Encoded Letters

Encoded Letters
Probably Syria, 14th century

A record of encrypted correspondence together with Arabic translations between the author and various others, 105ff., each with 13ll. of black naskh or a variety of other scripts, some with the Arabic equivalent written above in red, (some staining and damages, missing at beginning and end)
folio 7 x 5¼in. (17.8 x 13.3cm.)

Lot Essay

This volume records communications written between the compiler and various correspondents. The original communications are in a wide variety of different 'alphabets', some of the letters of which have had the arabic equivalent written above in red, possibly at a later date. They are decoded and transcribed also in Arabic. Much is of a poetical or religious nature.

There is no colophon and the compiler is not named in the text. His correspondents include Sharaf al-Din Musa b. Ijli al-Baridi, Shams al-Din al-Ridha and, probably the most frequent, al-Shaykh Shihab al-Din Ahmad al-Mutarjim. This last is also his major authority for the codes. Other authorities mentioned include Burhan al-Din al-Qudsi al-Hanafi and Taqi al-Din Muhammad b. Ja'far al-Husayni. The text mentions the towns of Aleppo and Damascus and one of the passages recounts something that occurred in 'the 730s' (1330s AD).

One of the alphabets employed, the 'tree-like' alphabet (al-qalam al-mushajjar) is identical to one of the same name given in the Kitab Shawq al-Mustaham fi ma'rifat rumuz al-aqlam (book of the frenzied devotee's desire to learn about the riddles of ancient scripts) written in about 241 (855 AD) as ascribed to Abu Bakr Ahmad b. 'Ali b. Wahshiyah; edition and English translation by J.Hammer-Purgstall, Ancient Alphabets and Hieroglyphic Characters Explained; with an Account of the Egyptian Preists, the Classes, initiation and Sacrifices, London 1806, p.38. Features of some of the other alphabets employed in this manuscript are also to be found in the treatise attributed to Ibn Wahshiyah but many of the alphabets are quite different.

We are grateful to Dr Emilie Savage-Smith of the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, Oxford for her help in the cataloguing of this lot.

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