The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition by Elias Muhanna (2016)

The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition by Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri, edited and translated from Arabic by Elias Muhanna, Manning Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, Brown University, (New York: Penguin, 2016).

This incredible work provides background for Maribel Fierro’s post on joking judges in early Islamic courts, and shows how the encyclopedic works of Mamlūk times can be a source for Islamic law. The following summary comes from the publisher, Penguin Random House.

“For the first time in English, a catalog of the world through fourteenth-century Arab eyes—a kind of Schott’s Miscellany for the Islamic Golden Age. An astonishing record of the knowledge of a civilization, The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition catalogs everything known to exist from the perspective of a fourteenth-century Egyptian scholar and litterateur. More than 9,000 pages and thirty volumes—here abridged to one volume, and translated into English for the first time—it contains entries on everything from medieval moon-worshipping cults, sexual aphrodisiacs, and the substance of clouds, to how to get the smell of alcohol off one’s breath, the deliciousness of cheese made from buffalo milk, and the nesting habits of flamingos. Similar works by Western authors, including Pliny’s Natural History, have been available in English for centuries. This groundbreaking translation of a remarkable Arabic text—expertly abridged and annotated—offers a look at the world through the highly literary and impressively knowledgeable societies of the classical Islamic world. Meticulously arranged and delightfully eclectic, it is a compendium to be treasured—a true monument of erudition.”

Source: Penguin Random House. Accessed on 10/7/16