Parrot and Fox



(detail) – Codex Cumanicus f.58

Some readers relish the oblique hint as much as the documented argument. For them, a couple of appetizers before  the promised series begins.

In case you’ve forgotten, that series is to pick up where “Clear Vision” ended, focusing now on the astronomical ‘ladies’,  traders based around the Black Sea during the Mongol period, the culture of Tabriz and the heritage of Greater Khorasan.

So – to mull over, meanwhile:

First …

In 2015 Nick Pelling  observed, almost as an aside, that the ‘ladies’ who are set in tiers around the month-roundels originally had only one breast each. It was an important observation, but as usual one that was greeted  not so much with keen intellectual curiosity as a dull attempt to make it seem unremarkable – a habit which has become so common among the all-European-Christian-author theorists that it is dreadfully predictable.  During the past decade the tactic has been employed ad nauseum: serving to stultify the study and render most new leads a cul-de-sac.

Second ..

It should be easy to find the books from which I took these two quotations. Some might like to hunt up the primary sources, too.

  1. “The majority of Greek, Syriac, Armenian and Latin sources call the mountains “Breasts of the North” (bezzay garbya; Arm: stink’ hiwsisi; Gk: mazoi tou borra; Lat.ubera aquilonis)”

2. “European male audiences liked the image of a woman with a sword or bow, so long as she was far from them”.


Leonard Fox.

Concerning the Cuman language that was spoken around the Black Sea during the ‘Mongol century’ and which was for a time a major common language across the high northern roads, I should say that I intend to credit Leonard Fox with having first mentioned Cuman and Karaite in relation to Beinecke MS 408 though I’d welcome correction if any reader should know better.

(I should stress that this credit isn’t meant to imply an argument that Voynichese is Cuman, or  Karaite or any combination of the two.  The matter relates to the routes and times by which matter now in Beinecke 408 had come to western Europe – most particularly that in the imagery of the ‘ladies’/’nymphs’ folios).

On  6th. November 2004, Fox wrote (among other things) to the first mailing list:

The Codex Cumanicus was reproduced in a beautiful facsimile edition, bound in half-parchment, sometime in the mid-1930s by Munksgaard, the Danish publisher, with an introduction by the great Altaic scholar Kaare Gronbech. .. My old friend and colleague, Peter Golden, has written several essays on the work (one or two reproduced online), and indicates that the Turkic language in the text is quite closely related to Karaim – a language with which I grew up at home, my family having been Karaites from the Crimea … The samples of vocabulary I have seen are, indeed, very reminiscent of Karaim words… There is material on the Coman-Polovtsian connection with Karaim and the Karaites in Simon Szyszman’s book “Le Karaisme: ses doctrines et son histoire,” published by L’Age d’Homme in Paris. There is a German translation available, and my English translation of the book is still in search of a publisher (if anyone knows of a press interested in issuing a book on Karaism and the Karaites, please let me know!). I have heard that a Lithuanian translation was published a couple of years ago, but I have not seen it (there was an important Karaite community in Troki, Lithuania, the remnants of which still live in the area).

Fox is right to describe the Karaites’ dialect as  Karaim but its sounding so like “Karimi” has caused confusion in the past so that today the tendency is rather to describe the community and their language as ‘Karaite’ and to reserve “Karimi” for the somewhat enigmatic “guild’ of eastern traders whose focus was the eastern trade from Egypt, through Aden, southern India and perhaps to as far as southeast Asia.

One might, I suppose, make some argument along the lines that Stokjo’s asserting Voynichese “vowel-less Ukranian”  was the first time that attention had been directed to the north and to a non-European script – one from which vowels might be omitted.

However,  Stokjo’s strong nationalistic sentiments clearly biased his perception of history  (as such sentiments usually do) and he asserted that Voynichese was  “Ukrainian”   – not Cuman nor Karaite/Karaim.

Bibliographic sources:

Fox mentioned a couple of texts:

“For those on the list who read Russian, a short (60 pages) work on the Codex [Cumanicus] by Aleksandr Garkavets was published this year in Alma-Ata (Kazakhstan): “Codex Cumanicus: Kypchako-polovetskie teksty XIII-XIV vekov.” The ISBN is5-7667-3619-3.


A longer study (143 pages) is: “Der Codex Cumanicus: Entstehung und Bedeutung,” by Dagmar Drüll (Stuttgart, 1979).

  • The article  ‘ Codex Cumanicus‘ in The Encyclopaedia Iranica is good, and is linked to others on the Ossetic Language group, starting here.

At voynichimagery,  I began mentioning  Cuman and Karaites rather later, unaware of Fox’  earlier comments.  The earliest mention of Karaites in this blog dates to 2013, a link to the posts  here; Cuman from 2012, a link to those posts here;  to the Karimi (not Karaites) from 2012: link to those posts here.  I’d mentioned them all before that, but in posts now closed to general readers.

Some years later, the Cuman theme (alone) cropped up at  Stephen Bax’ site.


Movement in the field.

Of late there has a sudden stir somewhere in the  “all-Christian-European-author” camp. It seems that a solid stream of evidence, comparative imagery and historical argument which shows how improbable that theory is, and how constantly opposed by the primary evidence has finally pushed the adherents of that older story to seek some way to adjust their fences.

Some are  hustling towards Bar Hebraeus and Aristotle, apparently as a ‘nicer’ option to admitting influence from Theophrastus  and the  non-Latin cultures whose stamp is so plain in the imagery.

Bar Hebraeus was a Syrian, but had been converted to Christianity. His father was a  Jewish physician.  One can see what a neat solution it would be to a number of the most obvious objections to the “all Latin Christian” story.   Bar Hebraeus’ treatment of Aristotle –  to whom Theophrastus’ texts were commonly and wrongly attributed – would offer a way to make the Syrian and Jewish characteristics in the Voynich manuscript’s imagery “really Latin Christian” after all. And, of course, by staring into space while talking about Aristotle, it would be possible to pretend ignorance of the eight years’ research published by me, and in which I’ve repeatedly explained that the system informing construction of the botanical images is compatible with the Theophrastan view rather than the Dioscoridan.

Really – a neat way to patch an increasingly leaky boat: to normalise the manuscript’s very unusual (‘alien’) imagery; to turn Hellenistic Greek into something “really a product of a Latin Christian auteur”, and to have the imagery’s Syrian and Jewish characteristics deemed – in effect – nihil obstat.

But why anticipate  intellectual dishonesty on such a scale?  Decency might intervene. Better to just wait and see, isn’t it?.

The parrot sketch above from the article ‘Codex Cumanicus’ and Wiki commons.




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