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Volume One

Book One of the Kitâb al-'Ibar

© Bollingen Foundation Inc., New York, N. Y.
© Bollingen Foundation Inc., New York, N. Y.
"The nature of civilization. Bedouin and settled life, the achievement of superiority, gainful occupations, ways of making a living, sciences, crafts, and all the other things that affect (civilization). The causes and reasons thereof."

Preliminary Remarks

"II SHOULD be known that history, in matter of fact, is information about human social organization, which itself is identical with world civilization. It deals with such conditions affecting the nature of civilization as, for instance, savagery and sociability, group feelings, and the different ways by which one group of human beings achieves superiority over another. It deals with royal authority and the dynasties that result (in this matter) and with the various ranks that exist within them. (It further deals) with the different kinds of gainful occupations and ways of making a living, with the sciences and crafts that human beings pursue as part of their activities and efforts, and with all the other institutions that originate in civilization through its very nature.

Untruth naturally afflicts historical information. There are various reasons that make this unavoidable. One of them is partisanship for opinions and schools. If the soul is impartial in receiving informations, it devotes to that information the share of critical investigation the information deserves, and its truth or untruth thus becomes clear. However, if the soul is infected with partisanship for a particular opinion or sect, it accepts without a moment's hesitation the information that is agreeable to it. Prejudice and partisanship obscure the critical faculty and preclude critical investigation. The result is that falsehoods are accepted and transmitted.

Another reason making untruth unavoidable in historical information is reliance upon transmitters. Investigation of this subject belongs to (the theological discipline of) personality criticism.

Another reason is ..." (op. cit., ibid., Vol I, pp.71-72)

Chapter I: Human Civilization in General

First Prefatory Discussion

"HUMAN SOCIAL ORGANIZATION is something necessary. The philosophers expressed this fact by saying: Man is 'political' by nature." That is, he cannot do without the social organization for which the philosophers use the technical tern "town" (polis).

This is what civilization means. (The necessary character of human social organization or civilization) is explained by the fact that God created and fashioned man in a form that can live and subsist only with the help of food. He guided man to a natural desire for food and instilled in him the power that enables him to obtain it.

However, the power of the individual human being is not sufficient for him to obtain (the food) he needs, and does not provide him with as much food as he requires to live. Even if we assume an absolute minimum of food - that is, food enough for one day, (a little) wheat, for instance - that amount of food could obtained only after much preparation such as grinding, kneading, and baking. Each of these three operations requires utensils and tools that can be provided only with the help of several crafts, such as the crafts of the blacksmith, the carpenter, and the potter. Assuming that a man could eat unprepared grain, an even greater number of operations would be necessary in order to obtain the grain: sowing and reaping, and threshing to separate it from the husks of the ear. Ech of these operations requires a number of tools and many more crafts than those just mentioned. It is beyond the power of one man alone to do all that, or (even) part of it, by himself. Thus, he cannot do without a combination of many powers from among his fellow beings, if he is to obtain food for himself and for them. Through cooperation, the needs of a number of persons, many times greater than their own (number), can be satisfied.

Likewise, each individual needs the help of his fellow beings for his defense, as well. When God fashioned the natures of all beings and divided the various powers among them, many dumb animals were given more perfect powers than God gave to man. The power of a horse, for instance, is much greater than the power of man, and so is the power of a donkey or an ox. The power of a lion or an elephant is many times greater than the power of (man).

Aggressiveness is natural in living beings. Therefore, God gave each of them a special limb for defense against aggression. To man, instead, He gave the ability to think, and the hand. With the help of the ability to think, the hand is able to prepare the ground for the crafts. The crafts, in turn, procure for man the instruments that serve him instead of limbs, which other animals possess for their defense.Lances, for instance, take the place of horns for goring, swords the place of claws to inflict wounds, shields the place of thick skins, and so on. There are other such things. They were well all mentioned by Galen in De usu partium." (op. cit., ibid., Vol. I, pp. 89-90)

Second Prefatory Discussion: The Parts of the Earth ...

"The parts of the earth where civilization is found. Some information about oceans, rivers, and zones."

"IN THE BOOKS of philosophers who speculated about the conditions of the world, it has been explained that the earth has a spherical shape and is enveloped by the element of water. It my be compared to a grape floating upon water.

The water withdrew from certain parts of (the earth), because God wanted to create living beings upon it and settle it with the human species that rules as (God's) representative over all other beings. One might from this get the impression that the water is below the earth. This is not correct. The natural "below" of the earth is the core and middle of its sphere, the center to which everything is attracted by its gravity. All the sides of the earth beyond that and the water surrounding the earth are "above". When some part of the earth is said to be "below", it is said to be so with reference to some other region (of the earth). 

The part of the earth from which the water has withdrawn  is one-half the surface of the sphere of the earth. It has a circular form and is surrounded on all sides by the element of water which forms a sea called "the Surrounding Sea" (al-Bahr al-Muhît). It is also called  lablâyah, with thickening of the second l, or oceanos. Both are non-Arabic words. It is called "the Green Sea" and "the Black Sea" ..." (op. cit., ibid., Vol. I, pp. 94-96)

Map of the World

"... After this discussion, we wish to draw a map of the earth, as was done by the author of the Book of Roger. Then, we shall give a detailed description of the map ..." (op. cit., ibid., Vol. I, p. 109)

Detailed Description of the Map

Frontispiece: Map of the World, from MS C. (Atif Effendi 1936, fols. 21b-22a of the Arabic pagination). P: Courtesy of Dr. Paul A. Underwood. The key to the map is to be found ibid., following p. 110 © Bollingen Foundation Inc., New York, N. Y.
Frontispiece: Map of the World, from MS C. (Atif Effendi 1936, fols. 21b-22a of the Arabic pagination). P: Courtesy of Dr. Paul A. Underwood. The key to the map is to be found ibid., following p. 110 © Bollingen Foundation Inc., New York, N. Y.

Extract from the "Detailed Description of the Map"

"THIS DESCRIPTION is twofold. There is a detailed description and a general description. The detailed description consists of a discussion of each country, mountain, sea, and river of the cultivated part of the earth. This discussion will be found in the following section. The general description consists of a discussion of the division of the cultivated part of the earth into seven zones, their latitudinal (extension), and the length of their days. Such is the contents of this section. Let us begin to explain these things. We have mentioned before that the earth floats upon the elemental water like a grape. God's plan for civilization and for the elemental generation of life resulted in making part of (the earth) free of water..." (op. cit., ibid., Vol.1, p. 109-110)

Diagram and Key to The Map

Diagram by Liam Dunne © Bollingen Foundation Inc., New York, N. Y. 1967
Diagram by Liam Dunne © Bollingen Foundation Inc., New York, N. Y. 1967

The part that is free of water is said to constitute onehalf the surface of the earth. The cultivated part is one-fourth of it. The rest is uncultivated. According to another opinion, the cultivated part is only one-sixth of it. The empty areas of the part which is free of water lie to the south and to the north. The cultivated area in between forms a continuum that stretches from west to east. There is no empty area between the cultivated part and the (Surrounding). Sea in these two directions. 

They further said: Across the cultivated part of the earth an imaginary line runs from the west to east facing the equinoctial line (of the firmament) in regions where the two poles of the firmament are on the horizon. At this line civilization begins. It extends from there northwards.

Ptolemy said: "As a matter of fact, civilization extends beyond that line to the south." He indicated the latitudinal extension, as will be mentioned.

Ishâq b. al-hasan al-Khâzinî expresses the opinion that beyond the seventh zone (to the north) there is another civilization. He indicated its latitudinal extension, as we shall mention. Al -Khâzinî is one of the leading scholars in this craft (geography).

Further, the ancient philosophers divided the cultivated part of the earth in the north into seven zones by means of imaginary lines running from the west to east. They maintain that these zones have different latitudinal extensions. This will be discussed i detail ..." (op. cit., ibid., Vol.1, pp. 109-111)

Key to the Map © Bollingen Foundation Inc., New York, N. Y. 1967
Key to the Map © Bollingen Foundation Inc., New York, N. Y. 1967