Dürr-i Meknûn

Ahmed Bican Yazıcıoğlu, Dürr-i meknûn. Kritische Edition mit Kommentar. Laban Kaptein (Hg.)

DMpackshot.150x200png2007 saw the publication of the first critical text edition of the Dürr-i Meknûn, “The Hidden Pearl”, the Turkish cosmography by the famous dervish Ahmed Bican Yazıcıoğlu. 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.)

Ottoman cosmography

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.


Critical Edition

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.

Ahmed Bican

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.

New standard for academic publishing

The Dürr-i Meknûn is the first academic publication to use Winsoft Tasmeem. This advanced software does ample justice to the calligraphic variations in the Ottoman script. Indeed, the graceful cadence and atmosphere of the original texts is brought to life. The composition revives a quality that was assumed to have been lost to academic publishers since the demise of hand compositing and lithography:


Among various additional characters that were designed specially for this book are a small capital scharfes S and a double paragraph symbol:


Typographer and type designer Eyal Holtzman also produced several custom Arabic forms:


Each page is carefully arranged for maximum reader convenience. The complex, multilingual text creates a restful impression throughout. The chapter titles form a particularly elegant feature, with Holtzman’s proprietary typeface Kristal used to great effect as initial letter:



The book is bound in deerskin leather, alluding to Bican’s struggle against the deer worship of his time, which figures prominently in the Dürr-i Meknûn:


Sample pages

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.”

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Keywords: ad-Daggal, Ahmed Bîcân, Ahmed Bican Yazicioglu, Ahmed-i Bîcân, Ahmet Bican, alemetleri, apocalypse, apocalypticism, apocalyptik, arabic, arabisch, calligraphy, cevahir-name, cevher-name, cosmography, Daggal, Dajjal, Deccal, Deval, Durr-i meknûn, Eindtijd, encyclopaedia, encyclopedie, Endzeit, Envarü ’l- ‘asikin, Envarü-l-asikin, Envârü-l-‘âsikîn, Envârü‘l âsikîn, Envâru’l âsikîn, Envaru’l-‘asikin, Enzyklopädie, eschatologie, eschatology, fitna, Gog Magog, islam; ahir zaman, jeunes de langues, Joseph Bruë, Kalligrafie, kosmografie, Last Judgement Day, medieval, Mehmed Yazicioglu, Middeleeuwen, middeleeuwse, Middle Ages, Mittelalter, mittelalterliche, Muhammediye, Muhammediyye, muslim islam antichrist, osmanische, ottoman osmaanse, renaissance intellectual history, Roboly; cevhername, Signs Last Hour, typografie, typografisch, typography, Weltuntergang, Yacuc Macuc.