Visitors to the Weston Library on Wednesday 30th November will have the opportunity to see two Georgian manuscripts from the Wardrop collection, which will be on display to accompany Dr. Nikoloz Aleksidze’s lecture ‘Amiran Unbound’: Christ’s last foe in the Caucasus. From the early days of their 1894 stay in Georgia, Marjory Wardrop and her brother Oliver were fascinated by the abundance of tales of a chained hero Amiran, recounted throughout the entire Caucasian highlands. These stories bore a striking resemblance to the classical myth of Prometheus, meanwhile revealing a quasi-Christian influence. The Wardrops launched something of an ethnographic quest in attempts to discover the lost ‘Caucasian cousin’ of the Greek titan. The display will include Oliver Wardrop’s notes on a version of the tale told by a smith (MS. Wardr. d. 40/4, f. 2r). The legend says that when Amiran was chained to the rock, his faithful dog began licking the chain and by Maundy Thursday had made it so thin that it would have broken had it not been for a smith striking his anvil with his hammer that day, which caused the chain to become as strong as it was before. This gave rise to the tradition of smiths striking their anvils on Maundy Thursday to ward off the calamity of Amiran escaping his chain.
A 19th century manuscript of the Bežaniani, one of the many Georgian adaptations of the Shahnameh, will also be on display (MS. Wardr. e. 23, fols 24v-25r). Manuscripts of this type were used for oral performances in the public spaces of Tbilisi. The crude addition of the orthodox creed in the opening on that will be on show, suggests the religious zeal to suppress such ‘unchristian’ behaviour.
Registered lecture goers will also have the chance to view these manuscripts from 5pm in the Blackwell Hall before the start of the talk at 5.30pm.
One of the joys of working for the Bodleian is the capacity of manuscripts to surprise. During the final preparations for The hunt in Mughal India exhibition , I was asked to look at the mount of one of the manuscripts for display (MS. Ouseley Add. 171, f. 6r). The 1947 mount tightly framed the miniature, which is painted in subdued greens and browns. When folded back from the miniature, the artist’s border of warm pink and gold was revealed, bringing the whole composition to life. It was a pleasure to give permission for the old mount cover to be removed so the picture could be displayed as the artist had originally intended it to be seen.
A further hidden masterpiece that cannot be shown in the exhibition is the reverse of the painting of the nobleman hunting with a decoy blackbuck (MS. Douce Or. b. 3, f. 29r), which is covered with exquisite calligraphy. The relationship between the calligraphic panel and the painting has yet to be fully researched.
The hunt in Mughal India exhibition runs until the 8th of January and is open to the public. Readers at the Bodleian Oriental Institute Library can also see an associated exhibit of modern printed books relating to the theme of the Mughal hunt.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
The library welcomes Camillo Formigatti who will take up the position of John Clay Sanskrit Librarian on 1st February. Camillo has a doctorate in Indology from the University of Hamburg and has previously worked as a Research Associate on the Sanskrit Manuscripts Project, Cambridge. He is extremely excited at the opportunity to promote the world of Sanskrit literature, which is brought to life in the Clay Sanskrit Library series and which is preserved in the Bodleian Libraries’ historic collections of manuscripts and books. Describing it as, ‘the type of job I always hoped I might one day be able to do,’ Camillo looks forward to sharing insights into this rich and ancient literary heritage over the coming months.