Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Parallel Example of Arabic Manuscripts in Constantinople

The total number of MSS. which are contained in this library, is 1,294, mostly Arabic, either original or translated from the Turkish and Persian. — The subjects are theology, jurisprudence, logic, philosophy, physics, grammar, history, philology, and the belles lettres. The two first are in the greatest number. The Syriac and Arabic bibles, in antique characters, formerly in the library, are no longer to be found ; nor are there, at present, any Latin, Greek, or Hebrew MSS. It is in the form of a Greek cross ; one of the branches serves for the vestibule, and the three others, with the centre, composes the body of the library. Over the portal, between the place of entrance and the library, are the following words in Arabic 'Enter in peace.' The building is very narrow — not above twelve yards from one extremity to the other. Over the central part is the cupola, which, with the marble pillars and a number of windows, produces a luminous and agreeable effect. There are twelve cases of books, four in each closet, with folding doors and curious lattice work. The books are placed on their sides, one upon another, with the ends outwards, and the titles written on the margin of the leaves. But although no Greek MSS. are now to be found in the Seraglio (= a Turkish palace), it is certain that it abounded with them in the 17th century. In 1685, M. Giardin, French ambassador at the Ottoman court, purchased fifteen of the best, by the intermediation of the Jesuit Besnier. The remainder, to the number of 180, were sold in Constantinople, at 100 livres each. If they are still extant in any libraries, the seal and arms of the Sultan would readily distinguish them. The fifteen procured by the French ambassador were sent to Paris ; one of them was a copy in vellum of all the works of Plutarch. It was collated by Wyttenbach, who gives it a high character. — There was also a copy of Herodotus, of which Larcher makes mention, as having collected from it some valuable readings, with a considerable number of Ionian idioms. It appears that the library was robbed some time about the year 1638, for Gravius (Greaves, an Englishman) got possession of several MSS. which, he was assured, had been stolen from the Seraglio. We may add to this, that there was at Constantinople, in the year 1678, an Arabic translation of a lost work of Aristotle. There are several other libraries in the Seraglio, but access to them has been constantly refused; they are, however, of an inferior description. The principal one, as above, was founded by the Sultan Mustapha, in 1567. [The Monthly Magazine: or, British Register Volume 49 - Page 222]

A near contemporary account of the libraries of Constantinople.  Another account which seems more sober still with a detailed catalogue of all the books but this intriguing additional statement "[t]here is still a second library preserved, in what is called the Treasury ; but to this, no application could obtain access."

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