June 18, 2010

The Constellations

The astronomer ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Umar al-Sufi, commonly known as al-Sufi, was born in Persia (present-day Iran) in 903 A.D. and died in 986. He worked in Isfahan and in Baghdad, and is known for his translation from Greek into Arabic of the Almagest by the ancient astronomer Ptolemy. Al-Sufi’s most famous work is Kitab suwar al-kawakib (Book of the constellations of the fixed stars), which he published around 964. In this work, al-Sufi describes the 48 constellations that were established by Ptolemy and adds criticisms and corrections of his own. For each of the constellations, he provides the indigenous Arab names for their stars, drawings of the constellations, and a table of stars showing their locations and magnitude. Al-Sufi’s book spurred further work on astronomy in the Arabic and Islamic worlds, and exercised a huge influence on the development of science in Europe. The work was frequently copied and translated. This copy, from the collections of the Library of Congress, was produced somewhere in south or central Asia, circa 1730, and is an exact copy of a manuscript, now lost, prepared for Ulug Beg of Samarkand (present-day Uzbekistan) in 1417 [820 A.H.]. The Bibliothèque nationale de France has a manuscript of the Kitab suwar al-kawakib that was prepared for Ulug Beg in 1436.

The Burdah Poem

This illuminated small codex contains a famous poem in honor of the Prophet Muhammad popularly known as “Qaṣīdat al-Burdah” (The poem of the mantle), which was composed by Sharaf al-Dīn Muḥammad al-Būṣīrī (died 694 AH [1294 CE]). This copy was executed in a variety of scripts, probably in Iran, by Ḥabīb Allāh ibn Dūst Muḥammad al-Khwārizmī in the 11th century AH (17th century CE). The first page (folio 1b) of the manuscript features an illuminated rectangular headpiece with five inner panels of text executed in the following scripts: muhaqqaq (gold), naskh (black), thuluth (blue), naskh (black), and muhaqqaq (gold). Muhaqqaq, naskh, and thuluth are three of the six scripts collectively known as the Six Pens. Perfected between the 10th and 13th centuries, the Six Pens are the classical script styles that influenced later generations of calligraphers, up to the present day. The final illuminated page (folio 23a) in the codex contains the colophon, which gives the name of the scribe as Ḥabīb Allāh ibn Dūst Muḥammad. The colophon is written in riqa script, defined by fluid lines. Riqa was commonly used for chancellery documents and for colophons.

History of the Afghans

The History of the Afghans, published in English in 1829, is the first history of the Afghan people translated from a non-Western language to appear in a European language. The original work was composed in Persian, in 1609-11, by Neamet Ullah (active 1613-30) in the court of the Mughal emperor Jahangir (1569-1627). Ullah based his work on material compiled by Hybet Khan, an attendant of the Afghan General Khan Jahan Lodi. The translation is by the German philologist and Orientalist Bernhard Dorn (1805-81), who worked from a copy of the history made by Fut’h Khan in 1718. The book covers the history of Yacoob Israel, to whom the work attributes the origin of the Afghans; the life of Yacoob’s grandson, King Talut (Saul), and the migration of his descendants to Ghor (in present-day Afghanistan); and the spread of Islam and the influence of Khaled ben Valeed, a celebrated army officer who converted to Islam and used his military skill to spread Islam in central and south Asia. The work then chronicles the reigns of rulers of two dynasties that gave way to the rise of the Mughal Empire, namely the sultans Behlol, Sekander, and Ibrahim of the Lodi family, and Sher Shah of the Suri family. The last section recounts the lives of Afghan dervishes-turned-saints, and the book concludes with accounts of the genealogy of the Afghan tribes that descend from Sarbanni, Batni, and Ghurghust, the three sons of the forefather Abd Ulrashid (also known as Pathan, a variation of the term “pashtun”), a descendent of King Talut.

Deed of Settlement

The Deed of Settlement and Royal Charter of Incorporation of the South Australian Company is a key document in South Australia's history: it highlights the difference between the manner in which South Australia was established and populated and the foundation of other Australian colonies as penal settlements. It also records British economic expansionism at its peak and illustrates the interconnections between British business interests, the Colonial Office, and social and evangelical activists. In 1834, the British Parliament passed the South Australia Act, which empowered the government to establish and settle a province in South Australia. However, the Colonization Commissioners required £35,000-worth of land in South Australia to be sold before the new province could be established. Initially, only a limited amount of land was bought. The South Australian Company was formed in London on October 9, 1835, to encourage the further purchase of land. On June 27, 1836, the Deed of Settlement was signed by about 300 shareholders of the South Australian Company. The company played a pivotal role in the founding, early survival, and development of the colony, where the company built roads, bridges, ports, warehouses, and mills, and established agriculture, whaling, banking, and mining enterprises.

The Book of Taliesin

The Book of Taliesin contains a collection of some of the oldest poems in Welsh, many of them attributed to the poet Taliesin, who was active toward the end of the sixth century and sang the praises of Urien Rheged and his son Owain ab Urien. Other poems reflect the kind of learning with which the poet became associated, deriving partly from Latin texts and partly from native Welsh tradition. This manuscript preserves the texts of such famous poems as “Armes Prydein Fawr,” “Preiddeu Annwfn” (which refers to Arthur and his warriors sailing across the sea to win a spear and a cauldron), elegies to Cunedda and Dylan eil Ton, as well as the earliest mention in any Western vernacular of the feats of Hercules and Alexander the Great. The manuscript is incomplete, having lost a number of its original leaves, including the first one. The Book of Taliesin was copied by a single scribe, probably in Glamorgan, and is designated Peniarth MS 2 by the National Library of Wales. The Peniarth Manscript collection was established by Robert Vaughan (circa 1592-1667), who acquired many significant Welsh-language manuscripts for his library in Hengwrt, Meirioneth. The collection was transferred to the Peniarth Library, Meirioneth, in 1859, and from there to the new national library in 1909.

The Black Book of Carmarthen

The Black Book of Carmarthen (so called because of the color of its binding and its connection with the Priory of Saint John the Evangelist and Teulyddog, Carmarthen) is thought by modern scholars to be the work of a single scribe writing at different times before and about the year 1250. This makes it one of the earliest surviving manuscripts written solely in the Welsh language. Apart from a small group of triads relating to the horses of legendary Welsh heroes, the Black Book is essentially a poetry manuscript. It contains poems with religious subjects, such as the “Dialogue between the Body and the Soul,” and odes of praise and mourning, such as the “Elegy to Madog ap Maredudd [died 1160].” The author of this elegy is not named in the Black Book, but according to another manuscript, the poem was written by the court poet, Cynddelw Brydydd Mawr (flourished 1155-1200). The most remarkable poems in the manuscript are those about heroes of Dark Age Britain, and especially those connected with the legend of Myrddin. The Black Book of Carmarthen is designated Peniarth MS 1 by the National Library of Wales. The Peniarth Manscript collection was established by Robert Vaughan (circa 1592-1667), who acquired many significant Welsh-language manuscripts for his library in Hengwrt, Meirioneth. The collection was transferred to the Peniarth Library, Meirioneth, in 1859, and from there to the new national library in 1909.