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ARISTOTLE, & Abu Yahya ibn al-Batriq (attrib.)

"'The book of the Politics of management of Leaders'".

(Also known as "The Secret of Secrets".)

Ayyubid or Mamluk Syria : 13th century Stock Code: 138645
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The text of the present manuscript, most commonly known under the title of The Secret of Secrets or its Latin equivalent Secretum Secretorum was one of the most widely translated and most influential texts of the high middle ages. It is a pseudo-Aristotelian compendium of advice on statecraft and kingship including aspects as diverse as the health (physical and spiritual) of the king, justice, viziers, administration, diplomacy, tax, military affairs, and magic, astrology and augury. It was claimed to have been composed by Aristotle in the form of a series of letters to his student Alexander the Great. For example, on f. 41a of the present manuscript, in the chapter on Justice, is a large circle drawn in red and blue with sixteen small panels round the edge, each containing a brief sequential statement on aspects of just rule. In the centre of the circle is the statement: "This circle is an illustration of justice which Aristotle composed for Alexander, the cherished of the kingdom, and in it to the glory of God ruler and possessor of the earth" (see below).
Traditional opinion was that the text was translated by Abu Yahya ibn al-Batriq from a Greek or Syriac original while in the service of Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur (r. 754-775 CE). More recent scholarship has cast doubt on this claim and has suggested that this text was actually composed in Arabic in the 9th or 10th century. The style of text seems closest to the Iranian tradition of 'advice to princes' which set out a series of practical suggestions to educate the uninitiated in the arts of statecraft and politics. Leaving aside the issue of the origin of the text, it is still remarkable in itself that a figure such as Aristotle is used to legitimise the authority of a source of knowledge such as this work. This further underlines the fact that the personas of Aristotle and Alexander the Great commanded a high level of deference in the Islamic world despite them being pagan figures from the pre-Islamic past. The composition of the text is an important testament to the interest in classical knowledge and learning that was present during the golden age of Islam, and the subsequent thirst for Classical and Arabic learning that emerged in Europe in the late Middle Ages. The Secretum Secretorum was essential reading for all those interested in statecraft and politics in Europe. The English scientist Roger Bacon (1219-1292) edited a translated copy of this text, which he produced in Latin in second half of the 13th century, probably at a very similar date to when the present manuscript was copied. Translations of the text were commissioned not only into the scholarly languages of Latin and Hebrew but also into many of the vernaculars of the time, including Spanish, Old French, Russian, Middle German, English and others, gaining a very wide audience among scholars and the ruling elite.
Of some nearly 50 surviving copies of this manuscript known in Arabic, the majority date from the 16th century or later. This manuscript, as far as current research has shown, is thought to be possibly the fourth oldest copy of the text, (see Mahmoud Manzalaoui, "The pseudo-Aristotelian Kitab Sirr al-asrar: facts and problems", Oriens, vol. 23-24, 1974). The other known earlier or possibly contemporaneous copies include an abridged version in the Bodleian Library, (Laud 210) dated AH 541 / 1146-47 CE; a copy recorded in the Alexandria Municipal Library in Egypt (G. 3641) attributed to the 12th century; and a copy in the Schoenberg Collection, University of Pennsylvania Libraries, (LJS 459) dating to between 1189 and 1211 CE. Of these only the Schoenberg copy appears to have any significant diagrams or illustrations, (Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs, Exhibition Catalogue, Metropolitan Museum, New York, 2016, cat. 10, p. 60).
Provenance: This manuscript was previously in the collection of the Syriac Catholic priest Paul Sbath, who collected some 4,000 Arabic and Syriac manuscripts from around the Levant and Egypt. He was known as the original bibliophile of the Middle East. He started collecting manuscripts in his home town of Aleppo. His vocation as a priest and a scholar took him to Jerusalem where he served as an instructor in Syriac and Arabic at the Syrian-Catholic seminary which had been opened by French Benedictine Monks in 1913. With the coming of the First World War in 1914, Sbath departed Jerusalem for a study trip around Europe. He returned to the Levant at the end of the war in 1918. Following his return, Sbath spent years in Egypt and the Levant collecting further manuscripts. Sbath donated some 775 manuscripts to the Vatican Library in 1926 and at this same time dispersed several volumes to other clerical colleagues in Europe. He subsequently produced a multi-volume catalogue of his collection of manuscripts which records this present manuscript.
This copy is divided into ten chapters or maqalat:
1) "the attributes of kings"
2) "Concerning the state of the king and his body and how it should be preserved in its spiritual sanctuary and in all its states and measures"
3) "Concerning the forms of justice and how they complete a King and how it rules the public and the private". At the end of this chapter, on f. 41a, there is a circular diagram which carries the title: This circle is an illustration of justice that was presented by Aristotle to Alexander, the cherished of the kingdom, and in it to the glory of God ruler and possessor of the earth: "The world is a garden the boundaries of which is the state, the state is an authority through which life is given to proper behaviour, proper behaviour is a policy directed by the ruler, the kingship's rule is supported by the army, the army are helpers and are supported by money, money is sustenance collected by subjects, the subjects are servants served by justice, justice is customary, and in justice is the salvation of the world." (This is what would become known as the "octagon of justice".)
4) "Concerning (the king's) ministers, their number and their politics". Towards the end of this chapter, on f. 51a, there is a table containing attributes of animals which are seen to be favourable qualities of a minister. The attributes are written in blue and the animals in red. There are 27 attributes in total in the table:
"Brave as a lion, timid as a hare, bounteous as a cock, mean as hound, boastful as a crow, savage as a tiger, tame as a pigeon, cunning as a fox, harmless as a sheep, swift as a gazelle, slow as a bear, precious as an elephant, base as a donkey, thieving as a magpie, as vain as a peacock, docile as a sandgrouse, erring as an ostrich, manageable as bees, steadfast as a dragon, hardworking as an ox, restive as a mule, speechless as a whale, as well trained as a hunting hound, submissive as a pig, evil-boding as an owl, serviceable as a horse, harmful as a rat"
5) "Concerning (the king's) scribes, records and their organisation"
6) "Concerning (the king's) ambassadors and messengers and their preparation and their necessary political attributes"
7) "Concerning the overseeing of (the king's) subjects and the expenditure in the service of tax collection"
8) "Concerning the politics of Generals and their selection from soldiers, their rebellions and their rankings"
9) "Concerning politics of war and its forms and tactics, preventing upsets, intimidation by an army and times when to choose this, the time to withdraw, signing treaties of understanding and the time to exit from them, the appointing the commander of the wars"
10) "Concerning the special sciences of the knowledge of talismans and the secrets of the stars and their uses for the spirits, the properties of stones and other matters"

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Arabic manuscript on paper, consisting of 79 folios and two flyleaves each with 13 lines of elegant naskh script in black ink with important words highlighted in red and blue ink, a circular diagram concerning the management of a kingdom, a full-page table containing the names of animals and their associated adjectives, numerous ownership stamps, set in a European-style Syrian brown leather binding with stamped floral details around the perimeter. Folio 25 x 19cm.


An ownership inscription on the final page records the date AH 871/ 1466-7 CE. With the ownership inscription of Georges Fattalla Balit, Aleppo, 9 February 1801, on opening flyleaf; subsequently in the Paul Sbath Collection, Aleppo, 1924 -38; number 884;


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