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Turning the Pages Adds Rare Persian Manuscript

National Library of Medicine (NLM) announces the release of a new Turning the Pages virtual book on its Web site as well as in kiosks at NLM. The new book is the Kitab Aja’ib al-makhluqat wa Gharaib al-Mawjudat, literally “The Wonders of Creation,” compiled in the middle 1200s in what is now Iran or Iraq. The vibrantly illustrated work is considered one of the most important natural history texts of the medieval Islamic world.

The author, Abu Yahya Zakariya ibn Muhammad ibn Mahmud-al-Qazwini (ca. 1203-1283 CE), is known simply as al-Qazwini. One of the most noted natural historians, geographers and encyclopedists of the period, he was born in the city of Qazwin in Persia and received much of his education in Baghdad, the cultural center of the region. Al-Qazwini wrote most of his works in Arabic. This beautifully illustrated Persian translation was created in 1537 in the Mughal Empire, corresponding to what is now Pakistan and northern India.

“The Wonders of Creation” is divided into two sections, focusing respectively on celestial phenomena, including the planets, stars, and angels, and the terrestrial world, including geography, ethnography, zoology, and botany. Al-Qazwini was primarily a compiler of information from different authors, both ancient and medieval, and made few original observations of his own. However, his flowing and understandable writing style and thoroughness on different topics made his texts popular and often quoted.

The manuscript copy itself consists of 335 leaves of paper with more than 150 illustrations, in opaque watercolors and ink, of constellations, mythical figures, and various plants and animals placed throughout the text. The Web exhibition contains a selection of these pages, accompanied by explanatory text.

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