Re-posting that old note from 2010 was not meant as an argument ‘proving’ that plants pictured in ms Beinecke 408  are items from the corpus of Siddha medicine.

As I’ve already said, the botanical folios I’ve considered do not appear to me to show plants having primarily medical use.

Rather the aim was to show how testing Baresch’s account against evidence offered to that time by the manuscript and against the archaeological and historical evidence had revealed nothing that could permit me to dismiss Baresch’s account out of hand. It is not anachronistic, nor preposterous, even as an hypothesis.

As it happens, if any a traveller had gone ‘to the east’ he might indeed have found  there a living tradition of herbal medicine which is so old that it is rightly termed ‘ancient”.

Ayurvedic medicine took its final form, so scholars believe, several centuries before the Mediterranean’s classical era.

By some,  Siddha medicine is said to be older yet, but the  question is presently bound up with India’s politics. Among the few objective discussions, two were listed in the previous post.

As to an alleged ‘Egyptian’ character:

As I’ve pointed out, there are Egyptian (or Greco-Egyptian) elements in the manuscript’s  imagery.

However, Baresch’s understanding of  ‘Egyptian medicine’ need not be literal. In his time it was the usual belief that the whole of the eastern world beyond Arabia had first been settled after the Biblical Flood by one of Noah’s sons, whose offspring spread east from Egypt.

For a time Kircher also believed this, though later that the Flood not having been able to reach so far, peoples of Asia must instead be descendants of the primal father Adam, their customs and culture (as he thought) evincing evidence of the original pristine age of humankind.

Such is the tenor of Kircher’s China Illustrata.

Baresch may, just as easily and as justifiably, have meant  ‘Egyptian’ literally.

Setting aside for the moment the matter of Elam’s medicine, and later the school of Jundishapur, contact even between India (in the broadest sense) and Egypt begins from the third millennium BC, and some think the fourth.

India and Egypt:

From the 1stC AD, artefacts recovered from Begram prove a direct and close link to Egypt: not only by type of good or manufacture, but in including details of religious beliefs.

It was from somewhere in that region that the sage Agastya is said to have come, bestowing on the Tamil-speaking peoples both in the Indus region and in the south, their corpus of Siddha medicine.

In the south itself, where this ancient medicine continues in practice, the port of Muziris offered a direct link to the Red Sea and Egypt during the earlier Hellenistic era and again during the time of the Romans.

From the 1stC AD until the time of its loss, Muziris was a major port of call on the east-west route and there seems little reason to doubt that both Egyptian-style worship and medicine of Egyptian origin had earlier found a place there. Christianity itself first flourished in Egypt and is said to have been established in southern India by the first century AD, though some would argue instead for the 3rd.

A document written on papyrus, and a plethora of ‘Roman’ glass beads attests to the connection so early.

On the other side, still earlier Tamil inscriptions in Egypt show that the exchange could be mutual, something supported by accounts of the deeds of a king who rule over India’s south during the 3rdC BC – the dawn of the Hellenistic period.

So whether Baresch used the term ‘Egyptian’ rightly, the fact is that his idea of the manuscript is not in conflict either with the manuscript’s imagery, nor with the assertion of a ‘pristine medicine’ having existed somewhere towards the east.

The fact that the patron of  Siddha medicine ~ Agastya ~ is referred to in a detail on the Genoese ‘Eye’ map of 1457 and again in Kircher’s own work adds to the likelihood that a means existed to bring into fifteenth-century and seventeenth-century Europe, equally, knowledge about the indigenous lore and customs of southern India and the eastern seas. Agastya is honoured (as the previous post illustrated) to as far as Java, and always in connection with medicine, and the ways of the sea.

So the point is not that Baresch’s account was right or wrong, but that it contains nothing impossible. It cannot be dismissed on grounds of anachronism. It accords with other details: the length and intensity of his own interest; that shown later by Kircher; and the amount which Mnishovsky thought not inappropriate as recompense to the person who (allegedly) brought it to Prague.  This at a time when anyone interested in western herbal medicine might have had any one of several published texts – for less time and expenditure.

Subsequently, in following up an associated topic concerning ” medicine and the sea”, I found some points I thought relevant  to study of this manuscript too.

On ‘Findings’ I put up extracted notes on the subject of the itinerant physician in general, including the ‘Baitar’ tradition within medieval North Africa, and the phenomenon of the  ‘ship’s doctor’ – a form of employment which was risky but not rarely taken by newly-qualified or intellectually inquisitive physicians as a way to travel and improve their knowledge of plants and treatments.

However, for the present, I think a rest from the botanical section might be in order.

Perhaps  next the significance of hand-gestures in Europe and elsewhere. It is of course an enormous subject, about which much has been written and recorded, in medieval history, art history, histories of drama, dance, maritime lore and anthropology.

I think the simplest thing to do will be to present a short bibliography for anyone curious to explore the subject in terms of their own angle on the manuscript. I’ll focus on examples from specific times and places already shown relevant to the  imagery.

For formalised gesture,  in art as in life, there are five main categories.

  • 1. Number and measure signs.
  • 2. signs expressing relative status. e.g. gestures of threat, blessing and intercession.
  • 3. ritualised personal emotion ~ primarily in dance and theatre
  • 4. Mimed speech – e.g. the dictionaries of gestures employed in some medieval monastries to avoid breaking silence.
  • 5. replicating the divine –  gestures imitating religious images; constellations and other superior forms.

Most formalised gestures have, in addition to serious use, application in mockery and subversion. In this connection one might mention medieval imagery mocking Jews and foreigners by formalised gesture.

I do not expect that meaner use will be relevant.

Nor do I expect, as many do, that the gestures will encode meaning in the same way that some Renaissance paintings did.

The tenor of the manuscript overall, and a general faithfulness to early Hellenistic forms,  leads me to think that if they have any coded meaning it will be more honest and more transparent – most likely deriving from categories 1 and 5.

Whether any system of coded gesture present in the  ‘bathy-‘ section remains known today  is, of course, another question entirely.

One does what one can.

Postscript: in relation to the ‘unnatural’ or monstrous quality accorded animals with faces in western European culture, good examples of monster-with-human-face in the Ortus sanitatus published in 1499 by Johann Prüss, (1447-1510)

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