By Edouard Aldahdah
Posted on October 30th, 2013 in General
This morning I stumbled upon an erudite and thoroughly researched paper by Dr. Shihab al-Sarraf of the International Center of Furusiyyah [Horsemanship] Studies on “Mamluk Furusiyyah Literature and Its Antecedents”, published at the University of Chicago’s Mamluk Studies Review, VIII-1-2004. It is the most comprehensive review to date of the Islamic literature on horses and horsemanship from early to late medieval times. The following passage in this paper sparked my interest:
“The main body of Arab philological works on horses was written in Iraq during the period from the latter half of the second/eighth century to the end of the first half of the fourth/tenth century. These works included both comprehensive and specific treatises. Of the former type, commonly titled Kitab al-Khayl, more than twenty treatises were written, all deemed lost except four. These are Kitab al-Khayl by Abu ‘Ubaydah Ma‘mar ibn al-Muthanná (d. 209/824); Kitab al-Khayl by al-Asma‘i (d. 216/831); Kitab al-Khayl by Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman Muhammad al-‘Utbi (d. 228/842), and Kitab al-Khayl by Ahmad ibn Abi Tahir Tayfur (d. 280/893). The last two treatises are still in manuscript and the fate of their extant copies, presumably kept in a private collection, is uncertain. In any case, the basic and unmatched contributions in this domain remain the above first two treatises by the celebrated Basran philologists whose competence and rivalry in the knowledge of horses were particularly well-known. However, notwithstanding the importance of al-Asma‘i’s contribution, Abu ‘Ubaydah’s Kitab al-Khayl undoubtedly represents the most complete and learned philological work on horses, and was the source par excellence for subsequent treatises whether written by philologists, furusiyah masters like Ibn Akhi Hizam, or compilers. Similarly, very few, of an otherwise considerable number, of specific philological and historical works on horses have survived. The most notable of these are Nasab al-Khayl fi al-Jahiliyah wa-al-Islam by Ibn al-Kalbi (d. 204/819); Asma’ Khayl al-‘Arab wa-Fursaniha by Ibn al-A‘rabi (d. 231/846), and Al-Sarj wa-al-Lijam by Ibn Durayd (d. 321/933).”
Of these seven, two are unpublished and I have printed copies of the others, except for Ibn Durayd’s work on “the Saddle and the Bit”, a copy of which is at the Egyptian National Library (Dar al-Kutub al-Misriyah) a couple buildings away from my office in Cairo.