THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

27 posts categorized "Science"

10 June 2020

The Politics of Prognostication in the Cairo Sultanate

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In today’s complex and ever-changing circumstances, who wouldn’t want infallible means for interpreting the world around them and even predicting future events? While today’s leaders look to their medical, economic, military and other expert advisers, historically rulers across the world have also consulted astrologers, dream-interpreters and specialists in other forms of divination and occult sciences.

The Mamlūk sultans of late-medieval Egypt and Syria were no different in this regard. Many manuscripts copied within the Cairo Sultanate have survived and a number of them are on various methods of interpreting the present or foretelling the future. Since some of these manuscripts were produced for politically high-ranking patrons, we are in the privileged position of being able to read over the shoulders of Mamlūk sultans and amīrs (military commanders) and get a feeling for the place of prognostication in Mamlūk politics.

Patron statement in the holograph copy of Ibn Jaydān’s Full Moon
Patron statement in the holograph copy of Ibn Jaydān’s Full Moon: ‘Intended for the exalted, lordly, sultanic and felicitous treasury – may God dignify and exalt it by Muḥammad and his pure family’ (برسم الخزانة السامية | المولوية السلطانية | السعيدية أجلها | الله وأسماها بمحمد وآله | الطاهرين) (British Library Or. 7733, f. 1ar, recto side of unfoliated flyleaf after f. 1)
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One such manuscript is Or. 7733, a manual of dream interpretation called the Book of the Full Moon on the Science of Dream Interpretation (Kitāb al-badr al-munīr fī ʿilm al-taʿbīr), written by Abū Muḥammad ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿAlī ibn ʿUmar ibn Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī al-Baṣrī al-Maṣrī, known as Ibn Jaydān. The manuscript is a holograph (i.e. the copy was made by its author, Ibn Jaydān), completed on Wednesday 2 Rabīʿ II 727/25 February 1327 for the Sultan’s treasury (see ff. 1ar and 260r, lines 4-7). Ibn Jaydān explains in the preface that he composed the manual for the Mamlūk prince ʿImād al-Dīn Ismāʿīl (b. ca 725/1325, see f. 6v, lines 12-13). Since, however, this prince was still an infant in 1327, the true dedicatee must have been the boy’s father, the reigning Sultan al-Malik al-Nāṣir Muḥammad ibn Qalāwūn (reg. 693-741/1293-1341 with gaps). Ibn Jaydān, claims that ‘the most deserving person concerning this science is the sultan because God bestowed His sovereignty upon him and entrusted him with custodianship of His creation, so of all people after the prophets, his dream is the most true and veracious’ (أَوْلَى الناس بهذا العلم السلطان لما آتاه الله من ملكه وكلّفه رعاية خلقه فكانت رؤياه أصحّ من كافة الناس بعد النبيين وأصدق, f. 4r, lines 10-13), and even tells us that he had dedicated other writings on dream interpretation to al-Nāṣir Muḥammad (see f. 3v, lines 5-7).

It seems, then, that the all-but-forgotten Ibn Jaydān was the personal dream-interpreter (muʿabbir) to al-Nāṣir Muḥammad, or at least that he repeatedly sought this sultan’s patronage. Given the relatively stable political climate in which al-Nāṣir Muḥammad ruled – his third reign, during which Ibn Jaydān wrote the Full Moon, lasted 31 years – it is not surprising that Ibn Jaydān wrote in support of the Sultan’s dynasty, the Qalāwūnids (678-784/1279-1382). In his preface to the Full Moon, Ibn Jaydān takes the opportunity to stress the crucial role dream interpreters have played in foretelling and protecting a ruler’s lineage. To do this, Ibn Jaydān presents a series of examples of dream-interpreters correctly predicting the deaths of presumptive heirs to the throne and the births of future rulers. These stories served to remind al-Nāṣir Muḥammad of the importance of dream-interpreters to the illustrious rulers of earlier Islamicate history, and more importantly of the reliability of their interpretations in foretelling the fortunes of their dynasties.

Ibn Jaydan on dream interpretation
Ibn Jaydān lists his other works on dream interpretation: (1) an abridgement composed at Hamadhān in 716/1316-7 of The Book of The Elixir on the Science of Dreams (Kitāb al-iksīr fī ʿilm al-manāmāt), (2) an unnamed didactic poem (urjūzah), (3) The Book of Glad Tidings Concerning The Science of Dream Interpretation (Kitāb al-tabshīr fī ʿilm al-taʿbīr) dedicated to al-Malik al-Nāṣir Muḥammad, and (4) another didactic poem named after the same sultan (British Library Or. 7733, f. 3v, see lines 1-8)
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This is the context in which to understand Ibn Jaydān’s dedication of the work to an infant prince. The dedicatee, ʿImād al-Dīn Ismāʿīl, was not much more than one or two years old when Ibn Jaydān presented his dream interpretation manual, and he was not necessarily the heir apparent. In fact, his half-brother, al-Malik al-Manṣūr ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn ʿAlī, as first son of al-Malik al-Nāṣir’s first marriage had been heir to the throne until he died aged 7 and was buried in his father’s royal mausoleum in 710/1310. In the preface to the Full Moon, Ibn Jaydān refers to the late crown prince as ‘the martyred ruler ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn’ (ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn ʿAlī al-malik al-shahīd). Ibn Jaydān correctly predicts that ʿImād al-Dīn Ismāʿīl would one day become sultan, and indeed he lived to reign as al-Malik al-Ṣāliḥ (reg. 743-6/1342-5). Ibn Jaydān’s dedication of the Full Moon to ʿImād al-Dīn Ismāʿīl was not only a vote of confidence in the viability of the prince’s future reign as sultan and thus the continuation of the Qalāwūnid dynasty, but perhaps more importantly a statement of Ibn Jaydān’s loyalty to the sultan.

Colophon of the holograph copy of Ibn Jaydān’s Full Moon (Or. 7733, f. 260r)
Colophon of the holograph copy of Ibn Jaydān’s Full Moon completed at the end of Wednesday 2 Rabīʻ II 727/25 February 1327 (آخر نهار الأربعاء لليلتين خلت من ربيع الآخر | سنة سبع وعشرين وسبعمئة هلالية, see lines 5-6) (British Library Or. 7733, f. 260r)
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When the long and relatively stable reign of al-Nāṣir Muḥammad came to an end with his death in 741/1341, the subsequent forty-one years witnessed twelve of his descendants accede to the throne before the Qalāwūnid dynasty ended with the accession of al-Malik al-Ẓāhir Barqūq in 784/1382. Between al-Nāṣir Muḥammad’s death and the accession of Ibn Jaydān’s dedicatee, al-Malik al-Ṣāliḥ Ismāʿīl (then about seventeen years old) the following year, no fewer than three of his brothers had taken the sultanate and either died or been deposed in factional intrigues. These tumultuous final years of the Qalāwūnid dynasty were dominated by the short reigns of very young sultans – often legal minors. Meanwhile, powerful Mamlūk amīrs wrestled for power as kingmakers and regents.

One of these young sultans was al-Nāṣir Muḥammad’s grandson, al-Malik al-Ashraf Shaʿbān II (b. 754/1353, reg. 764-778/1363-1377). He was only ten years old when he assumed the sultanate, but he held an uncharacteristically long reign for the period. In the early part of this reign, the real power was wielded by his regent and Commander-in-Chief (atābak al-ʿasākir), the ‘slave-soldier’ (mamlūk) Yalbughā al-Khāṣṣakī. Three years after al-Ashraf Shaʿbān’s accession, the child Sultan conspired with a group of six amīrs to overthrow Yalbughā and had him murdered in Rabīʿ II 768/December 1366.

Patron statement in Asandamur al-Nāṣirī’s copy of the Book of Interrogations
Patron statement in Asandamur al-Nāṣirī’s copy of the Book of Interrogations: ‘Intended for the treasury of the honourable, most illustrious, sublime Lord Sayf al-Dīn Asandamur, Commander-in-chief of the victorious troops – God fortify His partisans!’ (برسم خزانة المقر الأشرف العالي | المولوي السيفي اسندمر | أتابك العساكر المنصورة | أعز الله أنصاره) (British Library Delhi Arabic 1916 vol 1, f. 1r , lower half)
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In the ensuing turmoil, one of the six conspirators, the amīr Sayf al-Dīn Asandamur al-Nāṣirī (d. 769/1368), consolidated his power, winning military victories first against mamlūks formerly owned by and still faithful to Yalbughā and then against the Sultan’s own supporters. By the summer of 768/1367, Asandamur al-Nāṣirī had assumed the title of Commander-in-Chief, a position second in rank only to the Sultan. He was now master of the Cairo Sultanate as regent and power behind the throne of al-Ashraf Shaʿbān, who at around 14 years old was only just coming of age.

al-Qaṣrānī’s Book of Interrogations
al-Qaṣrānī’s Book of Interrogations contains historical examples of horoscopes for pre- and early Islamic rulers, such as this horoscope cast for the coronation (ʿiqd al-tāj) of the Byzantine usurper Leontius (reg. 484–488) at sunrise on Wednesday 18 July 484. Note that, despite its shelfmark, Delhi Arabic 1916 vol 2 is not actually the second volume of Asandamur al-Nāṣirī’s set of the Book of Interrogations and was copied over a century earlier, in 640/1243 (British Library Delhi Arabic 1916 vol 2, f. 137v ; see text and translation in Pingree 1976, Horoscope VII, pp. 139-42)
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It may seem surprising that during his dramatic rise to power Asandamur al-Nāṣirī could have found time to consult a copy of the Book of Interrogations (Kitāb al-masāʾil) by the late third/ninth-century astrologer Abū Yūsuf Ya‘qūb ibn ‘Alī al-Qarshī al-Qaṣrānī. The text is a multi-volume treatise on ‘interrogations’, an astrological practice in which a question is answered by means of a horoscope cast for the time and place the interrogator poses the question. Since this practice was commonly used to predict the political fortunes of newly enthroned monarchs, and al-Qaṣrānī’s Book of Interrogations contains many historical examples of such royal horoscopes, it is not difficult to see why the book would have appealed to Asandamur al-Nāṣirī as he assumed authority over the sultanate.

Colophon of vol. 1 of Asandamur al-Nāṣirī’s copy of the Book of Interrogations
Colophon of vol. 1 of Asandamur al-Nāṣirī’s copy of the Book of Interrogations, dated first 10 days of Shawwāl 768/late May-early June 1367: ‘The Book of Interrogations is finished with the praise and help of God in the first tenth of Shawwāl 768. May the prayer of God be upon our lord Muḥammad, seal of the prophets and apostles, and upon his family and all his companions. God suffices for us – truly He is the perfect authority’ (تم كتاب المسائل بحمد الله وعونه | في العشر الأول من شوال سنة ثمان وستين وسبعمائة | وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد خاتم النبيين والمرسلين وعلى آله وصحبه أجمعين | وحسبنا الله ونعم الوكيل). At either side of the top line of the colophon, another hand has written the following: ‘The first part of … is finished. It is followed by Chapter Seven: Concerning the Matter of Two Adversaries’ (Right: تم الجزء الأول من; Left: يتلوه الباب السابع في أمر الخصمين) (British Library Delhi Arabic 1916 vol 1, f. 193v)
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Asandamur al-Nāṣirī’s copy of the Book of Interrogations  was completed during the first 10 days of Shawwāl 768/late May-early June 1367, just as he was defeating the Sultan’s forces to achieve total dominance over the Mamlūk sphere. We do not know if Asandamur al-Nāṣirī or, more likely, an astrologer under his patronage actually used the techniques taught in the Book of Interrogations to foretell what would become of the new master of Egypt and Syria. Despite any astrological support he may have received, Asandamur al-Nāṣirī’s regency was short-lived, and in Ṣafar 769/October 1367 his troops suffered a catastrophic defeat by those of the Sultan. Asandamur al-Nāṣirī fled to Alexandria, where he met his end shortly after in obscure circumstances.

Bink Hallum, Arabic Scientific Manuscripts Curator, British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership
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Thanks to Prof. Jo Steenbergen (University of Ghent) and Dr Noah D. Gardiner (University of South Carolina) for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this blog post.

Further reading
Bauden, Frédéric, ‘The Sons of al-Nāṣir Muḥammad and the Politics of Puppets: Where Did It All Start?’, Mamlūk Studies Review 13.1 (2009), pp. 53–81.
Flemming, Barbara, ‘Literary Activities in Mamlūk Halls and Barracks’, in Barbara Flemming, Essays on Turkish Literature and History (Leiden: Brill, 2018), pp. 105-16.
Franssen, EÏlise, ‘What was there in a Mamlūk Amīr’s Library? Evidence from a Fifteenth-century Manuscript’, in Developing Perspectives in Mamlūk History. Essays in Honor of Amalia Levanoni , ed. by Yuval Ben-Bassat (Leiden: Brill, 2017), pp. 311-32.
Mazor, Amir, ‘The Topos of Predicting the Future in Early Mamlūk Historiography’, in Mamlūk Historiography Revisited – Narratological Perspectives, ed. by Stephan Conermann (Göttingen: Bonn University Press, 2018), pp. 103-19.
Pingree, David, ‘Political Horoscopes from the Reign of Zeno’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 30 (1976) pp. 133 and 135-50.
Van Steenbergen, Jo, ‘“Is Anyone My Guardian…?” Mamlūk Under-age Rule and the Later Qalāwūnids’, Al-Masāq 19.1 (2007), 55-65.
———, ‘The Amir Yalbughā al-Khāṣṣakī, the Qalāwūnid Sultanate, and the Cultural Matrix of Mamlūk Society: A Reassessment of Mamlūk Politics in the 1360s’, Journal of the American Oriental Society 131.3 (2011), 423-43.

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

25 July 2019

Countdown: Biruni-Galileo-Apollo, British Library astronomy manuscripts in new visual forms

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The Iranian-American artist Pantea Karimi’s recent solo exhibition Countdown: Biruni-Galileo-Apollo at the Mercury 20 Gallery in Oakland, California, USA, was inspired by a study of several of the British Library’s scientific manuscripts which she reviewed during an extended visit in 2018. In this guest blog she speaks about this process and her work.

Two ancient manuscripts in the British Library drew my special attention and formed the foundation for my exhibition: the 17th century Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo’s De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris (Add MS 22786) and the 11th century Persian astronomer Biruni’s Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm (Or. 8349). My multimedia works in the exhibition explore an ancient and enduring fascination with the moon in science, culture and language, while simultaneously celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Lunar Mission.

Pages from Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm by al-Bīrūnī. British Library, Or. 8349, (from left to right) ff. 93r, 72v and 31v
Pages from Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm by al-Bīrūnī. British Library, Or. 8349, (from left to right) ff. 93r, 72v and 31v Noc

Pages from De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris by Galileo. British Library, Add MS 22786, (left and right) details from p. 63-64, (centre) p. 46
Pages from De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris by Galileo. British Library, Add MS 22786, (left and right) details from p. 63-64, (centre) p. 46   Noc

My completed works are large scale digital illustrations combining the abstract lunar diagrams with images of the Moon taken on my cell phone from a hill in California, as well as archival images from the Apollo 11 Lunar Mission in 1969. They are printed on fabric, and titled Moongraph, 01, 02, and 03. Other similarly inspired diagrams and images of the surface of the Moon have been combined with verses of Persian poetry and printed on circular pieces of metal in various sizes. They are presented in an installation on a grey geometric background that references the Moon and its phases. I believe that illustrating abstract ideas, as was done in these early diagrams, indicates how they were used as an important tool to visualize early science and pass down these ideas to later generations.

My exposure to these manuscripts from the early pioneers of astronomy has allowed my artistic interpretation of the science of astronomy. However, it was Persian poetry and its playful use of metaphor that first sparked my imagination and interest in the moon. As a child I was an avid reader of science fiction, especially Jules Verne novels translated into Persian.

The exhibition in many ways revisits my childhood obsession with the moon: from my compositions and illustrations, to the use of medieval Persian poetry that presents the moon metaphorically and symbolically. Verses by poets Attar Nishapuri, Nezami Ganjavi, and poet-scientist Omar Khayyam are included.

Pages from De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris and Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm showcase the phases of the Moon. The abstract version of the diagrams is by Pantea Karimi, 2019
Pages from De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris and Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm showcase the phases of the Moon. The abstract version of the diagrams is by Pantea Karimi, 2019

Moongraph 01, 02, and 03, 2019, digital archival prints on fabric, 6 x 3.42 feet
Moongraph 01, 02, and 03, 2019, digital archival prints on fabric, 6 x 3.42 feet

Installation view at Mercury 20 Gallery, Oakland, CA, USA
Installation view at Mercury 20 Gallery, Oakland, CA, USA

TThe Infinite Moon, 2019, digital archival prints on metal, detail
The Infinite Moon, 2019, digital archival prints on metal, detail

From the Earth to the Moon, 2019, dome mirror, metal disks, cylindrical pipe, screws, the moon transparency and light. After the 1865 novel by Jules Verne.
From the Earth to the Moon, 2019, dome mirror, metal disks, cylindrical pipe, screws, the moon transparency and light. After the 1865 novel by Jules Verne.

Pantea Karimi’s work as a multi-disciplinary artist centers around visual representations and textual contents in medieval Persian and Arab and early modern European scientific manuscripts in five categories: mathematics, medicinal botany, anatomy, optics/astronomy and cartography. This recent research project has further broadened her interest in the long-term exchange of knowledge across these cultures. She specifically examines how illustrations in ancient scientific manuscripts played a role in communicating knowledge, and how the broader aesthetic considerations of science were closely linked to art. Her work collectively highlights the significance of visual elements in early science and invites the viewer to observe science and its history through the process of image-making. Karimi works with interactive installations, virtual reality, silkscreen and digital prints on various substrates. She moved from Iran to the UK to study and has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2005.

Countdown: Biruni-Galileo-Apollo will be exhibited in the Fall of 2019 at the Euphrat Museum of Art in De Anza College in Cupertino, California, USA.

Pantea Karimi Ccownwork

Pantea Karimi wishes to thank the British Library and staff for the opportunity to view and study the scientific manuscripts in their care.

For more information visit: www.panteakarimi.com
@panteakarimiart
@Karimipantea

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.

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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).
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
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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.

3
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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6 7
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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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
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[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'.

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(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
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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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)
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