THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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24 posts categorized "Science"

03 September 2018

Wonders 'Gone Viral' in the Sixteenth-Century Deccan

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Today's guest blog is by Vivek Gupta, a historian of Islamic and South Asian art, currently working on his PhD thesis “Wonder Reoriented: Manuscripts and Experience in Islamicate Societies of South Asia (ca. 1450–1600),” at SOAS University of London, History of Art and Archaeology.

1. F1954.70a
Fig. 1: The Dragon Fish, al-Tannīn, from the Wonders of Creation of Qazwini, 32.7 x 22.4 cm (Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.: Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F1954.70)

The Wonders of Creation and Oddities of Existence (‘Ajā’ib al-Makhlūqāt wa Gharā’ib al-Mawjūdāt) of Zakariyyā’ ibn Muḥammad al-Qazwīnī (1203-1283) had many lives after it was first written in thirteenth-century 'Iraq (for an early fourteenth-century copy in the British Library collection see Colin Baker's post The London Qazwini goes live). In sixteenth-century India, Qazwini’s Arabic cosmography, or encyclopedia of the heavenly and earthly worlds, became a veritable hit. Numerous Arabic cosmographies and related Persian works and translations made in India attest to this. The British Library holds at least six such illustrated manuscripts made in the peninsular Deccan region of India. Notable among these manuscripts is an Arabic model created in Bijapur in the 1570s, three copies of which exist at the BL (IO Islamic 845, IO Islamic 1377, Or. 4701); several more are housed in collections including the Chester Beatty Library (CBL) and the Raza Rampur Library. Here, I introduce some art historical parameters of this model and consider the possible factors that led to its immense popularity—to go viral.

The Past and Present of the Deccan Qazwini Manuscripts
The ‘mother’ of the Deccan Qazwini manuscripts, dubbed the “Sarre” Qazwini because of its former owner, the German Orientalist Friedrich Sarre (1865-1945), is a subject of debate (fig. 1). In the past few decades, American and European scholars have attributed this manuscript everywhere from northern Iraq, or eastern Turkey around 1400, to mid-sixteenth century Bijapur. In light of these varying attributions, I raise two points about the Sarre Qazwini vis-à-vis its Indian offspring. First, the style of its illustrations precedes painting of the early-modern Deccan. Second, the Sarre Qazwini’s paintings derive from an idiom that did not develop in India and are in line with a style associated with fifteenth-century Iraq or eastern Turkey. The Deccan Qazwini manuscripts thus implicate the circulation, or knowledge of an earlier codex to India. Because they harken back to the Sarre Qazwini type, these manuscripts demonstrate an impulse to archaise in the sixteenth-century Deccan.

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Fig. 2: Left: Dhumrakali (Tantric Goddess, the Grey Kali); Right: Narasimha tearing open Hiranyakashipu and holding Vishnu’s chakra and conch, from the Stars of Sciences, Bijapur, 1570 (CBL In 02, ff. 255v-256r) © The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

If the British Library’s Deccan Qazwini manuscripts gesture to the past, other wonder compendia firmly rooted in sixteenth-century Bijapur express the artistic innovations of their present context. Qazwini’s Wonders of Creation contributed to a dynamic genre consisting of Persian texts and numerous other works that compiled both manmade creations and natural marvels. For instance, before IO Islamic 845 was copied on December 3, 1571, the Chester Beatty Library’s Stars of Sciences (Nujūm al-‘Ulūm) (fig. 2) was completed in Bijapur on August 16, 1570. The several Persian copies of the Stars of the Sciences illustrate both Indic and Islamicate cosmographical sciences and often draw equivalences between these knowledge systems as well as other traditions foreign to India. Beyond the cosmic wonders, the Stars of the Sciences devotes lengthy chapters to manmade creations ranging from perfumes to poetry. A broad corpus of wonder compendia marked by internal diversity thus rose in production in the sixteenth-century Deccan.

Variations on the Deccan Qazwini Manuscript Model
The Deccan Qazwini manuscripts are relatively sizeable and standardised books (fig. 3). Their written surface measures roughly 25.5 x 19 cm and contains 22 lines of black naskh script. A larger script often inscribed in red is used for section headings. The rulings, frontispieces, and illustrations are all executed in gold ink. The new bindings of IO Islamic 845 and Or. 4701 distort the original dimensions of these manuscripts, though the standard deviation for current measurements across this group is a mere .1 or .2 cm. The text of all these manuscripts is consistent, although it varies from Ferdinand Wüstenfeld’s 1849 published edition of Qazwini, which was based exclusively on works in German and Austrian collections. This may be because the manuscripts Wüstenfeld based his edition upon were not of Indian origin.

Although the dimensions of these manuscripts establish their homogeneity, their differences shed light on the processes of their copying. Among all the Deccan Qazwini manuscripts, there is not a single pristine copy. Each of them has lost some of its folios or suffered damage impeding our ability to reconstruct the contents of an original or complete codex. Examining the format of these pages reveals some critical differences.
IO Islamic 845. f73r 4. Per 128.70b
Fig. 3 Left: ‘The Sea of India’ and ‘The Chapter on the Islands of India,’ from the Wonders of Creation of Qazwini, Bijapur, 1571, written surface: 25.5 x 18.7 cm (BL IO Islamic 845, f. 73r); Fig. 4 Right: the same section in another copy, Bijapur, late 16th century, written surface: 25.4 x 19.9 cm (CBL Per 128, f.70r) © The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

While all the illustrations in the Deccan Qazwini manuscripts are virtually identical in size and colour, they diverge in some illuminating ways. Let us look at a section within the larger chapter concerning the sphere of the bodies of water. In the heading concerning the islands of the Indian sea, the formats of the corresponding folios in IO Islamic 845 (f. 73r) and Or. 4701 (f. 73r) are nearly identical (fig. 3). The headings are in red naskh centred on the page. The first heading, “the Sea of India / baḥr al-hind,” has the phrase, “it is the greatest and widest of seas,” interspersed between the main title words “baḥr” and “al-hind.” Then, the word faṣl or chapter in the second section heading, “The Chapter on the Islands of this Sea / faṣl fī jazā’ir hādhā al-baḥr” interrupts the space of the black text above it. Though differing from the corresponding folio (59v) of the Sarre Qazwini, these subtleties in page format recur within the Deccan Qazwini manuscript tradition. The corresponding folio from the Chester Beatty Library’s CBL Per 128 (fig. 4) varies on this model. At first glance CBL Per 128’s corresponding folio (70v) has roughly the same format as the BL manuscripts. However, instead of red ink for headings, CBL Per 128’s section titles are executed in blue and gold. The CBL page also bears a bird and ram-like animal adjacent to the second heading on the page foreshadowing other marvels of the Indian islands.

5. BL 4701 f. 88a 6. BL Loth 723 f. 88a
Figs. 5 and 6: The Dragon Fish, al-Tannīn, from the Wonders of Creation of Qazwini in two of the three Bijapur British Library manuscripts (BL Or. 4701, f. 88r and IO Islamic 845, f. 88r) https://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef01b8d0ab965b970c-pi?_ga=2.260404813.1714225709.1535706032-286112809.1510772067

Another distinction is visible in BL Or. 4701, f. 88r and IO Islamic 845, f. 88r’s illustrations of dragon fishes (al-tannīn) (figs. 5 and 6). On the left, BL Or. 4701 shows the monster facing right, and on the right IO Islamic 845 depicts it facing left. The length of both dragons is 16 cm. CBL Per 128’s depiction of a dragon fish (f. 85v) also faces left and measures only .2 cm more than the British Library groups’ corresponding images. Looking to the earlier model, the Sarre Qazwini’s dragon fish faces right (fig. 1). This was probably produced by a pounce of some kind, since whether the dragon fish is oriented right or left, they are mirror images of each other. All of this suggests that the Deccan Qazwini group was cohesive and requires close examination to apprehend how different artists and scribes rendered this text and preserved the tradition.

Why this Viral Production?
In a world where a meme can go viral, electronically, in seconds we might be inclined to believe that this is only possible in the 21st century. The case of the Deccan Qazwini manuscripts suggests the contrary: it could and did happen in past, albeit achieved by different means. Over the course of studying roughly 60 illustrated Persian, Arabic and other vernacular compendia of wonders I have probed the ways by which this manuscript tradition was transformed from its genesis in Arab and Persianate contexts, to South Asia. By the sixteenth century, I noticed a rise not only in the production but also in the diversity of these works. A fuller understanding of this surge in production awaits study, especially as the number of wonder books from this period is necessarily skewed by what survives. I speculate that anxieties about the end of the first Islamic millennium in 1591 may be one reason. One would want to hold tight to a book depicting all of God’s creations if the apocalypse were looming. The Safavid and Ottoman worlds witnessed a rise in the production of the fālnāmah, or book of omens, right around this time perhaps for similar tensions about the millennium as documented by the landmark Falnama exhibition organized by the Freer|Sackler Galleries in 2009.

The Deccan Qazwini manuscripts also prompt unanswered questions as to why so many of these same archaising books were desired. If they served as a stock handbook for intelligentsia, these multiple owners perhaps travelled far and wide with their books, and increased the circulation of the model. It is for this reason that they have come to the British Library following different itineraries. The lack of finish to some of these manuscripts and their subtle distinctions suggest that they were not made at the same time. Further research on Deccan manuscript production will surely turn up some answers. For now, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that the archaic form of the British Library group occurred in tandem with other innovations in the literature on the wonders of the universe.

Further reading
Badiee, Julie. An Islamic Cosmography: The Illustrations of the Sarre Qazwīnī. PhD Thesis, University of Michigan, 1978
Berlekamp, Persis, Wonder, Image, and Cosmos in Medieval Islam. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011
Carboni, Stefano. “Constellations, Giants and Angels from al-Qazwini Manuscripts.” In Islamic Art in the Ashmolean Museum, ed. James Allan, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995: 83-95
Flatt, Emma. “The Authorship and Significance of the Nujūm al-‘ulūm: A Sixteenth-Century Astrological Encyclopedia from Bijapur.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 131 no. 2 (2011): 223-44
Zadeh, Travis. “The Wiles of Creation: Philosophy, Fiction, and the ‘Ajā’ib Tradition.” Middle Eastern Literatures, vol 13. no. 1 (2010): 21-48

Vivek Gupta, SOAS University of London, History of Art and Archaeology
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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).
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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).

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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).

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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
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16 February 2015

Happy Chinese New Year! The Year of the Goat

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This year the Chinese New Year will be celebrated on the night between the 18th and the 19th of February, when the year of the Horse will end and a new year of the Goat will begin.

The celebrations for the Chinese New Year (年节nian jie), also called Spring Festival (春节 chun jie), mark the beginning of a new year in the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. Even though the traditional calendar is now not officially used in China, it is still essential to determine the Chinese festivities. The Chinese New Year Festival is the most important event of the year for the Chinese communities and its occurrence determines also the date of other important events related to the lunisolar calendar, such as the Lantern Festival (元宵节 yuan xiao jie), the Dragon Boat Festival (端午节 duan wu jie) or the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节zhong qiu jie). Furthermore, the traditional calendar is widely used to determine the best date for some special occasions in people’s life, such as marriages. The traditional Chinese calendar is called农历 nong li (in traditional characters 農曆, which can be translated as “rural calendar” as nong means agriculture) or 阴历 yin li (in traditional characters 陰曆, where yin represents the moon, as opposed to the official solar calendar which is called 阳历 yang li).

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Detail from a printed almanac from Dunhuang dating from AD 877. From right to left, the figures of a snake, a horse, a goat, a monkey and a cock are visible (BL Stein Collection Or.8210/P.6) International Dunhuang Project website
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Every year of the lunisolar calendar is traditionally associated with one of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac, which are called 生肖 (sheng xiao). These animals are: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. Each of them is associated to a natural element (Wood, Fire, Metal or Water) and, as in Western astrology, it is believed that people born under a different zodiac sign have different personality characteristics. The year when a person is born is called in Chinese their 本命年 (ben ming nian), meaning “the year of destiny’s roots”. People born during the year of the Goat (so, for example, in 1955, 1967, 1979 and 1991) are said to be peaceful, polite, helpful and trustworthy.

Zodiac animals_1500Five of a set of the twelve zodiac animals dating from the Tang dynasty (618–907), depicting (left to right) dragon, snake, horse, goat, and monkey. Shaanxi History Museum, Xi'an © U. Sims-Williams
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Illustration from the album “Coloured Drawings of Chinese Flora and Fauna”, 18th century, China (BL Sloane collection Add. 15503, f.10)
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The Chinese New Year is celebrated not only in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, but in other countries where the Chinese population is significant, such as Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and the Chinatowns across the world. Furthermore, the traditional Chinese calendar and the related zodiac animals can be found in literature and art productions of countries which have been influenced by the Chinese traditional culture, such as Japan, Korea, Mongolia and Thailand.


Mongolia
In Mongolia, for example, the 12 animals of the zodiac are called Арван хоёр жил which means “12 years”. The Mongolian calendar is slightly different from the Chinese one and therefore sometimes New Year's day falls on a different date.

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Mongolian diagram showing the twelve animals of the zodiac. From B. Batzhargal, Ėrtniĭ Mongolyn Matematik (Эртний Монголын Матэматик, “Early Mongolian Mathematics”. Ulaanbaatar, 1976, p. 171 (British Library MON 596) ⓒ


Japan

In Japan, the Chinese calendar was introduced in the 6th century and it was officially used in some variations until 1873, when the Gregorian solar calendar was formally adopted. In the Japanese collections at the British Library, we find a variety of representations of the animals of the Chinese zodiac, sometimes depicted in form of Gods, warriors or spiritual entities. The first woodblock-printed item below, for example, shows the Twelve Heavenly Generals of the Buddhist tradition (called十二神将, pronounced Jūni Shinshō in Japanese and Shi er shen jiang in Chinese). Each of them is associated with one of the twelve animals of the zodiac.

4-1 5
Left: “Great miscellany of calendrical and practical knowledge” (Eitai daizassho banreki taisei  永代大雑書萬暦大成), 1856 reprint. Woodblock printed. Right: the same image has been modified to highlight the position of every animal (BL 16000.a.8)
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Some illustrations (left) and cover page (right) of a practical design book (Ōyō manga 応用漫画), illustrated by Ogino, 1903. The goat’s stylised shape is visible on the bottom of the left page (BL ORB.30/6167)
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8
Detail from Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi 一勇斎国芳 (1798-1861) “The comic transformation of actors into the twelve animals of the zodiac” (Dōke miburi jūnishi 道外見富利十二志).  Single sheet woodblock colour-printed [c.1844-1855] (BL ORB.99/102)
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Thailand

The British Library holds a magnificent manuscript from Thailand dated 1885 (Or.13650). It contains a series of drawings based on the Chinese Zodiac and its animals. A male or female avatar, a plant and a number are associated to every zodiacal sign. This manuscript has been fully digitised and can be seen here.

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Horoscope for the year of the goat. The four goats on the left represent four three-month periods within the year. On the right there is the female avatar for the year of the goat (BL Or.13650, f.8v)
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10 Illustrations of omens for events that could happen on a certain date within the year of the goat. In the upper left corner the female avatar for the year is riding a goat. Only a ritual specialist (หมอดู) would have been able to interpret these omens and to give advice on how to avoid unfortunate or dangerous events (BL Or.13650, f.20v)
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Central Asia

A unique 9th century document from Khotan, (present-day Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China) written in the middle-Iranian language Khotanese,  is called “The twelve year leaders and their influences”, and lists the animals in the 12 year cycle with predictions for people born in that year. A man born in the year of the Sheep (or Goat) “will be blessed, meritorious. He will be blessed in everything, in crop and money”. However, it is not all good news! The description continues: “He will be sickly and short-lived. There will be bad illnesses upon him. And a lot of itching will arise for him as well as a wound. If his wives [become] pregnant, they will die. And whatever sons they bear will be short-lived”[1].

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Predictions in Khotanese for the man born in the year of the Goat, dating from the early 9th century. Document from Khotan (present-day Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China) (BL Or.11252/1, lines 38-41)  International Dunhuang Project website
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It is worth mentioning that the character 羊 (yang) in Chinese is associated with various animals which belong to the Bovidae family and it therefore can be translated as goat, but also as sheep or even antelope. This is why in English, when referring to the Chinese zodiac sign 羊, “goat” and “sheep” are both widely used as translations.

We hope that the images in this article will be inspiring and auspicious to all our blog readers and we wish you a wonderful New Year of the  !

 新年快乐! 新年快樂!

 
Curators of the East Asia, South East Asia and Middle East collections
 ccownwork

 


[1] P.O. Skjærvø, Khotanese manuscripts from Chinese Turkestan in the British Library. London, 2002, p. 84

03 February 2015

A Mamluk Manuscript on Horsemanship

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During the rule of the Mamluks who ruled in Egypt and Syria from 1250 to 1517, the presence of Crusaders coming from Europe seems to have stimulated a great interest in the military arts, weaponry and cavalry training among rulers in the Near and Middle East. The cavalry training was designed to improve the skills of soldiers who practised jousting exercises and equestrian games to prepare them not only for battle against the Crusaders but also for entertaining large crowds of spectators in specially-built stadia or hippodromes.

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A horseman impales a bear, from Book three of Nihāyat al-su’l which gives instructions on using lances. Dated 773/1371 (Add. MS. 18866, f. 113r)
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A fourteenth-century Mamluk manual on horsemanship, military arts and technology from the British Library’s collection of Arabic manuscripts (Add. MS 18866) has just been uploaded to the Qatar Digital Library. Its author, Muḥammad ibn ‘Īsá ibn Ismā‘īl al-Ḥanafī al-Aqṣarā’ī, died in Damascus in 1348. The colophon states that this near contemporary copy of the manual was completed on 10 Muḥarram 773 (25 July 1371) by the scribe Aḥmad ibn ‘Umar ibn Aḥmad al-Miṣrī, but it is not certain whether in Egypt or Syria. The manuscript came into the Library of the British Museum (now British Library) in 1852, having been purchased at the auction of the estate of Sir Thomas Reade, one time jailer of Napoleon Bonaparte (for more on the manuscript’s provenance see our earlier post 'Sir Thomas Read: knight 'nincumpoop' and collector of antiquities'). A very similar illustrated copy of the same work, dated 788/1366, is preserved at the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (CBL Ar 5655).

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The colophon giving the name of the scribe Aḥmad ibn ‘Umar ibn Aḥmad the Egyptian (al-Miṣrī) and the date of completion as 10 Muḥarram 773 (25 July 1371). Although the scribe was Egyptian, it is not certain whether the manuscript was copied in Egypt or Syria (Add. MS 18866, f. 292r)
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The title-page names the work Nihāyat al-su’l wa-al-umnīyah fī ta‘allum a‘māl al-furūsīyah (‘An End of Questioning and Desiring [Further Knowledge] concerning Learning of the Different Exercises of Horsemanship’) which is an example of furūsīyah, a popular genre of mediaeval Arabic literature embracing all aspects of horsemanship and chivalry. The manuscript itself deals with the care and training of horses; the weapons which horsemen carry such as the bow, the sword and the lance; the assembling of troops and the formation of battle lines.

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Diagram of a parade ground (Add. MS 18866, ff. 93v-94r)
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This early dated manuscript from the Mamluk period is a veritable treasure in itself containing some of the most magnificent examples of Mamluk manuscript painting. It includes eighteen colour paintings depicting horses, riding equipment, body armour and weapons and twenty-five instructive diagrams on the layout of a parade ground, dressage and various military insignia. Beyond the military and equestrian arts, the paintings in this manuscript are full of details relating to contemporary costume and decorative style. It is one of the highlights of the British Library’s illustrated Arabic manuscripts and is notable also for its beautiful calligraphy and tooled leather Islamic binding that is likely to be contemporary with the manuscript.

Add 18866_bindingBrown goat-skin binding with envelope flap decorated with blind-tooled circular designs on both covers and flap; probably 8th/14th century with signs of later repair (Add. MS 18866, binding)
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Below is a list of the manuscript’s eighteen paintings. For most of them the author provided his own captions which are given below. Please click on the hyperlinks to see the full images:

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(f. 97r) ‘Illustration of two horsemen whose lance-heads are between each other's shoulder-blades’.
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(f. 99r) ‘Illustration of a number of horsemen taking part in a contest, their lances on their shoulders’.

(f. 101r) ‘Illustration of a horseman taking part in a game with a lance, the lance-head being in his hand and its shaft to his rear’.

(f. 109r) Without caption; a horseman carrying two horizontal lances.

(f. 113r) Without caption; a horseman impales a bear with his lance.

(f. 121r) ‘Illustration of a horseman performing a sword exercise’.

(f. 122v) ‘Illustration of a horseman with a sword in his hand and his sleeve wound over his hand as he rises out of his saddle and strikes with the sword’.

(f. 125r) ‘Illustration of a horseman with a sword in his hand with which he strikes from the horse's ear as far back as its right croup'.

(f. 127v) 'Illustration of a horseman with the edge of the sword under his right armpit, the hilt in his left with the reins'.

(f. 129v) 'Illustration of a horseman with a small shield around his neck and a sword in his hand which he brandishes to left and right'.

(f. 130r) 'Illustration of a horseman with a hide shield over his face, the sword edge under his right armpit and the hilt on his left'.

(f. 131v) 'Illustration of a horseman with an iron helmet on his head, with a sword. A fire is lit on the helmet, the sword blade and in the middle of the shield'.

(f.132v) 'Illustration of a horseman with a sword in his right hand, its blade on his left shoulder and a sword in his left hand whose blade is under his right armpit'.

(f. 134r) 'Illustration of a horseman with a sword in his left hand and its tip under his left arm pit'.

Add 18866_f135r
(f. 135r
) 'Illustration of two horsemen wheeling around, with a sword in each one's hand on the horse's back'.
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(f. 136r) 'Illustration of a horseman with two swords and two small hide shields, on up at his face and the other in his hand with the sword'.

(f. 138v) 'Illustration of a horseman with a lance in his hand which he is dragging behind him, and a shield in his other hand'.

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(f. 140r) 'Illustration of four horsemen, each one with a sword and a hide shield, and each one carrying his shield on his horse's croup'.
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Further reading

G.Rex Smith, Medieval Muslim Horsemanship: A Fourteenth-Century Arabic Cavalry Manual, London, The British Library, 1979.

Abul Lais Syed Muhammad  Lutful-Huq, A critical edition of Nihayat al-sul wa'l-umniyah fi ta'lim a'mal al-furusiyah of Muhammad b. 'Isa b. Isma'il al-Hanafi, Ph.D. diss., School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1955. Download free from British Library Electronic Theses Online Services (ETHoS).

L. Mercier, tr. and ed., La parure des cavaliers et l’insigne des preux, Paris: P. Geuthner, 1924.

D. Haldane,  Mamluk Painting, Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1978.

E. Atıl, Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press 1981.

Article on furūsīyah and the farasnāmah in Persian: Iraj Afshar, Faras-nāma, in Encyclopaedia Iranica Online.

 

 

Colin F. Baker, Lead Curator, Middle Eastern Studies
 ccownwork     

 

Note from editor:

Thanks to the efforts of our colleagues Daniel Lowe and Annabel Gallop, we have identified the seal on folio 292r as that of the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid II (reigned 1481-1512), providing another missing link in the history of this remarkable manuscript. 

A useful explanation of the components of Bayazid's tughra (and other Ottoman Sultans) can be found here.

Add18866_292r

 

30 January 2015

Akbar's horoscopes: how to become a Leo if you are not

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Editor: On 31 October 2014 we held a successful one-day symposium ʻBritish Library Persian Manuscripts: Collections and Researchʼ at which Dr. Stephan Popp of the Institut für Iranistik, Vienna spoke on ʻHoroscopes as propaganda under Akbar and Shāh Jahānʼ. Although he is planning an expanded version of his paper for future publication, he has kindly agreed to summarise it for us here.

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The birth of Timur showing astrologers on the right, drawing up his horoscope. From an imperial copy of Abu l-Fażl's Akbarnāma, c. 1602. Painting ascribed to Sūrdās Gujarātī (Or.12988, f. 34v)
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In the 16th century, astrology was still an approved science both in Europe and in India, and many princes between Lisbon and Dhaka relied on the counsels of astrologers. Especially so the chronicle of the Mughal emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1605), the Akbarnāma by Abu l‑Fażl, which uses the emperor’s horoscope extensively to prove his claim to power. Akbar claimed to be the mujaddid (restorer of Islam) of the second Islamic millennium and the pre-destined perfect ruler. But first, some remarks on Mughal astrology and how it was supposed to work.


For this reason, let us then have a quick look at Akbar’s horoscope as it appears in the Akbarnāma:

Screenshot 2015-01-18 20.32.43Akbar’s nativity as drawn at his birth by the astrologer Maulānā Chānd (Akbarnāma, p. 70)


A horoscope is a diagram showing the sky over a given place at a given time. It consists of: 1) the zodiac, 2) the houses, i.e. a second zodiac constructed with the ascendant (i.e. the point that is just rising) as the starting point, and 3) the planets at their places for that particular time. This horoscope is constructed on a square grid, with the east on top (modern horoscopes are in the form of a circle, with the north on top). The twelve fields are not the zodiac signs but the houses. They are equated with the zodiac sign their first degree falls in, although this is at the very end in the case of Akbar. House I is top centre, and the other houses follow counter-clockwise. The planets are entered, but without their exact position in the zodiacal sign. Aspects, i.e. significant angles between objects that strengthen or weaken their power, are not indicated in this horoscope but are mentioned in the text where necessary. Moreover, several kinds of subdivisions of zodiac signs also have properties that strengthen or weaken a planet, which in turn strengthens or weakens a house.

Thus, a horoscope contains ca. 250 interrelated data, and the art of the astrologer consists in picking the right influences and interpreting them in an appropriate way. This is obviously highly subjective, even if the planets had influences. No wonder, as Abraham Eraly has observed (Eraly, p. 109), astrologers have been called the psychiatrists or confessors of the Mughal Empire.


Akbar’s horoscopes

This blog will show how astrologers acted not only as the psychiatrists but also as the spin doctors of the Mughal Empire. Abu l‑Fażl ibn Mubārak, Akbar’s mentor on policy and official chronicler, had a genuine interest in astrology. That he regarded it as a fully-fledged science is clear from the fact that he comes up with four different horoscopes of Akbar and discusses their differences (Akbarnama, pp. 119–123). Eva Orthmann (p. 108 below) proves that the horoscopes are based on genuine calculations and not made up by Abu l‑Fażl. Abu l‑Fażl writes that an Indian and a Western horoscope were cast at Akbar’s birth in 1542 by Jyotik Rai and by Maulānā Chānd. The results were different due to the different definitions of zodiacal signs in Vedic and Western astrology. Indian astrology defines the zodiac as the constellations in the sky whereas western astrology defines the zodiac as the ecliptic divided into twelve equal parts beginning from the spring point (where the sun rises at the spring equinox). The spring point, however, slowly moves backward through the constellations, so that at the present time it is at the end of Pisces, not in Aries.

Equinox_path
The precession of the spring point (0° Aries) in the last 6000 years. Kevin Heagen via Wikimedia Commons
CC-BY-SA

Because of this movement, Abu l‑Fażl says, the Vedic results were 17° behind the Western ones in Akbar’s time (whereas now they are 25° behind). Thus, Akbar’s ascendant fell in Leo according to the Indians, which suited an emperor, but in the Western horoscope, it fell in Virgo. Abu l‑Fażl discusses this difference, effectively discrediting the Indian astrologers (pp. 119–122). Still, as acknowledged by Orthmann (p. 110), ‘royal’ Leo would have been a much more suitable ascendant for an aspiring emperor than Virgo.

When the great scientist and physician Fatḥullāh Shīrāzī joined Akbar’s court in 1583, Abu l-Fażl asked him to correct the two horoscopes. Instead, Fatḥullāh cast his own, using the old “star tables of the Greeks and Persians” of ca. 830 AD instead of the new ones of Ulugh Beg. In this way, he arrived at the ascendant falling at the very end of Leo (28°36’) instead of 7° Virgo. Abu l-Fażl calls this “the most reliable horoscope” (p. 94) although containing outdated data, and devotes two chapters to its description and predictions.

Screenshot 2015-01-18 20.26.28
How Fatḥullāh Shīrāzī managed to put the ascendant back into ‘royal’ Leo. The old tables shift the house grid 9½ degrees back. The grid has also passed over Venus, so that it is at the beginning of the second house now, not at the end of the first.

When the diagram was ready, the task of the astrologer was to pick those influences that suited successful rule. Combining the right influences from the vast data, Fatḥullāh Shīrāzī sings Akbar’s praises (p. 111):

As this (4th) house is a Fixed Sign, and its lord (Mars) is in exaltation and has a beneficent aspect, territory will continually be coming into the possession of the King’s servants…,

and even (p. 108):

The Native will exceed the natural period of life, viz., 120 years.

Or_12988_f015r
Abu l‑Fażl's chapter describing Fatḥullāh Shīrāzī's horoscope.  Although the diagram has been left blank, the details are all supplied in the Persian text (Or.12988, f. 15r
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Overall, the horoscopes emphasize Akbar’s success in conquest, acquiring wealth and in administration, and his supreme reason by which he guides the state and settles disputes. Moreover, the astrologer Maulānā Chand argues that Akbar is greater than Timur because Akbar’s Mars is stronger (p. 79). That the horoscopes contradict themselves is only superficial, Abu l‑Fażl concludes, for, he claims, God hides Akbar’s greatness from the undeserving (p. 123):

Owing to the jealousy of God, the truth of the holy nativity remained under the veil of concealment and was hidden behind the curtain of contradiction. But… if each of the horoscopes be looked at with the eye of judgment… it becomes plain that… there is nothing equal to them.

A person deserving special mention was, according to Abu l‑Fażl, Akbar’s father Humāyūn, an accomplished astrologer and “by the perfection of his personality enlightened by flashes of forthcoming events” (p. 124). Humāyūn danced with joy when he read the horoscope, Abu l-Fażl says. In this way, he tries to make his readers believe that if they see nothing but contradiction, this is because they do not see well enough. Even the astrologers, accomplished scientists, did not see everything. But they did their very best to combine their data in the way that Akbar and Abu l‑Fażl wanted them to: to “discover” that Akbar was the king of kings.

 

Further reading
Abu l‑Fazl ʿAllāmi: The Akbarnama of Abu-l-Fazl, tr. Henry Beveridge. 3 vols. Calcutta 1897–1939 (1907 reprint digitised by Google available here).
The History of Akbar, vol. 1; edited and translated by Wheeler M. Thackston. Harvard University Press, 2015. This newly published edition includes the original Persian with parallel English translation.
Abraham Eraly: The Mughal World, Life in India’s Last Golden Age, New Delhi: Penguin, 2007.
Kushyār Ibn Labbān: Introduction to astrology, ed. and transl. by Michio Yano, Tokyo: Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, 1997.
Māshā’allāh Ibn Asari: The astrological history of Māshā'allāh, ed. E. S. Kennedy and David Pingree. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1971.
A. Azfar Moin: “Challenging the Mughal Emperor: The Islamic Millennium according to ʿAbd al‑Qadir Badayuni”, in Metcalf, Barbara: Islam in South Asia in Practice, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.
Eva Orthmann: “Circular Motions: Private Pleasure and Public Prognostication in the Nativities of the Mughal Emperor Akbar,” in: Günther Oestmann, H. Darrel Rutkin, and Kocku von Stuckrad (ed.): Horoscopes and Public Spheres, Essays on the History of Astrology, Berlin: de Gruyter, 2005, pp. 101–114.

 

Stephan Popp, Institut für Iranistik, Vienna (email: stephan.popp@oeaw.ac.at)
 ccownwork

 

18 December 2014

The London Qazwini Goes Live

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In a previous blog (Fashion in 14th century Mosul) we wrote about three leaves loaned to an exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery in London from the British Library's copy (Or.14140) of the Arabic treatise ‘Ajā’ib al-makhlūqāt wa-gharā’ib al-mawjūdāt (عجائب المخلوقات وغرائب الموجودات), an encyclopaedic work on cosmology, generally referred to as Wonders of Creation, by Zakarīyā ibn Muḥammad al-Qazwīnī (c. 1203-83). This is the first work to deal with this subject in an exhaustive and systematic way in the Islamic world; it enjoyed great popularity and was translated into Persian and Turkish.

Or14010_f39r
Fabulous giant bird illustrating the story of the how the man from Isfahan was rescued from a desert island and carried to safety by clinging to the bird's leg  (Or.14140, f. 39r)
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I am delighted to announce that all 135 folios of Or.14140, containing 368 miniature paintings, have now been uploaded to the Qatar Digital Library, a project of the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership to digitise the British Library’s Arabic scientific manuscripts (see Arabic scientific manuscripts go live in Qatar Digital Library).

Or14010_f62v
ʻAmr ibn al-ʻĀs, conqueror of Egypt in AD 640-42, advises on how to restore the waters of the river Nile. The brick structure in the water is a Nilometer, a device for measuring the water flow in the flood season (Or.14140, f. 62v)
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There are very few early Arabic copies of this text, and this manuscript is thought to have been produced in Mosul at the very beginning of the 14th century. According to the undated colophon, it was copied from a manuscript copied by the author himself. The British Library purchased it from a London dealer in 1983. Originally, when the manuscript was produced in the 14th century, it was a bound codex. When it came into the library the manuscript had lost its binding, and the leaves were in such a bad condition that each one required extensive conservation. Each leaf was painstakingly conserved, individually encased in plastic sheeting and framed in a card mount. It is now stored in eight boxes. It took a dedicated conservator almost four years to complete this project. Although it is now mounted in separate frames, its original codex format is preserved in the digital version which can be read from beginning to end in one sequence.

Once it was in a fit condition for study, Dr Stefano Carboni was able to conduct exhaustive research of the manuscript’s artistic contents. He identified the subject matter of each painting, and placed the manuscript within the art historical traditions of its age.  His descriptions are available in his thesis and are due to be published as a book in 2015 (see Further reading).

Or14010_f100r
King Solomon sitting on his throne surrounded by Jinns with angels above (Or.14140, f. 100r)
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This treasure of the British Library’s Arabic manuscript collection, also known as the London Qazwīnī, is best known for its miniature paintings. Covering a wide range of subjects, including such things as wildlife, plants, legendary beasts, mythical figures and daily life, the illustrations show influence from Byzantine painting traditions and display aspects of fourteenth-century costume and architecture. The manuscript is also a fascinating source for historians of Islamic art, and folios are often requested for exhibitions in the UK and abroad. Now you don’t need to wait for an exhibition to see this fantastic manuscript.

 

Further reading

Stefano Carboni, “The London Qazwini: An Early 14th Century Copy of the ʿAjāʾib al-makhlūqāt,” Islamic Art: An Annual Dedicated to the Art and Culture of the Muslim World 3, 1988-89, pp. 15-31.
—, “The Wonders of Creation and the Singularities of Ilkhanid Painting: A Study of the London Qazwini British Library Ms. Or. 14140,” Ph.D. diss., School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1992. Download free from British Library Electronic Theses Online Services (ETHoS).
—, The 'Wonders of Creation': a Study of the Ilkhanid 'London Qazwini', Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2015.

 

Colin F. Baker, Lead Curator, Middle Eastern Studies
 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).
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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.
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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.
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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).
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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

02 August 2014

‘Tanabata (七夕) Star Festival’ - is it 7 July or 2 August 2014? (2)

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In the first part of this blog post, we mentioned that the major star festivals marking Tanabata are celebrated not on 7 July, but a month later. Scientifically speaking, keeping the latter traditional (lunar) date makes more sense, because the two stars are more easily visible on this day than on the modern (solar) calendar day.

Currently Vega represents Orihime (Zhinü in Chinese) and Altair is Kengyū (Niulang in Chinese) in the actual summer night sky. Both of them are among the top 10 brightest stars in the night sky and this pair is visible at the same time of the year, at the highest point in the sky, so it is easier for us to spot them. Let’s compare the two star attitude charts, one for the solar date 7 July and one for 2 August 2014, which corresponds to the 7th day of the 7th lunar month 2014.

Fig3

Stellar visibility plots for Japan's latitude on 7th July 2014, calculated with the STARALT program.
    
Fig4

Stellar visibility plots for Japan's latitude on 2 August 2014, calculated with the STARALT program.

On 7 July, Vega and Altair reach their highest point in the sky, being directly overhead, around midnight. On 2 August, the above-mentioned two stars reach their maximum elevation earlier than on 7 July.

Generally speaking, 90 degrees means stars take positions straight above our heads, while 20 degrees is too near to the horizon – and obstructed by objects such as buildings and trees – for them to be seen. In addition to the timing of better visibility, the moon is brighter on 7th July than on 2nd August. When the moon is brighter, the stars look fainter. Consequently, the traditional day is the better option to see the stars and people have more time to enjoy festivals in the evening.

Since the earliest version of Chinese legend, Zhinü has always been (and still is) associated with Vega (also known as α Lyrae in Western astronomy), which is the second-brightest star in the Northern hemisphere. Vega is the brightest star in the Chinese asterism known as ‘The Weaving Girl’ (織女Zhinü) which is located in the Ox mansion (牛宿Niu su), on the west side of the Milky Way.  In contrast, Zhinü’s counterpart on the other side of the Milky Way has changed over the centuries. The original star for Niulang was Niu su yi (牛宿一 meaning ‘The First Star of Ox’), also known as β Capricorni, or Dabih Major in Western astronomy. This is the brightest star of the Ox asterism, which is also in the Ox mansion but on the eastern side of the Milky Way; β Capricorni has an apparent brightness of +3 magnitudes, and is not as bright as Vega, which has a brightness of 0 magnitudes, that is, approximately 15 times brighter.

Perhaps this difference between the brightness of Zhinü and Niulang in the original version is the reason why the star of Niulang was later changed, as this story became a more popular folktale. The new choice of the star for Niulang was Hegu er (河鼓二meaning ‘The Second Star of the Drum at the River’) which is known as Altair in Western astronomy. Altair is in fact the brightest star in the Chinese asterism He gu (河鼓 meaning ‘The Drum at the River’), which is also located within the Ox mansion on the eastern side of the Milky Way. Altair is about half as bright as Vega. Due to its folktale association, it is better known today in China as Niulang xing (牛郎星 meaning ‘The Cowman’s Star’).
 
Fig6
Map of the stars in the Eastern sky. Shi jing zhuan shuo (詩經傳說), detail from a woodblock printed Qing dynasty illustrated version of the Classic of Poetry, 1727. Niulang was probably still Niu su yi (牛宿一 'The First Star of Ox') when the original illustration was published in earlier editions. This could be the reason why there were no signs of He gu (河鼓 'The Drum at the River'), because it had no particular significance at that time of illustration. British Library, 15266.a.2, vol. 1.  noc

At the same time, we can also see the Magpie Bridge in the summer night sky. Unfortunately because the location of the Milky Way and of the asterisms in the above illustration is only approximate, it is not possible accurately to identify which was Tian jin si (天津四 meaning “The Fourth Star of the Celestial Ford”) which is Deneb in Western astronomy. Deneb was thought to mark the location of the bridge across the Milky Way like a stepping-stone. The three stars Vega, Altair and Deneb form what is known as the Summer Triangle.

Now, let’s compare the illustration of the star map, which was taken from the Shi jing zhuan shuo and actual summer night sky.

Fig7
In this picture, we have flipped vertically the original Chinese illustration shown above, so that it is oriented to match the modern star chart below. British Library, 15266.a.2, vol. 1.  noc

Fig8

The red circles mark the three stars of the Summer Triangle and we have sketched in green the approximate location of the magpie bridge. © 2000-2005 Kym Thalassoudis. All rights reserved.

So let’s look up the night sky on 2nd August 2014 and make a wish on these three fascinating stars!

Further reading and references

Chinese Astronomy Resource

Gregorian-Lunar Calendar Conversion Table

Object Visibility – STARALT

http://skymaps.com/index.html

Yasuyo Ohtsuka, Curator, Japanese collections
Roberto Soria, Astronomer, ICRAR-Curtin University

With special thanks to Sara Chiesura, Curator, Chinese collections