June 9, 2015

"Life of Saint Margaret" and Lives of Other Saints

Illuminated legends of saints are preserved in only a few manuscripts from the 11th century. One of the rare examples is this manuscript from the monastery of Benediktbeuern, Bavaria, which arrived in the Munich court library in 1803. The composite manuscript contains a list of martyrs and numerous lives of saints. Only the life of Saint Margaret of Antioch, on folios 63 recto−98 verso, was illuminated. The martyrdom of Margaret, the patron saint of pregnant women, was a very popular text in the Middle Ages. According to legend, the Roman prefect Olybrius fell in love with Margaret while campaigning in Antioch. The Christian Margaret, however, refused his courtship and could not be moved to relinquish her faith even under torture. She encountered the devil in the form of a dragon, which swallowed her and then disgorged her when her cross irritated its insides. Margaret was then beheaded. In the Munich manuscript, which is very close to the original type of the southern German cycle of illumination, ten frameless pen drawings accompany the text of the legend. The illustration of the manuscript, however, was never completed, probably because scribal errors and omissions had confused the correct correlation with the sequence of images.

Epistles of Paul with Commentary

This manuscript dating from the 12th century, written in Caroline minuscule in one hand throughout, contains the Epistles of Saint Paul with an interlinear gloss and marginal glosses. The beginnings of each Epistle are preceded by golden initials decorated with tendrils and outlined in red on a green and blue background. Above the prologue to the first Epistle, the letter to the Romans, the title piece depicts Saint Paul sitting enthroned, holding two long scrolls in his hands and with an open book on his lap. He is surrounded by six male figures in half portrait, placed in framing arcades. The men on the right hand side wearing caps probably represent the Jews, the bareheaded men on the left the Greeks. Paul was both a Greek and a Jew, and Jews and Greeks are both mentioned in the accompanying verses in the right and left margins of the miniature. The illumination was probably executed in western Germany and is related to earlier models from the Coblenz area. The manuscript was owned by the Benedictine monastery of Benediktbeuern, Bavaria, by the 15th century at the latest; it was transferred to Munich in 1802.

Gospel Book

This Gospel book dating from the mid-11th century comprises 16 canon tables, positioned at the beginning after the prologues, nine full-page carpet pages, initial pages, and decorated pages, as well as four portraits of the Evangelists. The carpet pages and the Evangelist portraits are painted on single pages. Each Evangelist is depicted with his symbol—the angel for Matthew, the lion for Mark, the ox for Luke, and the eagle for John—and the dove of the Holy Spirit, a symbol of divine inspiration. From several specific liturgical feast days, which are mentioned in the text and which are particularly emphasized, it can be concluded that the manuscript was originally created in North Germany. According to an inscription on folio 3 verso, this Gospel book had been owned by the abbey of Niederaltaich in southern Bavaria since the late Middle Ages, where its cover was restored in 1601. After the dissolution of the monastery, the book was transferred to Munich in 1803.

Exposition of Realities Explaining “Treasury of Intricacies”

This six-volume work of al-shari’ah (Islamic law) is a commentary by ʻUthman ibn ʻAli al-Zaylaʻi (died 1342 or 1343) on a compendium of judgments by ʻAbd Allah ibn Ahmad Al-Nasafi (died 1310), a near contemporary of the author. Islamic legal texts are often accompanied by marginal commentaries and Tabayīn al-ḥaqāʼiq (Exposition of realities) is no exception. The main text by al-Zaylaʻi is accompanied in the margins by a commentary by Shihab al-Din Ahmad al-Shilbi (died 1611 or 1612). The manuscript thus contains al-Zaylaʻi’s commentary Tabayīn al-ḥaqāʼiq on al-Nasafi’s Kanz al-daqāʼiq (Treasury of intricacies), with an untitled marginal gloss by al-Shilbi on al-Zaylaʻi’s commentary. Tabayīn al-ḥaqāʼiq is a comprehensive exposition of Hanafite legal regulations, including those relating to prayer and ritual, business transactions, marriage and divorce, fostering of children, legal procedure, and many other topics. Al-Nasafi is held in esteem by followers of Hanafite jurisprudence; al-Zaylaʻi’s commentary is also highly regarded. Little is known of al-Zaylaʻi’s life other than that he probably came from the port city of al-Zaylaʻ (also called Zeila or Saylac, in present-day Somalia) and taught in Cairo. Even less is recorded in the biographical literature about al-Shilbi. As with the other schools of Sunni law, the Hanafite tradition began well after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632. Abu Hanifah (died 767 or 768) made his reputation as a teacher in Baghdad and Kufa in Abbasid Iraq. His teachings were memorized, copied, and transmitted by his students and their successors, whose works are considered authoritative. Hanafi jurisprudence is the predominant tradition in Central and South Asia, Turkey, and many other regions. The present work was published in Cairo at Bulaq Press, the government printing house, at the expense of the book merchant ʻUmar al-Khashshab, who “underwrote the printing inasmuch as students called for it, experts needed its support, and the public desired its benefits.”

Capstone Dictionary of Unusual Words of Hadith and of Yore

Al-Nihāyah fī gharīb al-ḥadīth wa-al-athar (Capstone dictionary of unusual words of hadith and of yore) is a four-volume dictionary of words in the hadiths, or the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, by the medieval scholar Majd al-Din Ibn al-Athir (1149−1210). It is a specialized concordance of unusual or less-common words occurring in hadiths, supplemented by terms from the Qurʼan and early Islamic history. The work was recognized in its day as a significant contribution to lexicography and was incorporated into the magisterial Lisān al-ʻArab (The Arabic language) by Ibn Manzur (died 1311 or 1312). A note lists corrigenda for the Lisān based on Ibn al-Athir’s dictionary. The Ibn al-Athir family, father and sons, is commonly associated with the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, where they taught, wrote, and provided literary substance to the local court. They frequently traveled on diplomatic assignment. Majd al-Din Ibn al-Athir is sometimes confused in the secondary literature with one or the other of his brothers, historian Diyaʻ al-Din (died 1239) or ‘Izz al-Din (died 1233), who was also a scholar and court official but with a more literary bent. A commentary by the well-known Egyptian scholar Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (1445−1505) accompanies the main text in the margin. After teaching in Cairo, al-Suyuti lived much of his life in seclusion. He is recognized for his commentaries on the work of earlier scholars and is the author of Jamiʻ al-jawamiʻ (Compilation of compilations), a standard reference on hadith. The present work was printed at the expense of ʻUthman ʻAbd al-Raziq, owner of the ʻUthmaniyah Press in Cairo, Egypt.

The Lesser Compilation of Hadiths of the Consecrated Messenger

This manuscript dating from the late 17th century is a collection of hadiths, or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, by the Egyptian polymath Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (1445−1505). The work is carefully written in naskh script. The title is enclosed in a decorative headpiece, not exquisitely drawn but nonetheless colorful yet restrained. In contrast to his comprehensive Jamiʻ al-jawamiʻ  (Compilation of compilations), in this work al-Suyuti promises “the short, abbreviated essence of hadiths and early records, ignoring the shell and taking only the nut.” He accomplished this objective by providing only brief quotes from each hadith and abbreviations for its sources. He was expressly writing for students rather than fully formed experts. He arranged the work alphabetically by the first word of the quotation, listing Muhammad's supposed manahi (thou shalt nots) under the letter nūn for the verb naha (to forbid). Al-Suyuti is known for his prodigious memory, which assisted him in his specialized work on hundreds of thousands of hadiths, some 11,000 of which are included here. Brilliant, combative, controversial, and self-assured as he was, Al-Suyuti aroused hostility on the part of his scholarly competitors, which ultimately drove him from public life. He spent the last decades of his life in seclusion at Rawdah, an island in the Nile at Cairo, where he continued to work on his books and carried out an influential correspondence. Although best known for his works on hadith and other Islamic subjects, he also wrote on the natural sciences, medicine, and the Arabic language.