THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

9 posts categorized "Medicine"

19 August 2020

The Tree of Knowledge: magic spells from a Jewish potion book

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One of the items in our postponed exhibition Hebrew Manuscripts: Journeys of the Written Word is a tiny little codex from sixteenth-century Italy. It is entitled The Tree of Knowledge (Ets ha-Da’at) and contains a collection of some 125 magic spells for all sorts of purposes: curses, healing potions, love charms, amulets. There are a good number of such magical-medical manuscripts in the Hebrew collection, but this volume is special for at least two reasons. First, because of its neat layout and accuracy in its execution. Secondly, because it has an introduction in which Elisha the author tells the story of how he collected these spells.

Title page in Hebrew with architectural design
Title page of The Tree of Knowledge by Elisha ben Gad of Ancona. (Safed, 1535-1536 (Or 12362, f. 2r)).
CC Public Domain Image

According to his introduction, Elisha is overcome with a great thirst for knowledge, and he starts on a journey to satisfy it. He is wandering from town to town until he arrives in Venice, the great city full of wise and knowledgeable sages. There, thanks to God’s mercy, he wins the trust of Rabbi Judah Alkabets, and gains access to the rabbi’s library. He soon discovers that the Rabbi’s collection contains precious kabbalistic volumes “that emerged for fame and praise, and all written with the finger [of God – Ex. 31:18].” So he swears in his heart that he will not leave the library until he has collected all its secrets. As he is looking through the books, he notices “a book hidden and sealed, in a chest within another chest covered with a cloth and sealed.” When he opens this hidden book, he finds in it all sorts of magic spells, and decides to copy them. After the death of Judah Alkabetz, Elisha leaves Venice and continues his journey, and eventually arrives in Safed, in the Land of Israel. He spends there a long time before he gains the trust of the sages of Safed, but at the end they share with him their secret wisdom. His book, which he calls the Tree of Knowledge, is based on the secrets he acquired in Venice and in Safed.

After relating his painstaking efforts to obtain such precious hidden knowledge, Elisha explains the way he organized the collected material and structured his book. He provides a table of contents for the users to facilitate their access to the spells they are looking for. The table of contents is divided into four sections:

1. Spells that use divine names;

2. Spells that use names of the “Spirit of Impurity” and those of the “Other Side” (that is, references to evil powers);

3. Medicines based on nature and experiment;

4. All the rest.

So what kind of secret knowledge did Elisha ben Gad acquire in Venice and Safed? Let’s see a couple of spells from each section. Oh, it is so difficult to choose!

Page with writing in Hebrew and title in ribbon
The First Section of the Tree of Knowledge. (Elisha ben Gad of Ancona, Tree of Knowledge (Safed, 1535-1536). (Or 12362, f. 5r))
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Among the 52 spells using divine names contained in the first section, there are many amulets providing protection against illnesses like nose bleed, fever, and ear ache; spells for the enhancing intellectual capabilities such as facilitating learning, understanding, or improving memory; and various other spells.

Amulet in Hebrew with text in stylized scrolls
An amulet for fever. (Elisha ben Gad of Ancona, Tree of Knowledge (Safed, 1535-1536). (Or 12362, f. 11r))
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The very first entry is an amulet against fever:

Av avr avra avrak avraka avrakal avrakala avrakal avraka avrak avra avr av – “The people cried out to Moses. Moses prayed to the LORD, and the fire died down.” (Num. 11:2). Cure from heavens for all sorts of fever and consumption and fire for such and such [here to put the name of the specific person]. Amen a[men] a[men] selah.

It is easy to discover the well-known magic word “abracadabra” in this spell. It appears first in a second-century Latin medical poem by the physician Quintus Serenus Sammonicus. The origin of this word is not clear. It may come from Aramaic avra ke-davra, meaning “I create as I speak”, but there are several other theories around.

Text of spell in Hebrew with floral illumination
A spell for shortening one’s journey (no. 39). (Elisha ben Gad of Ancona, Tree of Knowledge (Safed, 1535-1536). (Or 12362, f. 27r))
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Spell no. 39 is for shortening a long road, and goes like this:

Shortening the road: write on a piece of kosher parchment made of deer and sew it into your robe. When you see the countenance of the town, mention these names and say this: “I adjure you, Kaptsiel, Malakhel, shorten for me the road and the country as you shortened them for Abraham. Cafefiel – and in the name of the Lord of the whole earth. Amen S[ela]”

Text in Hebrew of contents of section with title inside stylized ribbon
The second section of the Tree of Knowledge. (Elisha ben Gad of Ancona, Tree of Knowledge (Safed, 1535-1536). (Or 12362, f. 7v))
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The second section is supposed to contain spells that use the names of evil spirits “the spirit of Impurity and the Other Side”, as Elisha puts it. To be honest, I did not always find such names in the charms of this section, though it may just be due to my limited knowledge and experience of the Other Side. Still, the section contains many useful spells – 19 altogether –, among others some that make you invisible, help you find scorpions and snakes, make you “snake-proof” or “sword-proof”, and quite a few that help you catch thieves. Here is an example of the latter (no. 80):

To find the thief write on a piece of kosher parchment these names [see words at the end of the spell], and hang them around the neck of a black rooster. Then circle around the suspects with the rooster, and it will jump on the head of the thief. And this has been tested.

Kematin kanit kukeiri ve-hikani yazaf

Text of spell in Hebrew with title inside ribbon
A spell for identifying a thief (no. 80). (Elisha ben Gad of Ancona, Tree of Knowledge (Safed, 1535-1536). (Or 12362, f. 37r))
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While I was not able to identify these magical words at all – could some of them be names of evil spirits? – I had better luck with spell no. 97 for burns by fire:

A wonderful incantation, tried and tested many times. For small and big burns. With these words complete recovery without pain! Say these names [i.e. the incantation] seven times:

Agrifuk agrifar agripyri chi vol tu fer di pyro nocesti di acaro fosti generato, e elo fonti fosti portato, all'acqua fosti gettato, non fossi far più male qua (?) chi fai la!

And then blow on the burn with the breath of your mouth and repeat again the incantation seven more times, and the fire will not damage him.

As you can see, the actual incantation addressing Fire itself is in Judeo-Italian, that is, Italian written in Hebrew characters, and it reads something like this:

"Agrifuk agrifar agripyri whom did you want to hurt with fire? You were generated from an acarus [probably from Greek akarḗs, meaning “tiny”), you were brought forth from such a source, [and] you were thrown into the water. You cannot do any more harm...!"[1]

Text of spell in Hebrew with title in stylized scroll
A spell for burns (no. 97). (Elisha ben Gad of Ancona, Tree of Knowledge (Safed, 1535-1536). (Or 12362, f. 41r))
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Text of section contents in Hebrew under title inside ribbon
The third section of the Tree of Knowledge. (Elisha ben Gad of Ancona, Tree of Knowledge (Safed, 1535-1536). (Or 12362, f. 8v))
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Elisha tells us that in the third section of his work we can find “remedies based on nature and experiment”. Among these 31 remedies, there are a few for fevers, suffering from worms, cancelling witchcraft, complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, and so on. He also discusses the magical properties of snake skin. It seems, however, that quite a few of the remedies listed here are not based on nature but use some sort of incantation or magic words instead.

Text of spell in Hebrew under illustration of nude woman
A spell for a woman who does not have milk (no. 104). (Elisha ben Gad of Ancona, Tree of Knowledge (Safed, 1535-1536). (Or 12362, f. 42v))
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Remedy no. 104 is a good example of the latter. It is a spell for a woman who does not have milk. The title of the spell is inscribed in a ribbon and it is illustrated with the bust of a naked woman.

To bring milk to the woman write the name of the woman or her brother or her son [on a piece of parchment?], and write on the woman’s right breast: AV SU SAS, and on her left breast write: AV HU SIA, and she will immediately have milk in abundance, and it will spill onto the ground as water.

Text of spell in Hebrew under title inside stylized ribbon
Spells using snake skin (no. 116). (Elisha ben Gad of Ancona, Tree of Knowledge (Safed, 1535-1536). (Or 12362, f. 45r))
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Entry 116 is about the magical qualities of snakeskin, and according to the title, this spell is based on “the words of Solomon the physician of Tulitul” (Tulitula is the Arabic name of Toledo). Elisha says that he read in an Arabic book that if you burn the skin of a snake during a certain period in March, you can use the ashes of the skin for all sorts of purposes. Then he lists the 12 magical qualities of snakeskin based on important Arabic magic spell books (number 12 is missing). Here are some of the best ones:

Hebrew textHebrew text
Text about the magical qualities of snake skin (no. 116). (Elisha ben Gad of Ancona, Tree of Knowledge (Safed, 1535-1536). (Or 12362, ff. 45v-46r))
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No. 1 If you sprinkle some of the dust into your eyes, you will see but you will not be seen (invisibility!);

No. 6. If you hold some of the dust in your hand when you appear before a king or princes, and they will heed your words;

No. 10. If you put some of the dust into a plate and leave it on the table, if the elixir of death, or “poison weed and wormwood” [Deut. 29:17] gets there, the dust will scatter on the table and [then you would know to] avoid eating there.

Text of contents in Hebrew under title inside ribbon
The fourth section of the Tree of Knowledge. (Elisha ben Gad of Ancona, Tree of Knowledge (Safed, 1535-1536). (Or 12362, f. 10r))
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Section four is the shortest with its 17 items. It has several love spells and potions, spells to make a positive impression on rulers, on how to gain someone’s trust, and how to defeat your opponents. No. 58 is a spell that helps you to make a reluctant person answer your questions:

If you ask a question and they do not give you a reply, wash your hands in fresh water, and then write on your palm these words and characters. Then put your palm on the palm of the fellow, and ask your question. And this is what you have to write:

Here you can see a drawing of a palm with a same word written three times, and two characters from a cryptic alphabet. Two ribbons coming out from behind the palm. The inscription in the upper one contains further instructions:

Write this with a new pen.

The ribbon at the base of the hand contains the title of the next entry: no. 59, a spell about how to win a court case:

It is tried and tested many times. How to defeat your opponent in court even if he is a king. Take the tongue of a hoopoe and hang it on your right side close to the heart at the time when you go to speak with him.

Text of formula in Hebrew along with diagram of a human palm
Spells for extracting an answer and defeating the opponent at court (nos. 58 and 59). (Elisha ben Gad of Ancona, Tree of Knowledge (Safed, 1535-1536.) (Or 12362, f. 32r))
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You can certainly see even from this small selection of spells how valuable the Tree of Knowledge is! Elisha’s long journey from Italy to Galilee through the Mediterranean, his painstaking efforts to acquire hidden and ancient knowledge, were not in vain. And you, dear reader, are only one click away from all this treasure!

Disclaimer: We do not take responsibility for the endurance of these spells. Even strong magic can lose or modify its power over the centuries! Please, do not blame us if you turn into a frog. Try these spells only at your own risk.

Zsofi Buda, former Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project Cataloguer, Asian and African Collections
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Further readings:

Continuity and Innovation in the Magical Tradition, ed. Gideon Bohak, Yuval Harari, and Shaul Shaked. Leiden: Brill, 2011. (YD.2011.a.4537)

Ortal-Paz, Saar. Jewish Love Magic: From Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Leiden: Brill, 2017. (OIC 133.4)

Harari, Yuval. “Magical Paratexts: Ms. London, The British Library Or. 12362 (Ets ha-Da‘at) as a Test Case.” Kabbalah: Journal for the Study of Jewish Mystical Texts 42 (2018): 237-268. [Hebrew] (WZOR.1998.a.24)

Harari, Yuval. “‘Practical Kabbalah’ and the Jewish Tradition of Magic.” Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism 19 (2019): 38-82. (ZA.9.a.2272)



[1] Thank you to Giulia Baronti for helping me with the translation!

21 December 2019

Chinese Botanical Paintings in the British Library Visual Arts Collection

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Rita dal Martello is completing her doctorate at UCL and has completed a doctoral placement at the British Library in November 2019. 

In 2019 the Visual Arts team has been pleased to welcome Rita Dal Martello as the section’s PhD placement focusing on Chinese works on paper. Rita has primarily been working on translating, identifying and cataloguing a collection of over 300 watercolour painting of botanical subjects along with additional paintings related to Chinese furniture and interiors, methods of torture and also the Macartney Embassy to China in 1792-1794. This blog will explore some of Rita’s research related to the Chinese botanical paintings cared for by the Visual Arts team.

In 1975, a collection of Chinese botanical paintings was received from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office comprising of 6 volumes of mostly quarto-size sheets of watercolour illustrations. On four different types of paper, the majority of the paintings are on paper watermarked Whatman 1794 II or Whatman 1794 I, whilst a small percentage are on cartridge type paper and a few on a very thin paper.

The paintings are provisionally dated to c. 1800, and are by unknown Chinese artists. 234 of the paintings represent flowering plants belonging to over 60 families, which have now been identified as including Rosaceae, Orchidaceae, Rutaceae, Fabaceae, Lythraceae, Ericaceae, Theaceae, Malvaceae, Magnoliaceae, Annonaceae, Apocynaceae, Asteraceae, Myrtaceae, Paeoniaceae, and Sapindaceae families, which have multiple examples across the collection. The remaining 76 illustrations in the collection are of unidentified flowering plants.

Over half of the identified plants are Asian ornamental flowers, such as orchids, azaleas, camellias, roses, chrysanthemums, peonies, magnolias and lilies among other.

Illustration of a camellia
Pale pink Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica) by an unknown Chinese artist, c.1800. British Library, NHD 52/37  noc

The rest of the paintings illustrate mostly Asian economic fruit and legume species, such as oranges, peaches, pears, persimmons, wampees, kumquat, litchi, longan, Bauhinia, and rosary pea among other. Finally, a few examples of Asian trees are illustrated in the later volumes of this collection, including one example of a willow tree, Japanese oaks, pines, and tallow trees.

Nhd_55_032r copy

Sweet orange (Citrus x sinensis) by an unknown Chinese artist, c. 1800. British Library, NHD 55/32.  noc

Most of the paintings show one or multiple flowering leafy branches, with fruits illustrated on a separate, smaller branch on the side. The drawings and colouring are accurate, with detailed illustration of individual petals and stamens, and veins on the leaves’ surface.

The floral and fruit dissections are meticulously illustrated on the lower corners of the paintings; individual pedicels, sepals, pistils, stamens and petals are all represented in these dissected illustrations; for fruit dissections fleshy interiors and seeds are often represented both within the fruit and separately on the side, often dissected themselves. Leaves, flowers, and fruits are illustrated at different stages of their life cycle, including in buds, at full bloom, and decaying, as well as immature and mature for fruits.

The depiction of floral and fruit dissections was becoming the norm in botanical paintings and allowed botanists to accurately identify different plant species from illustrations rather than from living or dried specimens, which could die or become damaged in transit.

At least one third of the paintings present visible pencil underdrawings; these most often represent changes in the final painted outcome, but rarely whole flowers and fruits are drawn in pencil on front and have not been painted. One instance of upside-down pencil sketches mirroring the front painting is found on the reverse of NHD56/49.

Numerous inscriptions are present on the front and reverse of the paintings. On the front, these usually include a set of Chinese characters, written in ink either on the lower right or lower left hand corner; these typically relate to the Chinese common name of the illustrated plant, some have folkloristic names which have now become obsolete. On the front, always written in ink on the lower left hand corner, there is one of two sets of initials – ‘W. Ch.’ on 152 paintings, and ‘H. Sh.’ on 129 paintings. Additionally, about a third of the paintings also have Latin plant names, rarely with English translation, written in pencil on the front lower right hand corner.

On the reverse, Chinese characters and their corresponding Cantonese transliteration are written on the lower right corner in pencil; these usually match the characters written on front, but in a few paintings additional characters are written on reverse, indicating the edibility of the plants or other noteworthy characteristics. The Cantonese transliteration are written in European script.

On a number of paintings, flowering times are indicated through Chinese characters written in ink on the reverse lower left hand corner; this is present only in paintings that bear the front inscription of H. Sh.; flowering times are given in individual months, and these match current known flowering times of the species illustrated in South China.

During my time at the British Library, I spent many hours transcribing and translating all the different inscriptions on the paintings, including updating plant Latin names according to the most recent scientific knowledge. I also compared the British Library collection with other Chinese botanical paintings such as the William Kerr collection held at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, as well as consulted online and printed Chinese floras. This allowed for the accurate taxonomic identification of many of the plant depicted which were previously catalogued as unidentified botanical illustrations. This will enhance greatly future research and discoverability of this collection.

The records of each individual painting, including detailed information regarding plant species depicted (both common English names and Latin names when available), painting composition, and inscriptions (both front and reverse) can be found on the British Library Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue, by searching for the specific references of the collection (NHD52, NHD53, NHD54, NHD55, NHD56, NHD57), or otherwise by searching for specific plant names.

These paintings are also available for consultation on appointment only, through contacting the Asian and African Studies Print Room Staff in advance.

Rita dal Martello, doctoral candidate at UCL  ccownwork

04 July 2019

125 More Arabic Scientific Manuscripts in the Qatar Digital Library

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The second phase of the British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership digitisation project has now come to a successful close. You can find lists of the 80 manuscripts digitised during the first phase of the project here and here, and as we enter the project’s third phase, we are delighted to present an overview and complete list of the 125 Arabic scientific manuscripts digitised during the second phase.

Diagram from al-Mawṣilī’s al-Durr al-naqī fī fann al-mūsīqī showing the interrelations between the musical modes, the letters of the alphabet, the four elements, the days of the week, the hours of the day, the celestial spheres and the signs of the zodiac (Add MS 23494, f. 6r)
Diagram from al-Mawṣilī’s al-Durr al-naqī fī fann al-mūsīqī showing the interrelations between the musical modes, the letters of the alphabet, the four elements, the days of the week, the hours of the day, the celestial spheres and the signs of the zodiac (Add MS 23494, f. 6r)
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In this phase of the project, we have continued to digitise such classics of Arabic scientific literature as Ibn Sīnā’s al-Qānūn fī al-ṭibb (i.e. Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine: Or 3343, Or 4946 and Or 6537), Ibn al-Haytham’s, Maqālah fī ṣūrat al-kusūf (e.g. Alhazen’s, Epistle on the Image of the Solar Eclipse: Or 5831), al-Rāzī’s, al-Ḥāwī fī al-ṭibb (i.e. Rhazes’ Liber continens or All-containing Book, Arundel Or 14), Bahāʾ al-Dīn al-ʿĀmilī’s Khulāṣat al-ḥisāb (Summa of Arithmetic: Delhi Arabic 1919) and Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī’s al-Tadhkirah fī al-hayʾah (Memoirs on Cosmology, Add MS 23394).

Magic square (wafq) of 28 x 28 cells from the Dīwān al-ʿadad al-wafq (Delhi Arabic 110, ff. 108v-109r)
Magic square (wafq) of 28 x 28 cells from the Dīwān al-ʿadad al-wafq (Delhi Arabic 110, ff. 108v-109r)
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We have also digitised manuscripts pertaining to the subsequent commentary traditions inspired by major texts such as those inspired by Ibn Sīnā’s al-Qānūn fī al-ṭibb (Or 5931, Or 3654, Or 14154, and IO Islamic 854), al-ʿĀmilī’s Khulāṣat al-ḥisāb (Delhi Arabic 1896 and IO Islamic 1362) and al-Ṭūsī’s al-Tadhkirah fī al-hayʾah (IO Islamic 1715, Or 13060, IO Islamic 1715, Delhi Arabic 1934, Add MS 7472, and Add MS 7477).

 Title page of al-Qaṣrānī’s Kitāb al-masāʾil dated 768/1367, with patron statement of the Mamluk amir Sayf al-Dīn Asandamur al-Nāṣirī (d. 769/1368) (Delhi Arabic 1916, vol. 1, f. 1r)
Title page of al-Qaṣrānī’s Kitāb al-masāʾil dated 768/1367, with patron statement of the Mamluk amir Sayf al-Dīn Asandamur al-Nāṣirī (d. 769/1368) (Delhi Arabic 1916, vol. 1, f. 1r)
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Arabic continued to be a language of fertile scientific discourse well beyond the time period and geographic range traditionally associated with the so-called ‘Golden Age of Islam’. In order to illustrate this, we have digitised Arabic scientific manuscripts preserving texts written from the 9th to the 18th centuries that showcase the scientific endeavours of Islamicate peoples from Islamic Spain, across North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Near East, Anatolia, Iran, Central Asia and India.

Title page of the Kitāb fī al-shaṭranj wa-manṣūbātihi wa-mulaḥih on which the seal of the Ottoman sultan Bāyezīd II (reg. 1481-1512) can be seen in the lower left corner (Add. MS 7515, f. 1r)
Title page of the Kitāb fī al-shaṭranj wa-manṣūbātihi wa-mulaḥih on which the seal of the Ottoman sultan Bāyezīd II (reg. 1481-1512) can be seen in the lower left corner (Add. MS 7515, f. 1r)
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You will find medical, astronomical and mathematical works produced in thirteenth-century Rasūlid Yemen (Or 3738, Or 9116, Delhi Arabic 1897); a commentary on Euclid’s Elements by al-Kūbanānī, court astronomer and mathematician to the Aq Qoyunlu sultan Abū al-Muẓaffar Ya‘qūb ibn Uzun Ḥasan (reg. 1478-90: Or 1514); Ottoman works such as, a medical text by Ibn Sallūm, personal physician to the Ottoman sultan Mehmet IV (reg. 1648-87), which responds to the ‘new (al)chemical medicine’ (al-ṭibb al-jadīd al-kīmāwī) of Paracelsus and his followers ( Or. 6905) and a book of astronomical tables for Cairo by the eighteenth-century astronomer Riḍwān Efendi al-Razzāz (Or 14273); and seventeen manuscripts from the British Library's Delhi collection , which cast light on the collection, copying and production of Arabic scientific literature in Mughal India.

Astrolabe quadrant produced in 1256/1840-1 and signed by its maker, Aḥmad ibn Ibrāhīm al-Sharbatlī (Or. 2411/2, Side A)
Astrolabe quadrant produced in 1256/1840-1 and signed by its maker, Aḥmad ibn Ibrāhīm al-Sharbatlī (Or. 2411/2, Side A)
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We have also expanded the boundaries of what we consider to be ‘scientific’ literature to include related subjects such as zoology, veterinary medicine and animal husbandry (Delhi Arabic 1949, Add MS 21102, Add MS 23417, Or 15639 and Or 8187) and two works on chess (Add MS 7515 and Or 9227). Hoping to go beyond what is expected from our digitisation project, we have even digitised a scientific instrument: a quadrant we discovered boxed with a earlier manuscript of a user’s manual for such a device (Or 2411/2 ).

Bio-bibliographical note in the rough draft of an Arabic translation of Gnomonices libri octo by Christophorus Clavius (d. 1537 or 38). The translation is by Rustam Beg al-Ḥārithī al-Badakhshī ibn Qubād Beg (d. 1705) and the note is by his son, Mīrzā Muḥammad – more on this in our earlier post East-West knowledge transfer in Mughal India (IO Islamic 1308, f.
Bio-bibliographical note in the rough draft of an Arabic translation of Gnomonices libri octo by Christophorus Clavius (d. 1537 or 38). The translation is by Rustam Beg al-Ḥārithī al-Badakhshī ibn Qubād Beg (d. 1705) and the note is by his son, Mīrzā Muḥammad – more on this in our earlier post East-West knowledge transfer in Mughal India (IO Islamic 1308, f. 1v)
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Colophon of a copy of Saʿīd ibn Hibat Allāh’s al-Mughnī fī tadbīr al-amrāḍ wa-maʿrifat al-ʿilal wa-al-aʿrāḍ produced at Baghdad 1172 (IO Islamic 3810, f. 105r)
Colophon of a copy of Saʿīd ibn Hibat Allāh’s al-Mughnī fī tadbīr al-amrāḍ wa-maʿrifat al-ʿilal wa-al-aʿrāḍ produced at Baghdad 1172 (IO Islamic 3810, f. 105r)
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We are currently finalising the scope of the third phase of the British Library and Qatar Foundation Partnership, which will include such highlights as early copies of the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ, a large and early manual of dream interpretation and the British Library’s second oldest Arabic scientific manuscript (click here to see the oldest). Keep your eye on the Qatar Digital Library to see the newest manuscripts as they are digitised and posted.

For a complete list of the 125 manuscripts together with hyperlinks to the images download Qatar-scientific-mss-phase-2

Bink Hallum, Arabic Scientific Manuscripts Curator, British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership
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31 May 2016

An 18th Century North African Travelling Physician's Handbook

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POSTSCRIPT from editor: This manuscript has now been digitised and can be viewed online

While cataloguing the British Library’s collection of Arabic manuscripts from West Africa (see BL blog passim) I came across a very strange item. This manuscript, Or.6557, was given to the British Museum Library (the forerunner of the British Library) by a Muhammad Shami on the 10th of October 1903 and catalogued the following year. According to a slip of paper pasted on the blank recto of the first folio in the handwriting the donor, this work is a “book on Reml [Arabic: ʻIlm al-Raml, meaning divination by sand] and magic and some of austronomy by Saidi Saeed Abdoul Naim” with the date of composition given as 1202AH (1788 AD). The text block is loose-leaf, as is often the case in North and West Africa, and protected at either end by squares of animal hide.

OR6557 Magical writing_2000
Key to writing a secret alphabet (British Library Or.6557, f. 47r)
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The reason for the work’s composition seems to be to detail practices for the curing of various physical and mental conditions. Throughout the work, subjects are itemised in the left-hand margin, suggesting ʻAbd al-Nāʼim used it as a reference guide during his practice. The lack of any clear order nor beginning or conclusion, along with various small pieces of paper scattered throughout the text block featuring simple arithmetic, receipts or aides-memoires, suggests that the work was compiled gradually over the course of ʻAbd al-Nāʼim's career and was meant to be a private document. The handwriting of  ʻAbd al-Nāʻim seems to be a mix of several different styles and –confirmed by the mention of various North African place names- it appears he travelled widely in search of learning, or perhaps new patients.

True to the words of the donor, among the subjects covered are sand divination and astronomy. However, the work is a veritable compendium of all kinds of knowledge, ranging from the purely scientific to the very occult. There are sections on alchemy, the fabrication of potions and talismans, the exorcism of demons and jinn and the voiding of black magic, to the treatment of a plethora of medical complaints, from sore eyes to bad backs. Toward the end of the work, ʻAbd al-Nāʻim also quotes versified works by the Egyptian al-Ḍimyātī, whose poems are still renowned in North Africa for their therapeutic properties. ʻAbd al-Nāʻim refers several times to the use of hashish as well as other recognisable drugs and chemical compounds, often noting that he has tried many of the cures on himself.

Tis'a_rahat3_2000 Tis'a_rahat2_2000
Two of the “nine family heads”. Text in red indicates that these are instructions for performing the exorcism, while the text in black gives their personal name and a description (British Library Or.6557, ff. 40r and 41r)
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However, the most impressive aspect of the work is its full-page illustrations. The work features nine full-page illustrations of beings ʻAbd al-Nāʻim calls “tisʻa rahṭ”. This phrase can be traced to the Qur’an 27:48 in the line “And there were in the city nine family heads causing corruption in the land”. In the tafṣīr of al-Jalālayn, this city is identified as Thamud and the “corruption” is described as “sins such as clipping dinars and dirhams”. From this obscure Qur’anic reference, ʻAbd al-Nāʻim elaborates the story, giving each “family head” a personal name, listing his attributes, signs of the interference of this entity in the world of the living and the means to exorcise or remove him. His representations of each “family head” –executed in black or red ink- are highly original, ranging from a horned demon to a long-beaked red bird, to a long-armed creature with a brazier for a head. If these forms are not unsettling enough, ʻAbd al-Nāʻim ends his section on the “nine family heads” with the warning that “whoever says that they are birds or anything else has lied for I saw them [myself] in Safar 1214 (July/August 1799)”.

LegionsofJinn_2000 OR6557 Jinns shooting and riding_2000
Left: “Legions of Jinn” (Or.6557, f. 6v); right: group of Jinn or humans, engaged in shooting and riding (British Library Or.6557, f. 26v)
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Aside from numerous astrological and alchemical diagrams and talismans, the work also includes many pictorial representations of jinn. ʻAbd al-Nāʻim’s illustrations are again highly idiosyncratic and he has taken pains to differentiate each jinn from the next. Some sprout three horns, some are stooped over while others stand tall, thrusting batons or other implements; some appear to be holding firearms while others ride on beasts of burden.

There is still much work to be done on this item -which I believe must be a unicum- and no doubt further textual analysis will shed more light on the circumstances of its composition.

My thanks to Constant Hamès, with whom I have corresponded concerning this item.

Paul Naylor, British Library Collaborative Doctoral Student, Asian and African Studies
 ccownwork

Paul Naylor, British Library Collaborative Doctoral Student, Asian and African Studies
 ccownwork - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2016/03/the-british-librarys-west-african-manuscripts-collection.html#sthash.GT132MvI.dpuf

21 August 2015

Forty more Arabic scientific manuscripts go live in Qatar Digital Library

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In November 2014 we announced the first forty Arabic scientific manuscripts to go live in the Qatar Digital Library.  We are now pleased to let you know that a further forty Arabic manuscripts have been uploaded.

The thinking behind our selection can be found in our previous blog. Of particular note is the fact that all our copies of the Almagest of Ptolemy have now been digitised (Add MS 7474, Add MS 7475, Add MS 7476 and  Royal MS 16 A VIII), as well as other representative manuscripts containing Arabic translations of Greek scientific texts, for example, Galen's Ars medica (Arundel Or 52) and Hippocrates’ Aphorisms (Or 9452).
Or 1347_f3rOr 1347_f2v
Ibn Buṭlān's book on dietetic medicine copied for Saladin’s son, al-Malik al-Ẓāhir, King of Aleppo in AD 1213 (Or 1347, ff. 2v-3r)
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Masterpieces of Islamic book arts in this second group of forty include Ibn Buṭlān’s book on dietetic medicine, Taqwīm al-ṣiḥḥah (Or 1347); an anonymous bestiary compiled from the writings of Aristotle and Ibn Bakhtīshū‘, Kitāb na‘t al-ḥayawān (Or 2784); a richly illuminated copy of  Avicenna’s Canon (Or 5033); al-Qazwinī’s Wonders of creation (Or 14140 and see The London Qazwini goes live) and a fourteenth-century Mamluk Manuscript on Horsemanship (Add MS 18866).

Up to now we have focussed our efforts on digitising copies of the Arabic scientific classics. In the next phase, while continuing to expand the range of digitised scientific classics, we will also be moving on to trace the development of the sciences in the less well-charted territories of Ottoman- and Mughal-period scientific literature. We aim to provide valuable resources for understanding the long and varied history of the sciences in the Arabic-speaking world beyond the Classical Period.

Below you will find a list of the second group of forty manuscripts.

Add MS 7473: Compendium of mathematical, philosophical and historical texts, including a number of Graeco-Arabic texts. Copied in Dhū al-Qa‘dah 639 (May 1242).

Add7473_f1v
The beginning of Kitāb al-sīrah al-falsafīyah, an autobiographical treatise by the physician and philosopher Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn Zakarīyā al-Rāzī (Add MS 7473, f. 1v)
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Add MS 7476:  al-Nīsābūrī’s commentary on al-Ṭūsī's commentary on the Almagest.  Dated Sa‘bān 704 (4 March 1305).        

Add MS 7482: Quṭb al-Dīn Maḥmūd ibn Mas‘ūd al-Shīrāzī, Nihāyat al-idrāk fī dirāyat al-aflāk, a text on astronomy and the orbits of the heavenly bodies. Dated, at Cairo, 17 Rabī‘ II 872 (15 November 1467).

Add MS 12187:  Dā’ūd ibn ‘Umar al-Qaṣīr al-Anṭākī, Tadhkirat ūlī al-albāb wa-al-jāmi‘ lil-‘ajb al-‘ujāb, a medical encyclopaedia. Copied in 1838.

Add MS 14332: A collection of four mathematical treatises on conic sections. Dated 26 December 1834.

Add MS 18866: Muḥammad ibn ‘Īsá ibn Ismā‘īl al-Ḥanafī al-Aqṣarā’ī, Nihāyat al-su’l wa-al-umnīyah fī ta‘allum a‘māl al-furūsīyah, a Mamluk manual on horsemanship, military arts and technology. Dated 10 Muḥarram 773 (25 July 1371).

Add MS 23390: Two treatises. (1) Hero of Alexandria, Fī raf‘ al-ashyā’ al-thaqīlah, the Arabic version of the Mechanica; (2) an exhaustive treatise on the magical arts by Abū al-Qāsim Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad, known as al-‘Irāqī al-Khusrawshāhī. 17th century.

Add MS 23397: Collection of three astronomical commentaries from the 14th and 15th centuries.

Arundel Or 10: Medical compendium. Dated late Sha‘bān 711 (early January 1312).

Arundel Or 41: ʿAlī ibn Sahl ibn Rabban al-Ṭabarī, Firdaws al-ḥikmah, an encyclopaedia of medicine. 13th century.  

Arundel Or 52: A copy of Galen's Ars medica in the Arabic version thought to be by Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq. Dated Dhū al-Ḥijjah 448 (February-March 1057).
Arundel52_f114v
The colophon to Galen's Τέχνη ἰατρική ('Ars medica') in the Arabic version thought to be by Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq, dated Dhū al-Ḥijjah 448 (February-March 1057). Note the absence of any dots in this 11th century hand (Arundel Or 52, f. 114v)
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IO Islamic 824: Compendium of short texts, extracts and notes on scientific and philosophical subjects, compiled by Aḥmad ibn Sulaymān Ghūjārātī. Dated Dhū al-Ḥijjah 1134 (September-October 1722).

IO Islamic 923: Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, Arabic (and one Persian) versions of six Greek mathematical treatises. Copied in Jumādá I-Sha‘bān 1198 (March-July 1784).

IO Islamic 1148: Three treatises on astronomy and geometry: Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, Taḥrīr al-Majisṭī; Menelaus of Alexandria, Fī ashkāl al-kurīyah; Ulugh Beg, Zīj-i Ulugh Beg.

IO Islamic 1270: Compendium of texts on mathematics and optics mostly by Ibn Haytham (Alhazen). Late 10th century-Early 11th century.

Or 116: Isma‘īl ibn al-Razzāz al-Jazarī, Kitāb fī maʿrifat al-ḥiyal al-handasīyah, a treatise on practical mechanics. 18th century.

Or 1347: Taqwīm al-ṣiḥḥah. An elaborate presentation copy of Ibn Buṭlān’s book on dietetic medicine produced for Saladin’s son, al-Malik al-Ẓāhir, (d. 1216), King of Aleppo. Dated Jumādá II 610 (1213).

Or1347_f1r
Title page of Ibn Buṭlān’s Taqwīm al-ṣiḥḥah containing the dedication to Saladin’s son, al-Malik al-Ẓāhir, King of Aleppo (Or.1347, f. 1r)
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Or 1997: Abū al-Rayḥān Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad al-Bīrūnī, The al-Qanūn al-Masʿūdī, an early and complete copy of the comprehensive astronomical work, or Canon.   Dated Rabī‘ I 570 (September-October 1174).

Or 2600: Abū Ja‘far Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn Abī al-Ash‘ath, Kitāb al-ghādhī wa-al-mughtadhī, a treatise on dietetics and the nourishment of the parts of the body. Dated Dhū al-Qa‘dah 348 (January-February 960).

Or 2600_f5r
Beginning of chapter 2: on the nourishment of the natural soul and its organs, by Abū Ja‘far Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn Abī al-Ash‘ath. Copied at Mosul in AD 960 from the author's autograph copy written in Barqī Castle in Armenia in AD 959 (Or 2600, f. 5r)
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Or 2601: A composite volume, consisting of three manuscripts apparently from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The first two are medical texts, and the last is a tale also found in the Arabian Nights.

Or 2784: Kitāb na‘t al-ḥayawān, a bestiary describing the characteristics and medical uses of a large number of animals. 13th century.

Or2784_f2v Or2784_f96
The authors of the original sources used by the anonymous compiler. Left (Or.2784, f. 2v): Abū Sa‘īd ‘Ubayd Allāh ibn Jibrā’īl ibn ‘Ubayd Allāh ibn Bakhtīshū‘; right (Or.2784, f. 96r):  the philosopher Aristotle
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Or2784_f10r Or2784_f35v
Left (Or.2784, f. 10r): a goose and a duck; right (Or.2784, f. 35v): an Egyptian vulture
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Or 3129: Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad Ibn Imām al-Naḥḥāsīyah, Tuḥfat al-ṭullāb fī sharḥ nuzhat al-ḥussāb,  a commentary on arithmetic and ḥisāb al-ghubār, or calculation by means of a dust covered board.  Dated 7 Dhū al-Ḥijjah 890 (15 December 1485). 

Or 3623: Zakarīyā ibn Muḥammad al-Qazwīnī, Āthār al-bilād wa-akhbār al-ʿibād, a gazetteer of world geography. Dated Friday 27 Dhū al-Qa‘dah 729 (22 September 1329).

Or 3645: Saʿīd ibn Hibat Allāh ibn al-Ḥusayn, al-Mughnī fī tadbīr al-amrāḍ wa-maʿrifat al-ʿilal wa-al-aʿrāḍ, a concise handbook of medicine. 12th century.

Or 5033: Avicenna, al-Qānūn fī al-ṭibb, The Canon of Medicine. A richly illuminated copy. Dated 4 Shawwāl 1069 (25 June 1659).

Or 5316: Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn Zakarīyā al-Rāzī, al-Kitāb al-Manṣūrī,  influential compendium of medicine written in 903 and dedicated to the Governor of Rayy, Abū Ṣāliḥ Manṣūr ibn Isḥāq. Dated 1 Ramaḍān 1000 (11 June 1592), at Mashhad.

Or 5659: ʻAlī ibn Abī al-Ḥazm, Ibn al-Nafīs, al-Mūjiz fī ʿilm al-ṭibb.  Ibn al-Nafīs' epitome of Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine. Dated 6 Rabī‘a I 786 (28 April 1384).

Or 5725: Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq, al-Masā’il fī al-ṭibb lil-muta‘allimīn, an introduction to medicine for students in the form of questions and answers. Dated 656 (1258).

Or 5786: A collection of texts on pharmacology and ophthalmology, including al-Kūhīn al-ʻAṭṭār’s Minhāj al-dukkān wa-dustūr al-a‘yān. Dated 715 (1315-16).

Or 5856: ‘Alī ibn ‘Īsá al-Kaḥḥāl, Tadhkirat al-kaḥḥālīn, a treatise on eye diseases. Dated 20 Ṣafar 690 (22 February 1291) at Baghdad.

Or 6492: Sadīd al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Mas‘ūd al-Kāzarūnī, Ḥāshiyat Sharḥ Kullīyāt al-Qānūn. Al-Kazaruni’s commentary on Ibn al-Nafīs' commentary on Book One of Avicenna’s Canon.  Dated 22 Ramaḍān 770 (13 April 1369).

Or 6591: ʻAlī ibn al-ʻAbbās al-Majūsī, Kāmil al-ṣināʿah al-ṭibbīyah, an encyclopaedia of the art of medicine. Dated Ṣafar 548-16 Jumādá II 548 (early May-8 September 1153).

Or 6670: Three medical treatises by Galen. Dated 9 Rabī‘ I 580 (20 June 1184) at Damascus.

Or 9452: Medical compendium containing Hippocrates’ al-Fuṣūl (Aphorisms), Ibn Jazlah’s Minhāj al-bayān and a collection of ten extracts from poets and medical authors. Dated Thursday 3 Ramaḍān 690 (Thursday 30 August 1291).

Or 11314: Handbook on health and medicine for use while travelling or at home by Raḍī al-Dīn Abū al-Qāsim ‘Alī ibn Mūsá ibn ibn Ja‘far ibn Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ṭāwūs al-‘Alawī al-Fāṭimī.  Dated 28 Dhū al-Ḥijjah 1092 (9 January 1682).

Or 14140: Zakarīyā ibn Muḥammad al-Qazwīnī, ‘Ajā’ib al-makhlūqāt wa-gharā’ib al-mawjūdāt, an encyclopaedic work on cosmology. 14th century.

Or 14270: Two technological treatises. (1) Kitāb Arshimīdas fī ‘amal al-binkamāt, a treatise on the hydraulic and pneumatic machinery of water-clocks, attributed to Archimedes. (2) Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad al-Farghānī, al-Kāmil fī ṣan‘at al-asṭurlāb al-shimālī wa-al-junūbī wa-‘ilalihuma bi-l-handasah wa-al-ḥisab, on the construction of the astrolabe. Dated  28 Shawwāl 691 (12 October 1292).

10r
Automaton of an executioner on horseback, from Kitāb Arshimīdas, dated AD 1292 (Or 14270, f. 10r)
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F12r
Mechanical snakes that emerge from holes at the foot of a mountain on the hour and the mechanism that drives them, from Kitāb Arshimīdas, dated AD 1292 (Or 14270, f. 12r)
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Or 14791: Three treatises on the prediction of future events based on astronomical, meteorological and other natural phenomena.  Dated 19 Ṣafar 1295 (22 February 1878).

Royal MS 16 A VIII: Arabic version of the Almagest of Ptolemy in the annotated edition of Naṣīr al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ṭūsī. 15th-16th century.

Sloane MS 3034: Ibn Haytham (Alhazen), Maqālah fī istikhrāj irtifā‘ al-quṭb ‘alá ghāyat al-taḥqīq, a short treatise describing a geometrical method for precisely determining latitude. Dated 2 February 1646.

 

Colin F. Baker, Head, Middle Eastern and Central Asian Collections
Bink Hallum, Arabic Scientific Manuscripts Curator, British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership
 ccownwork

 

03 November 2014

Arabic scientific manuscripts go live in Qatar Digital Library

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The British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership has launched the Qatar Digital Library, a new bilingual, online portal providing access to previously undigitised British Library materials on two major themes: Gulf history, and the history of the sciences in the Arabic-speaking world. The portal hosts content ranging from archives, maps and manuscripts to sound recordings, photographs and much more. All of the content will be complemented with explanatory essays in both Arabic and English.

Or1523_f22v-23r
An early 13th century illustration of the horse’s good points from Kitāb al-bayṭarah by Aḥmad ibn ‘Atīq al-Azdī (Or 1523, ff.22v-23r)
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A key part of this project is the digitisation of a selection of Arabic manuscripts from the British Library Collections dealing with scientific subjects such as medicine, mathematics, astronomy, engineering, chemistry and many others. It was by no means an easy task to prioritise the manuscripts for digitisation. With over 500 Arabic scientific manuscripts in the British Library, there were just too many to choose from!

Our rationale in the selection below was to digitise important seminal texts and authors within a continuous narrative that spans from the late 8th century to the 19th century and from Islamic Spain to the Indian subcontinent. To provide the groundwork for the scientific advancements made within the Islamic world, we have digitised representative manuscripts containing all the Arabic translations of Greek scientific texts. For particularly important texts, like the Almagest of Ptolemy (Add MS 7474 and Add MS 7475), we have digitised all our copies.

Beyond these early translations, we have digitised scientific treatises that reflect scholarly activity down to the 17th century, such as astronomical texts by Bahāʼ al-Dīn al-ʻĀmilī. We have also digitised scholars’ notebooks, which offer a glimpse into the research interests of individual Arabic-speaking scholars, while providing a snapshot of the texts they found most interesting or useful (see for example this notebook on physics and mathematics Add MS 23570, and this one on alchemy and chemistry Or 13006).

Other scientific manuscripts were chosen for digitisation not just because the texts they contain are so significant within the history of science, but because the manuscripts themselves are objects of beauty and masterpieces of Islamic book arts. The British Library collections boast such treasures as ʻAbd al-Raḥmān al-Ṣūfī’s Book of Constellations (Or 5323) and an Arabic translation of Dioscorides’ Materia Medica (Or 3366).

To help contextualise these manuscripts, short essays are also available on the portal. You can find articles (and even videos) on such diverse topics as early translations into Arabic, ‘Islamic’ bookmaking techniques, wonders of engineering, and manuscript collectors.

Below you will find a list of the first 40 manuscripts. Over the coming weeks we will be adding more fascinating manuscripts and treasures. Please keep an eye on the Qatar Digital Library.

Add MS 6903: Hippocrates, Aphorisms. 18th century.

Add MS 7474: Ptolemy, Kitāb al-Majisṭī, books 1-6 of the Almagest, heavily illustrated by diagrams and tables. 28 Jumādá I 686 (11 July 1287).Add7474_f11v
Astronomical diagram from the Almagest of Ptolemy (Add MS 7474, f.11v)
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Add MS 7475: Ptolemy, Kitāb Baṭlamyūs fī al-ta‘līm al-ma‘rūf bi-l-Majisṭī naqala Isḥāq ibn Ḥunayn, books 7-13 of Ptolemy's Almagest. Dated 3 Sha‘bān 615 (25 October 1218).

Add MS 7480 : Sharḥ Mukhtaṣar fī maʿrifat al-taqāwīm. Dated 29 Dhū al-Qa‘dah 1174 (2 July 1761).
Add7480_f39v
Diagram of the spheres (Add MS 7480, f. 39v)
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Add MS 7481: Quṭb al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī, Fa‘altu fa-lā talum. Dated 14 Jumādá I 826 (25 April 1423).

Add MS 7511: Aristotle, Kitāb fī ma‘rifat ṭabā’i‘ al-ḥayawān al-barrī wa-al-baḥrī, a compilation of translations of three treatises on zoology by Aristotle. 13th-14th century.

Add MS 9602: Ibn al-Naṭṭāḥ and Ibn al-Samḥ, two technical treatises on the use of the flat northern astrolabe. 14th century.
Add9602_f1v
Beginning of a treatise on the use of the astrolabe by Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī ibn Yaḥyá ibn al-Naṭṭāḥ (Add MS 9602, f. 1v)
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Add MS 14055: Ibn Mankalī, Kitāb al-ḥiyal fī al-ḥurūb wa-fatḥ al-madāʾin wa-ḥifẓ al-durūb, described as ‘the Book of War Machines found amongst the Treasures of Alexander Son of Dārāb the Byzantine (al-Rūmī), known as the Two-Horned (Dhū al-Qarnayn), translated from Greek into Arabicʼ. 16th-17th century.
Add14055f152r
Diagram of a mechanical device from a manual on the military arts supposedly discovered in the tomb of Alexander the Great at Alexandria and translated from Greek into Arabic. 16th-17th century (Add MS 14055, f.152r)
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Add MS 23387: Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, Taḥrīr kitāb uṣūl al-handasah wa-al-ḥisāb, an Arabic version of Euclid's fundamental introduction to geometry. Dated 15 Rabī‘ II 656 (21 April 1258).
Add MS 23387_f9v
Diagrams from Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī's work on Euclid's Elements, copied within his lifetime (Add MS 23387, f. 9v)
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Add MS 23391 : Kitāb Arshimīdas fī al-binkāmāt, on the hydraulic and pneumatic machinery of water-clocks with thirteen diagrams, attributed to Archimedes and Ṣan‘at al-zāmir, on the design and construction of a hydraulic flute playing machine attributed to Apollonius the carpenter and geometer. 16th century.
Add23391_f2r
Top section of water-clock, showing a man's head whose eyes change colour on the hour a bird's head that drops balls onto a cymbal, and the mechanisms that drive these devices (Add MS 23391, f2r)
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Add MS 23393: Quṭb al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī, al-Tuḥfah al-shāhīyah fī al-hayʾah, a commentary on Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī's Kitāb al-tadhkirah fī al-hay’ah. Dated 22 Ramaḍān 737 (18 September 1356).

Add MS 23406: Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq, Kitab Jālīnūs fī ‘amal al-tashrīḥ, an Arabic version of Galen's major work on anatomy the De anatomicis administrationibus. Dated 887 (1482).

Add MS 23407: Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq, Alexandrian summaries of eight medical treatises by Galen. 17th century.

Add MS 23409: Ibn al-Quff, Kitāb al-‘umdah fī ṣinā‘at al-jirāḥah, a general introduction to the art of surgery. Dated 1052 (1642/43).

Add MS 23416: Ibn Akhī Ḥizām, Kitāb al-furūsīyah wa-shiyāt al-khayl, a treatise on hippiatrics, one of the earliest Arabic texts on veterinary medicine. 14th century.

Add MS 23570: Mathematical compendium. Copied in Jumādá II 1014 (Oct/Nov. 1605) at Yazd and Dhū al-Qa‘dah 1018 (Jan./Feb. 1610) at Qom.

Arundel Or 17: Kitāb ikhtiṣār al-sittat ‘ashr li-Jālīnūs talkhīṣ Yahyá al-Naḥwī, epitome of the sixteen books of Galen. Dated 25 Jumādá II 615 (18 September 1218).

Delhi Arabic 1926: Theodosius of Bithynia, Kitāb al-ukar, an Arabic version of the De sphaericis. 18th century.

IO Islamic 1249: Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, Arabic versions of seven Greek mathematical treatises. Copied in 1784.

IO Islamic 924: Kitāb Abulūnīyūs fī al-makhrūṭāt Apollonius of Perga. Dated Ramaḍān 1198 (July/August 1784).

Or 1523: Aḥmad ibn ‘Atīq al-Azdī, Kitāb al-bayṭarah, a treatise on hippiatrics, discussing their good and bad points, training, diseases and treatment. Dated 10? Rajab 620 (9? August 1223).

Or 15643: Sulaymān ibn Aḥmad al-Mahrī, Tuḥfat al-Fuḥūl fī tamhīd al-uṣūl fī ‘ilm al-biḥār, a manual on the principles of navigational theory. Dated at Ṣuḥār, 15 Jumādá II 1153 (7 September 1740).

Or 3366: Kitāb Dīsqūrīdis fī mawādd al-‘ilāj, an Arabic version of Dioscorides De materia medica. Dated at Baghdad, 10 Rabī‘ I 735 (8 November 1334).
Or3366_f35r
Early 14th century botanical illustration from Dioscorides De materia medica (Or 3366, f. 35r)
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Or 5323: al-Ṣūfī, Kitāb ṣuwar al-kawākib al-thābitah, an illustrated description of the 48 classical constellations discussed by Ptolemy in his Almagest. Dated, possibly at Maragha, between 1260 and 1279/80.
Or5323_f8v
Ursa major (الدب الأكبر) as viewed on a celestial globe (upper) and as viewed in the sky (lower) (Or 5323, f.8v)
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Or 5593: al-Bīrūni, Kitāb istī‘āb al-wujūh al-mumkinah fī ṣan‘at al-asṭurlāb, One of only three recorded copies of an influential treatise on the construction and use of astrolabes, containing 122 diagrams. 14th century.

Or 5596: Ibn al-Nafīs, Sharḥ Kitāb al-Qānūn lil-Qurashī. Dated Dhū al-Ḥijjah 902 (July/August 1497).

Or 6888: Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq, Kitāb fī al-‘ayn mi’atān wa-sab‘ masā’il, a medical treatise on ophthalmology. Dated 2 Sha‘bān 891 (3 August 1486).

Or 7368: Avicenna, Sharḥ al-Majisṭī,  a commentary on Ptolemy's Almagest. Dated at Damascus, Ramaḍān 628 (July/August AD 1231).

Or 7499: Ibn Jazlah, Minhāj al-bayān fīmā yastaʿmiluhū al-insān, an alphabetically arranged handbook on pharmacology, copied during the author's lifetime. Dated Rajab 489 (June/July 1096).
Or7499_f1v
Opening of Ibn Jazlah's work on pharmacology, copied during his lifetime in 1096 (Or 7499, f. 1v)
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Or 8293: Ibn al-Tilmīdh, Aqrābādhīn madīnat al-salam, a collection of pharmaceutical texts. Dated, possibly at Baghdad, 625 (1227/28).

Or 8349: al-Bīrūnī, Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm, Comprehensive introduction to the principles of astrology. Includes numerous diagrams and tables. Dating from before 1436.

Or 9202: Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq, Alexandrian Summaries of three medical treatises by Galen, the second volume of a set of the treatises of the Greco-Roman physician Galen of Pergamon. 12th century.

Or 9587: Ibn al-Raqqām, two treatises on the construction and use of sundials. Dating from before 1315.

Or 9649: Mūrisṭus, three technical treatises on the construction of musical organs. 19th century.

Or 11209: Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, Kitāb al-tadhkirah fī al-hay’ah, a treatise on astronomy which summarises, rationalises and improves upon the system presented in the Almagest of Ptolemy. Copied at Ḥamāh, 11 Shawwāl 688 (28 October 1289).

Or 1198: Aḥmad ibn Yūsuf al-Tīfāshī, Kitāb manāfi‘ al-aḥjār wa-qīmatihā wa-usūlihā, a treatise on precious stones. Dated 15 Jumādá II 799 (16 March 1397).

Or 12802: Sahl ibn Bishr al-Isrā’īlī, Kitāb al-aḥkām ‘alá al-nisbah al-falakīyah, a treatise on interrogatory astrology. Dated 5 Dhū al-Ḥijjah 1093 (5 December 1682).

Or 13006: Compendium of alchemical treatises in Arabic, Persian and Ottoman. 16th and 18th centuries.

Or 13127: Aḥmad ibn Abī Sa‘d al-Harawī, Kitāb Mānālāwus fī al-ashkāl al-kurrīyah, a revised edition of the Arabic translation of Menelaus of Alexandria's (fl. ca AD 100) Greek treatise on spherical trigonometry. Dated at Damascus, 4 Rabī‘ II 548 (29 June 1153).

Sloane MS 3032: Ḥubaysh al-A‘sam, al-Maqālah al-thālithah min Kitāb Jālīnūs fī ḥīlat al-burū’ Jālīnūs, an Arabic version of Book three of Galen's De methodo medendi. 14th century.

 

Colin F. Baker, Lead Curator, Middle Eastern Studies
Bink Hallum, Arabic Scientific Manuscripts Curator, British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership
 ccownwork

23 October 2013

Review of the 9th Annual Conference of the Islamic Manuscript Association

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The Islamic Manuscript Association
is an organisation that promotes the cataloguing, digitisation, preservation, and research of Islamic manuscripts throughout the world.  This year’s conference focused on manuscripts of the Mamluk Empire and its contemporaries.  From September 2nd to the 4th, researchers, conservators, curators and librarians from across the world gathered to share their knowledge on this topic at Magdalene College, Cambridge.  The conference’s programme included 25 papers, of which I will discuss a selection in this blog.

Highlights included the presentation of Prof. Frédéric Bauden (Sorbonne – Paris IV), whose talk, “Manuscript Paper Formats of the Mamluk Period: The Contribution of Mamluk Chancery Paper,” identified the author of a unique manuscript on Mamluk-era chancery practice, al-Thaghr al-Bāsim fī Ṣina’at al-Kātib was al-Kātim , as al-Saḥmawī (d. 868/1464).  Using al-Qalqashandī’s well-known chancery manual, Ṣubḥ al-‘Āsha’ in conjunction with al-Saḥmawī’s work, Dr. Bauden established that certain of  J. von Karabaček’s calculations in his 1887 Das Arabische Papier were mistaken and are in need of revision. Throughout his paper, Dr. Bauden demonstrated the importance of chancery paper measurements for the study of Mamluk-era manuscripts.

Dr. Élise Franssen’s (University of Liège) paper, “Al-Ṣafadī: His Personality, Methodology, and Literary Tastes Approached Through His Tadhkira,”  received a very positive response from the audience and elicited much praise from those present.  Dr. Franssen focused on an autograph volume of Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Khalīl Aybāk al-Ṣafadī’s (1297-1363) Tadhkira  that she described aptly as the author’s commonplace book, in which al-Ṣafadī recorded texts he found interesting, appreciated on an aesthetic level, or wanted to incorporate into his own work.   In her paper, Dr. Franssen demonstrated how the study of this autograph lends insight into a Mamluk scholar’s method of dealing with texts.

Dr. Muhammad Issa al-Sharafeen’s (Al-Bayt University, Jordan) paper, “The Copyist in the Mamluk Period,” examined the role of copyists – in contrast to calligraphers – in the production of manuscripts.  Dr. Sharafeen discussed many aspects of the manuscript production process that will interest codicologists, for instance the number of manuscripts that particular Mamluk-era scribes produced, the length of time it took for certain scribes to copy texts, and also the importance of accuracy in the professional practices of copyists and the mechanisms for correcting errors.  Dr. Sharafeen also established the identity of a scribe counterfeiting the famous calligrapher Ibn Bawwāb’s hand, casting light on an interesting example of historical forgery.  

Mr. Christopher Braun (Warburg Institute), currently pursuing a PhD, presented a paper entitled, “In Seach of Buried Riches: Arabic Manuscripts on Treasure Hunting in Medieval Islamic Egypt.”  While the extant manuscripts on treasure hunting date from the 18th and 19th century, the texts they contain are often much earlier, from the Mamluk and perhaps the Fatimid era.  These texts often included, in addition to instructions on where to locate the treasure, various incantations and techniques of divination in order to open the tombs in which the treasures were supposedly held.  His paper explored how these treatises may have been employed and some of the possible reasons for their creation, such as profiting from those gullible enough to purchase such manuscripts.

Dr. Osamu Otsuka’s (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies) presentation, “A Forgotten Ilkhanid Historical Work: Abū al-Qāsim Kāshānī’s Zubdat al-Tawārīkh,” challenged the current understanding of Ilkhanid historiography by examining a neglected author, Abū al-Qāsim Kāshānī (d. 1335 AD) and his comprehensive history, the Zubdat al-Tawārīkh, written for the seventh Ilkhanid ruler, Ghāzān Khān (r. 1294-1304 AD) .   Dr. Otsuka compared this work with the well-studied Jāmi’ al-Tawārīkh of Rashīd al-Dīn (d. 1318 AD) and argued that through a process of textual borrowing (what we today would call plagiarism but was common practice in the writing of historical chronicles in the premodern world), Rashīd al-Dīn adapted large parts of Kāshānī’s more comprehensive Zubdat al-Tawārīkh into his Jāmi’ al-Tawārīkh.  Because of the similarity between the two works, scholars have often deduced that the opposite was the case, that Kāshānī’s work was the less original of the two, and Rashīd al-Dīn was the great chronicler; however, Dr. Otsuka sought to establish Kāshānī’s rightful place in Ilkhanid historiography.

While the above brief description of a selection of papers from the conference does not give justice to the breadth and depth of scholarship presented in Magdalene College, it should give the reader an idea of the variety of topics that were addressed over the three days.  A suggestion to TIMA would be to publish the conference proceedings, as many of the papers are very useful manuscript curators and researchers.

Further events included a speech by Dr. Iman Ezz el-Din Ismail (General Director of the Egyptian National Library, Bāb al-Khalq) on the receipt of UNESCO protected heritage status for her institution’s collection of Mamluk Qur’ans.  Workshops were also offered on digitistion and on how to contribute to a new world-wide union catalogue of Islamic manuscripts.

 Next year’s conference will be held again at Madgalene College from August 31st to September 2nd, 2014, and the topic will be Manuscripts and Conflict.

TIMA poster_Arabic

Nur Sobers-Khan, Asian and African Studies
Nur Sobers-Khan, Asian and African Studies
 ccownwork - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2013/08/index.html#sthash.CHUMO96m.dpuf
Nur Sobers-Khan, Asian and African Studies
 ccownwork - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2013/08/index.html#sthash.CHUMO96m.dpuf

20 May 2013

'The Mughals: Art, Culture and Empire' in Kabul

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Queen's Palace, Babur Gardens, Kabul
12 May - 25 June 2013

The hugely successful Mughals exhibition at the British Library has now been made accessible to an Afghan audience in the form of high-quality digital facsimiles of the majority of the items seen in the original exhibition. The venue of the present exhibition, which opened in the Queen’s Palace in the Babur Gardens in Kabul, is particularly appropriate, situated as it is only a stone’s throw from the tomb of Babur, the first Mughal emperor.

Babur's Tomb in Babur's Garden, Kabul. Photograph by John Falconer.
Babur's Tomb in Babur's Garden, Kabul  
  ccownwork John Falconer

The exhibition forms part of an ongoing collaborative partnership between the British Library and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, supported by the Norwegian Government through the Afghan Cultural Initiative.

The exhibition was opened on Sunday 12 May at an event attended by representatives from the diplomatic community, Afghan cultural institutions and the Afghan Government. Opening addresses were given by Ajmal Maiwandi (CEO Aga Khan Trust for Culture), Sayed Musadiq Khalili (Deputy Minister of Information and Culture), H.E. Nurjehan Mawani (Diplomatic Representative, Aga Khan Development Network), H.E. Nils Hangstveit (Norwegian Ambassador to Afghanistan) and John Falconer (British Library).

The exhibition will be on view in Kabul until 25 June. It is hoped that the exhibition will also tour within Afghanistan, to Herat and/or Balkh.

The mounting of a facsimile version of the Mughals exhibition in Kabul is the second collaboration between the British Library and Aga Khan Trust for Culture, and follows an exhibition of prints, drawings and photographs of Afghanistan from the British Library collections, which was seen in the same location in 2010.

Photograph albums of the installation, exhibition and opening event can be viewed at http://bit.ly/14IB6pM

A few photographs from the exhibition follow.
Mughals exhibition, Queen's Palace, Babur's Gardens, Kabul. Photograph by John FalconerMughals exhibition, Queen's Palace, Babur's Gardens, Kabul 
 ccownwork John Falconer

 

Installing Mughals exhibition, Queen's Palace, Kabul. Photograph by John Falconer.
Installing Mughals exhibition, Queen's Palace, Kabul
 ccownwork John Falconer

 

Mughals exhibition, Queen's Palace, Kabul. Photograph by John Falconer.
Mughals exhibition, Queen's Palace, Kabul 
 ccownwork John Falconer

For more images of the installation, exhibition and opening event, see the Flickr album: http://bit.ly/14IB6pM

To read more about the British Library's exhibition Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire, please see our blog post 'A farewell to the Mughals'.

 

John Falconer
Lead Curator, Visual Arts