Friday, June 21, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Mastic

The Mastic shrub (Pistacia lentiscus) with its male flowers may be the plant represented on fol. 87v of the Voynich Manuscript. The Mastic gum price in the medieval Europe was close to the price of gold. The shrub is found all over the Mediterranean cost since it tolerates salty and saline environments. There may be a better match, but for now I'll keep it as placeholder on my list.


  1. Oh my, Ellie!

    Several months ago and for quite some time after I had posted my query, Thomas Spande (ThomS, to me) did some considirable research on "Chios" (source of the mastic). ThomS would probably be thrilled to see your comparison. I on't think either of us (ThomS or myself) have left any more discussions in re the mastic tree/shrub on what I've been calling the "back pages": "That which brings your website to its knees".

    This morning, I left a short note on the above-mentioned page (the 500th post) bidding adieu. So, if ThomS is following your discussions, you may hear from him soon!

    I'm not going to bore you with any more botanical discussions, but I'd like to tell you about a country dance we went to last night. All styles of "American" dance favorites, including the cha-cha, swing, and waltz. What "blew me away", however, was when the band announced their next tune: Misirlou

    "Misirlou" is a Greek/Armenian song/dance from the rebetika period
    (early 1900's music composers) supposedly meant to be danced by belly dancers. Not too many years ago, actor John Travolta starred in a movie called "Pulp Fiction". Travolta is/was most famous for his dancing. However, he did not dance to "Misirlou", because the tempo of the music had been set to extremely fast.

    Long story short: I have been teaching the dance "Misirlou" for over thirty years, now. Last night, our dance band played the sped-up version of Misirlou. My husband and I danced around and around the dance floor, stepping time to every frenetic note/rhythm.

    We even got the attention of the bandleader! At the end of the evening, he came over to us to further discuss our dance. All I had to do was mention "Pulp Fiction" -- a big grin, followed by lots of laughing. I did fill him in on the origins of the music and dance!

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  3. Sorry about the repeat discussion. My elderly computer has been slowing down gradually over the last several months. Time for a "tune-up"!


  4. Hi BD, no problem. Sorry for the late response. Glad you had a good time dancing. Edith Sjerwood has a nice id for this plant - Lousewort. Maybe one day we will find better. During the Ottoman times in Chios it was offense punishable by death to smuggle mastic plant out of the island. It does grow all over the Mediterranean cost, but not in giant groves as on Chios.
    All the best! Ellie

  5. I'll be doing a little more research on Clusius and Busbecq's correspondence (Leiden University archive) to see if the penalty for smuggling mastic out of the Ottoman Empire may have also applied to the smuggling of the Theotilip (Tulip), Turban Ranunculus (Buttercup) and the Dianthus (Carnation/Pink).

    I'm hoping ThomS might catch up with us. He might even tell you "his side of the story" of how he ended up on Chios for several weeks of discussions! He writes from the Armenian point of view.

    Later, kiddo!

    beady-eyed wonder