Ibn Abi Usaibia – the GAL entry, and the manuscripts

I have finally managed to find some hard information on Ibn Abi Usaibia (translation here), the two editions of the text, and the manuscripts of both.  What follows may be hard going; but it is almost entirely hard data.

A google search turned up this site.  It gives, thankfully, the GAL reference for Ibn Abi Usaibia, which means that, at long last, I can find the entry.  Here is the reference on the website.

BROCKELMANN KARL (1868-1956), Geschichte der arabischen Literatur. Weimar, Berlin 1898 ; Leipzig, C. F. Amelang 1901 [vi-265 p., 23 cm]; Leyde, E. J. Brill 1943 [2e sup.] ; Leyde, E. J. Brill 1996 [augm. et préface de Just Witkam] (I) p. 325-326; (sup. I) p. 560.

I.e. p.325-6 of volume 1 of the 1st edition, plus p.560 of vol. 1 of the supplement.

Here are the corresponding pages (p.397-8) from vol. 1 of the 2nd edition (which has the page numbers of the 1st ed. in the margin):


And from the supplement:

 brockelmann2_suppl1b_560In the interests of googleability, here’s a transcription, with a few extra line breaks to make the detailed info more comprehensible.

10. Muwaffaqaddin a. ’l-`Abbās A. b. al-Q. b. a. Usaibi`a as-Sa`di al-Hazragi, geb. nach 590/1194 in Damaskus, wo sein Vater Augenarzt war, studierte Medizin in seiner Vaterstadt und am Nāsirischen Krankenhaus zu Kairo; besondere Anregung verdankte  er dem bekannten Arzt und Botaniker b. al-Baitār (S. 492). 631/1233 wurde er von Salāhaddin an einem neugegründeten Krankenhause zu Kairo angestellt, ging aber schon 632 an den Bimāristān an-Nuri zu Damaskus und 634 als Leibarzt des Emirs ‘Izzaddin Aidamur b. `Al. nach Safad. Dort starb er im Gum. I, 668/Jan. 1270.

Wüst. Gesch. 350, Leclerc II, 187/93. `Uyun al-anbā’ fi tabaqāt al-atibba’ (noch Patna II, 317,2469), in zwei Recensionen, einer v. J. 640/1242 und einer jüngeren mit manchen Zusätzen.

Hsg. v. A. Müller, Königsberg (Kairo) 1884.

Vgl. dens. ZDMG 34, 471, Travaux du VIe congr. intern, d. or. à Leide II, 218 ff., SBBA, phil.-hist. Cl. 1884, S. 857 ff.

and from the supplement:

10. Muwaffaqaddin a. ‘l-`Abbās A. b. al-Q. b. a. Usaibi`a (1) b. Halifa as-Sa`di al-Hazragi, geb. nach 590/1194 in Damaskus, wo er 632/1234 am Bimaristān an-Nuri angestellt wurde; 634 ging er als Leibarzt des Emirs `Izzaddin Aidamir b. `Al. nach Sarhad und starb dort im Gum, I, 668/Jan. 1270.

Nallino, `Ilm al-falah 64ff. K. `Uyun al-anba’ fi tabaqat al-atibba’, Hdss. noch Münch. 800/1, Wien 1164, Leid, 1062/4, Paris 2113/7, 5939, Nicholson JRAS 1899, 912, Fātih 4438, Top Kapu 2859/60, Sehid `A. P. 1923, Yeni 891/2, Köpr. 1104, Dämäd Ibr. 935, Kairo2 V, 275, Mosul 25,42, XIV, 26,78, Rampur, I, 642,176, Bank. XII, 786, Abkürzung Paris 2118.

S. noch Hamed Waly, Drei Kapp, aus der Ärztegeschichte des b. a. Us., med. Diss., Berlin 1911.

(1) So die Hds. Brit. Mus.

This is the origin of the “two recensions” story; there is one made in 1242 AD, and a “younger one, with some additions”.  The details may be found in Müller, Arabische Quellen zur Geschichte der indischen Medizin, in the ZDMG 34, starting on p.469 f., which may be found online here.  This also gives a list of manuscripts of the two recensions.

The JRAS (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society) article is online, and consists of a list of Arabic manuscripts owned by orientalist Reynold A. Nicholson.  The Ibn Abi Usaibia ms. was copied in Constantinople in 1136 A.H. (=1758 A.D.), and has the inscription, “E. Libris Theodori Preston Coll. S. S. Trin. Cant. Socii Damasci 1848”, and a note stating that Mr Preston purchased it in Damascus for 900 piastres.  I wonder where his manuscripts are now.

The supplement gives a further list of manuscripts — supplemental to that in the ZDMG article –, as does the webpage with which we started:

  • Ms. Cod. Arab. 800, Berlin, Staatsbibliothek preußischer Kulturbesitz
  • Ms. Cod. Arab. 801, Berlin, Staatsbibliothek preußischer Kulturbesitz
  • Ms. 715, Universitätsbibliothek, Leipzig
  • Ms. 4781, Dublin, Chester Beatty Library
  • Ms. Ar. 2113, Paris, Bibliothèque de France
  • Ms. Ar. 2114, Paris, Bibliothèque de France
  • Ms. Ar. 2115, Paris, Bibliothèque de France
  • Ms. Ar. 2117, Paris, Bibliothèque de France
  • Ms. Ar. 2118, Paris, Bibliothèque de France
  • Ms. 2859/1, Istanbul, Topkapi Saray
  • Ms. 2859/2, Istanbul, Topkapi Saray, daté 1334

So we’re getting some real, useful information at last here.  Curious that the GAL mentioned a British Museum manuscript in the footnote as the source of the author’s full name, but does not give the shelfmark for it!  It is, no doubt, British Library Add. 7340, an exemplar of the longer recension, mentioned in the ZDMG article.

The Muller edition of Ibn Abi Usaibia is only in my hands in a rather rubbish-looking reprint, which I suspect is incomplete.  I wish the original was online!


Islamic medical manuscripts now online at the Wellcome trust

A correspondent directs my attention to an announcement by the Wellcome Trust.

Arabic medicine was once the most advanced in the world, and now digital facsimiles of some of its most important texts have been made freely available online. The unique online resource, based on the Wellcome Library’s Arabic manuscript collection, includes well-known medical texts by famous practitioners (such as Avicenna, Ibn al-Quff, and Ibn an-Nafis), lesser-known works by anonymous physicians and rare or unique copies, such as Averroes’ commentaries on Avicenna’s medical poetry.

Curiously the manuscripts are hosted in Egypt, at the new Library of Alexandria site.  The “Browse and find” reveals 121 manuscripts.  I did a search on “Ibn Abi”. I was looking for Ibn Abi Usaibia, but the last name is spelled so variously that I had no hope of locating it thereby.  I find that an ms. of this work does exist, WMS Arabic 432 and 433.

A very welcome discovery indeed.

Interestingly you can download PDF’s of manuscripts, at least in principle.  This is very welcome!  It is far easier to work with a local PDF than remotely.  But on my first attempt I couldn’t get the “all  images as PDF” to work.

So I tried again in Firefox, for just a single page, and it tried to open something in a new tab, which was blank.  Then I reconfigured Firefox; in the Options, Applications, for Adobe Acrobat documents I changed the Action to “Save file”.  When I pressed to download a page, it saved something with file name “pdf” (that’s the entire file name!) in my download directory.  Renaming it to 1.pdf and double-clicking on the file brought up the image. 

Retrying with “all images as PDF” still didn’t do anything.  I just left Firefox open and went off to work on something else, and eventually it opened the download window — again it named the download file “pdf”.  So patience is required, it seems.  And they need to fix that filename issue.

Of course if this is how the Wellcome Library stuff is being made available at the Library of Alexandria, possibly there are more mss for download available!

UPDATE: I note that 432 is not online.  So not all the mss are available.


Critical edition of the Koran in preparation?

Ghost of a flea pointed me to jeff black, berlin, who writes:

A page from a 7th century Sanaa ms.
A page from a 7th century Sanaa ms.

German researchers preparing “Qur’an: The Critical Edition”

This is a serious business. A team of researchers at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences is preparing to bring out the first installment of Corpus Coranicum – which purports to be nothing less than the first critically evaluated text of the Qur’an ever to be produced.

 What this means is that the research team is in the process of analysing and transcribing some 12,000 slides of Qur’an mansucripts from the first six centuries of the text’s existence. Once that is complete, the way is open to producing a text that annotates and, presumably, provides some sort of exegesis on the differences found in the early manuscripts.

The Potsdam-based team of Corpus Coranicum have so far concentrated on Suras 18 to 20, and are due to produce a first slice of the final product from that in the next few weeks. The whole book is meant to take until around 2025.

UPDATE: The English language site seems to be down but the Google cache contains the following, seemingly from an old update:

Welcome to the Corpus Coranicum

The project “Corpus Coranicum” contains two unworked fields of qur’anic studies: (1) the documentation of the qur’anic text in his handwritten as well as orally transmitted form and (2) a comprehensive commentary which elucidates the text within the framework of its historical process of development.

Because of the ambiguity of the early defective writing system of the Qur’anic manuscripts, a strict separation of the data on the one hand provided by manuscripts and on the other hand transmitted via the tradition of recitation is recommended. The documentation of the Qur’anic text will provide a documentation for both traditions and compare them afterwards.

The planned commentary focuses on a historical perspective, the Qur’an seen as a text which evolved through the period of more than twenty years, thereby getting formal and content-related differences through abrogation and re-definitions within the text. Furthermore, the commentary is based on an inclusion of the judeo-christian intertexts and looks at the Qur’an as a document of the Late Antiquity. “Corpus Coranicum” is in the early stage of its development; the first results are planned to be published online in 2009.

That shows a very sensible approach.  You eat an elephant a little at a time.  Rather than working on a Koran text as such, work on the early witnesses to the text, the physical remains, the unvocalised scripts, and find out what we actually have from that period and what it says.


The lost libraries of Timbuktu

One evening last week I happened to see part of a BBC4 TV programme, The lost libraries of Timbuktu:

Aminatta Forna tells the story of legendary Timbuktu and its long hidden legacy of hundreds of thousands of ancient manuscripts. With its university founded around the same time as Oxford, Timbuktu is proof that the reading and writing of books have long been as important to Africans as to Europeans.

I couldn’t watch this programme for long — too much left-wing or “blacks are wonderful” propaganda, and not much hard information at all.

However I did learn from it that there is a trove of hand-written books in Timbuktu.  They all stem from the Moslem invasion of West Africa in the middle ages.   The oldest are 13th century.  The older books were in Arabic; the more recent ones in tribal languages, written in Arabic script.  The latter were naturally preferred by the modern holders of the books.  During the French period — the only period of civilised rule it has ever known — an unspecified number were rescued and carried off to an unspecified destination (we are invited to consider this as an “indignity”!).  Doubtless they are in the French National Library, and probably properly catalogued too, although this was not said.  Wild estimates of the number of such books were tossed around; anything up to 700,000 was mentioned, although this seems unlikely.  We saw a desktop scanner being used to digitise a page.

There was lots of talk about “riches” of books.  But… what precisely do these texts contain?  How many are of what age?  This I could not learn.

I found online a Moslem Timbuktu Educational Foundation — based in California, as it seems the “riches of African culture” don’t extend to adequate internet connections.  They claim to own the manuscripts.  The site solicits a donation of $100 to preserve and translate each manuscript — although the contact form doesn’t work, and the one and only newsletter is dated to 2003.  The site also is infuriating vague, but gives a little more:

The manuscripts cover diverse subjects: mathematics, chemistry, physics, optics, astronomy, medicine, history, geography, Islamic sciences and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), government legislation and treaties, jurisprudence and much more.

Yes?  So, which authors?  Which texts?  Is there a catalogue?  And… can’t they get some money off the oil-rich states, being good Moslems and all?  (I certainly would, in their shoes).

The BBC is to be commended for commissioning a programme on manuscripts.  Someone there should be shot for making a piece of political agitprop instead.  A wasted opportunity, then; but still good to see manuscripts on the box.  More please.

PS: The Washington Post has a much better article on all this here.  Manuscripts are 16-18th century.  Some of the mss are online at the Library of Congress here.  See also this article.