July 12, 2012

Life of Mary

This 16th-century manuscript contains a relatively well preserved copy of Ktāba d-taš’itāh d-qaddištā yāldat alāhā Maryam (Life of Mary) in Syriac, an eastern dialect of Aramaic. The work (in six volumes) was written by Theophilos, the Greek patriarch of Alexandria in 385–412, and copied in 1567–68 by a scribe named Slibona. At the end of this work comes a metrical homily by Jacob of Serugh (died 521) on the death of Mary, the last half of which is missing in this copy. Some corrections and vowel signs have been added by a later hand. A decorative cross and title page begin the work.

Poems (Carmina)

This manuscript, which probably dates from the 16th century, contains Mušḥātā (Poems) by Gregory Bar ‘Ebraya (also seen as Bar Hebraeus, 1226–86), a Syriac Orthodox bishop and a major author in the later Syriac tradition. He wrote prolifically, mostly in Syriac but also in Arabic, on philosophy, theology, spirituality, and history. His works also included commentaries on scripture, devotions, moral treatises, logic, the sciences, and humorous stories. Bar Hebraeus was renowned for his justice, integrity, great learning, and principled leadership. A few recent pages (mostly blank) have been added at the beginning of the manuscript and there is a note to the effect that the manuscript was brought from Edessa (present-day Sanliurfa in southwest Turkey) to Aleppo in 1924. The Syriac Orthodox community in Aleppo is ancient. It was much enlarged, however by an influx of Syriac Christians who fled there during the turmoil of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, particularly by the entire community from Edessa.

The Book of the Interpreter

This 16th-century manuscript is an old copy of the classified Syriac–Garshuni glossary by  Elias of Nisibis (975–1046). Elias was an eastern Syriac scholar and monk, who was later a bishop and from 1008–46 metropolitan of Nisibis in northern Mesopotamia (present-day Nusaybin in southeastern Turkey). He was an important figure in Syriac and Christian Arabic literature and an early grammarian. In addition to this glossary, his literary output included a bilingual (Syriac–Arabic) chronicle, liturgical poetry, and letters. This work is prefaced by Eliya's address to the man for whom he wrote the book. The text is very important for the history of Arabic lexicography, especially among Christians. A great number of topics are covered, including not only Christian themes, but also scientific subjects, particularly medicine. Syriac is an eastern dialect of Aramaic, which was spoken by Christians in the lands between the Roman Empire and the Arabian Sea from the first century to the 12th century. Garshuni came into use when Arabic became the dominant spoken language in the lands of the Fertile Crescent before a written form of the Arabic language had developed. It is still in use among some Syriac Christian congregations.

July 16, 2012

Maritime Atlas

This work is an illuminated and illustrated maritime atlas, referred to as the Walters Deniz atlası. It is one of the earliest Ottoman atlases, tentatively dated to around the mid-16th century. The work contains eight double-page charts executed on parchment. Four of the maps show the Mediterranean, Aegean, and Black seas. There is also a world map and a chart of the Indian Ocean. The various geographical names are written in black nasta‘līq script. A distinguishing feature of this atlas is the detailed approach to representing such features as city vignettes. The charts are drawn in various colors, including black, red, gold, green, blue, deep rose, light green, and yellow.

July 18, 2012

Poster for the Recruitment of Emigrants

This poster was made by the Japanese Settlement Company of South America, which was mainly financed by a giant textiles group in Japan. This company was established in 1928 to promote emigration from Japan to the Amazon River basin, in Para Province in Brazil. Japanese emigration to Brazil began in 1908, and reached its peak in 1926–35. Following the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888, the government of Brazil looked to immigrants to address a labor shortage in the increasingly important coffee industry. European immigrants, particularly Italians, filled the gap at first, but were later joined by immigrants from Japan, where rural poverty was widespread and the economy was struggling to modernize and to reabsorb soldiers returning after the Russo-Japanese War (1904–5).

July 19, 2012

Manusyaloka, Map of the Human World

Jainism is an Indian religion, which was founded by Vardhamana Mahavira, a spiritual leader called the Jina (conqueror), in the sixth century B.C. Jainism teaches nonviolence towards all living beings. Its philosophy and practice rely mainly on the effort of advancing the soul on the spiritual ladder to divine consciousness in a universe that has no beginning or end. Jainism has its own version of geography and cosmology, in which the universe is divided into three kingdoms: the upper is the realm of the heavens and the celestials; the middle is the domain of humans, animals, and plants; and the lower, which belongs to the damned and the disorderly. This 19th-century cosmological diagram of the manuṣyaloka (the human world), comes from western Rajasthan, a state in India with one of the largest Jain populations. The chart shows the Adhai-dvipa, or the two and a half continents inhabited by mortals. The continents are shown as concentric circles surrounded by ring-shaped oceans filled with swimmers and fish, complex networks of rivers and lakes, and mountain ranges. The continent Jambudvipa (rose-apple tree island) is shown in the center of the chart, encircled by a blue ring that represents the Lavana Samudra (Salt Ocean). The next ring corresponds to the continent Dhatakikanda bounded by Kalodadhi (Black-Water Ocean). The outermost band represents half of the third continent, Pushkaradvipa (lotus island).This final band is surrounded by the multi-colored peaks of the mountain range that delimits mortal space, while the pavilions at the corners of the chart represent celestial guardians of the human world.