In today’s post, we exceptionally return to the “small plants” section, more precisely to the top right plant on f88v. Its root and trunk are drawn to resemble the bottom half of a monkey. In the image below, the adjacent plant has been digitally removed for clarity.
We see two long, bendy monkey legs, ending in monkey “foot-hands”. The butt and hips are marked as well, and it lacks a tail. In the top half, the image transforms into the botanically relevant form. I have absolutely no intention to identify the species of the monkey based on this information; the inset shows just one option, two barbary macaques, North African monkeys without a tail.
Ignoring the initial “o”, the label reads tokos. As a reminder: the images hidden in the plans are a hint to Greek speakers about the plant’s foreign, indigenous name. Ancient Greek for “monkey” is πίθηκος, píthikos. The plant name in the label, tokos, is very similar to the last part of the Greek for monkey: thikos.
The intricate, rebus-like nature of these linguistic hints becomes very clear in this example. We only need the last part of the word “πίθηκος“, so only the last part of the monkey is drawn.
The toko, according to this Indian government website, is a “Multipurpose palm tree”, which has been used “since time immemorial. It is extensively used in the state of Arunachal Pradesh.” It is found in India, Assam, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand (source).
The plant looks like this:
As we can see, the leaf of the toko palm (Livistona jenkinsiana) quite resembles that in the Voynich. The number of segments and roundness of the tips varies. Younger plants have leaves with fewer than ten segments, while the number in fully grown plants can be as large as 100. With nine segments, it is clear that the Voynich plant is a young one. The example below shows an older plant with many segments, though we can still clearly see the rounded tips:
The fact that this tree was a source of fibres might be the main reason why it was included in the Voynich plant collection. Knowledge of this tree and its possible uses would be invaluable for a travelling trader and/or his crew (see D.N. O’Donovan’s earlier conclusions about the “large plants” section). Indeed, the fibrous nature of the plant is hinted at in the image:
In summary, what the original audience would have learned from this image, apart from the botanical appearance of the leaf, is the following:
- This plant’s name is TOKOS, which sounds like the last part of pithikos (monkey).
- It is a source of fibrous materials.
I add one more image of a young plant, which shows the clearest resemblance to the Voynich leaf.
Edit 2 (23/08/2016):
I agree with Lars Diets’ comment that the gibbon, a tailless tree-dwelling ape, is a better match for this image. An additional bonus is that its range overlaps with that of the tree.