Compiling Knowledge in the Medieval Islamic World
Classical encyclopedias and compendia such as Pliny’s Natural History have long been known to Western audiences, but the considerably more recent works of medieval Islamic scholars have been comparatively ignored. In this episode, we talk to Elias Muhanna about his new translation of a fourteenth-century Arabic compendium by Egyptian scholar Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri, which covers everything from astrological and natural phenomena to religion, politics, food, animals, sex, and of course history. Al-Nuwayri’s compendium, entitled The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition (Nihayat al-arab fi funun al-adab), is rare glimpse into not only the worldview of a 14th century scholar but also the centuries of texts and learning available to the literati of the Mamluk Empire and the medieval Islamicate world.
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