Monday, July 1, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Torch Ginger

Torch Ginger (Etlingera elatior) matches in some aspects the plant on fol. 38r of the Voynich manuscript - with the flowers in the base of the plant with the palm-like leaves above. The torch ginger is east Asian flower and is somewhat unlikely to be starring in 15th century European (as I believe) manuscript so I am adding it to my list reluctantly.

It is possible that the VMs artist used the defect in the parchment to imply flames and the whole composition is torch-like. Also there is a dot inside each 'drop' which reminds of the Yin/Yang symbol - I saw few people suggesting this on the net, I apologize, I couldn't figure out who came up with the Yin/Yand association first.

The VMs drawing has some resemblance  with the Juniper picture in The Tudor Pattern Book (MS Ashmole 1504), but  Juniperus id does not explain the flowers at the base of the plant.


  1. A couple of years ago I commented briefly on Edith Sherwood's botanical discussions (she still had several she wasn't able to identify). At that time, I suggested that it might have been a leaf from a date palm -- and that those "paisley" shapes may have been individual fruits. Ordinarily the dates hang in bunches similar to bunches of grapes.

    When I lived in Key West Florida (in the 70's) wild honeybees would be feasting on the over-ripe fruits -- they had a huge hive inside an abandoned brick warehouse just five feet away from the palm tree. How do I know it was a huge hive, you ask? Because even I could hear the hum through the four-inch thick walls! The bees had found a hole in the mortar.

    So, who knows -- maybe some other plant might be the "model" for the paisley print fabrics and wallpaper. ??

  2. It looks like a palm, doesn't it. By the way, I noticed there are two dots in each drop - one is hidden in the tail of each drop - so that makes it a bit less yin/yang-ish.

  3. While I was commenting with Edith about the various palm trees, I pointed out that another "African" palm was the "oil" palm which was used for lamp oil and for making soap. At the time I made that comment I wasn't able to determine which species of palm would have been used for that purpose. Somewhere in the Vms a Sago palm may also be lurking (?) I further pointed out that Henry the Navigator was duking it out with the Spanish for trading rights. One last ironic comment from me: that stretch of the African coast now has a petroleum refining plant and ship loading facility.

    Big Bureaucracy indeed?

  4. Then again, Ellie: You may have been "on course" with your earlier ID: Take another look at the stem where the leaves begin. Note what may be "seedbuds"/"pistils or stamens". I'll be checking back with you in a day or so. I'm hot on the trail of Busbecq-Clusius-Dodoens travels, diaries, letters, biographies ... I've begun to organize my notesbibliographies. Do I have your permission to include excerpts from your blog?

    Always respectfully yours!

    bd :)

  5. Hi BD, I agree that African plants (especially North African) can be present in the VMs.