Umberto Bongianino, Deluxe Arabic dictionary from Islamic Spain

The Mukhtaṣar al-ʿAyn of Abū Bakr al-Zubaydī from the Qarawiyyīn Library in Fes, dated 1124

The Mukhtaṣar al-ʿAyn of Abū Bakr al-Zubaydī from the Qarawiyyīn Library in Fes, dated 1124

The Mukhtaṣar al-ʿAyn of Abū Bakr al-Zubaydī (d. 989 AD) is the earliest Arabic
dictionary to have survived from the medieval Islamic West. Its author was the tutor
and confidant of al-Ḥakam II, the Umayyad caliph of Cordova (r. 961-976). At the
caliph’s request, Zubaydī abridged and re-worked the classical dictionary of the Iraqi
grammarian al-Khalīl b. Aḥmad al-Farāhīdī (d. 791) into a compendium that became
immediately popular for its accuracy and brevity, known to have been one of four
abridgements which were generally preferred to their original texts.

Zubaydī completed his Mukhtaṣar al-ʿAyn in Cordova in the summer of 973, for the
palatine library of al-Ḥakam II, who was a renowned bibliophile and patron of
knowledge and the arts. The original manuscript of the work is lost, but five copies
have survived from the following two centuries:

  • Granada, Library of the Sacromonte, ms. árabe 2, on paper, dated 1008;
  • Madrid, Library of the CCHS, ms. RESC/35, on paper, dated 1043;
  • Fes, Qarawiyyīn Library, ms. 1238, on parchment, dated 1124;
  • Rabat, National Library, ms. 6 Q, on paper, dated 1130;
  • Marrakesh, Ibn Yūsuf Library, ms. 270/1, on paper, dated 1204.

Of these early copies, the most precious and complete one is that of the
Qarawiyyīn Library in Fes, dated 1124, which constitutes the subject of this paper.

Conceived as a deluxe edition for the library of a wealthy patron or institution, the
Mukhtaṣar al-ʿAyn of the Qarawiyyīn is an illuminated parchment codex most likely
copied in Valencia. Its material value becomes evident when compared with the other
known manuscripts of the same work, all transcribed on cheap paper and lacking
decoration. But the outstanding quality of this codex lies mainly in its pedigree: it was
copied from a book that belonged to the celebrated grammarian Ibn al-Sīd al-
Baṭalyawsī (1052-1127), who was living in Valencia at that time. In turn, Baṭalyawsī’s
copy had been transcribed directly from the lost original of al-Ḥakam II’s library, which
bore glosses and a colophon written by Zubaydī himself.