The two recensions of al-Makin

There are quite a number of manuscripts of the history by the 13th century Coptic historian al-Makin ibn al-Amid.  I have listed these in a previous post here.  Martino Diez, in his important article on the subject[1] has obtained copies of three of the manuscripts.  This is no small feat in itself, as I can bear witness myself after attempting it. Indeed a look at the prices on the Bodleian website today was quite enough to dissuade me from trying to obtain a copy of any of their manuscripts!  I have commented before on the corruption involved in charging huge sums for reproductions of public-owned manuscripts.

Diez obtained somehow copies of the following:

  • Vatican ar. 168. (16th c.)
  • Bodleian ar. 683. (AD 1591) (=Pococke 312)
  • Paris ar. 4729 (19th c.)

He writes:

Investigation shows that the three manuscripts belong to two different recensions.  One, the shorter, is present in ms. Vat. ar. 168 and in Pococke 312, and the other, longer, preserved in ms. Paris BNF ar. 4729.  The exact relationship between the two recensions seems, on first sight, difficult to establish.

The existence of two families of witnesses was already highlighted by Gaston Wiet in a long note to the History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria.  The French researcher proposed to call the first family the vulgata and assigned to it most of the witnesses, notably Paris BNF ar. 4524, Vat ar. 168 and 169, Borg. ar. 232, and Pococke 312.  All the same, Wiet noted the existence of a second family, “completed and retouched using [the Annals of] Eutychius, such as ms. Paris ar. 4729.”  “This manuscript reveals that its copyist had literary, confessional and chronological concerns: the material of al-Makin is treated very freely.  But the modifications at bottom belonging to the Chronicle [of al-Makin] have not been invented by the copyist.  It is obvious that he worked with a copy of the Annals of Eutychius before him.”  For Wiet, therefore, the vulgata is the original work of Ibn al-Amid, while ms. Paris ar. 4729 (which we will refer to as the “expanded” recension) represents a later elaboration, contaminated from other sources, notably Eutychius, and not without literary ambitions.

In reality the relations between the two recensions are more complicated.  That they are both fundamentally the same work is clear, because of the existence of the same rubrics for people (166 in both recensions), but it is not always the expanded recension that completes the vulgata.  It is not uncommon for the reverse to be the case.  Taken together, the differences are not marginal, especially in certain sections such as the introduction, or the history of Alexander.  The key to understanding this is supplied by the author himself in his preface.  …

Here Diez gives a transcription of the incipit from all three manuscripts and portions of the preface; unfortunately without translation, so of course I cannot follow it.  Then:

The text clearly shows that the vulgata represents an abridgement (muhtasar) of the chronicle, made by the author himself.  He states, in fact, that, after completing a first version of his work, he came into possession of new sources (on the origin of the world, the shape of the world, on the patriarchs, on the kings of Persia) which enriched the treatment of certain periods.  However the work was already too long, and someone, “to whom it was not possible to say ‘no'” (“someone who sought to make his request accepted and to assist in the pursuit of his desire”) asked Ibn-al `Amid to make an abridgement which contained all the best known events.  And this is exactly what is called the vulgata of Ibn-al `Amid.

He then explores what the “expanded” edition is.  Is it indeed the original version, or a longer version, enriched with further information before being condensed?  He argues that it is the former; this is, indeed, the original version produced by al-Makin.  He notes that the titles and explicits of the copies indicate something – again this is not translated so I can’t say what that is! – and then details differences.  Diez does not seem to deal with the question of contamination from Eutychius, however.

If both versions are indeed by the author, any future edition and translation needs to include both.  But clearly there is more work to be done.

  1. [1]Martino Diez, “Les antiquites greco-romaines entre ibn al-`Amid et Ibn Khaldun. Notes pour une histoire de la tradition, in: Studia Graeco-Arabica 3 (2013), 121-140.  Online here.

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