The Book Of Wonders

human-rabbit-1Alfred Brehm wasn’t the first to use the title  Life of Animals — Brehms Tierleben (English title: Brehm’s Life of Animals.)

Approximately in 1371, a book with the same name (Haiyat al-Haiyawan حَياة الْحَيوان الكُبرى or Lives of the Animals) was written by the Egyptian author Muhammad Ibn Musa Kamal Ad-din Al-Damiri (1341-1405). It is a compilation of works by many authors on the 931 animals mentioned in the Qur’an, including folklore, proverbs, lawfulness of hunting and eating, medical uses and meaning of names, the interpretation of dreams about each animal, and often a quirky miniature painting of one or many of the creatures in question. Some are recognizable, such as the foxes, cats, dogs, rabbits and goats, while others are wildly imagined and intricately depicted.

‘Island of Tin, plagued by dragons,’ from 17th or 18th century manuscript copy of “The Book of Wonders of the Age” (St Andrews ms32(o))

‘Island of Tin, plagued by dragons,’ from 17th or 18th century manuscript copy of “The Book of Wonders of the Age” (St Andrews ms32(o))

The library of the University of St Andrews has a manuscript (ms32(o)) known as Book of the Wonders of the Age, lavishly illustrated, packed with mysterious monsters and people doing strange things… The XVII – XVII (?) century manuscript is actually incomplete parts of 2 works, bound together, the first being an abbreviated section of Haiyat al-Haiyawan by Al-Damiri, translated to Farsi (Persian) from Arabic.

The illustration on top of this post is a rabbit with a human head from  “The Book of Wonders of the Age” (St Andrews ms32(o))

circle-of-elephants-1The circle of elephants depicts the attack on Mecca by Abraha, king of Yemen, around 570, who brought his war elephants intending to destroy the Kaaba.hoopoe-1

The hoopoe, or huh-hud in Persian, introduced King Solomon to the Queen of Sheba and represents virtue. The snake wrapped around the world was evicted from paradise and can never be trusted.people-with-animal-heads-maybe-jinns-1

Jinns from 17th or 18th century manuscript copy of “The Book of Wonders of the Age” (St Andrews ms32(o))al-buraq-1Some animals are clearly imaginary or exist only in Muslim tradition, such as al-burāq, the famous mount with human face, horse’s mane, peacock tail and camel’s feet on which Muhammad ascended to heaven; the simurgh, a mythical bird with the head of a dog and lion’s claws; and the jinns with wings or with elephant, cat and rabbit heads.

island-of-cyprus-1

Island of Cyprus

island-of-giant-bird-1

Island of giant bird

island-of-long-beards-1

Island of long beards

There is so much more wondrous things in the St Andrews manuscript…

To be continued.

 

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