The Greater “Life of Animals”


Kamal ud-Din al-Damiri (circa 1341–1405) was a tailor-turned-scholar. He was born in Cairo and spent most of his life in Egypt. Hayat al-Hayawan (Life of animals) is his best-known work. It is found in two versions, referred to as the greater and the lesser. Shown here is the greater version. It includes more than 1050 entries on animals, arranged according to the Arabic alphabet. Some of the entries are long, others are shorter or duplicates. The longest entry, for example, is for the lion, and runs to 11 pages. Other entries are only a few words. Many include a digest of information about animals mentioned in the hadith and other Arabic literature and conclude with Islamic law provisions relating to the particular animal’s use in medicine or as a source of food. Duplication occurs when animals have synonymous names, or when the female or the young of a particular species are named differently. Mammals and birds figure most prominently in the work. The book was one of the works that the Ottoman sultan, Selim I, ordered printed when he occupied Egypt in 1517.

Last updated: June 17, 2014