This study examines an early-seventeenth century copy of a popular book in Ottoman Turkish originally composed by Nevʿī Efendi (d. 1599) in the early 1570s. With around 150 extant copies available in almost every major Islamic manuscript collection across the world, Nevʿī Efendi’s compendium, or the “fruits,” of sciences (Netāyicü’l-fünūn) deserves to be called an early modern bestseller among the Ottoman reading public. The particular copy of the work located at Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library (Or. 360) is a notable one with numerous minhu records (i.e., marginal glosses one could trace back to the author) written in Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, and Persian. In this article, besides situating Nevʿī Efendi’s work in the broader genre of taṣnīf al-ʿulūm (classification of sciences) in the Ottoman as well as the broader Islamicate realm of learning, I will pay closer attention to discussing the minhu notes that present intriguing insights into the questions of what a published work meant in the age of manuscripts, and how the continuous interventions on the text made by the author, and possibly by the copyists and readers, enrich as well as shuffle the “authentic” contents of the “published” version.
This study revisits the question of the early modern Ottoman madrasa curriculum, which, ever since the famous Studia Islamica article of Nenad Filipovic and the late Shahab Ahmed in 2004, has come to be recognized as the “sultan’s syllabus,” implying a strict imposition of a centrally-designed course of study. By utilizing a host of endowment lists, book registers, and autobiographical writings of high- to low-ranking Ottoman scholars from the sixteenth century that escaped Ahmed’s and Filipovic’s attention, I aim to redress an argument that was based on a misinterpretation of a single document but has been extensively cited and recycled since its first articulation almost two decades ago. All of these sources, some of which have never or only partially received scholarly attention, shed more accurate light, not only on the scope of learning, teaching, and canon formation in the early modern Ottoman world of scholarship but also on the mediating role the Ottoman court played by supplying copies of books wherever and whenever needed.