Image: Gianni Dagli Orti.
This week, we’re publishing four short excerpts from The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition, a fourteenth-century encyclopedia of … well, everything, or everything known to Arab civilization circa 1314. Compiled with dogged dedication by Shihāb al-Dīn al-Nuwayrī, the book runs to more than nine thousand pages; an abridged version is now available for the first time in English. Ultimate Ambition lives up to its bold title—its eclectic, protean entries cover lunar cults, the sugary drinks in the sultan’s buttery, and how to attract your dream woman by burying a crow’s head. Its translator, Elias Muhanna, believes the compendium affords “a view into the kaleidoscopic and multifarious intellectual tradition of the classical Islamic world”; the New York Review of Books calls it “a bizarre, fascinating book that illustrate[s] the sprawlingly heterodox reality of the early centuries of Islam.” Today’s extract:
On Qualities of Places with Respect to Different Things such as Knowledge, Work, Gems, Clothes, Furs, Carpets, Steeds, Poisonous Animals, Sweets, Fruits, Aromatics, Physical Features and Manners, Diseases, and Meteorological Phenomena
As for intellectual and professional qualities, one talks about the sages of Greece, the doctors of Jundaysābūr, the jewelers of Harrān, the weavers of Yemen, and the scribes of al-Sawād (in Iraq).
With jewels, one talks of the turquoise of Nishapur, the rubies of Sarandīb (Sri Lanka), the pearls of Oman, the emeralds of Egypt, the carnelian of Yemen, the onyx of Zafār, the garnets of Balkh, and the coral of Ifrīqiya. Read More