Ahmed Bican Yazıcıoğlu, Dürr-i meknûn. Kritische Edition mit Kommentar. Laban Kaptein (Hg.)
This is the first critical text edition with commentary of Dürr-i Meknûn, “The Hidden Pearl”, the Turkish cosmography traditionally attributed to the famous dervish Ahmed Bican Yazıcıoğlu. Arguably the first academic monograph in history with professional Arabic typography and design page layout with advanced software that does ample justice to the calligraphic variations in the Ottoman script, the book also sets a new standard for academic publishing using computer-aided Arabic typography.
This 15th century work is essential for researchers of early Ottoman culture and language. (Click here for sample pages.) In addition, it is a treasure trove of exceptional material, such as deer worship among the Ottomans, and a graphic tale about the Flood. Ken‘an, one of the sons of Nuh (Noah), refusing to join his father in the Ark, tried to survive the Flood in a kind of diving bell. He was punished by God for this disobedience with a supernatural bladder infection and drowned in his own urine inside his own contraption.
Its sheer volume and range of subjects make the Dürr-i Meknûn, which is now available to scholars worldwide thanks to Kaptein’s copious German commentary, and paraphrasing translation, also an exceedingly interesting source for students in the fields of Byzantine studies, the Renaissance, cosmographies, bestiaries and encyclopedias, comparative religion, theology, early modern medicine, folklore, and the dynamics of cultural interchange in the eastern Mediterranean.
Ahmed Bican Yazıcıoğlu, Dürr-i meknûn. Kritische Edition mit Kommentar. Laban Kaptein (Hg.)
Asch: privately published, 2007. PRICE: € 460.
(Remember, this book is self-published, so please order through this website only. Thank you for your consideration.)
The Ottoman Turkish cosmography Dürr-i Meknûn
The dervish and scholar Ahmed Bican (Bidjan, Bijan), who died around 1466, was a propagandist of the Turkish language. He himself wrote, without exception, in Turkish, and as no other worked as a translator and compiler of amusing literature on the basis of works which, at that time, were written in the dominant language, Arabic. He is generally considered to be one of the most important originators of Ottoman-Turkish culture. For example, the well-known legend about the founding of Istanbul can be traced back to his Dürr-i Meknûn.
In the Dürr-i Meknûn, Bican approaches the world from the Creation according to cosmographic tradition. Details about the heavenly bodies are followed by tales of ancient nations, prophets and divine punishments, discourses on wondrous stones, images, magical and medicinal plants and descriptions of mythical creatures, after which Bican provides information about faraway countries, seas and islands with their bizarre inhabitants (e.g., the cynocephali). Fittingly the book concludes with the terrors that await us at the End of the World. This is an Ovidian world: set against the background of the ultimate metamorphosis of the shaping and reshaping of the Universe, an endless chain of change and transformation takes place on all levels and in all creatures, places and ages.
The edition contains the complete text of the Dürr-i Meknûn in Ottoman script, divided into sections (§), and provided with critical apparatus, register, paraphrasing and extensive commentary in German. The book also includes a new, comprehensive discussion of the Forschungsstand, including, among other things, new material on the Jeunes de Langue Joseph Brüe, Alexandre Philibert Deval and Étienne Roboly, who translated a number of chapters from the Dürr-i Meknûn in the early 18th century.
Little is known of the life of Ahmed Bican. We do know that he belonged to the religious Bayramiyye order and that he came from Gelibolu (Gallipoli). He was born into a literary family. Both his father, Salih Yazıcı, and his older brother Mehmed, the author of the famed Muhammediyye, were eminent writers. The gravestones in Gelibolu for Ahmed and Mehmed, and their meditation cells, are tourist attractions even today. On account of his austere way of life – in addition to religious fasting, he also advocated foregoing sleeping at night – Ahmed Bican came to be known as Bican, the Lifeless, an epithet with which he went down in history. He is thought to have died in 1466.
However pale and scrawny Ahmed may have looked, he certainly did not lack vitality and drive. He has a number of successful religious and encyclopaedic works to his name, which were transcribed and printed over the centuries. Without doubt his most well-known book is the Envârü’l- ‘âşıkîn, a popular religious work that was widely read right into the 20th century.
The contents of the Dürr-i meknûn
Ahmed Bican has divided the work in 18 chapters, analogous to the 18,000 worlds created by God.
Chapter 1: On the heavens, the Throne, the Throne(-heaven), the Tablet and Pen, Heaven and Hell, the Moon, The Sun and the stars, and the cherubs
Chapter 2: On the respective Earths and their marvels, the creatures living thereon, and on Hell
Chapter 3: About the Earth’s surface and the creatures thereon
Chapter 4: On the science of geodesy (‘handasa’), on climate zones and the days and the hours
Chapter 5: On marvelous mountains
Chapter 6: On the seas and the islands and their great variety of creatures
Chapter 7: On cities, mosques, cloisters and climate zones
(Among these tales, is the Turkish foundation legend of Istanbul, coined here by Bican. See the highly recommendable study by Stéphane Yerasimos, Légendes d’Empire, on the great importance and influence of Bican’s work in this respect.)
Chapter 8: On marvellous mosques and cloisters
Chapter 9: About Süleyman’s (Solomon’s) throne
Chapter 10: About the Throne of Bilqis, and her visit to Süleyman
Chapter 11: On the duration of life
(The science of physiognomy (‘firasa’) also receives a short treatment in this chapter)
Chapter 12: On places destroyed by God’s wrath
Chapter 13: On the properties of plants, fruits and stones according to the ‘Messr. Doctores’
(Bican also wrote a didactic poem on precious stones and their healing properties, titled Cevher-name. Publications include the study Klâsik dönem metinlerinde değerli taşlar ve Risâle-i cevâhir-nâme, by Fatma Sabiha Kutlar, Ankara: Öncü Kitap, 2005. ISBN 975-7447-22-6 / 9789757447221; see also her article with the full transcription of Bican’s poem. For a critical text edition of Ahmed Bican’s poem in the light of different copies, see Serdal Kara, ‘Farklı nüshalar ışığında Ahmed-i Bîcân’ın manzum Cevâhir-nâmesi’nin tenkitli’, A. Ü. Türkiyat Araştırmaları Enstitüsü Dergisi [TAED] 56 (2016), pp. 1105-1124.)
Chapter 14: On figures, statues; some stories on cities
Chapter 15: On birds, among them the Simurgh
Chapter 16: On the occult science of jafr; on what goes on in this World and the Other World; on the secret signs of jafr.
(jafr: Islamic numerology, compare Jewish ‘Kabbalah’)
Chapter 17: On the Signs of Judgment Day
(For a study of Islamic eschatological matter in Dürr-i meknûn’s Chapter 17 and 18 about the ‘Signs of the Hour’, see the monograph by Laban Kaptein, Apocalypse and the Antichrist Dajjal in Islam. Ahmed Bijan’s eschatology revisited. (2011; originally Dutch, 1997, as Eindtijd en Antichrist). This detailed study argues that Bijan uses eschatological imagery in a ‘moral’, traditional way – and that he was not, as is often alleged, in any way a ‘presentist apocalyptic’ writer. The book further offers an in-depth analysis of the figure of Antichrist in Islam, against the background of the earliest Islamic traditions, Judeao-Christian lore, and an Iranian heritage offering even glimpses of an ancient reptilian shapeshifter.)
Chapter 18: On the End of Days; some sermons
(See further the study by Ayşe Bayezit, on Ahmed Bicân’s sufism, in “Müntehâ” isimli Fusûs tercümesi ışığında tasavvuf düşüncesi. Istanbul 2008. The pages 99–495 offer the reader a non-critical transcription text based on an individual manuscript of Müntehâ. (For MS details and colour photographs, see pp. 53, and 527–539.)
In the press
‘the main authority on his [Bican’s] work’ — Dimitri Kastritsis, ‘The Alexander Romance and the rise of the Ottoman Empire’, Islamic literature and intellectual life in fourteenth and fifteenth-century Anatolia. Eds. A.C.S. Peacock and Sara Nur Yıldız, (Würzburg: Ergon, 2016), p. 253.
‘Sorgfältige Editionen wie Laban Kapteins Edition des Dürr-i Meknûn aus dem Jahre 2007 sind bislang die Ausnahme.’ — Tobias Heinzelmann, Populäre religiöse Literatur und Buchkultur im Osmanischen Reich. Eine Studie zur Nutzung der Werke der Brüder Yaziciogli. Würzburg: Ergon, 2015, pp. 21, 108.
‘The editor has given us an excellent critical edition (…) Accuracy and knowledge flow in a work of high scholarly value‘ — Der Islam 91-1 (May 2014).
Prof. Dr. Erik Jan Zürcher (Universiteit Leiden):
“Laban Kaptein (…) legt nu een Duitstalige kritische editie van de Dürr-i meknûn op tafel die een monument is voor de filologische traditie. (…) De verschijningsvorm van het boek is prachtig, een eerbetoon aan de voortreffelijke Nederlandse traditie van typografie en boekverzorging.”
“(…) Dürr-i meknûn’ un Almanca eleştirel baskısı, (…) Leiden’den birçok oryantalistin katkıda bulunduğu filoloji geleneği için bir anıt olarak gözlerimizin önünde. Kitabın baskısı mükemmel ve âdeta Hollanda’nın köklü tipografi ve kitap basım geleneğine gönderilmiş bir selam. (…) Batı tipografisinin yanı sıra Osmanlı Türkçesi’nin tipografisi hemen göze çarpıyor.” Devamı
‘a first-class reference work on Ottoman culture for many years to come‘ — Dr. Jan Schmidt (Universiteit Leiden) in BiOr (Bibliotheca Orientalis) Leiden, LXIV (5/6) (2007) 793-797.
“(…) Kaptein’s de-luxe edition consists of two main parts: the Ottoman-Turkish text in Arabic script, printed beautifully in an unusually elegant naskh, and a detailed survey of the contents with additional commentary.”
“The book is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the bizarre lore of medieval scholarship (…) all through the book, the reader is led by the hand of the editor, as it were, through a fantastic labyrinth of exotic descriptions, reasonings, and knowledge of an extremely divergent type. Along the way, Kaptein does not fail to impress us with his, often abstruse, but never failing scholarship, be it linguistic or topic, and his wide reading in source texts. (…) This is made more pleasurable by the beautiful lay-out and variform lettering of exquisite design, and made more comfortable still by informative lists and indexes.”