Postscript: the Anicia Juliana (cont./2)

detail Image of coral from the Juliana Anicia small

[formatting ‘bug corrected]

To the left-hand side the monkey holds an object which I read as a container for pebbles, herbs and so on, with the monkey (at that time) an emblem of north Africa. In that way it is seen in earlier works and is associated with  figures bearing the goat-skin ‘aegis’ over one shoulder and upper arm –  signifying agency for Egypt, in these cases, not for the Greek gods.  In medieval Latin Europe, the ‘monkey’ character would take on another significance.

aegis Kushite 8th-7thC BC blogNimrud ivory SyroPhoenician humanfaceThe person who made Banks’ copy of the Anicia Juliana mistook the form of the instrument which Rufus holds but he conveys its sense well enough. 

detail Joseph Banks' Rufus of Ephesus

The more interesting error is familiar to scholars of art history and iconography. It is a common phenomenon that when an original image has no counterpart in a viewer’s existing range of knowledge. Without any particular training to overcome it and see what is actually there, a great many will either fail to see the detail at all, or will instinctively treat the  detail as irrelevant or ‘wrong’.  It is a deep-seated instinct, to balance which becomes part of the iconographic analyst’s formal training, though children and those with natural facility in ‘ways of seeing’ may not succumb.  

In sense, given that the imagery in the Voynich manuscript is so plainly resistant to superficial reading, and few troubled to suppose the fault their own rather than due to flaws in the maker, the history of Voynich studies is saturated with foolish and impressionistic assertions about the nature, origin and content of that imagery.  One sighs to see, even now, that the botanical images are called “otherworldly” drawings, or that some of the ‘ladies’ folios are asserted (as Newbold did before Panofsky saw the manuscript) to be about gynecology, biological ‘tubes’ or some other form of domestic plumbing.  One does not condemn the persons who are so bewildered that they begin to describe the metaphors which arise in their own minds, rather than what is set down in a medieval manuscript.  It is a little more difficult to justify continued ignorance, and in some cases an ignorance not only insisted upon, but maintained by attempting to obscure or denigrate better information when it is offered.  Another of those curious social aspects of Voynich studies is an expression of indignation, disbelief, indeed sometimes even outrage which may follow attempts to explain that not all imagery is meant to be ‘seen’ rather than ‘read’ and that some fairly concentrated study and application is needed to rightly interpret imagery in this manuscript. Flicking through Latin manuscripts of one’s choice seeking ‘look-alike’ images simply isn’t enough. Nor is pure imagination, otherwise known as ‘the hypothesis’.

However ~ Rufus’ face in the original  wears a half-mask from the hairline to the nose. That is  coloured yellow – perhaps to represent gold.  For the copyist in eighteenth- century Europe, where physicians did not wear such things, the detail would have seemed invisible at worst and meaningless at best: only theatricals used masks in his time.  Whichever the case, the copyist’s eyes slid past the detail, re-interpreting what he saw to suit the ‘common sense’  expectations of his own time and culture.  Compare Rufus’ face with others in that group-portrait in the Anicia Juliana, and see if you can recognise the distinction made.

knife container Banks Anicia Juliana

I haven’t seen Rufus’ mask  mentioned in any previous work, and though it may not hold great interest for most Voynich researchers, historians of ancient and classical art and history will feel differently.  Use of the mask outside the theatrical and funerary context has been an ongoing question for many decades, so for those readers interested in the manuscript chiefly because I’ve attributed the earliest stratum in the imagery to the early Hellenistic period, here is a bit more detail. (For my statement as early as 2009 that the earliest stratum in the imagery is Hellenistic, see e.g. the page posted above: here).


Rufus’ mask and western medieval imagery.

Scholars have long suspected that masks were used in other than the theatrical or the funerary context. Some have noted depictions in Egypt of what appear to be Anubis masks worn by the priestly caste who oversaw mummification.  From the Greeks we have one ivory mask, said to be Apollonian, but that is full face.  Another, found in a potter’s work-shop in Carthage may have been less a mask in itself than a model  for making masks –  half-masks or full-face.

mask terracotta carthageand this is not the first time, in the context of Voynich research, that we’ve noted use of a mask-like form to denote the ‘inhuman among us’.  It has occurred already in connection with two early-fourteenth century manuscripts from France. One from eastern France (Metz 1302-1303) and the other from the southern Occitan region (possibly near Toulouse, 1st quarter of the 14th century).

crossbowman Yates Thompson Ps109 first verses

(detail) BL MS Yates Thompson 8, fol. 61

The former shows a crossbow which may represent the same design as the Padre Island crossbow –  seen again in the hands of the Voynich archer. The latter echoes closely an ancient emblem for Tyre,  as I’ve already had reason to mention in the same connection.  Here, the coin from Tyre also conveys the impression of a masked face. It was made in the earlier Hellenistic period, while Tyre was part of the Ptolemaic (Lagid) kingdom whose capital was in Egypt, though Tyre would soon be absorbed into another which embraced most of Asia minor, including Rufus’ city of Ephesus (details – map).

Sagittarius Occitan MS detail

(detail) BL MS Royal 19 C I f. 37

coin Tyre 347-332 BC

coin Tyre 347-332 BC

In the Anicia Juliana, the image of Rufus of Ephesus is the first example I’ve seen of any gold half-mask, though we do have hints from later Sicyon and its folk practices which may be relevant here. (for some bibliographical references, email me).

I expect that Rufus’ mask is meant to refer to his medical service in Alexandria, as to that cult of Asclepius prominent in his time in Ephesus, Sicyon and elsewhere.

But altogether it is not these details, so much as the figures of the marine deity and ‘beast’ which tell us most clearly that the Anicia Juliana’s makers had as their model for the ‘coral tree’ an image of eastern Greek, and pre-Roman character.

Roman imagery will use the crab-claw ‘antennae’ for any male marine figure, whether triton, Okeanus, Poseidon/Neptune, or Cetyx (‘son of the dawn star’) and Alcyone (daughter of the winds) – a Roman version of the last shown below in a recently-restored mosaic in Isthmia.

sea deity crab claws Roman baths Istria

In those, as you see, the marine figure is the male, and he is given a horse’s forelegs and the tail of the sea-serpent. Cetyx is part marine ‘centaur’ and part dolphin or sea-serpent.   In a late Hellenistic rhyton, though, we find a centaur-like figure whose hair is formed like sea-weed at the back and who is given ‘horns’ of wind-swept hair at the front.  The holding museum describes it as a centaur, but since the centaur is not normally horned, though it was certainly associated with medicine, we reserve judgement on the point. The detail is from a rhyton, a drinking vessel.

rhyton Centaur query c.160 BC Hellenistic

Rhyton. late Hellenistic c.160 BC [1]

In origin, and from before the time of Alexander,  the horse-headed sea-beast representing intelligence in the ways of land and sea was the city emblem for another Phoenician centre, Byblos.

c.330 BC

coin of Byblos, Phoenician.  c.330 BC (early Hellenistic period).

Where ‘sea spirit’ type is male in Roman imagery, and is given equine forelimbs, the Anicia Juliana figure is female and has a wholly human form.  Nor is the emblematic object it holds the usual trident of Neptune or sea-box etc, but  form of oar, paddle or measuring staff.  This was originally a “queen of the sea/underworld” familiar to us from the earlier Mediterranean; her rods or fan are those of the measurer of stars and winds. We may call her Alcyone, since her true name is unknown.

Juliana Anicia sea-beast

Anchor mariner goddess 3dot

Above that more ancient figure is another item which was to survive the centuries and re-appear in Latin works of the fourteenth century: what I’ve termed in these posts the “vine-road” motif, signifying the ways of the sea.   It appears fairly often in manuscripts of Jewish and of French making, the usual colours of white-on-blue indicating a tie to earlier Egypt, though intermediary phase probably Jewish (esp. Karaite).

Beside the seated, female figure in the Anicia Juliana is a creature with the marine ‘lily tail’ and certainly meant for a sea-beast whom we may call Cetus.  Its head is rounded, like that of a dog or a seal; the snarling mouth also resembles their. But its throat has a webbed ‘beard’ and, most unusually of all, from its nose a delicate, branching antenna, unlike any Roman image of Cetus I’ve encountered to date.

Compare, for example is the form given the constellationCetus on the Mainz globe (tentatively ascribed to Egypt or to Anatolia, and dated to 150-220 AD).

dog bound globe 1st-2ndC now in Mainz

And the emerging pattern we’ve seen in exploring the Voyich imagery and its sources emerges here once more.  Another instance of  imagery appropriate to the Hellenistic world and the earlier Radhanites turns up in medieval France.

Below, as you’ll see, the manuscript shows the same delicate, branching antennae rising from the nose of a sea-beast whose ‘lily-tail’ is revealed the serpent’s jaws. Here again, it is associated with a female figure.  In French manuscript, though, the costume is one well-known from earlier depictions of traders along the high ‘silk road’ and found again on the maritime route as south-east Asia by the tenth century.beast two headed BLATA

Thai, Radhanite, France: restraint, please.

I have already published here the title of an essay which will be included in the forthcoming book and whose originality I do hope will not be compromised by any Voynichero’s ambition or lack of scruple: it traces the Radhanites’ history as far as medieval Thailand.  Here is one of the images I’ll be referring to, from Lyons’ paper.  The style of hat and the ‘cross the heart’ costume may be compared with that in an Occitan medieval manuscript.  Such things are why I offered the opinion by 2010-11 that certain specific matter in the Voynich manuscript had probably first reached mainland Europe with the Radhanites where it was preserved until later by the Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews. If some Voynicheros now suggest that the attribution to Hellenistic and Radhanite are ‘old stuff’ or that the Thai link is  ‘an idea everyone knows” then I would suggest that they produce examples of it older than 2010-11.  If it is now what “everyone knows” it is because “everyone’ has been exposed to repetition of my findings which are unaccompanied by proper footnotes, references and proper acknowledgements.

Thai traders 10thC


usual pattern for transferrence occurs again in this instance: from the Hellenistic Mediterranean to sudden re-appearance in the south-western Mediterranean.  In this case, the round-headed and ‘lily-tailed’ creature turns up in an Occitan manuscript along with a figure who is dressed in the costume we know well from imagery across the eastern roads before the 12thC, and which reached China as early as the tenth.  The type is usually identified with the Radhanites, sometimes called Jews in the medieval works, but otherwise described as ‘messengers for the Jews’ or, in one case, ‘trader-messengers of Khorasan.’When we return to the ‘Comparison…’ posts, I’ll take a look at some of the better known translators who worked to bring the older Greek works into the Latin domain.  (That’s if some other Voynichero doesn’t decide to do the work for me, before I get to it – hint, hint).  Some names will be immediately attractive I should think: Michael Scot for those who believe the knowledge in the manuscript is astrological and esoteric – as I do not.  William of Moerbecke will doubtless be of more immediate interest to those espousing the ‘central European’ hypothesis, since a Fleming can surely be taken as a ‘near-central-European’.  Our main focus, though, will be Frankish Corinth where, as it happens, a prevalent local language (or dialect) in medieval times was Arvanitic. I’m not saying the Voynich manuscript’s text is in Arvanitic; I’m more inclined, myself, to think that it is a form of cursive script which has had its natural ligatures removed, but that’s just speculation on a part of the text which is none of my concern.

Finally – I should think that the Empress Juliana herself would have read the figures by the Coral tree as a reference to Andromeda, rescued from being sacrifice by Persus, who petrified the monster Cetus by using the head of Medusa, she having been one of the Gorgons.  The word for ‘coral’ in Greek is ‘Gorgeia’.

“Having [by means of Medusa’s head] petrified Cetus, Perseus placed the head on a riverbank while he washed his hands. When he recovered it, he saw that Medusa’s blood had turned the seaweed (in some variants the reeds) into red coral, Gk: gorgeia.

One wonders whether that myth is the reason that an order of soft corals now bears the name Alcyonacea?

Plague again.. and the owl.  ( next post, and short).



1. the figure has been reconstructed making oak-leaves of the hair. Cf  here.


10 thoughts on “Postscript: the Anicia Juliana (cont./2)

  1. (“re-appearance in the south-western Mediterranean” –> shouldn’t this be north-western? )

    I’ve been studying a lot of Cetus images lately (writing the Cetus chapter in my paper) and I must agree that, even though he takes many shapes, such antenna is strange. The fact that you have found it in two separate manuscripts does seem to suggest a connection, for it is a very particular structure.

    I’m not sure what your conclusion is about the female figure with the coral. Originally an allusion to the Radhanites? To me she has all the appearance of a sea deity, one who seems to be in a state of harmony with the Cetus-monster, a being of her domain.

    Hence, the proposal that Anicia would have seen her as Andromeda might be a bit of a stretch in my opinion. If she knew this myth, she may also have recognized that the iconography does not point to Andromeda. Though the etymological link does weigh in favor of this idea.


    • The word Radhanites isn’t attested in any document earlier than the Islamic period (7thC AD). No, I do mean “south-western..”. I suppose I should have explained in more detail, but the post was long enough. It has to do with the earlier origins of the crab-claw antennae, the frequency of use in north Africa (in the widest sense. The Byzantines still held Tunis and Egypt when the Anicia Juliana was made), and also the documented routes of the Radhanites, which crossed North Africa or came from Egypt and/or Syria, ending at the Rhone. By the ‘south-west Mediterranean, I mean the western end of the lower Mediterranean, that is the Mediterranean as such, not including the Aegean, Bosphorus or Black Sea. Those waters were once known as the ‘Phoenician basin’ because from cities in North Africa, a whole string of older colonies existed to as far as Marseilles – not to mention Sicily and the Balearics. But such things are generally treated as “TMI” by a majority in the Voyich world, so I didn’t elaborate.


      • Aah, thanks, that clarifies things.

        What happens with the comments vanishing is strange. One thing I can say is that they disappear before they are flagged for moderation. So they go straight from my submit button to your deleted folder.

        All I can think of is that this is a rare bug in wordpress’ system, that they aren’t aware of themselves. I’d find it very weird, if not impossible, that a virus or anything else on your local computer is to blame… Which probably means that it won’t be solved any time soon.

        Though the vanishing comments do appear to go systematically to the trash, so at least you know where to find them 🙂


    • Helmut,
      Thank you for your comment. The person to ask those details from is Ellie Velinska. She first posted the image, and I wrote a comment to that post at the time, but on returning to her blog the other day, to check the details and properly credit that post, I could not find it there at all, and have not had much success contacting her. If you do have better luck, I’d be very glad if you could please give me the holding library’s details. (I do not require the shelf-mark, just the usual catalogue description).


    • Helmut,
      I’m not sure if it is true, but I have been given to understand that there is some quasi-policy in place among those espousing the ‘German’ theory, that while information may be requested – or even bluntly demanded – from those holding different views, reciprocity is not encouraged. If that should be so in fact, rather than mere rumour, I shall continue my efforts to contact Ellie alone. Cheers.


  2. Diane, I posted a comment here on the day this post went up, but it vanished in thin air. Can you check if it ended up in the trash/spam? Otherwise I’ll try to reconstruct it 🙂


    • Thanks Koen – I checked the trash and the spam. Nothing there. Please do try to re-construct the comment. If you like, send a duplicate to me by email and if yours doesn’t appear, I’ll post it in your name.

      Not sure why I have this ongoing issue with comments. I’ve tried three different themes in case it’s a format bug, have contacted wordpress who just scratched their heads. Lately it seems as if it might have been caused by some meddlesome Trojan or other sort of leech. Or maybe an issue with the date/year which keeps defaulting to 2015. But speculations and possibilities are all I’m offered. *shrug*. Another suggestion is that when I refresh the browser, it may affect pending comments. Don’t know why it should.. any IT specialists who want to comment are very welcome, btw.


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