Friday, 30 March 2007

The Book of Curiosities of the Sciences and Marvels for the Eyes

A rare Arab manuscript was acquired a couple of years ago to great fanfare by the Bodleian Library and was displayed for a period with some other very interesting manuscripts (including a copy of Chaucer's Astrolabe). The catalogue of that manuscript was published by the Bodleian and is entitled Medieval Views of the Cosmos: Picturing the Universe in the Christian and Islamic Middle Ages (2004). The manuscript, now MS Arab c. 90, has been put online for digital consultation and quality of the images is wonderful. This is a marvellous project and well worth browsing. The manuscript is a late 12th or early 13th century copy and was probably made in Egypt, and is of paramount importance for its unusually large set of maps of the heavens and the earth. It is a compilation of material that has hitherto been known in a fragmentary state and so offers to chance to do much recuperation and reconstruction. For those who wish to know more, I recommend: Jeremy Johns and Emilie Savage-Smith, 'The Book of Curiosities: A Newly Discovered Series of Islamic Maps', Imago Mundi, 55 (2003), 7-24. It has me thinking a lot about all the talk about an Arabic source in Dante, and when you browse through this manuscript and look at the extraordinary topographies, you really do wonder.

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