Tuluniana 2: Works on plants

A while back, I introduced a first cluster of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s works (on animals). A second interesting cluster consists of his works which are concerned with plants. More than the earlier one, this is connected to a third cluster, which comprises works on food and food consumption. All these clusters draw heavily on ḥadīth as a source.

The cluster on plants includes 18 works.  Most of those deal with dangers or benefits of consuming certain parts or fruits of plants. These works could be situated either in the legal literature or in the realm of (Prophetic) medicine.

The dependence on ḥadīth and akhbār could also suggest their belonging to Sufi ādāb literature. Even for those works that do not survive, the latter is indicated in their title’s thematic phrase, which is usually introduced with either “li-/fī-mā warada fī” (on what is found about) or “ʿan-/fī-mā qīla fī” (on what is said about). The text of such a title is rarely more than a list of statements by earlier authorities (transmitted directly or in writing) on the subject.

Moreover, this nature of the works reiterates my earlier understanding of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s minor works as “seminar papers”:

One possible explanation would be that the writing of such works was indeed part of the education process. An aspiring scholar had to prove his knowledge of the tradition in thematic exams. On the other hand, those works could also attest – to a certain extent – to an entertainment value, and thus everyday relevance, of the science of ḥadīth.

This does not mean that Ibn Ṭūlūn penned these works at an early stage of his career. On the contrary, I would say that in their simplicity they betray his intimate knowledge with the scholarly literature of his times.

Therefore, I would argue that he wrote these works for the benefit of his own students. These seem to have been works to be studied early on since they made it easier to arrange the different source items around one subject (a different approach from that described recently by Maxim Romanov for his own classroom use of ḥadīth).

Perhaps this would also explain why animals, plants, or food were used—they were part of everyday life and therefore also an object of legal/moral questions. In any case, the format of the works does preclude their use (or value) as political (e.g. polemical) texts. Their repetitiveness bespeaks their use in educational and devotional settings.

Within the cluster on plants, two general groups can be distinguished. One is concerned with plants, including flowers, and the other with their fruit or produce. The latter is by far the larger group. The first group includes works:

  • Ibtisām al-thughūr ʿammā qīla fī nafʿ al-zuhūr (on the benefits of flowers/blossoms)
  • Tasliyyat al-ḥazīn fīmā qīla fī al-yāsmīn (collection of akhbār/ḥadīth on Jasmin)
  • ʿArf al-nadd fīmā qīla fī al-ward (collection on the rose)
  • Ḥadīqat al-azhār fī faḍl ghars al-ashjār (on the merits of planting trees)
  • Ṭard al-aḥzān fīmā qīla fī al-bān (collection on the moringe)
  • Ẓarāʾif al-naḥla li-mā warada fī al-nakhla (collection on the palm tree)

The second group also includes a number of “mā qīlā“- and “mā warada“-collections:

  • al-Iʿlān li-mā warada fī faḍl al-rummān (on merits of pomegranate)
  • al-Qawl al-murtajal fīmā warada fī al-safarjal (on quinces)
  • Haḍm al-ṭabīkh bi-mā warada fī al-baṭīkh (on melons)
  • Hidāyat al-nujabā ilā mā warada fī al-hindibā (on wild chicoree)
  • Tanwīr al-ghalas fīmā warada fī al-ʿadas (on lentils)
  • ʿArf al-bān fīmā warada fī al-bādhinjān (on aubergines)
  • Jalab al-inshirāḥ bi-faḍl al-tuffāḥ (on the merits of apples)
  • Juzʾ imtithāl li-amr bi-akhbār al-tamr (akhbār on dates)
  • Ṣaḥn al-ṣīn fī faḍl al-tīn (on the merits of figs)

There is, however, also one item which was organized in a different way. The first, Talkhīṣ buhgyat al-ṭalab wa-nihāyat al-arab fī al-munāẓara bayn al-tīn wa-l-ʿanab, seems to be a comparison of the properties of the fig and the grape. The title’s guiding phrase alludes to two works on which this comparison might have been based: Ibn al-ʿAdīm’s (d. 1262) Bughyat al-ṭalab fī tārīkh Ḥalab (Everything desirable about the History of Aleppo) and the encyclopedia Nihāyat al-arab fī funūn al-adab (translated both as “The Aim of the Intelligent in the Art of Letters” and as “The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition“) by the Egyptian scholar al-Nuwayrī (d. 1333). The term talkhīṣ indicates that Ibn Ṭūlūn simplified their discussion. Alas, the work has not survived, and therefore the hypothesis cannot be tested.

It should be noted here that, in contrast to Ibn Ṭūlūn’s works on animals, much more of his cluster on plants has indeed survived. All of these manuscripts are today to be found in Egypt, either in Alexandria or the Dār al-Kutub in Cairo (see Conermann 2004).  The work on melons has survived even in two autographs in Cairo.

The one Ibn Ṭūlūn autograph multiple-text manuscript held in Alexandria betrays the close connection between the three clusters mentioned above. Among others (in total 14 titles), it contains Ibn Ṭūlūn’s works on the palm tree and on the benefits of flowers/blossoms, as well as four works on animals (Conermann 2004, 124). In addition, this manuscript begins with a teaching license (ijāza), indicating that these texts were not only taught and transmitted but together.