Archive for the 'Arabic Christian Literature' Category

Arabic sources for Mohammed – from 1854

Brockelmann’s History of Arabic literature does list English translations known in 1940.  One of these was by Alfred von Kramer, from 1854, and was a translation of al-Wakidi’s biography of Mohammed.  It was published in British India at Calcutta as the History of Muhammad’s Campaigns by Aboo Abd Ollah Mohammad bin Omar al Wakidy, by the Baptist Mission Press. 

Copies are uncommon.  I was wondering how on earth I would get hold of one, when I luckily stumbled across a copy on Google books here.  Some of the introductory remarks seemed well worth bringing into the light.  From p.2:

Three works on the biography of Mohammad, from which the whole stock of information regarding the establishment and development of the Islam may be derived, have come down to our days, and are existing in different libraries.

I. The first is Ibn Hishâm’s biography of Mohammad known commonly by the title of “Syrat-Ibn-Hishâm.” Its author died A. H. 213 (A. D. 828) or according to others A. H. 218 (A. D. 833) and his work is an extract from the chronicle of Ibn Ishâk who died about A. H. 151 (A. D. 768). Thus, through Ibn Hishâm’s médium, we get access to Ibn Ishâk’s work, though in some instances Ibn Hishâm seems to have made some pious alterations tending to cover up many of the prophet’s weaknesses and deficiencies *. A complete copy of Ibn Hishâm’s work is in the imperial library at Paris. An abridgment of Ibn Hishâm’s book was made at Damascus A. H. 707 (A. D. 1307,) by Ahmad Ibn Ibrahym, Ibn Abd-ar-Rahman-al-Wâsity, of which a copy is preserved in the Asiatic Society’s Library at Calcutta.

II. The second work is Mohammad Ibn Sa’d’s work, commonly called Tabakât or annals. Some volumes of “the Tabakât are in the ducal library of Gotha;” Mr. Wüstenfeld has given a notice of their contents in the fourth and seventh volumes of the Journal of the German Asiatic Society. Another volume of the Tabakât containing the biography of Mohammad is in Dr. Sprenger’s hands, whose indefatigable researches were recompensed by the discovery of this volume in a library belonging to Mozaffar Khân at Cawnpoor, and who has recently discovered some other volumes in Damascus.

* Consult on this question the excellent dissertation on “the original sources for the biography of Mohammad” inserted in the Calcutta Review No. XXXVII. for March, 1853.

Ibn Sa’d, who was Wâkidy’s secretary, acquired great knowledge of historical and traditional matters from his master, after whose death he condensed in his “Tabakât-al-Kabyr,” a work consisting of fifteen volumes, the results of Wâkidy’s historical researches, which were scattered through this author’s numerous works. Such at least is Ibn Khillikân’s opinion, and it seems that Ibn Sa’d, without much trouble of his own, gathered the fruits of his master’s untiring studies.

III. The third standard-work is Tabary’s history. Aboo Ja’far Ibn Jaryr-al-Tabary was born A, H. 224 (A. D. 838-9) at Amool in Tabaristân and died at Baghdad A. H. 310 (A. D, 923). He was considered by his contemporaries, as the greatest authority in historical and traditional matters. His great work on the history of the Islam, some volumes of which exist in several libraries, seems to justify the high consideration in which he is held by all subsequent Arabic historians. His work is written with great conscientiousness, he always indicates the names of the persons, on whose testimony a fact is narrated, and a cursory perusal of his book will convince every reader, that Tabary wrote with the sincere intention of composing a true and impartial history.

Though these three chief works reflect, however troubled this mirror’s surface may be, the great outlines of the early history of the Islam, yet they are far from enabling us to get a clear view and to form a just idea of those remote ages. Not one of these authors ever thought of submitting to a critical inquiry the authenticity of the traditions, which had been collected by his predecessors, not one of them dared to question the veracity of the most extravagant stories told about their prophet’s miracles, and Ibn Hishâm, as has been observed already, did not hesitate to commit some pious alterations in Ibn Ishâk’s text tending to cover some of Mohammad’s errors.* Ibn Sa’d, whose works are mere extracts from the writings of his master, must be considered as a second-hand writer, and probably would lose every authority, if his master’s works had not perished.

* Consult on Ibn Hishâm Dr. Sprenger’s Life of Mohammad, p. 70.

Tabary is doubtless a scholar superior in knowledge and trust, worthiness to both Ibn Hishâm and Ibn Sa’d, but unfortunately he lived at an epoch too remote from the foundation of the Islam. At his time the fertile imagination of the Arabs had veiled the origin of their religion and their prophet’s rising in such a cloud of poetical legends, that it was utterly impossible for any Mohammadan writer to discern the true from the false.

These remarks are sufficient to show how desirable it is for the historian to get access to the works of Wâkidy who being coeval with Ibn Ishâk, whose works have been lost, and anterior to Ibn Hishâm, and Ibn Sa’d, who were mere compilers, certainly deserves the title of “Father of Arabic history.”

Aboo Abd Allah Mohammad Ibn O’mar Ibn Wâkid-al-Wâkidy was born at Madynah A. H. 130 (777) ; he was a manumitted of the Banoo Hâshim and professed the Shy’ah doctrines, From Madynah he migrated to Baghdad, where at first he obtained the post of Kadhy in the eastern suburb, afterwards the Kalyfe Mamoon conferred upon him the same dignity in O’skaral-Mahdy another suburb of Baghdad, which at Ibn Khillikân’s time was commonly called Rossâfah. Mamoon held him in the greatest esteem. At his death he left a library of six hundred chests full of books, which were sold for two thousand dynârs. Wâkidy always kept two slaves, who were continually busy in copying manuscripts for his library. He is author of thirty-two works ; it suffices to indicate here only those, which appear to be the most important.* (1) The campaigns of Mohammad (Kitâb al-Maghazy). (2) The history of the apostates, having for its subject the history of those, who after the death of Mohammad, apostatized from the Islam and relapsed into idolatry. (3) History of the wars of Mohammad’s companions against Tobayhat Ibn Khowaylid-al-Azdy, Aswad-al-A’nsy and Mosaylamat-al Kaddâb. (4) History of Makkah. (5) History of the Conquest of Syria. (6) History of the Conquest of I’râk. (7) On the battle of the Camel. (8) On the battle of Siffyn. (9) On the battles of the Banoo Aws and Khazraj. (10) On the death of Mohammad. (11) Biography of Aboo-Bakr.* This séries of works is quite sufficient to prove the high literary character of our author. Wâkidy died at the age of seventy-seven years in Baghdad.

* See Hammer-Purgstall’s Literaturgeschichte III. p. 403.

It is the first named work of this eminent scholar which is contained in this volume: viz. the Kitab-al-Maghâzy, or History of the military campaigns of the prophet.

The original manuscript was discovered by the editor at Damascus in 1851, and as no other copy of this work is known to exist in any library, it is presumed to be the only one of Wâkidy’s works, which has escaped the all-destroying tooth of time.

That is quite a nice English-language summary.  After struggling with Brockelmann, it is pleasant to see something outlined so clearly!  Brockelmann states, however, that this translation is only partial.

An unpublished English translation of Abd al-Latif?

It’s always worth doing a Google trawl.  You never know what you may find.

This evening I was idly looking to see what I could find in English by Galen.  I kept hitting “next page”.  Much of it was dross.  But then… I struck gold.

I found myself looking at a page at the British National Archives.  It turned out to be a catalogue of papers held at the Royal College of Physicians in London, once belonging to a certain Dr Greenhill.  Greenhill, whoever he was, was interested in Galen and in the Arabic material about him.

There are translations of extracts from the great biographical dictionary of medical writers by Ibn Abi Usaibia.  These are probably good themselves, tho brief.

But then I stumbled across this:

Translation of Account of Egypt by Abd Al Latíf Ibn Yúsuf  MS-GREEW/264/153  n.d

These documents are held at Royal College of Physicians of London

In two Folders; 1st Folder 120pp; 2nd Folder pp. 131 – 140; Unbound

Now as far as I know there is no published English translation of this work, although of course I am no Arabist and I might be quite mistaken.  But here is 140 pages of translation in manuscript!  This, surely, needs to be copied and placed online?

I’ve enquired about the possibilities here.

But I also see various standard works in German on the subject, bound interleaved with blank paper on which the good doctor has written notes.  These too might be very interesting!

Mind you, a thought has struck me.  Given the notorious badness of the handwriting of members of the medical profession, will we be able to read any of what he wrote?

Extracts from Brockelmann’s “History of Arabic literature” – 1

For the last week or so, I’ve been reading sections of vol. 1 of the 2nd edition of Carl Brockelmann’s History of Arabic Literature.  I’m starting to get some idea of what exists, which is the object.  I thought that it might be useful to give some extracts in English here.  Let’s look at some material from the introduction, starting on p.2.  I’ve added links to the books where I could find them online, but if you can find more of them, do let me know!

II. Sources and earlier manuals on the history of Arabic literature.

The most important sources for biography and bibliography for the whole subject, leaving to one side monographs on particular subjects that will be given in their place, are the following:

1. Biographical works.

b. Ḫall. = Ibn Ḫallikān (S. 326), Wafayāt al-A`yān, Būlāq 1299 1) Vitae illustrium virorum, ed. F. Wüstenfeld, Gottingae 1835-40. [vol.1, vol. 15 - there are other vols online] Ibn Khallikans biographical Dictionary translated from the Arabic, by Mac Guckin de Slane, 4 vols. Paris-London 1843—71. [vol.1, vol.2, vol.3, vol.4 I could not find]

Fawāt = M. b. Šākir al-Kutubī (II, 48), Fawāt al-wafayāt, 2 vols. Būlāq 1299.

2. Bibliographical works.

Fihr. = Kitāb al-Fihrist, ed. by G. Flügel, after his death continued by J. Rödiger and A. Müller, 2 vols. Leipzig 1871/2. [I couldn't find this online]

HḪ = Lexicon bibliographicum et encyclopaedicum a Mustapha ben Abdallah Katib Jelebi dicto et nomine Haji Khalfa celebrato compositum, ed. latine vertit et commentario indicibusque instruxit G. Flügel, Leipzig-London 1835-58, 7 vols.  [I could not find vols 1 or 2, vols.3-4, vol. 4, vols.5-6, vol. 6]  Kesf el-Zunun, Birinci Cilt, Katib Celebi elde mevcut yazma ve basma nüshalari ve zeyilleri gözden gecirilerek, müellifin elyazisiyle olan nüshaya göre fazlalari cikarilmak, eksikleri tamamlanmak suretiyle Maarif Vekilligin karari üzerine Istanbul Üniversitesinde Ord. Prof. Serefettin Yaltkaya ile Lektor Kilisli Rifat Bilge tarafindan hazirlanmistir, Maarif Matbaasi 1941.

This is followed by others, of no obvious special use, and then a list of catalogues of manuscripts.  There is a footnote on Ibn Khallikan:

1. As this volume will be cited mainly using the numerals of the Lives, here is a short concordance with that of Wüstenfeld: W. 1-75 = K. 1-75.  Missing in K. are: W. 76, 78, 133, 147, 149, 150, 154, 186-199, 201, 202 (= Fawat I, 145), 213, 214 (= Fawat I, 149), 217, 277, 278 (= Fawat I, 171), 288, 291, 292, 293, 294, 303, 317, 318, 337-347, 364, 380, 381, 528, generally only a single line, occasionally with date of death.  On the other hand 297 K. is missing in W.; 357 was skipped by W. in the count of numbers; 405 W. gives as an appendix to 404 = 367 K. and not separately ennumerated. In the following Lives K. is more detailed than W.: 220 K. = 233 W.; 223 K. = 236 W.; 230 K = 243 233 K. = 246 W.; 248 K. = 261 W.; in the other direction only 242 W. is more detailed than 229 K. On the other hand 181 K. = 186 W.   Because W. reverses the sequence Ha’-Wäw in K., note the following: W. 778-90 = K. 745-57 and W. 791-96 = K. 739-44.

Not that “Wüstenfeld” has been mentioned yet — sloppy editing, this — but fortunately for me I started at the histories, and this was defined at the top of the section, in the middle of p.140, which gave these general sources:

F. Wüstenfeld, Die Geschichtschreiber der Araber und ihre Werke, Abh. d. Kgl. Ges. d. Wiss. zu Göttingen, vols. 28 and 29, 1882/3, (cited as “Wüst.”).

E. Sachau, Studien zur ältesten Geschichtsüberlieferung der Araber, MSOS VII Westas. St. 154/96.  [I could not find this online by title, although it dates to 1905][PS. it's here]

A curiosity appears on p.6, after a long list of catalogues of Arabic manuscripts:

2.  The first attempt to present a complete history of Arabic literature was made by J. Hammer-Purgstall.1)  The shortcomings of this book are so familiar that we may simply ignore it in what follows.  The same is true of Arbuthnot’s work.2)  The short sketch by A. von Kremer 3), however, is masterful and we acknowledge our debt to it.

1. Literaturgeschichte der Araber, von ihrem Beginne bis zu Ende des zwölften Jahrhunderts der Hidschret, 7 vols, Wien 1850-56.  [At Google books: vol.1, vol.2, vol.3, vol.4, vol. 5, vol.6, vol.7]
2. Arabic authors, a Manual of Arabian History and Literature, London, 1890.
3. Kulturgeschichte des Orients unter den Chalifen, vol. II, Wien 1877, p. 341-484.

That’s enough of this highly condensed information for now, I think. All these reference works were very, very rare.  How delighted and excited Dr Brockelmann would have been, to see links to them accessible at the touch of a key!

Working with Brockelmann’s history of Arabic literature

Yesterday I started to compile a list of the passages in Galen where he mentions the Christians.  I believe that there are six.  Unfortunately Walzer’s book Galen on Jews and Christians has not arrived, so I had to make do with whatever PDF’s I had. 

Two of the fragments come from Arabic authors of the middle ages.  I had a couple of PDF’s by Sprengling in which he analysed these.  I noticed that he attributed one of them to Agapius, and that other Islamic historians copied him.  But the Patrologia Orientalis edition and translation has no material about Galen! So I suspect that it is the other way around.  For the CSCO edition of Agapius uses material from al-Makin, writing 3 centuries later, on the basis that al-Makin quotes Agapius extensively.  So, far from being present in Agapius and copied by later writers, probably it is present in al-Makin, and al-Makin borrowed the Galen material from Islamic writers!  But that’s a detail.

However it pointed out to me, what has been apparent for some time, that I need to have an overview of the historians and translators of the Islamic period.  

So last night I picked up a pencil and my copy of Brockelmann’s Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur (2nd ed., vol 1 of 2, 1943) and took it to bed with me.  I started looking at the section on the Islamic historians of the post-classical period, and scribbling notes in the margin.

Today I continued by doing the same for the classical period (ca. 750-1000 AD).

It’s a weird book, it really is.  I can only explain its baffling structure by presuming that much of it was composed in an air-raid shelter by people who hadn’t slept properly for six months.

Firstly, and most damningly, it isn’t complete.  I’ve only got volume 1 of the 2nd edition, which covers history up to ca. 1500.  This has numbers in the margin, which look to me like the page numbers of the first edition.

Why on earth would you need these, we might ask?  The answer lies in the text, where, for many writers, there is only a short entry and then “See Suppl. I”.  Or else there is a longish entry, but the list of works by that author consists of numbers 1, 5 and 6; and there is a note “2-4 see Suppl.”.

Brockelmann published his first edition in two volumes ca. 1900.  In the late 30′s he published two volumes of supplements to the first edition, keyed to the page numbers of the first edition.  He published the second edition in 1943.

You or I would imagine that the second edition consisted of the first edition plus the supplements plus some revisions.  But in fact it seems to be just new material, plus some framework words.  So to find all the information on a writer, you need to look in the 2nd ed., then in the supplement volume, and possibly in the first edition also since it is the page numbers of the first edition that are used in the supplement.

This … is appalling.  I can’t understand quite why Brill allowed a book to go out like this, and have left it in this state for 70 years.  If I’d paid $1,000 for the 2nd edition, instead of producing a bound photocopy for my own use, I’d be pretty cross right now.  Fortunately the first edition is on Archive.org, and the supplements can be found on a site in India.  But I may still need to produce paper versions of these, as I can’t read these kinds of books on-screen.

Nor is this the only problem.  Someone new to the subject will find all the names rather unfamiliar.  The average writer is given as the equivalent of “John son of Bill son of Harry son of John who lived in the Camden Town and was often known as Mad John”.  When you see something of that length, you know, beyond doubt, that no-one repeats all that lot to refer to him.  But in Brockelmann you have to scan the highly abbreviated notes beneath to work out that scholars call that author “the one from Camden Town” in the literature.  Brockelmann does not feel that he needs to indicate this.  I’ve ended up underlining parts of the names so I can tell that (e.g.) this long list of Arabic names is actually “al Tabari” or “al Mahsudi”.

The sins of the author are visited on the reader, and Brockelmann committed many more sins than these. 

Here’s another.  All those names are unfamiliar to the newcomer.  So what he did was abbreviate them, to make them even less recognisable.  Why say “ibn” when you can say “b.”?  Why say “Ali” when you can say “A.”?  Of course, if you are unfamiliar, this means that you can’t even read the name!  And he doesn’t trouble to give a proper decryption key either.  This is unforgiveable, really it is.  We can only be grateful that he didn’t encode the names in Arabic characters as well. But he does his best to be difficult, using a strange version of “h” where normal people write “kh”.

What I take from this is that there  is an urgent need for a new History of Arabic Literature.  It should have the same scope as Brockelmann, but be properly organised, and in English.  The actual entries in Brockelmann are much too brief anyway, and I have no doubt that 70 years has brought many more editions and translations.

If I were an academic working in this area, I would do it.  It would make my name live for a century.  If so bad a book as Brockelmann’s GAL is still the standard reference work, it should be trivial to surpass it.  It could be done in a year or two.

Nor is it necessary to translate Brockelmann, nor desirable to do so.  Retain his structure, yes; and give a marginal reference to his pages.  But it will be far easier to simply write your own text, rather than fight to understand his cryptic notes.

I’d do it myself, except that I have to write software for mobile phone companies and the like in order to pay the electricity bill and so I don’t have the time.  But … come on, chaps.  This is a simple exercise that we could all do.

Meanwhile, I think I shall look at getting a print-off from Suppl. vol. 1!

UPDATE: I’m just looking at the PDF of the supplement, and, in this, he places the important bit of the name in italics!  So he was clearly aware of the issue also.  Again it shows that you can’t even read the GAL pages by themselves.

Table of contents of Brockelmann’s history of Arabic literature

I’ve been looking at the 1898 edition, and the contents gives an idea of the subject all by itself.  Here is the opening portion:

Introduction 1

Book 1. The Arab national literature.

Section 1.  From the beginnings to the emergence of Muhammad.

1.  The Arabic language. . 11
2.  The beginnings of poetry 12
3.  The forms of Arabic poetry 13
4.  General characteristics of early Arabic poetry. 14
5.  The tradition of ancient Arabic poetry. … 16
6.  Sources of our knowledge of ancient Arabic poetry. 17
7.  The six poets 22
8.  Other poets of the heathen days 24
9.  Jewish and Christian poets before Islam. . 28
10.  The beginnings of Arabic prose 31

Section 2.  Muhammed and his times.

1.  Muhammed the Prophet 32
2.  The Koran 33
3.  Lebid and al A`Sa  36
4.  Hassan b. Tabit 37
5.  Ka`b b. Zuhair. . 38
6.  Mutammim b. Nuwaira 39
7.  Al Hansa’  40
8.  Abu Mihgan and al Hutai’a 40
9.  Lesser poets   41
10.  Two forgeries  43

Section 3.  The Umayyad era.

1.  General Characteristics 44
2.  `Omar b. abi Rabi `a 45
3.  Other poets in Arabia 47
4.  Al Ahtal 49
5.  Al Ferazdaq 53
6.  Gerir 56
7.  Du’r Rumma 58
8.  The Regez poets. . 59
9.  Lesser poet, 60
10.  Prose literature in the age of the Umayyads. . 64

Book 2.  Islamic literature in Arabic.

Section 1. The classical period from ca. 750 to ca. 1000

Introduction 71
1.  Poetry 72

A. The Poets of Baghdad 73
B. Poets in Iraq and the Gezira. . 83
C. Poets in Arabia and Syria. 83
D. The circle of Saifeddaula. 86
E.  Egyptian poets. 91

2.  Prose 92
3.  Philology 96

3.1.  The school of Basra. . 98
3.2.  The school of Kufa, 114
3.3.  The School of Baghdad. 120
3.4.  Linguistics in Persia and the eastern countries 127
3.5.  Linguistic studies in Egypt and Spain   131

4.  History 133

4.1.  The history of Muhammed   134
4.2.  Town histories 137
4.3.  History of Arabian antiquity 138
4.4.  Political and World History 140
4.5.  Cultural and Literary History 146
4.6.  History of Egypt and North Africa 148
4.7.  History of Spain. 149

5.  Prose commentaries 151
6.  The hadith 156
7.  Al Fiqh 168

7.1.  The Hanafites 169
7.2.  The Malikites 175
7.3.  The Shaf `ites 178
7.4.  The lesser schools 181
7.5.  The Shi `a 184

8.  Koran studies 188

8.1.  The copying of the Koran  188
8.2.  The interpretation of the Koran   190

9.  Dogmatics 192
10.  Mysticism. 197
11.  Translations 201
12.  Philosophy 208
13.  Mathematics 215
14.  Astronomy and astrology 220
15.  Geography 225
16.  Medicine 230
17.  Natural sciences and the occult ……. 240
18.  Encyclopadias 244

Section 2. The post-classical period of Islamic literature from approximately 400 (1010) to approximately 656 (1258). …

Isn’t it interesting to see the large part played by poetry?

From my diary

I have volume 1 of Brockelmann’s Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur (2nd ed. 1941) on order via my library.  But a correspondent sent me an interesting word document yesterday.  He’d downloaded volume 1 of the 1898 first edition, run it through some OCR, and then run the output through Google Translate.  The .doc file contained the result, which was really rather interesting, and by no means useless.

Last night I also downloaded the PDF, and I ran Finereader 10 against it during the night.  The results were not too bad, although I gather that quotations may not be handled that well.  The PDF resolution is not that great, unfortunately.  Footnotes tended to be handled rather badly.  I started correcting the OCR of the main text, but had to go away unexpectedly, which prevented further progress.  But I will do more next week, if Adam’s curse permits.

While I was hunting for PDF’s of Brockelmann, I found another interesting item, Nicholson’s 1907 book, A literary history of the Arabs.  This looked interesting enough that I ordered a version on paper from Amazon.  We have to ignore the early chapters, dedicated to pre-islamic material — at least, that isn’t what I want to read about — but it gets quite interesting from the Ummayad period on.  Something I can scribble on is what I need.

I’m still cursing Brill for the price they place on Brockelmann’s second edition.  A thousand dollars, for heaven’s sake, for a thousand page paperback!?! 

Let’s see what kind of a grasp of Arabic literature I can get.

Searching for Ibn Abi Useibia’s work on medical writers

Using the form of the name “Ibn-e-Abi Useibia”, I was able to find a bunch of matches for “ibn abi usaybiah” in Worldcat.  We’re looking, of course, for his ʻUyūn al-anbāʼ fī ṭabaqāt al-ʼaṭibbāʼ.  It has things to say about Hippocrates and Galen, and also about Hunain ibn Ishaq.

There are several publications listed in Worldcat.  The catalogues indicate that he lived between 1203-1270.

First, there is “Abdollatiphi bagdadensis vita”, 1808, Oxford, ed. J. Mousley, here.  This is a Life of `Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi, by our man.  The latter also wrote, I find, a Historiae Aegyptiae Compendium, which I think we came across when looking at Bar Hebraeus and exists in Latin in the same sorts of places.

There is a German publication Geschichte der Aertze, published “Königsberg : Selbstverlag, 1884″ — is that “self-published?” — by  August Muller, who turned up yesterday as the editor of the Arabic text in Cairo in 1882.  This sounds very like a translation; but the record says “principally in Arabic”.  There are no UK locations for it, nor US, nor even German!  The latter, I think, probably reflects a lack of upload from German libraries, rather than lack of holdings.  There is a copy in Paris, tho.

There also seems to be a 1995 publication at Frankfurt-am-Main, in two volumes — I would guess this is a reprint of the 1882 edition.

The 1882 edition exists in the British Library — so useless to us — and in three US libraries, including California and Chicago  universities.

There is a curious publication Oyūn-al-anbā fi tabaqat-al-attebba, Ahmad ibn al-Qasim Ibn Abi Usaybi`ah; trad. et commenté par Seyed Dja’far Ghazban et Mahmoud Nadjmabadi, Publisher: Tehran : Imprimerie Organization de l’Universite de Tehran, 1970-.  Language is French.  The only copy seems to be in “Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen” in the Netherlands.

But then … I find a mysterious item, with no copies held.  “English translations of History of Physicians (4 v.), and The Book of Medicine of Asaph the Physician (2 v.). 1971.”  What can this be?  A web search quickly turns up a source — in manuscript! — here.  It’s MS C 294, a manuscript at the US National Library of Medicine!  There’s no indication of any further information.

It is a pity that WorldCat is so slow.  But it has given several leads to the material we want.

I shall now compose an email enquiring about that manuscript!

UPDATE (5th August 2011): I was able to get PDF’s of the Muller publication, which is entirely in Arabic.  No response ever appeared on the US item.

Ibn Abi Useibia and his history of medical writers

R. Haddad wrote an interesting article Hunayn ibn Ishaq, apologiste chrétien (1974), which I was reading this evening, thanks to the kind gift of a bunch of articles over the weekend.  

On p.293-4 he gives details of the appalling treatment of the great translator by the Caliph al-Mamun, which apparently come from a History of medical writers by a certain Ibn Abi Useibia.  The Arabic text was published in Cairo in 1882 by A. Müller.  I won’t attempt to give the Arabic title, but Muller, Cairo, 1882 was enough for me to find the book in COPAC.  This contains, on p.190-197, a long extract from On his own misfortunes.  

I can’t find any sign of an English translation of Useibia’s work.  The nearest I can come is an extract from it, from 1834, by William Cureton, on physicians from India.  It’s here.  I don’t know how we could get access to the Arabic text; and what other version exists? 

Here is what Haddad says: 

When he returned to Baghdad after a long period in the country of the Rums, Hunayn ibn Ishaq quickly became famous.  Al-Mamun, learning of his ability as a doctor, wanted to make use of him.  But, afraid, in case Ibn Ishaq had been bribed by the Byzantine emperor to kill him, he decided to put him to the test.  After giving him many gifts, he asked him to supply a violent poison, good enough to kill an enemy.  Hunayn put him off by saying that he only concerned himself with useful medicaments, to the exclusion of lethal poisons.  Threats having no effect, the Caliph threw him in prison.  A year later, he was brought out and the demand repeated with strong threats and promises.  But faced with the obstinate refusal of Hunayn, al-Mamun then revealed what he was really thinking, and reassured him, and then he asked to know what were the reasons for such behaviour.  Hunayn replied: 

“Religion and medicine.  Religion, in fact, commands us to do good to our enemies, still more to our friends.  And medicine forbids us to do harm to men… That is why I could not disobey these two noble obligations, and am resigned to die, believing in the God who will not abandon anyone who risks his life to obey him.” 

The words quoted are from Ibn Abi Useibia’s work, apparently, pp.187-8 of the Cairo edition. 

Arabic literature is so unknown in the west.  I’m interested; yet the only guide I can hear of is Brockelmann’s Geschichte der arabischen Literatur, which is multi-volume and, worse, in German.  Why isn’t there an English translation?  Why aren’t all these texts online in English? 

UPDATE: It seems that something does exist in English, in Dwight F. Reynolds, Interpreting the self: autobiography in the Arabic literary tradition.  2001, p.107-118.  This covers the episode when he was entangled by his enemies in a palace intrigue under the Caliph Mutawakkil, and once again ended up in prison. 

Books by the Coptic Pope Shenouda III at Google Books

I accidentally stumbled on a mass of English translations of works by the current Coptic Pope, Shenouda III, at Google books.  This search brings up a long list.  Some have preview; some are full view, and can be downloaded in PDF form.

The first one I saw was a hagiography of St. Mark, here.  The work is a modern composition in the traditional style, and references are on p.143 to sources like Eusebius HE, Jerome’s De viris illustribus, Severus ibn al-Mukaffa’s History of the Patriarchs, and other interesting-looking sources.

These books are an invaluable insight into modern Coptic church thinking.  It is very good to see them accessible.  For which of us could otherwise even know they existed?

The library at Meshed / Mashhad in Iran — unknown classical texts!

Let me direct you all to the comments on my earlier post about the discovery of some lost portions of Galen’s On my own books here.  The material is in Arabic translation, and found in a manuscript in Iran, at the library of Meshed.  I’d never heard of it!

A commenter has dug into the question and produced gold!  It seems that there are other unpublished texts there, including a mathematical commentary by Hypatia on Diophantus.  The library is now in a brand new building as well and has a website.

If you know Arabic and want to discover new classical texts, you need to visit Meshed / Mashhad.



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