Ibn Qutayba, Abū Mu

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(b. Baghdad or Kufa, Iraq, 828; d. Baghdad, 884 or 889)

transmission of knowledge.

Little is known of Ibn Qutayba’s life. His family was from Merv (now Bairam-Ali). Transoxania, which leads to the conclusion that they might have been of Persian or Turkish stock. In some of his works, however, he speaks strongly in favor of the Arabs and points out their superiority to the Persians. Ibn Qutayba spent some years as qadh or judge, in the town of Dinawar. in northern Persia, then taught in Baghdad, where he died. He was more a philologist and a lexicographer than a scientist in the proper sense of the word.

Among his several historical and philological works is Kitdb al-anwā (“Book of the anwā”), which is of special importance for the history of astronomical knowledge. In the great number of monographs and specialized treatises by the ancient Arabic philologists and lexicographers, the books of the anwā formed a category of their own. (Anwā is the Arabic plural of naw—a verbal noun from nffa—and signifies, in this context, the acronychal setting of a certain constellation, or lunar mansion, while another one just opposite is heliacally rising. This system was used for determining the dates of seasons, fixing certain agricultural activities, events, etc., in the ancient “prescientific” epoch.)

Two sorts of these books can be distinguished. The main group comprises compilations of all available information on the native Arabic knowledge of celestial and meteorological phenomena as found in the ancient sources—in folklore, poetry, and literature; strictly excluded from this group is the scientific knowledge taken from other civilizations through translations (such as the Almagest and Indian cr Persian sources). More than twenty authors of such books are known, but almost none of their texts have survived. Only a few, or less important, portions of these texts are available in print: the Kitab alazmina (“Book of Seasons, or Times”) by Qutrub d. 821/822), partially edited in Revue de l’Academic de Damas, 2 , pt. 1 (January 1922), 33–46; another Kitab alazmina by the physician Ibn Masawayh (d. 857), edited by Paul Sbath in Bulletin de l’Institut d’Egypte, 15 (1932–1933), 235–257; French translation, by G. Troupeau, in Arabica, 15 (1968), 113–142; Kitab alazmina wa l-amkina (“Book of Times and Places”) by al-Marzuql (d. 1030), published in two volumes (Hyderabad, 1914); and Kitah al-azmina wa ’l-anwā (“Book of the Seasons and the anwā”l;) by Ibn al-Ajdabi (thirteenth century), edited by Mzzat Hasan, number 9 in the series Ihya al-Turath al-Qadim (Damascus. 1964). The most complete of the anwāy books is credited by Arabic sources to the historian and philologist Abū Hanifa al-Dinawari (d. 895); only excerpts are preserved in some lexicographic works, such as Ibn Sfda’s (d. 1066) Mukhassas, IX (Cairo, 1901), and al-Marzuqi’s Kitab alazmina wa H~amk ina. I bn Qutayb’s Kitab al-anwa is significant primarily because the full text has survived and is available in print (edited by M. Hami-dullah and C. Pellat, with a long introduction in Arabic, for the Osmania Oriental Publications Bureau, Hyderabad, 1956).

Anwā’ books of the second type are arranged in the form of a calendar enumerating natural events of importance to peasants and herdsmen. One such book, for 961, also exists in a medieval Latin translation; a later edition is R. Dozy. Le calendrier de cordoue, new edition by C. Pellat (Leiden, 1961). In form, this sort of anwā books resembles the calendaric texts of antiquity, such as the Babylonian mul apin texts or Ptolemy’s Phainomena.

Because Ibn Qutayba was a contemporary of Abū Hanifa, whose Kitab al-anwā was highly renowned, it is difficult, if not impossible, to decide upon the charge that has sometimes been raised against him: that he largely or completely excerpted or copied the work of Abū Hanifa. As can be seen from comparison with excerpts and quotations from other anwā books spread over a great number of lexicographic and scientific texts (for example, Kit̄b ̣uwar al-kaw̄kib [“Book of the Constellations of the Fixed Stars”] of al-Sufi), the contents of lbn Qutayba’s anwā book seem to have been similar to all the others of this type. This book, the text of which has never been translated, is available only in Arabic: in summarizing its contents reference is always made to the Hyderahad edition. Alter a short introduction, there is a detailed description of the twenty-eight lunar mansions (pp. 4–88), which contains much information on other adjacent stars and constellations, It is followed by meteorological traditions concerning them (pp. 88–94). Other astrometeorological lore follows (pp. 94–120), mainly on seasons and events in the Bedouins’ life. Then astronomical information is given on the twelve zodiacal signs (p. 120), on the poles (p. 122), on the Milky Way (p. 123), on the heavenly spheres (p. 124), on the planets (p. 126), on the sun and moon (p. 128), on risings, settings, and the dawns (pp. 141, 142, 143), and on famous fixed stars (those not included in the passage on the lunar mansions, pp. 145–158). Ibn Qutayba then treats meteorological subjects: winds, rain, clouds, lightning and thunder, and the prediction of rain. Finally he deals with different ways of explaining some constellations (p. 182) and the use of the stars for orientation (al-ihtida, p. 186).

None of this information represents the result of scientific research, nor were scientific methods employed to gather it. Moreover, the book is merely a collection of what the Arabs—not influenced by the “scientific” techniques of foreign astronomy and astrology, which came to be known through translations not earlier than the second half of the eighth century—possessed in terms of popular lore about the sky and the stars, and all the phenomena connected or supposedly connected with them. It was taken mostly from the existing poetical literature as well as from earlier philological compilations which, in turn, were based on similar sources and perhaps, in some cases, also on popular traditions of desert tribes. The popular astronomical knowledge of the Arabs in the “prescientific” epoch contained many elements of older, non-Arabic origin. The anwā books, therefore, form a source of great interest not only for the history of Arabic lore and literature but for the history of dissemination of scientific knowledge and the development of astronomical observations and activity among the Arabs and their predecessors in several civilizations.


See Carl Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur, 2nd ed., I (Leiden, 1943), 124 ff., and supp., I (Leiden, 1937), 184 ff.; I. M. Huseini, The Life and Works of Ibn Qutayba, Publications of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, American University, Oriental Series, no. 21 (Beirut, 1950), originally his dissertation (London, 1934); G. Lecomte, Ibn Qutayba, l’homme, son oeuvre, ses idees (Damascus, 1965); and C. Pellat, “Le traite d’astronomie pratique et de météorologic populaire d’Ibn Qutayba,” in Arabica, 1 (1954), 84–88; and “Dictons rimes, anwā et mansions lunaires chez les arabes,” in Arabica, 2 (1955), 17–41; intro, to his ed. of lbn Qutayba’s Kitab al-anwā (Hyderabad, 1956), in Arabic; and “Anwā” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed. I (Leiden, 1960), 523–524. The chapter on celestial phenomena in Ibn Qutayba’s Kitob adab al-katib (“Handbook for Authors”; the full Arabic text was ed. by M. Grunert, Leiden, 1900) was separately ed., trans., and discussed by A. Sprenger in Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 17, Pt. 2 (1848), 659 ff.

Paul Kunitzsch

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