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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.
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.
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.
and 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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.