"Catching the Eel" - Documentary Evidence for Concepts of the Arabic Book in the Middle Period
This article reflects on the concept of the ‘book’ in the Middle Period
(fifth/eleventh to early tenth/sixteenth centuries). On the basis of a seventh/thirteenth-century library catalogue from Damascus it discusses
how contemporaries faced the challenge of defining what a book actually
was. Focusing on the catalogue’s section on composite manuscripts
(majāmīʿ) it suggests that this document’s writer employed two—ultimately irreconcilable—definitions of a book: the book as a discrete textual item (taking the title as the main criterion) and the book as defined by its physical shape. This writer’s cataloguing practices illustrate the fluid nature of the ‘book’ well beyond the Formative Period between the first/seventh and the fourth/tenth century.
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