Genuine articles – a Bibliog

I stopped adding formal bibliographic notes a good while ago. Too many complaints that they gave the impression I expected readers to do homework.

I should really get back to plant imagery and the Balneis Puteolanis and that sort of thing – will do fairly soon.

At present, I’m more interested in reading these


  • D. Kaniewski, E. Van Campo, ‘Medieval coastal Syrian vegetation patterns in the principality of Antioch’, The Holocene, 21(2) 251–262.


The coastal area of Jableh, in the vicinity of the Saladin and Al-Marquab castles, is a fertile alluvial plain located on the northwestern part of Syria, in what was once the crusader Principality of Antioch. In order to detail the coastal environment during the crusader period in the Middle East, palynological analyses have been conducted on the underlying coastal-alluvial deposits. The recovered sediments represent a continuous record of the environmental history of the area spanning a c. ad 850–1850 cal. yr period, from the Muslim Era up to and including the late Ottoman times. … Signs of agricultural activities are mainly recorded for the High Medieval period (ad 1000–1300), with an increase of vineyards in the coastal area.

  • Oliver Kahl, Sabar ibn Sahl, The Small Dispensatory translated from the Arabic together with a Study and Glossaries, (Leiden and Boston: E. J. Brill, 2003. xiii, 237 pp.; Volume LII in  H. Daiber and D. Pingree (eds.), Islamic Philosophy, Theology and Science: Texts and Studies, éd.  Vol. LII

No abstract, but there is a good review by John Scarborough in Pharmacy in History, Vol. 47, No. 1 (2005), pp. 39-41 which explains why it’s all stop till I’ve read this.  Imagery in the Vms botanical section is constantly linked to a generic and largely mythical ‘Arab’ corpus. In fact, as Scarborough points out:

Arabic-speaking physicians and pharmacists found themselves dependent on good, reliable translations from circulating Greek texts of Galen’s “drug books,” or less frequently on encyclopedic compactio of medicine produced in the Byzantine Empire (e.g., Aetius of Amida [fi. e. A.D. 540], or Paul of Aegina [fl. c. A.D. 640 in Alexandria]). Translation, in turn, rested on those who had competence in both Greek and Arabic, and ideally on those who could speak Greek, Syriac, Aramaic, and Arabic. Multilingual individuals who possessed scientific learning often were members of Christian minorities, those same dissident Christians shunned by the Byzantine state in an earlier century, and who became active parts of the more tolerant Muslim community. It is not surprising that many of the famous translators of the Greek into Syriac or into Arabic were Christian.

So was Ibn Sahl.

He was one of the best physicians of his own day, and was especially well known as a skilled pharmacologist; Arabic traditions recorded that he was some sort of high-ranking house officer in the famous hospital at Gondëshâpor (Khüzistän) previous to being appointed court physician by the ‘Abbasid caliph al-Mutawakkil (ruled 232/847-247/861), a post he retained under al-Mutawakkil’s immediate successors. Sabor ibn Sahl died “a Christian” (nasraniyyan) on 30 November 869, most likely in Samarra.

among Kahl’s appendices is

(i)”Substances and Products,” giving the exact passages where this particular botanical occurs. Anyone who has wrestled with the nomenclatures of an ancient or medieval drug lore will quickly find Kahl’s choices judicious, carefully documented, and buttressed with a scholarship that ranges through Akkadian, Arabic, Berber, Egyptian, Greek, Hebrew (one entry), Malay (one entry), Persian, Sanskrit, Sumerian (one entry), Syriac, and what Kahl labels “hybrids,” and a catalogue of “Obscure” (only seventeen items here). These appendices are, in sum, priceless to the scholar, and can easily guide the novitiate into the many specifics of medieval pharmacy, especially the lore of drugs of an early Islamic date, a lore which delineates combinations of several cultural and scientific traditions as they flowed into the “new” Arabic medicine and pharmacology. Having such a catalogue enables one immediately to compare what substances came into Arabic pharmacy from a Greco-Roman and Byzantine heritage, or from a classical Indian source (the Sanskrit terms), or from a very ancient heritage, going back as far as ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Conversely, this accurate listing also enables one to make note of what drugs or compounds continued to be used in later texts (Arabic, Greek, and Latin),

About texts’ format (still Scarborough):

That living text shows very clearly how Islamic medicine borrowed, adapted, and reworked Greco-Roman, Byzantine, and classical Indian medical and pharmacological theory into a cohesive whole, and how early Arabic pharmacy developed its own notions of san va (“preparation”) linked with dawa (“remedy”), and how a drug or compound would be “useful for/against . . .” [nafi y[a]min or li-), leading to a standardized format for a full recipe.

A standardised format: terms and order of presentation immediately assists rote learning as well as the contraction of written text, sometimes to little more than initials and quantities.  As I’ve mentioned before, the Tacuinum Sanitatis uses a template format and extreme brevity in the original.  Added to this, we (errr … I) have the de Gradibus literature ahead of me.

I am very interested in the possibility that the Vms text is formulaic, which recalls these pharmaceutical ‘receipts’ of course, but technical instructions in many other fields including ones related to a trade in textiles. A while ago I put up a postcard about this idea of technical shorthand and ‘receipts’   ‘Knitting the Voynich’).

Concernng the eastern Mediterranean ports:

  • Sharon Kinoshita and Jason Jacobs, ‘Ports of Call: Boccaccio’s Alatiel in the Medieval Mediterranean’, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 37:1, Winter 2007 pp.163-195

‘Books’ might travel in the mind and the person bringing it might not have come willingly. I’ve been looking for demographic studies and references to non-Latins in the italian peninsula.  Slavery is a not-very-polite topic, much whitewash splashed about now, so an old paper on the subject.

  • Iris Origo, ‘The Domestic Enemy: The Eastern Slaves in Tuscany in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries’, Speculum, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Jul., 1955), pp. 321-366.

Still regarding populations, but now linked to Majorca,  its  maritime traditions, charts and (even) chemistry,

  • Raphael Patai, ‘An Unknown Hebrew Medical Alchemist: a medieval treatise on the Quinta Essentia’, Medical History, 1984, 28: 308-323

~ concerning the works of a Majorcan Jew, named Ramon, whose book of secrets soon came to be termed a “Lullian” corpus.  This obscuring Jewish authorship is not rare in western Europe of the time. Here the ‘fifth essence’ seems to me very much to the point, given the 5-element diagram on folio 77r. I will be embarrased if it turns out that the Voynich 5th element is the Latins’. I’ve been quite sure that it isn’t.

A related subject also involving  ‘nymph’ folios; this time the month-roundels and that possibility that the observation towers given each have gaine their patterns as geo-lithical notation.

  • Eric Lawee, ‘Graven Images, Astromagical Cherubs, and Mosaic Miracles: A Fifteenth-Century Curial-Rabbinic Exchange’, Speculum, Vol. 81, No. 3 (Jul., 2006), pp. 754-795,

Which takes me to

  • 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,

I’m not terribly excited by Kabbalah (maybe i will be after learning more), but this article looks good – considering Baresch’s idea of a pristine medicine, his hint at transient travellers (c.f Mnishovsky’s peregrino) and, in addition, Panovsky’s opinion about our manuscript’s age and provenance. Plus, of course, Ficino’s residence in southern Italy, not far from Ortona.

  • Fabrizio Lelli, “Prisca Philosophia” and “Docta Religio”: The Boundaries of Rational Knowledge in Jewish and Christian Humanist Thought’, The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 91, No. 1/2 (Jul. – Oct., 2000), pp. 53-99.

On the subject of St. Thomas, the apostle to India whose bones were carried west late in the thirteenth century, we have the theme of healing again. The following from the original centre in India.

The first time the tomb of St. Thomas the apostle, in southern India was opened, it was to take some earth to cure the son of ruling king Mahadevan. The sand from the tomb is believed to have miraculous healing powers.

Between A.D. 220 and 232 a merchant called Khabin’ removed greater portion of the relics to Edessa in Asia Minor. Later this was moved to Chios island and finally to Ortona on the east coast of Italy. A piece of bone and the lancehead that was used to kill the saint, was taken from the tomb, and is now kept in a monstrance in the museum attached to the church  of St. Thomas in India.

Marco polo visited this  Indian tomb  in 1293 and recorded the miraculous healing powers of the sand taken from it. Pilgrims used to take the sand back to their homes and keep it with devotion.

The next article isn’t  necessarily relevant to the Vms, but adds detail to accounts of east-west trade from the 12thC onward.  Includes star-names in Swahili.

  • Marina Tolmacheva, ‘Essays in Swahili Geographical Thought’, AAP 42 (1995).. 1-40.

From the rooting of the Swahili identity in an Islamic diaspora radiating from geographically distant centers to the economic foundations of Swahili society (fishing, maritime trade across the ocean and the exchange between the coast and the mainland), it is clear that the role of geographical factors in Swahili history cannot be overemphasized.  The expansion of certain towns into major centers of the coast (in the Lamu archipelago and on the adjoining mainland fiom the eighth, and then again in the 14th century; Mogadishu from the 12th century, Kilwa in the 14th-16th centuries, Zanzibar· mostly from the 17th century), the development of social and political institutions, the spread of Islam and Islamic learning – all were related to the growing range of commercial contacts involving the different places along the coast in regional and international trade (much of the contest revolved around the control for Sofalan gold trade emanating through Kilwa).

I expect that’s enough of my waiting-list for now.

As always, because I am  ignorant of what other languages a reader might have,  these are all written in English or some dialect of it.


  1. In 2008, the following title was noted on a blog:
    SALADINUS DE ASCULO: Compendium aromatariorum. The Book of pharmacists’ first edition, in Hebrew based on a Hebrew Ms. of the early XVth century. Hrsg., erl. u. eingel. v. Suessmann Muntner, Tel Aviv 1953

    blog is
    post is dated 2008/11/21.


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