Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Short story featuring Ibn al-Haytham

Here is an excellent short story by Jennifer Ouellette - imagining some of the most productive days of Ibn al-Haytham. I had read about this story line before and I was just recalling that when I was in Luxor just this past November. But Jennifer has provided some fantastic details in a very short space.

Here is the beginning of The Scholar and the Caliph:

In the hush just before fajr, before the devout gather to greet the sunrise with prayers towards Mecca, the Scholar emerges from a fitful sleep and confronts the darkness. He remembers, as consciousness returns, that he is a prisoner in his own home. There is nothing to alleviate the mind-numbing sameness of days, no friendly voice or warm touch to keep the suffocating isolation at bay – not even the musty comfort of his books. Truly, I am cursed among men.
This is not how he envisioned his future as an ambitious young man back in Basra. There, he devoured the works of Aristotle and dreamed of scientific pursuits. "The ink of the scholar is more holy than the blood of the martyrs," the Koran says, and he believed it. So he followed the throngs of Basran fortune-seekers to Cairo, home to the Dar al-'llm ("House of Knowledge"), and found lodgings near the Azhar Mosque. He taught in the mosque's school, and worked as a scribe in the Dar al-'llm, copying Arabic translations of Euclid, Ptolemy and his beloved Aristotle, being careful not to smudge the pages with ink-stained fingers. All the knowledge in the world was at his fingertips. Yet the wisdom of the Ancients could not help him to foresee the ill fortune about to befall him.
Read the rest of the story here.


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