As modern readers, we tend to have certain expectations of what a text isand we tend to approach books with similar expectations. A book, in our understanding, contains an original text with a high level of integrity. It cannot be copied without acknowledgement and not changed at will.
The manuscript catalogued as Huntington 348 in Oxford’s Bodleian Library documents that the career of texts in premodern societies with traditionsof handwritten books was marked bydifferent circumstances. It also illustrates the many ways in which manuscripts as individually produced copies of texts were subject to a variety of changes, some deliberate, others less so.Fire, water and worms all left their own marks on books and the texts they preserved.Scribes were not always able to read texts well, they misunderstood or misconstrued. Some hadpoor eyesight or worked through the night.
The story of Oxford, Huntington 348 begins in the second half of the eighth century of the Common Era in the Middle East. The first dynasty of Muslim caliphs, the Umayyads, had just been overthrown by the Abbasids. This dynasty of caliphs turned their newly established capital Baghdad into a cosmopolitan center of learning. Translators and scholars made a substantial body of Greek, Persian and Sanskrit literature on philosophy and science available in Arabic. It is against the backdrop of this intellectual effort that falconry literature too began to flourish in Arabic. Even though in this case we cannot identify any predecessors in other languages the texts preserved in Oxford, Huntington 348 tell us that the Abbasid caliph al-Mahd?(reg. 775-785) received books on falconry from the wider region, notably from the Byzantine and Persian empires, but also from Central Asia. We are told that a copy of a book in which this knowledge was gathered was discovered in the library of al-Mahd?’s son and successor, H?r?n al-Rash?d (reg. 786-809). What exactly this book looked like, however, is hard to establish for what has come down to us are only different versions of this original text.
Two branches are commonly distinguished. There is the al-?ajj?j version which begins with an account of aman with that name who discovered the book in H?r?n’s collectionandbecame curious about its contents and origins. Thepreface also mentions two men, Adham ibn Mu?riz al-B?hil? and al-Ghi?r?f ibn Qud?ma al-Ghass?n?, as important figures in the book’s history.The latter, al-Ghi?r?f, had already served caliphs of the previous, Umayyad dynasty as keeper of their hunting animals. The other branch, the Iskandar version, begins with a fictitiousdialogue between Alexander (Arabic: Iskandar) the Great and his scholars about the physical constitution of birds of prey. The question is of critical importance to this book which is to a large extent concerned with medical conditions of trained raptors–in addition to descriptions of different birds of prey and instructions for training. Both versions were popular in the Middle East. About a dozen copies of each branch have to date been identified. Some of this material even found its way into Latin and Castilian falconry literature.
At what point in this history the present manuscript was copied is difficult to tell. Estimates range from as early as the fifteenth and as late as the seventeenth century of the Common Era. What is curious is that the scribe included examples of both versions of our early Abbasid book as if they were two different texts. (The scribe was presumably following a model since an older manuscript in Istanbul contains the same combination.) Although more than the two different prefaces distinguishes the al-?ajj?j from the Iskandar version the two branches are still so close to each other that in our manuscriptchapters appear twice. Whoever was responsible for the combination of texts in our manuscript and its Istanbul ancestor also included two other texts. One is a short text about the management of hawks and dogs of just a few pages, the other a slightly longer passage from a book on hunting by the multifacetted scholar Kush?jim who died in the third quarter of the tenth century. The passage concerns regulations concerning hunting in Islamic law, especially under which circumstances the meat of prey can be considered ritually pure for consumption by Muslims.In the excerpt included here, the author referred to the passage in the Qur’an which allows Muslims to eat meat of animals killedby trained predators.The challenge was how to establish that predators had in fact caught prey for their human trainers rather than for themselves.The author weaves words from the Qur’an seamlessly into his discussion, relying on his reader’s familiarity with the text.
From part II, the al-?ajj?j version of the book of Adham and al-Ghi?r?f, excerpt fromchapter 35 on how to improve the response of the raptor if it does not respond well.
Those with knowledge about hunting agree that when responding, in swooping flight, when having flown far and when being greedy [or: flying in circles], there is nothing a raptor responds faster to than a white dove. Therefore, falconers should always carry in their bags wings of a large white bird as well as living white doves and the raptor should become used to eating on it. If the raptor flies away from the falconer, he should call him with the wing, and if the raptor turns away from him, he should release the dove towards him which is tied to a rope. The raptor will descend upon it swiftly.If the raptor does not respond well, feed it sweet basil (Arabic: ?awlor ?awk), which is also known as b?dar?jwhich has been dried and crushed. Or give it three pieces of yellow iris, or take some cattle salt (or: rock salt), which is red like pistachios. Give it to the bird and feed it some of it on meat, and it will spit out what makes it ill and its manner will improve.
From part IV, the excerpt from Kush?jim’s Kit?bal-ma??yid wa’l-ma??rid(Book of Traps and Spears)
The dog laps up blood. If a trained dog laps up blood from a hunted animal it is permitted (for Muslims) to eat (its meat), for the predators and raptors have been dispatched to take the game so that it can be eaten, not so that its blood be drunken. The lapping of some of the blood does not remove it from its state of ‘being caught’, for we have dispatched the predator so that it ‘catches for us’ what we are allowed to ‘catch’, which is what we are allowed to eat.