Category Archives: Medieval

Preserving Hafiz, Poet of Shiraz.

 

or better or for worse, Special Collections Librarians have adopted the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) scheme to classify the subject matter of the Islamicate Manuscripts described in the Union Catalogue ‘Fihrist‘. By and large this works well for this material which was created in the medieval period. There are, however, some anomalies such as modern country names (e.g. Yemen (Republic) — History) having to be used rather than their more ancient equivalents, or Medicine, Arab, which does not do justice to an Avicenna or a Rhazes who, although they wrote predominately in Arabic, were Persians by birth. Fihrist lists more than 2000 subjects in current use in the catalogue which also includes personal names as subject matter of works.

When it comes to Persian Poetry, the LCSH provides 2 main headings: Persian Poetry — 747-1500, and Persian Poetry 1500-1796. The dates of 1500-1796 may be explained by the fact that the Safavid Dynasty ruled Iran with their brand of state-sponsored Shiism and Sufism beginning around 1500, after which from about 1722, the Afsharid Dynasty briefly rose to power until the Qajars established their rule fully over Iran in 1796, ushering in a period of modernization including that of literary forms. The beginning date of 747 is slightly more puzzling, coming as it does less than a century after the fall of the Sassanid Empire to the Arab Muslims and the death of the last King Yazdigird III in 651.

This Arabo-Islamic conquest by many accounts left Iran reeling, and in the (perhaps now outdated) words of Iranian cultural historian Abdol Hossein Zarrinkoub (d. 1999) caused Two Centuries of Silence during which no Persian literary production of note took place. Others, such as E. G. Browne (author of A Literary History of Persia), point out that on the contrary, ‘take from what is commonly called Arabian Science – from exegesis, tradition, theology, philosophy, medicine, lexicography, history, biography, even Arabic grammar- the work contributed by Persians, and the best part is gone.’ [Browne, Literary History, i:204].

Browne is referring to monumental works written by Persians in Arabic such as Tabari’s two famous books on Universal History, and Qur’anic Exegesis which take up to 30 volumes each in some printings; or volumes of Prophetic Traditions by Bukhari (of Bukhara, Transoxiana); or Sibawayh’s book on Arabic Grammar, and many more besides.

When it comes to poetry in the ‘New Persian’, it seems to be the 9th and 10th Centuries in the great central-Asian metropolis of Bukhara at the courts of the Samanids where the art flourished once more in the Persian tongue with minstrels such as Rudaki (860-940) singing and playing the lute. Dowlatshah of Samarqand, who wrote his Memorandum of the Poets in 1487, includes over 140 biographical entries beginning with Rudaki, before whom he says no other Persian poet’s work was recorded or written down, perhaps because of a ban on books written in Persian. With the advent of the Samanids and Saffarids, poetry in Persian re-emerged and became popular.

As for the date 747, that was the year of the beginning of the Abbasid revolt in Eastern Iran against the Umayyads who ruled the empire from Damascus. By 750 the Umayyads had been overthrown, and plans were made for a new capital at Baghdad, with a noble, learned, and influential Persian family – the Barmakids – acting as viziers. Think Barmecide feast! Many Persian administrative practices were introduced to the state bureaucracy by the Barmakids, but again, the State Registers were apparently still being written in Arabic until the time of the Samanids, or possibly even the Ghaznavids.

If we take our ‘Millennium’ of Persian Poetry to be 747-1796, the major poet who was flourishing in the middle of this period would  be Amir Khusraw of Dehli (1253-1325). If we take the date to be from 880, when Rudaki was in his flush of youth, then a much more well-known figure would be flourishing – none other than Hafiz of Shiraz (1315-1390) – which is why this cataloguer felt he had passed a milestone in his lockdown cataloguing work when he completed entries for the copies of the works of Hafez held by the Bodleian Libraries’ Oriental Special Collections.

The poet Hafiz (back right) with companions. [Bodleian MS. Elliott 163, fol. 55b]

The Libraries hold a total of 47 manuscript copies of the works of Hafiz plus a number of commentaries, making him the third most-represented poet in the Persian collections after Jami with 98, which is not surprising as he died 100 years after Hafiz, and many copies of his works were made in Safavid times, and Sa’di (who died 100 years before Hafiz) with 83, and whose Bustan and Gulistan have been ever-popular.

Two copies of the Divan (collected poetical works) of Hafiz are available to browse on Digital.Bodleian; MS. Ouseley Add. 175 – an exquisite copy made in 1571 by the acclaimed calligrapher Mir Ali the Scribe to the Sultan. This includes an introduction in the hand of Sir Gore Ouseley; and MS. Ouseley Add. 26, a less lavish version copied in 1538.

Catalogue records of the Bodleian’s holdings of the works of Hafiz may be browsed here.

The Divan or collected poetical works of Hafiz finds widespread use in Persianate lands for Bibliomancy or fortune-telling by books. Most families would have a copy of the Divan which, opened at random after an intention to seek omens, the reader would interpret the poem that appears to them in a way that lends meaning to their life. This is because Hafiz is seen to be an interpreter of the unseen realms and was known as lisān al-ghayb or speaker of the unknown.

In Iran, one can have one’s fortune told by Hafiz in street-stalls, but there are also many online faʾl-i Hafiz such as this one at the link below conveniently using an English translation!

Hafiz fortune-teller

[The Bodleian Libraries are not responsible for the content of external sites]

 

MS. e Mus. 78: Shields of arms, in colour, by the French royal herald Montjoie

Another day, another interesting item found whilst completing the retro-conversion of the Summary Catalogue. As a confessed lover of medieval history, this item took me right back to my knighthood and chivalry university studies. What caught my eye was the seemingly historical material included in this beautifully illuminated manuscript. It all looks relatively straightforward: shields of arms from various kingdoms in Europe by the French herald Montjoie, written in the 16th century. Any questions? I have one. Included in this manuscript we have “shields of the knights of the Round Table” such as those of “Galaad, Perseual, and Lancelot du Lac.” With a slight change in spelling, the figures Galahad, Perceval, and Lancelot are largely considered to be mythical. They are understood to be created by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his pseudo-historical Historia Regum Britaniae (History of the Kings of Britain c. 1136-1137) and later in the 12th century by Chrétien de Troyes in his Arthurian Romances.[1] So what are they doing here?

Rough translation of French

Line 1-6: “‘Book of the herald Montjoie,  containing shields of arms collected by him. In this book, which is made up of 72 leaves of parchment, there are various coats of arms of  some kingdoms in Europe, of the 150 knights of the Round Table, and those of  several dukes, counts, marquis, chatelains [someone who owns a castle], barons and other lords and gentlemen of  miscellaneous provinces of the kingdoms of France, England and Scotland…”
Line 9: “A treatise addressed to ‘my very dear … brother prince of Vienna'”
Line 11-12: “So, all good mores stem from virtue”
Line 13: “The means/way/method”

Whether this manuscript is fully fictional or not is a topic for discussion probably longer than a light-hearted blog post, and requiring a lot more knowledge of coats of arms than I possess. This interesting element does however warrant me to discuss the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, as well as delve into heraldry and the beautiful illustrations by Montjoie.

Heralds

A French royal herald named Montjoie wrote and illuminated this book in the 16th century. We don’t know much about him, though another French herald of the same name was supposedly present during the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.[2] They could be the same person with the wrong date on this manuscript, Montjoie could be the name given to French royal heralds, or it could have been a popular choice. Other than this, we have no information about the herald apart from the obvious: being literate and adept at illustration. The level of detail given to each of these colour shields suggests someone with a lot of time and a lot of respect for the knights who displayed and fought with these coats of arms. Heralds were initially messengers used by kings, queens and the nobility, and they were also required to organise and oversee tournaments.[3] They would have spent a lot of time with knights and the heraldry that accompanied them, both at these tournaments, and also overseeing battles such as Agincourt. In this instance, the French and English heralds watched the battle from atop a hill and came to a decision about the victorious army – the decision was respected, showing just how much the heralds were also.

Heraldry

Clark described coats of arms as beginning in combat, with the need to distinguish chiefs and commanders as well as “point out those under their command” i.e. a bit like how different football teams usefully wear different colours, and captains wear armbands. According to Fearne, quoted in Clark, “the first soueraigne that ever gave coate of armes to his soldiers was King Alexander the Great, who, after the manner of his ancestors, desirous to exalt by some speicall meanes of honor his stoutest captaines and soldiers above the rest, to provoke them to incounter their enimies with manly courage, and by the advice of Aristotle, he gives unto the most valiant of his armies certain signes or emblemes, to be painted upon their armours, banners, and pennons, as tokens for their service in his wars”.[4] Coats of arms are heraldic visual designs on a shield and actually came into general use in European nobility around the 12th century. Who could bear and use arms changed from country to country, but they were personal and in England and Scotland were bestowed on individuals rather than families. They were legal property and were passed from father to son from the end of the 12th century on the order of King Richard I, strictly regulated by heralds.[5] The rules of coats of arms are very detailed, using figures such as lions for courage is only the beginning. For a fuller look into this distinct science, see H. Clark An introduction to heraldry.[6] Every line, figure, shape, and colour has meaning, and each worked to distinguish one knight from another.

Figures from H. Clark, An Introduction to Heraldry (London: Henry Washbourn, 1829).

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

In medieval Europe, knighthood went from a mounted warrior, to a class of lower nobility, to a rank associated with “the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfectly courtly Christian warrior.”[7] These shields of arms played a large role here, as the knights (largely on horseback) entered tournaments, justings, tiltings and other “honourable exercises” to “gain reputation in feats of arms”.[8] These arms identified the knights, as well as the nobility they may have been vassals for, and allowed them to show off and also gain skills they may need in actual battle. The knights would arrive and heralds would check their armorial bearings, proof of nobility and register them. These tournaments first began in Germany in the tenth century and became general practice in Europe shortly afterwards.[9] The tournaments are regarded largely in relation to the world of Arthurian romances, principally by French author Chrétien de Troyes in the 12th century, and bring visions of A Knight’s Tale to all who have seen the (brilliant) film adapted loosely from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.[10]

Getting back to the manuscript, Montjoie here has assigned some of the Knights of the Roundtable that we recognise from these romantic tales shields of arms. It’s fun to imagine Lancelot with the diagonally red striped shield and Galahad the starkly English red cross, but unfortunately these figures are largely accepted to be mythical legends rather than real life chivalric figures. The same is to be said for King Arthur, who became this romantic figure through Geoffrey of Monmouth’s centring of him in his pseudo-history mentioned above. It is largely accepted amongst historians that there is “no solid evidence for his historical existence” despite being credited with defeating the Saxons in the 5th and 6th centuries, though Arthur’s legend well and truly lives on.[11] It was Geoffrey who wrote about Merlin, Guinevere, Excalibur, and Arthur’s final resting place at Avalon, and Chrétian who added Lancelot and the Holy Grail, focusing on various Knights of the Round Table as well as the King.[12] Nicholas Higham discussed in his 2018 article how “Arthur has been pressed into service time and again to support any number of causes” and he even inspired a dish in the Great British Menu this year.[13] That such tales were so prevalent in society that Montjoie wanted to illustrate the shields of arms for these characters, and they are still prevalent today is very humbling. Perhaps all we want is a strong legend to believe in and an Arthurian romance. Whilst we will never truly know if King Arthur or any of the Knights of the Round Table existed (until time machines are invented), we can enjoy Montjoie’s book nonetheless.

References:

[1] Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britaniae (History of the Kings of Britain c. 1136-1137), (originally published 1929); Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances, translated with an introduction and notes by William W. Kibler (London: Penguin Books, 1991).

[2] John Keegan, The Face of Battle (London: Penguin Books, 1983), p. 74.

[3] H. Clark, An introduction to heraldry (London: Henry Washbourn, 1829), p. 4.

[4] Ibid, p. 1-2.

[5] Coat of arms, Wikipedia, URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coat_of_arms.

[6] H. Clark, An introduction to heraldry.

[7] Knights, Wikipedia, URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knight.

[8] H. Clark, An introduction to heraldry, p. 3.

[9] Ibid, pp. 4-5.

[10] Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances.

[11] King Arthur, Wikipedia, URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Arthur.

[12] King Arthur, Wikipedia; Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britaniae; Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances.

[13] Nicholas J. Higham, King Arthur: The making of a legend (Yale University Press: 2018), p. 2.

You can view the catalogue of this manuscript in the Bodleian Archives and Modern Manuscripts interface. Once the library reopens, it will be available to request and view in the Weston Library Reading Rooms.

 

The Shāhnāmah of Ibrāhīm Sulṭān – Available Online from Digital.Bodleian

VIEW IBRĀHĪM SULṬĀN’S SHĀHNĀMAH ONLINE
The Shāhnāmah – Book of Kings (or King of Books) – is an epic poem written in Persian by Abū l-Qāsim Firdawsī of Ṭūs. Completed in about 1010 CE, the book is composed of some 60,000 verses which narrate the history of Greater Persia from mythical beginnings until the Arab conquests of the 7th century.

Said to be the longest poem ever to have been written by a single person, the significance of Firdawsī’s Shāhnāmah to the Persian-speaking world can be compared to that of the works of Homer to Greece.

No manuscript copies of the Shāhnāmah survive from the 11th or 12th centuries, and only two from the 13th century are still extant, but many copies from the Timurid and Safavid periods are preserved in Library collections today.

Three of the grandsons of Tīmūr (Tamerlane) are known to have had lavish copies of Firdawsī’s Shāhnāmah or Persian Book of Kings made for them. The Shāhnāmahs of Bāysunghur, Muḥammad Jūkī, and Ibrāhīm Sulṭān are preserved in the Golestan Palace, Tehran, the Royal Asiatic Society, London, and the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, respectively.

Left: Shamsah showing inscription dedicated to Ibrāhīm Sulṭān. (MS. Ouseley Add. 176, fol. 12a). Right: Ibrāhīm Sulṭān holding court outdoors. (MS. Ouseley Add. 176, fol. 1b).

Thought to have been made in Shiraz sometime between 1430 and Ibrāhīm Sulṭān’s death in 1435, this copy of the Shāhnāmah is known for its exceptional miniature paintings and exquisite illuminated panels.

The manuscript was acquired by Sir Gore Ouseley, a Diplomat and Linguist, during travels in the East in the early 19th century, and came into the Bodleian in the 1850s along with many other of Sir Gore’s collections. It is now preserved as MS. Ouseley Add. 176.

Ibrāhīm Sulṭān’s Shāhnāmah is now digitally available online via Digital.Bodleian. Recently, its sibling Muḥammad Jūkī’s Shāhnāmah was published online by the Royal Asiatic Society; both in good time for Nawruz or Persian New Year on 20th March!

REFERENCES

Abdullaeva, F., & Melville, C., The Persian book of kings : Ibrahim Sultan’s Shahnama (Treasures from the Bodleian Library). Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2008.

Beeston, A. F. L., Hermann Ethé, and Eduard Sachau. Catalogue of the Persian, Turkish, Hindûstânî, and Pushtû Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library . Oxford: At the Clarendon, 1889.

Robinson, B. W.,  A Descriptive Catalogue of the Persian Paintings in the Bodleian Library. Oxford: Clarendon, 1958.

The Bodleian Libraries would like to thank the Bahari Fund for helping to make this digitization project possible.

Oxford College Archives

A new website for Oxford College Archives has been launched at https://oac.web.ox.ac.uk/.

Painting of Oxford students entitled 'Conversation Piece, Worcester College' by Edward HallidayThe site includes a general introduction to the archives held by the Oxford colleges, individual pages on most of the colleges (with further links to catalogues etc.) and links to associated archives in the City and University.  There is also an FAQ page, a glossary of all those odd Oxford terms, and a bibliography.  The site will be enhanced and updated regularly.

War, Health and Humanitarianism

How can we define humanitarianism?

What motivates humanitarian actors like Oxfam and the Red Cross?

How have relief and development organizations competed and collaborated to mitigate suffering from conflicts?

Is political neutrality feasible or necessary?

These and other questions will be addressed in the symposium, ‘War, Health and Humanitarianism’ on 16 June in the Weston Library Lecture Theatre, which brings together historians studying conflicts from the medieval period to the present day. Speakers will include Dr. Rosemary Wall, Bodleian Library Sassoon Visiting Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Global History at the University of Hull, whose current research focuses on conflict in Cyprus, Vietnam and Nigeria in the 20th century and British and French humanitarian responses.

For further information and to register see:

http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/222665/War-Health-and-Humanitarianism_Programme.pdf

Unloading dried milk

Unloading dried milk for the starving people of Biafra at Fernando Po during the Nigerian Civil War, July 1968
MS. Oxfam COM/5/1/51
Credit: Duncan Kirkpatrick / Oxfam

Bodleian Treasures: Early Ethiopian Bible Illumination

On Saturday, the 8th of April a group of bibliophiles from the Anglo-Ethiopian Society visited the Weston Library. Their trip from London to Oxford was intended as a study day, attending lectures and a photo exhibition on the illuminated Gospels from the Abba Garima Monastery. During the academic programme, Dr Judith McKenzie spoke about the themes of Garima illumination, while Professor Francis Watson gave a lecture on canon tables. The first part of the day took place at the Ioannou centre and was organised by Judith McKenzie, Miranda Williams, and Foteini Spingou, with photographs by Michael Gervers.
In the afternoon, a small display of Bodleian Ethiopian treasures was ready for the group in the Blackwell Hall. The two fifteenth century biblical codices on display were given to the library by Dr Bent Juel-Jensen in 2006. These exceptional codices come with a wealth of painted miniatures, representing biblical figures from the patriarchs to evangelists. MS. Aeth. c. 14, comprising the Four Gospels in Ge’ez script is thought to come from the Gojjam province in north-western part of Ethiopia. There are four colour miniatures of the Evangelists, one before each Gospel. These were made by Nicolo Brancaleone, a Venetian artist active in Ethiopia.

The other mid-fifteenth century illuminated manuscript, MS. Aeth. d. 19 includes Psalms, hymns of the Old Testament, Song of Songs and Praises of Mary.


The display at the Bodleian was received with great interest and there definitely was a sense of enthusiasm for promoting the collection also in the future. Many thanks to the colleagues in the Oriental collections, as well as Exhibitions department for their support. It was a great pleasure to meet the many members of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society and we look forward to welcoming all back in the future!

Thai Manuscript Conservation Association Workshop at the Bodleian

On 14th and 15th December staff from Bodleian Special Collections and Digital Library Systems and Services welcomed representatives from the Manuscript Conservation Association of Thailand. Delegates included Mr. Boonlert Sananon, President of the MCA, Mr. Boonlue Burarnsan, Vice President of the MCA, and Mrs. Phatchanun Bunnag, Registrar of the MCA.

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During the first day of the workshop delegates discussed the latest developments in TEI /XML cataloguing standards for Thai manuscripts at the Centre for Digital Scholarship. On the morning of second day of the workshop the delegates visited the Conservation workshop. This was followed by a lecture by given Mr Saneh Mahapol, from the Fine Arts Department of the Ministry of Culture on the conservation of palm leaf books in Thailand.

The workshop ended with delegates helping the library to identify and make basic TEI descriptions of uncatalogued Thai manuscripts in the Bodleian’s collection.

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Georgian Manuscript Treasures on Display

aak_029, 17/1/03, 2:38 pm, 8C, 5022x7594 (1839+1550), 100%, afn bent6stops, 1/50 s, R13.8, G29.5, B46.9

Visitors to the Weston Library on Wednesday 19th October will have the opportunity to see two 17th century manuscripts of Shota Rustaveli’s epic poem, which will be on display to accompany Dr. Nikoloz Aleksidze’s lecture ‘Come, let us sit for Tariel’: The story of The Man in the Panther’s Skin. This 12th century work was dedicated to Queen Tamar, Georgia’s greatest ruler, and to this day remains a monument of Georgian national identity. The two manuscripts that will be on show were added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2014 as part of a joint nomination made with Georgia’s National Centre of Manuscripts. Registered lecture goers will also have the chance to view the manuscripts from 5pm in the Blackwell Hall before the start of the talk at 5.30pm.

 

Donation of Georgian Books for the Wardrop Collection

Dr. Nikoloz Aleksidze, who organised the recent Oxford University colloquium Medieval Georgian Heritage in Turkey, has been instrumental in securing a significant donation of Georgian books to help extend the collection of reference materials available to scholars working with the Wardrop collection.

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The colloquium featured an impressive display of publications on the manuscripts, heritage and culture of Georgia, which had been donated by the Korneli Kekelidze National Centre of Manuscripts, the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia, Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia and Buba Kudava of Artanuji Publishing. These donations have now come to the Bodleian, which has one of the finest collections of Kartvelain material outside of Georgia built on the nucleus of books, manuscripts and archives donated by the Wardrops.

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The Wardrop Collection was formed by Sir Oliver Wardrop, who was the United Kingdom’s first Chief Commissioner of Transcaucasus in Georgia, 1919-21 and his sister Marjory, who, after teaching herself Georgian, was the first person to make an English prose translation of the Georgian National epic, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin.  After Marjory’s early death in 1909, the Marjory Wardrop Fund was founded for the encouragement of Georgian studies and from 1910, through this fund, the Bodleian became the beneficiary of all Marjory Wardrop’s papers, books and manuscripts. They were supplemented by further donations from Sir Oliver until his death in 1948. The library has continued to build on this foundation ever since.

Over the coming months, Dr. Aleksidze will be writing a series of guest blogs which will highlight items from the collection and in the autumn he will commence a series of lectures at the Weston Library focusing on the extraordinary legacy of the Wardrops.

 

 

 

 

 

Newly Digitized Arabic Astronomy Manuscript Now Online

The Bodleian Libraries’ important 12th-century copy of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Ṣūfī’s Book of Fixed Stars, an illustrated Arabic treatise on the Constellations is now available online via Digital Bodleian and Fihrist.

sufif1rdetail

MS. Huntington 212, folio 1r, detail

Bodleian Libraries MS. Huntington 212, an early copy of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Ṣūfī‘s book Kitāb Ṣuwar al-kawākib al-thābitah or Book of the Constellations of the Fixed Stars was made in 566 AH/1170 CE for the treasury of Sayf al-Dīn Ghāzī II, Zangid Emir of Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq. This is attested to by a gilded dedication panel on folio 1r. The panel is virtually illegible now to the naked eye as it was apparently defaced by a subsequent owner; possibly to efface the memory of a rival (see left).

 

 

The manuscript, which is part of a large collection bought by the Library in 1693 from the Orientalist Robert Huntington, is believed to be the fourth oldest surviving copy of the treatise and has recently been the object of a large scale conservation project by Robert Minte of the Conservation team at the Bodleian Libraries.

This copy’s importance and significance has increased since doubts were raised about the authenticity of the date of Bodleian Libraries MS. Marsh 144, the colophon of which states that it was made in 400 AH/1009 CE. It is likely to have been made more than 150 years later than this.

Al-Ṣūfī’s treatise was originally composed in about 964 CE and contains images of most of the 48 Classical Constellations both as they appear on the celestial sphere and on the celestial globe – each being a mirror image of the other –  together with tables of data on the position (latitude and longitude) and magnitude of each star which makes up the constellation. Al-Ṣūfī’s observations represent an advance on those made by Ptolemy in the 2nd century CE.

The Huntington Collection copy also contains two rare images of so-called Bedouin Constellations superimposed over the Ptolemaic ones, and these appear on folios 40r-40v, and also on folio 74v, where a constellation in the form of a camel appears drawn in red ink alongside the classical constellation of Andromeda  (see below).

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A Bedouin Constellation in the form of a camel alongside the Classical Constellation of Andromeda.

Thanks to the conservation work done on the manuscript it is now available for scholarly study once again, and will also travel to an exhibition in New York later in 2016.