In these same characters Pt2

Taking another day in mild Spring sunshine (too early to last) to think more about this.


Imagine yourself Baresch’s ‘good man’, who supposedly..

went to oriental parts in quest of true medicine .. acquired the treasures …  partly from the written literature and ..from associating with experts … [and] brought them back with him.


He’s now preparing to

‘bury them in them in this book in the same script [..that you see in this manuscript]

What sort of texts (supposing they existed) might he have collected? If the text has been composed by employing a number of scripts to serve specific functions, what scripts might he have known?


The ‘ornate P’ glyph is found in Aramaic-derived scripts such as Sabaic miniscule and the Udi/Abkhaz script, always representing sounds through the S-T shift.


I’m pretty sure that the ‘8’ glyph is meant for the sound ‘b’ and/or numerical ‘2’ – say Greek.


(see header pic)


Orthography needn’t be standardised.  Internal evidence suggests the manuscript’s final recension – before ours – occurred sometime between the mid-twelfth to mid-thirteenth centuries,  our version or copy made 1435-1441 1405-1438  Those north Italian manuscripts allow positing a finer margin: say c.1435-8.


No reason to date it later than 1441.


If we suppose Baresch’s account an informed one,  it pretty much eliminates the ‘Simple medicines’ or ‘Poor man’s medicines’ texts: i.e. Circa instans and Ibn Jazzar as likely to be enciphered. They were defined as  ‘common man’s medicine’ even in Bacon’s time. Enciphering their texts would make no sense in the fourteenth century, let alone the fifteenth. It wasn’t rare.


Nor do we know where the ‘good man’ is supposed to have come, “bringing back” his treasures. If Baresch has his story aright, and Panofsky is right too, our manuscript is not a ‘first edition’ (as it were) and Ceuta, the Iberian peninsula, Sicily or the Adriatic coast – even England – are feasible as earlier point of entry.  But if that Jewish influence asserted by Panofsky is accepted, then it is unlikely to have been to the city of Venice save as transit point. Not before 1382 and not after 1387.


Although some individual Jews had passed through Venice in the Middle Ages, it was only legislation enacted in 1382, allowing moneylending in the city for the following five years, which marked the start of the authorized Jewish presence in the city, and at its expiration in 1387, a 10-year charter came into effect exclusively for Jewish moneylenders.However, at the end of that ten years (i.e. by 1397), they had to leave, and officially no Jew could stay in Venice for longer than 15 days at a time, with exceptions made only for merchants arriving by sea and for doctors.  Henceforth all Jews coming to the city were required to wear on their outer clothing a yellow circle, changed in 1496 to a yellow head-covering to make evasion more difficult. [But] Its restrictive policy concerning the residence of Jews in Venice was not extended either to the Venetian overseas possessions nor to the Venetian territory on the Italian mainland (the Venetto).

– adapted from JVS entry.


Baresch may have known, or believed, that the chap came back to  Bohemia. What isn’t said or suggested by Baresch is that the manuscript had ever been offered for sale.


But suppose, first, that the chap was Bohemian, the underlying language ought logically to be Latin, or one of the languages spoken in Bohemia between – say – the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries. (What do we know about that?).


The ‘treasures’ he brought back were either already enciphered and/or highly condensed, or he made them so.  Because I think the latter the more likely, and must posit a set order for placing classes in a ‘word’, the receipts and dispensatories are an obvious starting point. But they are relevant not only to meaning, informing word-formations a-Neal or a-Hoffman a-Hoffmann, but to elucidation of other sections including the botanical- and possibly the astronomical.  Teigen put it well:

Receipt books quote– which is a caution I’ve kept in mind while working on the botanical section and considering any identifications.


  • Philip M. Teigen,’This Sea of Simples. -The Matéria Medica in Three Early English Receipt Books’, Pharmacy in History, Vol. 22, No. 3 (1980), pp. 104-108 JSTOR. Also through Pub.Med.


It might seem arbitrary, but since I’ve already analysed a number of the botanical folios for content as well as style, and cross-referenced them with imagery from other sections. I’m going to drop the whole corpus of ‘western’ remedies, especially the ‘simples’ type and head off in search of the Sandalani’s plants and related ‘alchemy’.


‘Sandalani’ is such a nice, generic term. Found in variations throughout medieval Islam, yet evidently to describe people whose work held little interest for the Arabs as such. The range of their activity includes all those I’ve been led to note so far: dyes, medicine, plant-collection, ‘simple’ alchemical processes and so on.  Our ‘Sandalani’ could be a Nestorian Christian, or an Indian, or a Persian Zoroastrian and that actually makes life easier for me. He might also be an Egyptian, or even more exactly an Egyptian Rabbanite or Karaite Jew. Or he could be part of the great trading guilds of India or of Egypt.  So the description is not so too limiting (I nearly wrote “prœscriptive”  😀 ).

What’s in an eastern ‘Treasure’?

What sort of things might constitute ‘treasures’ brought from the ‘east’ from Egypt or gained from southern Mizrahi Jews?


Next post, ‘treasures’

  • Sense of the term ‘treasure’.
  • Medicine
  • Persian months.
  • Indian customs
  • Non-Pharmaceutical prescriptions: amulets and stars.
  • Note on definition “magical”
  • Stones and Stars: the Month-roundels.
  • Amulets and medieval Languages
  • Angels-of-the-day
  • Panofsky & ‘Cabbala’


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