Alchemical Poetry in Almohad Morocco: The Shudhūr al-dhahab of Ibn Arfaʿ Raʾs

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  • 1 University of Edinburgh

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Although historically recognised as one of the major landmarks in post-Jābirian Arabic alchemy, the Shudhūr al-dhahab (Shards of Gold)—a dīwān of alchemical verse by the sixth/twelfth-century Moroccan poet and preacher, Ibn Arfaʿ Raʾs—has hitherto received little scholarly attention. The present article aims firstly to place the Shudhūr within its literary context, identifying those features which—unusually for Arabic didactic verse—earned it praise for its style as well as its content. Then some of the key alchemical theories set forth in the Shudhūr are both analysed and contextualised. In particular, Ibn Arfaʿ Raʾs’s thought is placed in relation to Jābirian theory, and possible links with Andalusī alchemy are also explored. Finally, his work and public career are examined against the backdrop of the philosophical climate fostered by the Almohads. Also included, for the first time, are a critical edition and annotated translation of one of the Shudhūr’s constituent odes.

  • 7

    See S. Nomanul Haq, Names, natures and things: the alchemist Jābir ibn Hayyān and his Kitāb al-aḥjār (Book of stones) (Dordrecht and Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994); ibid., “Greek alchemy or Shīʿī metaphysics? A preliminary statement concerning Jābir ibn Ḥayyān’s ẓāhir and bāṭin,” Bulletin of the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies 4 (Autumn/Winter 2002); ibid. “Occult Sciences and Medicine,” in New Cambridge History of Islam, Vol. 4, ed. by Robert Irwin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

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  • 9

    See M. Ullmann, Die Natur und Geheimwissenschaften im Islam (Leiden a.o.: Brill, 1972); G.C. Anawati, “Arabic alchemy,” in Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science ed. by Roshdi Rashed (London and New York: Routledge, 1996)); D.R. Hill, “The Literature of Arabic Alchemy,” in Cambridge History of Arabic Literature: Religion, Learning and Science in the ʿAbbasid Period, ed. by M.J.L. Young, J.D. Latham and R.B. Serjeant (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

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  • 20

    Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddima, p. 1227; and Introduction to History, p. 269.

  • 30

    Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddima, p. 1198; and Introduction to History, p. 229.

  • 33

    Ibn Shākir al-Kutubī, Fawāt al-wafayāt, p. 181.

  • 38

    See M. Ullmann, Die Natur, p. 232.

  • 41

    See J.R. Guerrero, ‘Some Forgotten Fez Alchemists and the Loss of the Peñon de Vélez de la Gomera in the Sixteenth Century’ in Chymia: Science and Nature in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ed. by M. López Pérez, D. Kahn and M. Rey Bueno (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2010), pp. 297–8. On Fez’s importance as a centre of alchemy down to modern times, see J.R. Guerrero, “Some Forgotten Fez Alchemists,” pp. 294–5; and G. Salmon, “Notes sur l’ alchimie à Fés,” Archives marocaines 7 (1906), pp. 451–62.

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  • 42

    See P. Kraus, Contribution à l’ histoire, pp. 5–9; and Jābir b. Ḥayyān (trans. and comm. Lory), Dix Traités d’ alchimie, p. 94.

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  • 44

    See P. Kraus, Contribution à l’ histoire, pp. 166, 182–183; and Haq, “Occult Sciences and Medicine,” p. 656; and S. Nomanul Haq (with David Pingree), art. “Ṭabīʿa,” in EI².

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  • 56

    Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddima, pp. 1198–1208; and Introduction to History, pp. 230–245.

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