A few years ago, Robert Dankoff and Sooyong Kim edited a much-needed and generous selection of Evliya Çelebi’s Seyhatname or Book of Travels. Evliya (1611-1682) spent the better part of forty years traveling around the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia Minor; he’s perhaps the best-known of all Ottoman explorers and travelers, which is not to say a great deal, because non-European travel-writers are still sadly under-represented in English translation.
“Once the Master asked, ‘What is the question that lays it all out?’ In place of the asked monk, Yunmen answered, ‘Whack the monk next to me.’”
Bluntly and simply, this is a very scholarly book about twenty-one tombstones with Arabic and Persian inscriptions on them, epitaphs commemorating people whom most of us have never heard of. Every one of them is carefully photographed front and back, the texts transcribed and translated in the lengthy appendix. A second appendix describes “The Islamic Stelae of Hangzhou”.
If any reader has ever thought about Indian magic, those thoughts would likely conjure up (pun intended) images of snake-charmers, levitation, rope tricks, jugglers and people taking afternoon naps on beds of nails.
There were no Phoenicians, so we aren’t going to find them. Simply put, that is Josephine Quinn’s thesis in this pioneering study.
To take a photograph, Susan Sontag tells us, “is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge—and, therefore, like power.” A photograph also preserves evidence and exposes the human condition, which the viewer then appropriates. Old photographs preserve worlds that are gone, but they also bring them back, because the moment which they record is there forever, and cannot be moved in time either backwards or forwards. David Bellis knows this, and he has given us a glimpse of a world that is still present in photographs, a world which contains stories that are also preserved.
Ibn who? He may have been one of the most important intellectuals ever produced by the Muslim world, but I suspect few beyond specialists know him, if at all, beyond his name and that of his most famous work, the Muqaddima (Prolegomena), by far the greatest and most significant study of history ever produced by a Muslim scholar.