human figures.

    This would also explain my impression that there appears to be a right-to-left reading custom implied in the quire 13 images, sometimes even spanning from the right hand page to the left. The images have to be “read” from right to left.

    So yes, it seems to be the case that the figures underwent a stylistic overhaul by the kind of culture(s) you have in mind. My argument is, though, that this doesn’t mean that any content was added. Take as an example f80v, one I understand really well apart from one or two figures. What evidence is there of post-Hellenistic contents that are not purely stylistic?

    ps: Several nymphs in quire 13 refer to the (Hellenistic era) Egyptian Isis-Osiris-Horus cycle. They do so in a way that appears more authentic and respectful than what we see in Plutarchus’ “De Iside et Osiride”. Made by people who lived in Egypt and understood it, at least to some extent. Just to say that I have absolutely no desire to keep it Greek or Roman or European 🙂



    • Koen,
      I divide the manuscript into three sets: §1. The botanical section and linked ‘leaves and roots section. §2. The ‘ladies’ folios which include astronomical, meteorological and related information – call it the elemental information. and §3. the map (f.86v as was, now “folios 85v-and-86r”).

      I see a substantial difference between §1 and §2. Any remarks I make about stylistics within the botanical section or ‘leaves and roots’ section don’t apply to the ‘ladies’ folios. It’s possible that §1 and §2 weren’t combined until very late: I don’t think it could have happened earlier than the twelfth century, because otherwise there’d be more stylistic cross-over between the two, and there’s none. It’s the botanical section (and related leaves and roots section) which shows the strongest aversion to the depiction of human forms in any realistic style, though the general idea was evidently common to both to some degree. Hence the marred faces and distortions. I may be mistaken: I can only offer my opinion of results gained after analysis and research, but I think the ‘ladies’ came through the inland route, Black Sea, Aegean etc., into the south-western Mediterranean basin, and probably to somewhere like Avignon or Mallorca in the first instance. Who brought it is another matter. The botanical section pretty clearly came back through Yemen, probably through the Syrian corridor, and (judging by the map) through Ayas straight to that site which I believe meant for Avignon or Peniscola. Thing is, the high ‘silk’ road, and the lower ‘spices’ sea-route weren’t themselves distinct – people went out one way and returned by the other. The map is mostly the overland routes, though the ‘Great Sea’ as Majid called the eastern waters is also represented. But that’s my conclusion: §1 came from the sea ‘spices’ route and the ladies from the land ‘silk road’ route. Both Hellenistic in origin. Of course, it may turn out that the whole thing is a copy of some seaman’s book which was buried with him in Mesapontion in the 2ndC BC. 😀

      I also think, as you do, that there is a very clear Greco-Egyptian character still evident in some of the ‘ladies’ folios. As you know, I think one folio reproduces a Hellenistic ‘river road’ image of the Red Sea, and the canal cutting looks pretty fresh.


  5. A separate “Yemen” provenance for the large plants is something I can agree with. As you know, though, I don’t see much Yemen in the root section 😉 While it does seem clear that both botanical sections have been stylistically edited by the same persons at some (late) point, I don’t think these were the “footbinding” people.

    One should suppose a broader cultural spectrum in the large plant section then. Of course it could also just be that the root section travelled along with the large plants but was edited to a lesser extent.

    You joke about buried books, but as far as I’m concerned I could believe a similar scenario for the Ladies sections, although they would have been found near Egypt and altered at least once before Beinecke 408, resulting in what you call its exemplars. So Hellenistic scrolls to late (12thC?) “Eastern” copy to Beinecke 408’s makers to (eventually) Baresch 🙂

    That would work for me, in the case of quire 13.

    I’ve given myself till the beginning of next week to wrap up my paper. I think it will be quite convincing, though one never knows with Voynich stuff. Either way it’s of a much higher academic standard than my previous efforts 😉


    • Koen, just so that readers are clear on the distinction between your views and mine – not to try to change either – in my opinion the majority of the botanical folios show no sign of using either Christian or Muslim conventions. I put the ‘going east’ to no later than the 3rdC AD for the main images, and if the page from the Anicia Juliana which has the same ‘default layout’ had come (along with the texts copied) from earlier exemplars employed by those 6thC Byzantines, then we could say that the comparable layout in the Voynich botanical folios accords with the practices of eastern Greeks not later than the early sixth century AD, and quite possibly as early as the period I’ve posited. I’m assuming that those making a book for the Empress would have used the earliest and most venerable versions they could get. However, the style of the root mnemonics is echoed in that seen in the Mashad Dioscorides, and again in one of Spanish Jewish bibles of around the 12thC, and in the former case the paintings were by a person from the Yemeni traditions. Day believes a Christian artist. This among a fair number of other indicators leads me to posit transition from the eastern side of the Mediterranean of the finished images (i.e. with mnemonics at root level) at about that time – with the proviso that the map appears to include Avignon and Ayas, which suggests the late thirteenth to mid-fourteenth centuries. The mnemonics – because they *refer* to footbinding imo – cannot be dated certainly any earlier than the 10thC which is when the practice was introduced to the Chinese imperial court. While I’d be open to debate about it, the layout of the ‘root and leaf’ section suggests to me the form of the Bencao genre, and we know that books of that type were also used as models for taxing imports and exports, and by traders as a sort of ready-reference (herbal uses or not). That’s why I tend to describe that section as a ‘lading’ section. We find similar ideas in western mercantile documents, but not exactly the same layout. Use of such fold-outs alone suggests to me a derivation from the style of books made through the Great Sea and in China.. but that’s another whole thing.


  6. It’s quite complicated with all those different threads of development in various sections, isn’t it. It may be helpful to make some kind of visual representation of where exactly I differ from your views and what I accept… I’ll look into that when my paper is finished. Should be handy for quick reference.

    One thing I fully agree about is the very limited role of Latins/Christians in the transmission of the material.

    About the large plants: I still believe (though can’t prove at all) that the large plants were first made in the same environment as the small plants and the bathing section. It seems likely to me that they also had mythological figures at their roots. However, subsequent cultures have replaced those figures and drastically altered the eventual appearance of the imagery.

    This is why for me it makes perfect sense that Silenus’ profile is in the tendril on f17v: tendrils don’t look like that. If this is really supposed to outline a face, it is actually a much more realistic depiction of the human form than those we find in the rest of the manuscript. I will go further, and say that this tendril is the most elaborate depiction of facial features in the whole manuscript. The brow is outlined, the shape of the nose, we see that the man has a full moustache, we see the lower lip, a long, wavy beard. On the bald head, the berries of the plant form Silenus’ wreath of vegetation.

    So I wonder then, whether this tendril is a forgotten reminder of what the plants once looked like before all realistic depictions were removed and mnemonics of a very practical, to the point nature were added. And I wonder also whether you may have found something similar on f5v 🙂

    About the Bencao: yes, the layout is similar, but not quite the same. I’ve only looked at some examples, but they seem more grid-like and generally neater. And like you have also said, similar layouts can be found in Egyptian papyri. This might also explain the various sizes of the foldouts. Papyrus scrolls could be opened as narrowly or broadly as required to see a section, so the foldouts may have been used to copy units of a greater width.

    I must admit though, that all evidence taken together, the Bencao argument cannot be dismissed. In that case, of course, I would argue that whatever the original layout looked like has been brought closer to the Bencao style later copyists were familiar with 🙂


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