Clear vision 6 – notes

[1] I have had reason before to mention this instrument and the matter of geomancy.  In reverse order: (i)  my public apology for having apparently begun a Voynich-related ‘craze’:   ‘Heaven to earth: dots and dust – brief note‘ (April 13th., 2016); (ii)  Green Ocean – Paris’ world, dates‘ (December 26, 2014) refers to geomancy in connection with an illustration from Michael Scot’s work in Sicily  (MS Bodley 266 folio 115v); and (iii)  Voynich-like script/s Persia, Egypt and Lyons‘, (December 19, 2014), because some Voynich-like glyphs occur in a text which includes geomantic matter.  I see that  geomancy has recently arisen again as a topic at

[2] Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World, 4th ed (1999) p. 85

[3] Bokhara, Samarkhand and Merv had received the same treatment, first between 1218-1220, and later from 1258 under Halagu Khan. (Harris, loc cit.) Following the sack of Byzantium in 1204, we may suppose  lost forever a great number of  classical Greek works whose titles are known now through later mentions.

[4] Sources usually cited here are Maalouf, The Crusades through Arab Eyes p.243; Steven Runciman, A history of the Crusades p. 306; Richard C. Foltz, Religions of the Silk Road: Overland Trade and Cultural Exchange from Antiquity to the Fifteenth Century  p.123.

[5]  Thus:  “Mas’ūdi ( 895-957  AD)  ..lived at a time when books were readily available and relatively cheap…The introduction of paper coincided with the coming to power of the Abbasid dynasty, and there is no doubt that the availability of cheap writing material contributed to the growth of the Abbasid bureaucracy, postal system and lively intellectual life. ..  Aside from large public libraries in major towns like Baghdad, many individuals, like Mas‘udi’s friend al-Suli, had private libraries, often containing thousands of volumes. The prevalence of books and their low price was the result of the introduction of paper to the Islamic world by Chinese papermakers captured at the Battle of Talas in 751 AD. Very soon afterwards there were paper mills in most large towns and cities”.  from the ‘Introduction’ – Paul Lunde and Caroline Stone (trans.), Mas‘udi. The Meadows of Gold, The Abbasids Vol. 1 (1989/2013), p.14.

[6] Analysis of  folio 2r was first published Jan 22nd. 2012, a shorter version published through ‘Voynich Imagery’ on November 5th., 2012. It can be read here. The group includes a flower that I take to be Centaurea moschata, which served as both insect-repellent and scent. With regard to Baghdad, though not elsewhere, this may imply a terminus ad quem, since scenting tribute lists for the Sassanian rulers had been customary, and one early Caliph also received them scented but, being appalled by what he considered an effete practice, had the practice discontinued in that context.

[7]  Dimitri Gutas, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture: The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement in Baghdad and Early ‘Abbasid Society (2nd-4th/8th-10th centuries) (1998).

[8] ““reading classical Greek and even composing in the same style were an integral part of Byzantine higher education. .. those who took their education beyond the age of fourteen would be instructed in the works of the ancient Greek poets, historians, dramatists and philosophers. Thus any educated Byzantine in the imperial service would have had a knowledge of these [ancient and classical] works which would have been the envy of many educated Italians.”Jonathan Harris,  “Byzantines in Renaissance Italy.”  (pdf)

[9] [they] “held the same high rank within the state hierarchy, entering the highest posts of the Abbasid administration and being provided with institutional and with financial support.” Gutas, op.cit.

[10] Bulliet cites finds from Egypt in levels dating to the tenth and eleventh century, saying  “Arabic printing must have begun in the eighth or ninth century. It persisted into, but possibly not beyond the fourteenth century” and in a note attributes  introduction of paper into Islamic regions to the capture of Chinese at Samarkand in 704 AD.  Richard R. Bulliet,’Medieval Arabic tarsh, a forgotten chapter in the history of printing’, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol.107, No.3 (1987) pp.427-438 and p.427, n.1.   A contrary view is expressed by e.g.  Walid Nasr: “Print did not become established in the Islamic world until the 19thC, four centuries after it became… established in Christendom”, Walid Ghali Nasr, ‘The reasons behind the delay in adopting the early printing technologies in Muslim countries: brief thoughts’ (paper, 2012) available through

[11] Block printing was used in Latin Europe for books and for playing cards before the time of Gutenberg’s moveable type. Proctor dated the introduction of printing in Genoa to c.1474,  but the (somewhat difficult) website site ‘memory of paper’ includes a Genoese watermark dated to the 1350s, and formed appropriately enough as a bow.   For the older opinion, still found repeated in various works,  see Robert Proctor (1898). “Books Printed From Types: Italy: Genova” in the Index to the Early Printed Books in the British Museum,


[12“One of the principal Arabic works on medicine which [the Muslim residents] introduced into Ceylon was the work of Avicenna; they also introduced Arabic translations of Aristotle, Plato, Euclid, Galen and Ptolemy, extracts of which were frequently brought to me while I was in Ceylon by the Mohammedan priests and merchants, who stated that the works themselves had originally been procured from Baghdad by their ancestors, and they had remained for some hundreds of years in their respective families in Ceylon, but had subsequently been sold by them, when in distress, for considerable sums of money, to some merchants who traded between Ceylon and the eastern islands.

Three very large volumes of extracts from the works which I have alluded were presented to me by a Mohammedan priest of great celebrity in Asia, who died about twenty years ago on the island of Ceylon.

These three volumes, together with between five and six hundred books in the Cingalese, Pali, Tamil, and Sanskrit languages, relating to the history, religion, manners, and literature of the Cingalese, Hindu, and Mohammedan inhabitants of Ceylon, which I had collected at a considerable expense were lost in 1809, in the “Lady Jane Dundas” East-Indiaman on board of which ship I had taken my passage for England.”

– excerpt from a letter addressed by Alexander Johnston (Justice and President of His majesty’s Council in Ceylon) to the Secretary of The Royal Asiatic Society.  Note (D.) I have checked this information against  Admiralty records; a ship of that name foundered, not far off the coast of Ceylon, in 1809. Johnston’s letter was first mentioned in connection with Beinecke MS 408 in a post entitled ‘Pictured plants: the ‘Herbal’ tradition ~ Continuity and transmission, Findings, (Monday, May 17, 2010); this being repeated in ‘A Good Man and a Traveller’, Findings, (September 26, 2011). I consider Johnston’s letter important for its offering clear evidence that Greek classical works were known at sites along the eastern sea-routes, and the same is implied by the form and content of the Voynich botanical and ‘leaves and roots’ sections.   Theophrastus’ treatises on plants were constantly mis-attributed to Aristotle in Latin Europe as within Islam.

[13] “The city [Teredon] is impossible to locate precisely today because of vast changes in the topography of lower Mesopotamia: in Hellenistic times the coastline was perhaps 200 km further inland than it is today” according to Roller who cites ‘many anonymous itineraries’. Duane W. Roller, Eratosthenes’ ‘Geography’. (2010), p.187. Smith and others identified its site with Jebel Sanám, “a gigantic mound near the Pallacopas branch of the Euphrates, considerably to the north of the embouchure of the present Euphrates”, Smith calculating that the alluvium had extended “.. about fifty miles since Nearchus landed at Teredon”. But that ‘gigantic mound’ is now known to be – not to be the result of long occupation – but a great salt-plug, perhaps the same  mined by the Gerrheans for the salt block of which their houses were famously built.

[14] “there is no absolute proof that the famous emporium built by Nebuchadrezzar and known to classical geographies as Teredon or Diridotis is the same as.. the Obillah of the Arabs, but everything points that way”. ‘Rawlinson’s Notes on The Ancient Geography’, Journal of the Royal Geographic Society, Vol. 27 (1857) p.186-7. Donald Hawley, The Trucial States (1970) renders the name as both Toredon and as Teredon, a note repeating the older suggestion that Teredon occupied the site of old Basra before the invading Arabs built the new town and re-named it. (pp.39-40). A more recent, if undated, paper by A.Hausleiter et. al. (c.1990) declines to offer any modern location, saying only that it was “probably on the gulf”, ‘Map 93 Mesene’ (pdf). Given the value of that trade, I do not think it impossible that, as the old site was gradually distanced from the sea that the population moved closer to the sea. In the last analysis, we simply do not know.

[15]  Ibn Khurradādhbih (sometimes romanised as Khurdādhbih, or  Khordadbeh), Kitāb al-Masālik wa al-Mamālik.  Full transcriptions or translations of the text are difficult to find, but both these early accounts of the Radhanites routes are  transcribed online in a blogpost dated January 17, 2015. See:  ‘Reports of the Slavs From Muslim Lands Part II – Radhanites, Eunuchs and the Rus‘.  Hourani, after citing the same passage from Kitāb al-Masālik.. adds,  “Old Basra on its canal was the Manchester of lower Mesopotamia, but al-Ubulla was its Liverpool.” George F.Hourani, Arab Seafaring in the Indian Ocean in Ancient and Early Medieval Times, (expanded edition), PUP 1951/1995. (pp.75-77).


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