Curiosities – a few footnotes

“Illyrian” (thought Kircher)

reprinted from post in ‘Findings’ originally published Sunday, November 6, 2011

One of the most curious things about the ‘Voynich’ script is the fact that as late as the first part of the fifteenth century, several competent clerks were writing or at least copying  it, yet a couple of centuries later, no one can even guess where it might have come from.

Athanasius Kircher, it would seem, had seen nothing like it though he had some solid resources at his disposal among them the Vatican library, presumably also that of La Sapienza and the archives and libraries of his own order, whose members were, by his time, pretty much everywhere and busily writing home.

Kircher wrote that he thought it might be “Illyrian” though that is less certain a term than you might think: it depends whether he speaking geographically [Illyria= Albania] or in terms of written scripts [‘Illyrian’ = Glagolitic and Cyrillic]. And if that isn’t complicated enough, these had variant forms, and were used to record “Slavic languages, and non-Slavic inner-Asian languages.”

And both scripts are found used in the north, in the  ‘Caucasus-Albania’ but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Today, all the textbooks and web-sites agree Glagolitic was invented in the ninth century by Cyril.

But not too long before Kircher’s time, late in the sixteenth century, the Vatican issued a book in which was a copy from a manuscript showing this “Illyrican” script credited to Jerome – who lived fully four centuries before Cyril, and while ‘Illyricum’ remained the name of that province.

So when Kircher thought ‘Illyrian’ script he could have been thinking of exactly this ‘Illyrian’ script, rather than contemporary Cyrillic, or Glagolitic.

And he may have known the form of the old Illyrian/Illyrican costume, with its longer and shorter fustanella, and forms of cap which do resemble some pictured in the manuscript. Examples shown are dated 4th-6thC AD.

That second ‘Illyrian’ region, Caucasian Albania, is squashed between the Caspian coast and Armenia. At one time it used another script altogether, one only pretty recently recognised as ever existing, but at some stage, a manuscript was overwritten which had originally been inscribed in the script used in that other Albania. The manuscript ended up in a monastery in the Sinai where it remained, preserved, until recently.

The language is Udi, and it had its own script.  Here’s the palimpsest.

8th November –

I’ve been re-reading Baresch’s letters to Kircher. Time and again I think that their content is badly under-estimated. This time, what struck me was his saying that there might have been some ‘good man’ who went to fetch eastern medical knowledge of the Egyptian kind. We tend today to describe Alexandria as Greek, or Hellenistic, but he might not.

The point is more that in relation to Cyril and Methodius, there is a story about the languages and scripts once used in areas that the Bulgarians and perhaps the Venetians knew. Some are unknown today. And when Venetians called a person a ‘good man’ it was apparently uncomplimentary.

The story goes like this:

Cyril and Methodius had Bulgarian mothers, though the Greek tradition has them as Greeks from Thessalonika. After having applied their new script and used it in religious books made for the Bulgarians, their using a non-Biblical script saw them accused of heresy, against which charge at that time the only remedy was to present the case for the defense in person to the western Pope.

On the way there, they stopped at Venice and were harrassed by the local clergy who said:

‘Good man, tell us: how is it that you’ve created books for teaching the  Slavs? These weren’t developed from any given by the Apostles, nor by the Roman Pope, nor by Gregory the Theologian, nor by Hieronimus (Jerome), nor by Augustine. We know only three languages worthy to be used in books for glorifying God: Hebrew, Greek and Latin.’

The philosopher answered by listing the literate peoples known to them both:

.. how is it that you are not ashamed to recognize only three languages, demanding of all the other peoples and tribes that they be be deaf and dumb? … We know many peoples who understand books and glorify God in their own [native] tongue. The following are well known: Armenians, Persians, Abazgi, Georgians, Sugdites [=Sogdians?], Goths, Avars, Tirsi, Khazars, Arabs, Egyptians, Syrians, and many others…’

That was the situation in the 9thC AD. We have one text remaining from the northern Goths. The Sogdian literature consists chiefly of Manichaean texts recovered from the caves in the Tarim basin. There is one book (in Udi) which may be in the same script attributed to the Abazgi (Abkhaz). Otherwise there is nothing left of the written works from those whose names are scored through, and the only instance I can find of the name ‘Tirsi’ is the name of a shepherd in one of the early Italian operas.  Here,  ‘Egyptian’  means Coptic.

On the pre-Christian script used in Georgia, there is a diversity of opinion.

‘Findings’ reprinted from Saturday, June 30, 2012

Persian music. Roster of Days

This from the wiki article ‘Sassanid Music’

Barbad is remembered in [numerous] documents and has been named as remarkably high skilled. He has been credited to have given an organisation of musical system consisting of seven “Royal modes” named Xosrovani, thirty derivative modes named lahn, and 360 melodies named dastan. These numbers are in accordance with Sassanid’s calendar of number of days in a week, month, and year. The theories based on which these modal system was based are not known, however the writers of later period have left a list of these modes and melodies. These names include some of epic forms such as kin-e Iraj (lit. the Vengeance of Iraj), kin-e siavash (lit. the Vengeance of Siavash), and Taxt-e Ardashir (lit. the Throne of Ardashir) and some connected with the glories of Sassanid royal court such as Bagh-e shirin (lit the garden of Shirin), Bagh-e Shahryar (lit. the Sovereign’s Garden), and haft Ganj (lit. the seven threasures). There are also some of a descriptive nature like roshan cheragh (lit. bright lights).
The wiki article has refs and footnotes.

though  Barbad’s hardly likely to have gone to Spain if he lived in Sassanid times. A synthesis of what was happening where in the 11th century AD

and a  “Persian calendar, with Syrian, Arabic, Egyptian and Persian names for some months. …”
It’s a pdf

“Abbasid-Carolingian Alliance” – yes, another wiki.

re: Codex MS. Sassoon 823

‘Findings..’ Nov.21, 2011

A codex – probably fourteenth century – from the Iberian peninsula or thereabouts (Ceuta?)  contains illustrations with human figures drawn short, and with distended bellies. One of these illustrations (for Gemini) is shown on p.288 of the article cited below.

That same article, written in 1988, provides the few details about the ms. that I repeat below, but will have to be compared with the same authors’ book, published in 1994 book. I’ve lucked out there, so far, and since I can’t take it further at present, you’re welcome if you wish …


Karl A. F. Fischer, Paul Kunitzsch and Y. Tzvi Langermann, “The Hebrew Astronomical Codex MS. Sassoon 823” The Jewish Quarterly Review , New Series, Vol. 78, No. 3/4 (Jan. – Apr., 1988), pp. 253-292

which says that the ms in question is:
*Inscribed in an ‘early’ Spanish hand.

*A florilegium – i.e. a collection of extracts.
*Vellum (?) rather than parchment.
*Total number of pages is greater than the Vms… but
*quires are also 8 pages each.

The book [could be an intro. plus facsimile, at 292 pages]:
Karl Adolf Franz Fischer, Paul Kunitzsch, Yitzhak Tzvi Langermann, The Hebrew astronomical codex ms. Sassoon 823, Center for advanced Judaic studies, University of Pennsylvania, 1994 – 292 pages.

The sad story of Spanish medieval manuscripts (pdf):

After the making of ms Beinecke 408…

Viable  connections between France, Spain, North Africa, and Ottoman lands – and between astronomy, astrology and navigation – exemplified by the life and works of  Abraham Zacut (c.1452-c.1515 AD) pdf.


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