Non-Mediterranean Plants in MS Beinecke 408, in medieval Cairo, and in Sicily before 1065 AD … continued.
Here’s the rest of the previous post; I thought you might like a few days to cope with the first part. Time is so short and the entries for these plants so short in Lev and ‘Amar that I’m hoping Brill won’t object to my reproducing them here (less than 1%) . If they do, I’ll come back and transcribe.
For the plant-group on folio 52r, (sometimes as: fol. 52r-1), I’ve described one element as referring to G.herbaceum. To find information about cotton fabrics and their trade is easy enough, but medical uses not so much, so here’s the entry:
It was not as firm an identification as the others were: I still think the image could refer to what I have described as ‘Spinach-leaf [-ed] berry vines’, and Ellie Velinska has also seen Chenopodium here, as I mentioned in the post of Feb. 28th., 2013. Sorry if my opinion sounds dilatory or ambivalent, but the image doesn’t include enough information to allow me to express greater certainty. If fact, given that Cubeb pepper- and the spinach-vine plants I mention all have a similar habit, leaf and form, and all were dietary staples, so it is quite possible in my opinion that the person who first constructed the image regarded them all as having a common nature and intended reference to all, as one group.
Folio 25r: D. cinnabari (formerly D. draco)’
I finish with the first image for which I published an explanation, optimistic (in 2009) that it would be of immediate assistance to, and happily received by, those interested in understanding the manuscript. What I received by response over the following seven years modified that initial optimism. Until early this year, the process of sharing the research and its conclusions online was met with an atmosphere which leads one to agree with Pelling that the online environment, and study of this manuscript, has become “a bad place” for a scholar to be. Though I have published online the equivalent of two full volumes of original investigations and conclusions, they are chiefly mined for new “ideas” and the recurring pattern suggests that such an “idea” only inspires an adherent of the all European theory once the body of evidence and argument presented here reaches a certain critical mass. At that point, however, the evidence and argument are not so much addressed, or adopted, as an attempt is made to create some ‘alternative’ version which will permit the ‘all-European-authorship’ theory to settle down again. To differ from a seminal study is not unusual. To pretend it does not exist, or to avoid addressing the detailed evidence and argument in order to convey an impression that no such study exists, is a phenomenon peculiar to Voynich studies. Protest on behalf of the scholar, or of readers who will be mislead, usually leads to some response along the lines that the decision to pretend the earlier work does not exist is a matter of ‘principle’. Go figure.
Note: The passage below, from ‘Amar and Lev, has a couple of errors. The Soqotran dracaena tree (D. cinnabari) was endemic to that island and its resin is generally known as the ‘dragonsblood’. I have not discovered evidence of the tree’s growing naturally in Sumatra, though I am of the opinion that the Sumatran and Javanese type of Dracaena form the subject of folio 3r (see below). Taxonomic descriptions have also altered over time, on which see comment following.
D. draco was long the term by which the Soqotran tree was described, and as late as 2009 when I published (a year after the publication of the book by ‘Amar and Lev), most of the sources available to me still used that description. However, at some stage the taxonomists had decided to change things about, and now D. draco refers to the Mediterranean ‘dragonsblood’ palm which grows in the south-western Mediterranean. In the passage reproduced above, there is mention of a merchant’s letter which was sent to Cairo and preserved there, and which refers to dragonsblood among things needed in Palermo. Now, had the species in question been that from northwest Africa and Iberia there would have been no need to write to Cairo; that the letter went there indicates that the substance was the imported variety. As late as the nineteenth century, Mrs. Grieves still treats the Soqotran tree’s resin as “the” dragonsblood, and the only one suitable for pharmaceutical use. In practice, of course, the variegated Sumatran and Javanese dracaenas may have been used just as often, and the presence of both plants in Beinecke MS 408 would certainly suggest that they were.
More examples from the botanical ids which I’ve offered could be added to the list, but these should establish my point well enough – that there is no reason to suppose Beinecke MS 408’s botanical section inconsistent with the trade (in regard to exotic species) which existed between Egypt and Sicily before the Norman period.
In citing documents from the Cairo geniza, I repeat, I’m not trying prove these identifications correct, but that the inclusion of the exotics which I identify in MS Beinecke 408 is not incompatible with evidence of the trade in exotics into Egypt and thence to Sicily before the texts were composed which we now associate with the ‘Salernitan’ school. I can find no evidence that the imagery now in this section of the manuscript had come to Latin notice or possession any earlier than the mid- to late- thirteenth century,* for the habit of Latin scribes had been immediately to reform ‘foreign’ imagery to accord with their own theology and traditions in art. Had it come earlier, it would not have its present form. By the early fourteenth century, however, interest was growing among the few in both the content and the form of ‘antique’ documents.
* the central emblems within the calendar section offer a possible exception, but the external tiers do not.
I do not believe that the botanical imagery in this manuscript is a ‘herbal’. Its plants are not only, or even primarily, ones which relate to pharmacy. They include plants of use only as provisions, or for materials needed to maintain the ship and caravan, and goods such as paper and ink are referenced. In addition, other folios depict maritime routes, or charts that – in my opinion – relate to calculations of time, tide, and the stars and winds of navigation.
The Karimi merchants, and before them the Radhanites, are the most likely groups to have earlier access to matter now in the manuscript.
From this part of the Via Francigena, en route to Canterbury, our postcard. It is one made in 2013, in the hope that where evidence and argument had failed, a simpler image might. 🙂