Sunday, May 18, 2014

Nerdy Fun, or, What I Am Studying for My Exams

As I mentioned in my last post, I have spent most of my time studying for two big exams, the first of which I took on Friday and the second of which is scheduled for tomorrow morning. These lengthy tests are two of the four "general" or "qualifying" exams that I have to take as part of my PhD program, with each of the four focusing on a different area of knowledge and scholarship relevant to my dissertation project and my academic discipline more generally. Friday's exam was about Urdu and Hindi language and literature and included, amongst other things, questions about and translations from the Urdu novel Umrāʼo Jān Adā, which I previously blogged about here. Tomorrow's examination is similarly supposed to test my knowledge of Persian (Farsi/Dari) language and literature. Apart from the great classics - think Sa'dī and Ḥāfiẓ - I have been studying various historic Persian-language horticultural texts. Perhaps the most well-known of these is the  Irshād az-zirā’ah or "Direction of Agriculture" (though the term zirā'ah or zirā'at really tends to encompass all plant cultivation, including that of garden ornamentals) written in 1515 in the city of Herat in what is now Afghanistan by one  Qāsim ibn Yūsuf Abū Naṣrī Haravī. It is an intriguing and at times enigmatic text which combines literary aspirations - a lengthy introduction in ornate prose and verse, poetry scattered throughout the text, Arabic quotations - with loads of practical instruction and advice that is often presented in terse, formulaic language. The pharmacological properties of each plant according to a system ultimately derived from ancient Greek medicine - Galen is cited repeatedly - are indicated, and there are recipes for making jams and preserves, rose water, vinegar, and other garden-related products. The brief eighth and last chapter of the book is a detailed description of a layout and planting plan for a model pleasure garden. This last chapter, though it is not included in all manuscripts and edited versions of the text, has received a bit of attention from contemporary scholars, who have sought to mine it for information on the stylistic development of gardens in Timurid Central Asia and its successor formations, such as the Mughal Empire in South Asia. 

Morning glories (Ipomoea sp.) blooming in a Cambridge frontyard during a previous summer

To illustrate the general style of this work, here is the entry on morning glories (Ipomoea sp.) from the section on flowers, first in the original Persian and then in my attempt at a translation:


نیلوفر - سرد و تر است، خواب آورد، باد را مضر است، مصلح وی گلقند


از عمر کم خویش شده نیلوفر آگاه
زان جامه کبود آمده کز ماتمیان است

از سفید ورسمی، بذر آن را یک روز در آب نموده در حمل کارند وچون سبز شود بر چفت میرود بواجبی خبردار باشند و رسیدن آن در جوزاست و گل آن از صبح تا چاشتگاه است

Morning Glory

Morning glory - it is cool(ing) and moist, brings sleep, and is harmful to the respiration; its antidote is preserve of roses.


The morning glory has become aware of her short life-span
Thus she wears dark blue clothes, for she is one of the mourners

It comes in white and the regular (i.e. dark blue) kind; its seeds are planted in Aries after having been soaked in water for one day and when it germinates and grows it climbs on a trellis. It is looked after as necessary and comes into bloom in Gemini and its flowers open from morning until late breakfast/early lunch time.

Notice the use of the names of the signs of the zodiac for months, instead of the months of the Persian solar calendar or the Islamic lunar one; apparently this is typical of the region of Khurāsān in what is now northeastern Iran and western Afghanistan. The Persian name for morning glory used here, nīlufar, derives from the Sanskrit nīlotpala which originally described a blue waterlily like Nymphaea caerulea or Nymphaea nouchali. The name was presumably transferred to morning glories in the Iranian and Central Asian context because of the similar color. It continues to be used for waterlilies in South Asian usage as well in Arabic.

Haravī, Qāsim ibn Yūsuf Abū Naṣrī. Irshād az-zirā’ah. Tihrān: Dānishgāh-i Tihrān, 1967 (1515).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for stopping by!