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Lecture | LUCIS

Mapping the Transmission of Knowledge in Tenth-Century Baghdad: an Investigation of the Fihrist of Ibn al-Nadim

Wednesday 17 July 2019
Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 3
2311 BZ Leiden
1.04 (Verbarium)

The Fihrist, or The Catalogue is an encyclopedic bibliographical work completed in 987 C.E. by the Baghdadi bookseller Ibn al-Nadim (d. 990 C.E.), like the card catalogue for the combined libraries of tenth-century Iraq. The Fihrist is a crucial work for the history transmission of knowledge, the single most important source on the translation of Greek, Persian, and Sanskrit scientific legacies into Arabic in the 8th-10th centuries. By giving a chronological, book-based history of each discipline, from mathematics, medicine, philosophy, and Islamic law to alchemy, falconry, cooking, and chess, Ibn al-Nadīm provides a taxonomy of human knowledge as it was represented in Arabic and Islamic letters by his time, as well as a view of the oikumene centered on Baghdad and the East and the Indian Ocean. While scholars in Arabic and Islamic studies and other related fields have recognized the Fihrist’s importance and used it as a source of information regularly since its publication in 1871-72, its manuscript tradition is complex, and the most recent editions are still far from perfect. The study of the work and its author since the mid-nineteenth century has been a comedy of errors, replete with false assumptions, setbacks, and failures to build on earlier studies, and the text contains a large number of copyist’s errors and puzzling passages and book titles that are waiting to be explained. This lecture will provide an overview of the Fihrist, explaining Ibn al-Nadīm’s view of the world and of the transmission of knowledge and calling attention to the various types of textual problems in the work that have yet to be solved.

About Devin Stewart

Devin Stewart is Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Emory University. His research has focused on Islamic law and legal education, the text of the Qur'an, Shiite Islam, Islamic sectarian relations, and Arabic dialectology. His published works include Islamic Legal Orthodoxy: Twelver Shiite Responses to the Sunni Legal System (University of Utah Press, 1998) and a number of articles on leading Shiites scholars of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries.

His work on the Qur'an includes "Sajfi in the Qur'an: Prosody and Structure" [Journal of Arabic Literature 21 (1990): 101-39] and "Rhymed Prose" (Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an, forthcoming). His studies on Arabic dialects include "Clitic Reduction in the Formation of Modal Prefixes in the Post-Classical Arabic Dialects and Classical Arabic Sa-/ Sawfa." Arabica 45 (1998): 104-28, "Impoliteness Formulae: The Cognate Curse in Egyptian Arabic" Journal of Semitic Studies 42 (1997): 327-60 and other studies. At present, Dr. Stewart is working on a major investigation of manuals of Islamic legal theory (usul al-fiqh) authored between 800 and 1000 C.E., a study of rhyme and rhythm in the text of the Qur'an, and several other projects.

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