This page from a zoological manuscript contains lines of text and two drawings of wild animals, a lion (recto) and a hare (verso). Although fragmentary pages with drawings are not uncommon from the Fatimid period, especially coming from the ruins of Fustat (Old Cairo), this is one of the earliest surviving folios from a once bound manuscript.
This fragmentary folio was originally part of a zoological treatise with strong roots in the classical tradition. It belongs to a group that is considered to be among the earliest Arabic illustrated manuscripts to survive. The verso features the image of a lion outlined in black ink with touches of red and pink and a few lines of text. The inscription identifies the animal and gives the text’s title, Mantiq al-wahsh (Speech of the Wild Animal), as well as the name of its author, Ka‘b al-Ahbar (d. 652/53), who was among the first Jews to convert to Islam. The title is repeated on the recto, where the image of a hare is painted in the same style and palette.
Although little is known about the Mantiq al-wahsh in particular, the text is part of a group of Arabic sources that are connected to the classical tradition of scientific handbooks, which were copied and expanded by Muslim scholars for centuries. The ninth-century encyclopedic work of al-Jahiz (d. 868/69) titled Kitab al-hayawan (Book of Animals) and the later Kitab na‘t al-hayawan wa-manafi‘ihi (Book of the Identification and the Benefits of Animals) by Ibn Bakhtishu are two of the best-known bestiaries based on Greek texts, which were translated in the late eighth and ninth centuries.
This folio was probably executed during the Fatimid dynasty, whose rulers were avid collectors of illustrated codices. Lions and hares similar to those on this page are seen in Coptic textiles and abound in Fatimid ivories and woodcarvings. In addition, paleographic comparison of the text to other Fatimid works reveals close affinities. The folio was found with hundreds of other paper fragments in the course of early twentieth-century excavations at Fustat, a garrison built in 641 for the armies leading the first phase of the Arab conquest and later incorporated by the Fatimids in their new foundation for al-Qahira (the Victorious), present-day Cairo. The fact that the folio was found in Egypt reinforces its Fatimid attribution.
Francesca Leoni (author) in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Inscription: Verso: Inscription in Arabic in naskhi script at top and bottom of page:
کتاب فیه منطق الوحش/ بأمر ملیح مصور
This book includes Mantiq al-wahsh by the order of Malih, the illustrator
Recto: Inscription in Arabic in naskhi script at top of page:
بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم/ ذکر . . . قال کعب الأحبار عن منطق الوحش فقال نعم إنه
إذا . . . / ضیاع ا لأسد یقول
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Mention [. . .]
Ka‘b al-Ahbar said about Mantiq al-Wahsh. He says yes it is if [...] the realms of the lion who says [...]
Marking: See additional card.
[ Michel E. Abemayor, New York, until 1954; sold to MMA]
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