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In the Authors Hand pdf

In the Author’s Hand: Holograph and Authorial Manuscripts in the Islamic Handwritten Tradition

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 In The Authors Hand
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Elise Franssen, Frédéric Bauden
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Introduction – IN THE AUTHORS HAND

In recent years, a growing interest in “Oriental manuscripts” in all their aspects, including the extrinsic ones, has been observed.1The COMSt project is certainly emblematic of this interest, and the manual, published as a result of the activ-ities of the group, is its best achievement.2

The inter- and trans-disciplinary “Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures” created in Hamburg University reflects a similar interest. In addition, new notions like “social codicology” or “collectology,” coined by Olly Akkerman,3 have appeared and open new per-spectives of research. Konrad Hirschler’s current project and talks about Ibn ʿAbd al-Hādī’s Fihrist of the manuscripts of the ʿUmariyya Madrasa of Damas-cus are part of this new trend, to cite only these few examples.

Nevertheless, specific questions raised by the exceptional manuscripts that are holographs have yet to be investigated. Some of the aspects to be scruti-nized include their intrinsic value in terms of philology, textual criticism and ecdotics, codicology or paleography, their importance for our understanding of the working methods of past scholars, for our apprehension of book culture and the publication process, for our grasp of the transmission of knowledge, or more simply, the necessity that we compare these specific manuscripts in order to acknowledge other holograph manuscripts or autograph notes by the same author.

The question of terminology should be addressed before we begin. We must first clarify and precisely define “autograph,” “holograph,” and “authorial manuscript.” Chapter 3 in this volume shows eloquent examples of possible case studies, and within the scope of this introduction, we offer a theoreti-cal clarification of the situation. But first and foremost stands the question of authorship: could there be a holograph without any author?

The notion of authorship in pre-modern Islam is not as simple as it is at the present time: the isolated scholar composing his texts alone is not the only reality attested. As eloquently exposed by Lale Behzadi and Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila, we can observe different degrees of authorship.4

The intellectual pater-nity of texts is not the only way to consider authors in pre-modern Islam. If we turn to the expressions used in the sources and in the colophons, we find many different terms: next to the kātib, we have the muṣannif, the muʾallif, the jāmiʿ, the murattib, etc. Each one refers to different aspects of authority, from the material activity of writing (kātib), to the intellectual process of creating a text (muṣannif ), to the arrangement and compilation process (muʾallif, jāmiʿ, murattib).

 It is important to note that the activity of a compiler, who chooses to gather together different texts is understood to be creative work, to a certain degree, since it gives birth to a new work, with new meanings coming into real-ity from the union of the different pre-existing texts.5 In this sense, the person who compiles a notebook or a commonplace book (tadhkira), a collection of tales or an anthology of poems, can be considered an author as well (see chap-ter 4, pp. 78–135, and chapter 10, pp. 323–431).

Finally, we should include a note on orality, since it adds a new layer of authority: we have examples of texts which, after publication (in the first sense, i.e., after having been rendered public) were modified in order to suit their audi-ence (e.g., recited poems that were then written and distributed, or texts for which an ijāza was issued that were later modified by their author).6

The con-text and transmission process thus play a significant role in the very nature of the text. In the same sense, an amorphous collection of tales with a common structure but also notable differences—like the Thousand and One Nights—does not always present the same texts, in the same order. Various textual traditions or recensions exist, and sometimes more than one manuscript con-tains the same text. The identification of a particular hand traceable in different manuscripts of a same textual recension is thus similar to the identification of holograph manuscripts.


Etymologically speaking, the word “holograph” comes from late Latin “hŏlŏ-grăphus, a, um” (from the Greek ὁλόγραφος) and means “entirely written by the author’s hand.”7 The legal terminology kept the term: a holograph will is fully handwritten by its author, and hence considered more faithful to one’s last wishes, while a typed will hand signed by the testator bears an autograph of the latter, the autograph being the signature.

 In French, the term “holographe,” also spelled more faithfully to its Greek etymology “olographe,” is attested as early as 1235, in its form “orograff,” whereas “autographe” is first attested only in 1553 in the form “aftographe.”8 In English, both the terms “holograph” and “auto-graph” derive from the French and appear in the seventeenth or eighteenth century.9 Following Gacek,10 we recommend the use of this precise terminol-ogy: a holograph is a manuscript entirely written by its author. An autograph is a short inscription by a person bearing his/her name (in the frame of manuscript studies, typically a signed colophon, an ownership mark, or a consultation note).

An authorial manuscript is defined here as a manuscript copied by a scribe and then revised by the author of the text, who left autograph interventions, such as corrections, emendations, cancellations or comments, in the margins or in any blank space of the manuscript (interlinear space, title page, margin, etc.).

This is typically the case of MS Or. 560 (Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek), al-Maqrīzī’s Collection of opuscules that is currently being edited separately in the Bibliotheca Maqriziana series.11 At the time he published these works, al-Maqrīzī was already in his old age. He asked a scribe to make a fair copy of his opuscules and he then collated the manuscript.

He was right to do this, because he had to correct many passages in his own hand. He also added a comment at the end of each treatise, sometimes complaining about the poor quality of the scribe’s work.12

With regard to texts copied by a famous author, scholar or calligra-pher, Adam Gacek tackled the well-known case of Khalīl b. Aybak al-Ṣafadī (d. 764/1363) whose handwriting was handsome; thus, he served as a scribe, calligrapher, and illuminator on various occasions.13 But if the text is not an original work handwritten by the author, the manuscript cannot be called a holograph—otherwise, any manuscript would be the holograph of its scribe.

We have no particular word to refer to such manuscripts, we are reduced to using an expression as precise as possible, like “MS X by So-and-so, in the hand of So-and-so, with the autograph comments of So-and-so.”

Some authors indeed played the role of copyists, perhaps to earn a living—chancery secretaries were especially gifted in this activity, since beautiful hand-writing was necessary for such work,14—or for scholarship. We can assume that the features of the final manuscript differed according to its final desti-nation: a manuscript penned to be sold was usually more nicely copied, with a steady handwriting, careful mise en page, regular margins, on even and good quality paper, and with the use of text dividers and rubrication when neces-sary.

 By contrast, if the manuscript was intended for the personal use of the writer/scholar, the result might be much more messy and hardly legible, the support might be reused paper, the lines of the writing may go in different direc-tions, with hardly any margin delimited. Nevertheless, some medieval scholars who worked in the chancery were accustomed to writing well, such that they could not help doing it and even their drafts or personal notebooks resem-bled fair copies. Once again, this is the case with al-Ṣafadī who, even in his commonplace book (tadhkira), took the trouble to use red ink and to cen-ter the titles or subtitles of the book extract he was writing (see fig. 1.1).

The same is valid for his drafts: MS Ayasofya 1970, the tenth volume of Aʿyān al-ʿaṣr, al-Ṣafadī’s biographical dictionary of his contemporaries, shows obvious marks of a work in progress—parts of pages are left blank, others present many marginal glosses and additions, slips of paper are added in the binding—, but it is still very well structured, with a centered inscription in larger script at….

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