Medieval Islamic Views of the Cosmos
The Book of Curiosities
Bodleain Library
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In June 2002, the Bodleian Library acquired a highly illustrated manuscript (now MS. Arab. c. 90) of a hitherto unknown Arabic cosmographical treatise, the يKitāb Gharāʾib al-funūn wa-mulaḥ al-ʿuyūn, loosely translated as The Book of Curiosities of the Sciences and Marvels for the Eyes. The manuscript is a copy, probably made in Egypt in the late 12th or early 13th century, of an anonymous work compiled in Egypt during the first half of the 11th century. It is extraordinarily important for the history of science, especially for astronomy and cartography, and contains an unparalleled series of diagrams of the heavens and maps of the earth. No less importantly, both the illustrations and the text preserve material gathered from Muslim astronomers, historians, scholars, and travellers, of the 9th to 11th centuries, whose works are now either lost or preserved only in fragments.ي

The acquisition of the Book of Curiosities was made possible by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and generous donations from the National Arts Collections Fund, the Friends of the Bodleian Library, Saudi Aramco, several Oxford colleges (All Souls College, Merton College, New College, Nuffield College, St Antony’s College, St Cross College, St John’s College, Wadham College, and Wolfson College) and a number of private individuals.ي

These grants and donations also provided funds for the conservation, pigment analysis, and digitisation of the manuscript; the exhibition of the manuscript for the general public; the preparation of a school teacher’s pack based on portions of the manuscript; and the creation of this website. Moreover, the monies supported the project (partially funded as well by the Arts & Humanities Research Council) to prepare a full study of the treatise, including an edition of the Arabic text with English translation, all mounted on this website. The recently established Khalili Research Centre for the Art & Material Culture of the Middle East provided a home for the execution of the project.ي

This site contains an electronic high-quality reproduction of the original text and its illustrations, linked by mouse-overs to a modern Arabic edition and an English translation. This electronic form of publication is particularly suited to the Book of Curiosities, both because the manuscript is in a fragile state and because much of the material in the treatise is in the form of diagrams and maps. It is also hoped that the electronic publication will allow the edition of this manuscript to be an on-going collective enterprise, where comments and feedback from users will continually enrich our understanding of the manuscript. Therefore, your suggestions on any aspect of this website and its contents will be welcomed and gratefully acknowledged.

This site allows you to:
  • View all the images and pages in the Book of Curiosities in original size and colour
  • Follow mouse-over links to read an English translation and an Arabic edition of any unit of text or map label
  • Search for English and Arabic terms, and locate them in the manuscript
  • Consult explanatory diagrams
  • Download a Teacher's Pack for Key Stage 3
To begin viewing the manuscript, click on the Book of Curiosities option.
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