The Science of Physiognomy for the Purpose of Management


Shams al-Din Muhammad ibn Abi Talib al-Sufi al-Ansari al-Dimashqi (1256 or 1257–1327) was an Islamic writer on a number of disparate subjects, from cookery to theology. He was known as the sheikh of Hattin and, subsequently, as the sheikh of al-Rabwa (in reference to two Levantine villages in which he served as Sufi sheikh). He is best known for his cosmographic work Nukhbat al-dahr fī ajāʿib al barr wa al-bar (The choice of the age, on the marvels of land and sea), a work that has seen several modern printings. In the introduction to this work on physiognomy, Shams al-Din lists eight classical and Islamic authors that he has relied on, and assigns a letter to each (Aristotle is assigned the letter ṭā’, for example, and Razi or Rhazes, rā’). Subsequently Shams al-Din marks those of his statements that originate from these sources with the appropriate letter or combination of letters. Before focusing on individual anatomical features and their variations and implications, Shams al-Din lists the general characteristics of various peoples (including Egyptians, Syrians, Anatolians, Persians, and others). Regarding the Greeks, we read, for example, that they are “scientists, sages, philosophers, and of sharp mind …. It is said that science exists by virtue of the mind of the Greeks, the language of the Arabs, and the hands of the Chinese.” The copyist, Mustafa ibn Ahmad, identifies himself as having originated from Hama, settled in Aleppo, and subsequently migrated to Damascus. He completed the manuscript on Rabiʻ al-Thani 8, 1262 AH (April 5, 1846). The manuscript (or perhaps the source from which it was copied) appears to be missing a number of pages at the beginning. In addition, the first folio contains inconsistencies of meaning that are likely related to the missing text.

Date Created

Subject Date


Title in Original Language

علم الفراسة لأجل السياسة

Type of Item

Physical Description

38 folios ; 218 x 154 millimeters



  1. A.Z. Iskandar, A Catalogue of Arabic Manuscripts on Medicine and Science in the Wellcome Historical Medical Library (London: Wellcome Historical Medical Library, 1967).

Last updated: August 9, 2017