Exempla Trahunt – Specimens of Alchemical and Scientific Manuscripts (Arabic&Syriac)

AlchemEast workshop organized by Lucia Raggetti and Matteo Martelli

A specimen is an individual example endowed with a number of characteristics that make it representative of a whole species or type. This concept, commonly used in natural sciences, has become relevant in several other fields, whenever the need to define a standard arises. Manuscript studies are not new to this idea, especially when it comes to palaeography. This approach, however, could be productive in exploring other aspects of the manuscript tradition as well. The working idea of specimen, in fact, may bridge the gap between the unpredictable unicity of a single manuscript artefact and the aspiration to fix an ideal standard that surpasses the complexity of the empirical data. Even within the frame of more defined fields ― scientific manuscripts, in particular those related to alchemy and related disciplines ― it is hard to set parameters that can capture and, at the same time, systematize this fluidity. The idea of this workshop is to use the specimen to open a window onto some specific features that may define typologies or groups of Arabic or Syriac scientific manuscripts. In this sense, the specimen does not stand in isolation, but its relevance is proportional to the constellation of witnesses that gravitate around it. That is to say that a specimen, on the one hand, has to define a recognizable typology and, on the other, it must be structured in such a way to tolerate a degree of variance within it. Alongside with palaeography, the challenge to define specimens involves other aspects as well. Aspects to be explored include, but are not limited to, the layout and the organization of the contents (e.g. tabular manuscripts, marginal annotations and comments, table of contents), the use of images (e.g. illustrations of alchemical equipment and diagrams), stylistic features (e.g. secret alphabets, cryptography and symbols) and the possible multilingual dimension of a text (e.g. Judeo-Arabic or Garshuni manuscripts).

July 8-9, 2019, Department of Philosophy and Communication Studies, Bologna


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