The library at Saint Catherine’s Monastery is the oldest continually operating library in the world. In the earlier days of books, the parchment they were written on was extremely valuable -- sometimes more valuable than the words written on them. So when someone wanted to copy down a new book, rather than purchase or make a new parchment, they scrapped the words off an older book and wrote the new book instead. Such texts are called "palimpsests." Saint Catherine's has at least 160 plaimpsests. The manuscripts bear faint scratches and flecks of ink beneath more recent writing, the only hint of the treasures they hid.
In an unlikely collaboration between an Orthodox wing of the Christian faith and cutting-edge science, a small group of international researchers are using specialized imaging techniques that photograph the parchments with different colors of light from multiple angles. This technology allows the researchers to read the original texts for the first time since they were wiped away.
And what they found are truly treasures. They found new poems -- or rather, very old poems -- and early religious texts and some rare-language texts doubling the known vocabulary of languages that have not been used for more than 1,000 years. Perhaps most valuable, though, are the entirely new words, in long-forgotten languages. It will take religious, medieval, and linguistic scholars years to sift through all the finds!
According to the poet, traveler, and politician Usama ibn Munqidh, who lived in the 1100s CE, "One of the wonders of the human heart is that a man may face certain death and embark on every danger without his heart quailing from it, and yet he may take fright from something that even boys and women do not fear." ibn Munqidh then told the story of a battle hero his father knew, who "would run out fleeing" if he saw a snake, "saying to his wife, 'The snake's all your's!' And she would have to get up to kill it."
Women Scribes: The Technologists of the Middle Ages
Today, most popular representations of manuscript production and scriptoria depict exclusively male spaces. The image that “scriptorium” conjures up is that of robed men laboring over texts. Yet, women had a very real place in developing, maintaining, and innovating this arduously crafted technology, using it to share visions, communicate with each other, and create works of staggering beauty and insight. Read the full article on medieval women's importance as scribes and writers
From Arabic to Iranian: How A Medieval Physician Changed How Medicine Was Taught
Ismā‘īl ibn Ḥasan Jurjānī (1042–1136 CE), known popularly as Hakim Jurjānī, was one of the most famous Iranian physicians in the 1100s. Since the time of the Arabic conquests, Iranians wrote scientific books in Arabic. It was the lingua franca of the educated and the elite. Jurjānī's medical encyclopedia, Zakhīrah-i Khvārazm’Shāhī ("The Treasure of Khvarazm’Shah") was the first major medical book in post-Islamic Iran written in Persian. Although the alphabet was Arabic.
Jurjānī's textbook soon became a primary resource for Iranian physicians, used for many centuries. It had ten parts, similar to Ibn Sina's earlier "The Canon of Medicine," and was often written with illustrations. The above illustration shows a skeleton as a medieval Iranian physician would have learned it.
The chrysanthemum was brought to Japan around the beginning of the Heian period (794−1185). By the Edo period (1600 - 1868) hundreds of types of chrysanthemums were being cultivated. These pages come from Gakiku, the first picture book of chrysanthemums published in Japan, in 1691. Its beautiful illustrations and Chinese-style poems introduced readers to 100 different varieties of the flower.
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By Lillian Audette
This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!