Paper. 320 x 195mm. 786p.
A fine manuscript of the Khamsa of Nizami Ganjavi (1140/41-1202/3), dated Safar 947/June 1540. Good Nasta'liq, 4 columns of 19 lines each to a page, with 30 miniature paintings. Green leather binding, ornamented with Oriental scenes of pagodas and palanquin processions in gold.
Bequeathed to the College by James Bate (Bishop of Ely's Fellow 1726-1733, Rector of Deptford, d.1775).
Inside the front cover is pasted a MS list in Bate's hand headed 'The Pictures' which reads as follows.
'An entertainment sub dio. [Outdoor entertainment for a court] Page 0.
An initial ornament. [An example of fine calligraphy] 1.
King Noshîr-wan, his Vizier, and the two owls. [King Nushirwan listening to the owls on the ruined palace] 26.
Story of the Caliph Almamôn & ye surgeon. [Caliph Harun al-Rashid and the barber in a bath house.] 59.
Chosroes sees his mistress Shîrîn bathing in a brook. [Khosrow watching Shirin bathing] 96.
Equestrian game at batt & ball. [Khosrow and Shirin playing polo with their attendants] 113.
Battle between Chosroes & Behram: or Varanes. [A mounted battle between Khosrow and Bahram Chubina] 129.
The king and the hermitt. [Shirin visiting Farhad on Mount Bisitun, where the latter is digging a canal] 160.
Entertainment sub dio. [Khosrow enthroned] 170.
Chosroes visits Shîrîn in her pallace. [Khosrow arriving at Shirin's palace] 181.
Shîrîn returns the visit. [Khosrow and Shirin celebrating at a feast in the open air] 211.
Megenôn & Lili (lovers) first acquainted at school. [Layla and Majnun at school, with their teacher and other children] 267.
Lili & her companions in a palm-tree grove. [Layla and her companions in a palm-tree grove, eating, drinking, and dancing to music] 285.
Nuphals battle wth ye caravan of Lili. [A mounted battle between the followers of Nawfal and Layla, with Majnun looking on] 294.
Megenôn in the desert. [Majnun in the desert, with his faithful following of wild animals] 317.
An adventure of Lili & Megenôn. [The meeting of Layla and Majnun in the desert, surrounded by wild animals] 353.
King Behrams 1st pallace, black. [Bahram Gur being entertained by the Indian Princess in the Black Pavilion, on Saturday] 424.
" 2d pall: yellow. [Bahram Gur being entertained by the Moorish Princess in the Yellow Pavilion, on Sunday] 438.
" 3d pall: green. [Bahram Gur being entertained by the Tartar Princess in the Green Pavilion, on Monday] 445.
" 4th pall: red. [Bahram Gur being entertained by the Russian Princess in the Red Pavilion, on Tuesday] 453.
" 5t pall: blew. [Bahram Gur being entertained by the Princess of Khorazm in the Blue Pavilion, on Wednesday] 462.
" 6t pall: sandal wood colour. [Bahram Gur being entertained by the Chinese Princess in the Sandalwood Pavilion, on Thursday] 473.
" 7th pall: resembles the former. [Bahram Gur being entertained by the Greek Princess in the White Pavilion, on Friday] 482.
Alexander going from India to Tartary, hunts by ye way. [Alexander the Great and his retinue taking part in a hunt whilst journeying from India to Tartary] 629.
His battle with ye Russians; whom ye painter thought blacks. [Alexander the Great's battle with the Russians] 655.
Entertainment sub dio. [Alexander the Great enjoying an outdoor entertainment] 671.
A rural peice. [Alexander the Great inviting the shepherd to his court] 704.
A king giving audience. [Alexander the Great and the seven philosophers] 729.
Conclusion. A hunting match, something defaced. [A hunt] 786.
The last six relate cheifly to the history of Alexander the Great; which is greatly adulterated with fable and romance by all these Eastern writers.'
On the verso of the first flyleaf is written 'I present this Persian Manuscript to the Library of St John's College in Cambridge; as the best mark I am able to give, of my grateful remembrance of the happy years I spent, during my holding the Bishop of Elys Fellowship, in that worthy and agreeable society. James Bate, Rector of St Pauls Deptford, Kent. Deptford, December 13th 1770.' Also 'The characters written in this ink, will not bear being toucht with the least wett or moisture, without being quite spoiled and defaced. The MS to be kept very dry.'
Attached to the first flyleaf is a 5 page Latin letter from Sir William Jones to Bate, dated 25 March 1771, in which Jones describes the MS, beginning 'Liber iste Persicus, quem possides, domine, gemma quavis est pretiosior'. There is an English translation of this letter in Memoirs of the life, writings and correspondence of Sir William Jones by Lord Teignmouth (2nd ed. London, 1806, pp.95-6).
Also attached to the first flyleaf are 7 pages of notes by Bate entitled 'Some account of this Persian manuscript entitled the Chemseh or Pentateuch of Nazámi Gunjéhvi.' These notes are dated 18 March and 14 Sept. 1771. 'After the battle of Buxar, upon the Ganges, about 50 miles to the Eastward of Bannárez, that city which is an ancient and famous university or seminary of Brahmins, was plundered by the conquerors: and this and many other curious MSS, in various Eastern languages, belonging to their public libraries, were part of the plunder. My son Richard Bate, a merchant of Bombay, happening to be then at Calcutta in Bengall, bought this book to present it to me, & sent it in the condition in which he bought it, being all in loose half sheets, and cut out of the old Persian binding ... I had it new bound in London ... I received this book from my son at Tellicherry in October, 1770 ... We find in the last page, that this copy was written in the 947th year of the Hegira; answering nearly to A.D. 1541 ... Tis written in what the Persians call the Nostalîk or compound character ... My friend Ghân Siam Dass ... assures me that he never saw so beautifull and curious piece of writing ... He imagins it was not written by any common scribe working for bread, but by some curious and ingenious young Dervish, for his own amusement, or to make a shew of his ingenuity ... My Brahmin says it must have been written, not with the quill of any fowl, but rather with the rind or outward tegument of a kind of cane or reed ... As he brought over with him a quantity of this kind of calamus ... he gave me a joint of it, which I enclose in a box, in which this MS is kept. The eight lines of rude awkward Persian writing [recto of the 4th flyleaf] ... was by a person who calls himself Sheik Yar Ali: and who was employed by commission to buy up this book in Persia, for the use of some other person ...it seems to be, that these eight lines contain little more than ... a particular and minute description of the volume ... and the various ornaments of it ... There are three seals at the beginning of the book, markt A, B, C. A [recto of the 4th flyleaf] is the seal of the Sheik ... Yar Ali. The second B [fo.1r] is inscribed Mîr Fokeer ul dîn Hossein Chan, who must, by his titles, have been a nobleman of capital rank in Persia; most likely a Nabob, or deputy of a province; and whose property I presume, this book had formerly been. The third seal, D [sic. p.1], is inscribed in Persic Richard Bate, 1178, in the sixt year of the King: meaning the King Shah Allum, the present Mogul de jure; & 1178 answers to A.D. 1765, or perhaps to 1766 ... March 18. 1771. My Brahmin friend Ghân Siam Dass, assured me, that the prime cost of this MS in Persia, could not, in his judgment, be equivalent to less than one hundred pounds of modern English money. And Mr Jones, the very learned editor of Meninski, in his letter hereto annexed, tells us from Meninski, that the common price of it was two hundred aurei. Now, as Meninski was an Aulic councellor, 'tis to be presumed that he means German aurei, or ducats: two hundred of which, at 9sh:6d a piece, come exactly to ninety five pounds sterling. So nearly does Meninski's account, agree with the Brahmins conjecture. Sept: 14. 1771.'
In addition to the seals mentioned by Bate a circular seal has been covered over on p.784.
With the MS is a 4 page letter from Bate, dated 15 Dec. 1770, from Deptford. Bate states that he has inserted a codicil into his will to bequeath the MS to the College, gives details about it and how he acquired it. Bate's son bought the MS 'for only ten Guineas'. 'The book is now in excellent plight; for having one son a merchant, and the other a stationer, as ye merchant gave me the book, the stationer gave me the binding, done in ye true tawdry Mahometan taste, which is green and gold ... There are a few Persian lines, on a blank leaf of the MS, writt in a very bad hand by some illiterate Persian, the same probably who was employed to buy ye book, importing, that he procured it with great difficulty, having spent 150 Rupees (18l:15sh:0d) in hunting after it ... Tho' ye MS is in many places pinkt thro' by ye book-worms, yet they have shewn such judgment and discretion in eating their commons, as not to injure or even touch a single letter of the text, thro' out the book ... Some arch wags will have it, that the Persian bookworms are more polite, have a more elegant taste, and more of the acumen criticum than our Gothic ones here in Europe, that greedily devour all kinds of literature without distinction ...'
Also with the MS is the box in which Bate gave it . To the lid is stuck a paper label on which is written, in Bate's hand, 'The Chemseh or Pentateuch of Nazámi Gunjéhvi. A Persian Manuscript. Which bears not the least touch of wett or moisture. 1770. For the Library of St John's Coll: in Cambridge.' Inside the lid of the box Bate has written 'The ink this MS is written with, will not bear the least touch of wett or moisture.' Attached inside the lid is a reed pen with a label in Bate's hand which reads 'A joint of the reed or cane, growing in Persia & Hindostan, with which the more curious Oriental MSS are written.'
William Craven (Professor of Arabic and fellow of St John's) wrote to Bate in 1771 to thank him for his gift of this MS. His Latin letter is in St John's College Archives (C7.17 fo.38) and is printed in The Eagle 32 (1911), 17-18.
Jeevan Deol, 'A Hidden Treasure in the College Library', The Eagle (2005), 45-50. This article notes that the miniatures are characteristic of the Iranian town of Shiraz, and discusses the manuscript's provenance.