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Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (CSMC)

04/2013 manuscript  of the month

Seven in one blow

A multilingual manuscript held in the Austrian National Library

At first glance, this manuscript written in Arabic characters does not appear to be anything out of the ordinary. It contains Islamic religious as well as poetic and superstitious texts in Arabic, Persian and Turkish, which too was written in Arabic script until the 1920s. But for understanding about one third of its folios, the command of these three major oriental languages is not sufficient: Although neither the writing system nor the scribe’s handwriting changes, it is specified that what follows are sections in Croatian, Hungarian, German, and even Latin. After a little practice one can decipher the first German words “du solt nit andere getter neben mir haben“ (“Thou shalt have no other gods before me”, cf. fig. 1). How was this manuscript, which outwardly seems to be coherent but still contains very clearly different texts, produced and for whom was it destined?

Fig. 1: Austrian National Library,
Cod. A.F.437, fol. 29v, First Commandment
in five languages (German: second last and
last line) > Enlarge

The manuscript is approximately the size of a postcard and is held in the Austrian National Library. It consists of 162 folios made of European paper. They were presumably cut and rebound after they came into “European” possession. The last ten folios, and one folio between two sections, are blank. The remaining folios are covered on both sides in a well readable type of Arabic script that was widely used in the Ottoman Empire. At the beginning of the manuscript, under a Turkish verse meant as an address to the reader, one finds a note in Latin script and language as well. This note was written by Sebastian Tengnagel, the librarian of the Imperial Court Library in Vienna from 1608 until his death in 1636. In 1920, the Court Library was renamed the Austrian National Library. Thus we know that in the first half of the 17th century the manuscript was already held in the same institution as today.

Fig. 2: Austrian National Library,
Cod. A.F.437, fol. 78v, detail, possible
year in red > Enlarge

The manuscript does neither contain any explicit information about its date and place of origin, nor is it mentioned who compiled and wrote it. But several clues point to the last decade of the 16th century as the time when it was produced. One important hint is a list of Ottoman Sultans ending with Murad III, who ruled from 1574 to 1595. One may also derive information about the date of origin from the eleven different watermarks found in the manuscript. However, it is quite difficult to identify the watermarks. When the manuscript was produced all sheets were folded in half along the long edge, and then five of these sheets were sown together along the crease and formed a so-called quire. Unfortunately, the watermarks are precisely located in the fold, so that only small fragments are visible of those on the lowest sheet of a quire. Only two watermarks have been identified so far. They were both used in Vienna around 1590. Finally, an isolated combination of three signs (cf. fig. 2) permitting different readings and interpretations was considered for dating the manuscript. The signs were interpreted as the Islamic year 997, written in the Indo-Arabic form of the Arabic ciphers, which corresponds to 1588/89 of the Common Era. Although this interpretation is in line with the other hints, the form of the signs is still quite extraordinary – they could also be read as “44” in the European-Arabic form of the Arabic ciphers or as “V” (the letter or the Roman cipher).

Fig. 3: Austrian National Library,
Cod. A.F.437, fol. 36v, detail, apostle’s
name Janos ‘John’ vertical in the outer
margin in red > Enlarge

Because of some aspects of the samples of European languages, which consist for the main part of the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed and Lutheran Hymns, the manuscript most probably originates from historical Hungary. Some characteristic features of writing also suggest that it was produced in the European territories of the Ottoman Empire, which in the 16th century also included a large part of Hungary. The German texts show mainly features of Middle Bavarian dialects, which were also spoken in Hungary and Slovakia. Since everything was, as far as possible, written down in the way it was then pronounced, we may find in the Latin texts, too, variants that are typical of Hungarian Latin. Furthermore the names of the apostles – those among Jesus’ followers who were charged with the mission by himself – occur, if not Latinized, in the German or Hungarian articulation, such as the Hungarian name “Janos” for “John” (cf. fig. 3). In a Hungarian poem which is not known from any other source, it is said that its composer’s home is Divín or Devín (depending on the reading). Both are located in today’s Slovakia. But we cannot be sure that the composer of this poem also wrote the whole manuscript. Besides it is also possible that this person did not speak all the languages contained in the manuscript, but simply wrote down some of them based on another person’s oral recitation. These questions can only be answered by further investigating the language samples and comparing the distribution areas in the 16th century of the different varieties contained in the manuscript.

There are still many questions about the origin of the manuscript that have yet to be answered, but there is no doubt that, although part of its content is Christian, it was destined for Ottoman readers of Islamic religion. This is not only evidenced by the use of Arabic script. Also, all paratexts, i.e. introductions and transitions, commentaries and notes which do not belong to the recorded texts but embed these into the manuscript, are written in Turkish. When being addressed the reader is asked to recite the first Sura of the Quran for the scribe’s soul. Furthermore, in the section of the Creed saying that Jesus had “suffered under Pontius Pilate”, it is explained to the reader that the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate was a Padishah – a title that was otherwise used for Ottoman rulers.

FLÜGEL, Gustav (1867): Die arabischen, persischen und türkischen Handschriften der Kaiserlich-Königlichen Hofbibliothek zu Wien / im Auftrage der Vorgesetzten k.k. Behörde geordnet und beschrieben von Gustav Flügel: Bd. 3. Wien: Dr. und Verl. der K. K. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei.
GRAGGER, Robert (1927): “Türkisch-ungarische Kulturbeziehungen“. In Franz Babinger u.a. (ed.): Literaturdenkmäler aus Ungarns Türkenzeit – Nach Handschriften in Oxford und Wien. Berlin/Leipzig: Walter de Gruyter& Co. 1-32.
IVUŠIĆ, Branka / BICHLMEIER, Harald (im Druck): “Zur dialektologischen Einordnung der deutschen Texte einer osmanischen Sammelhandschrift vom Ende des 16. Jh.s“. In Rüdiger Harnisch und Rosemarie Spannbauer-Pollmann (ed.): Akten der 11. bayerisch-österreichischen Dialektologentagung, Passau, 23.–25. September 2010.
MITTWOCH, Eugen (1927): “Die deutschen, magyarischen, kroatischen und lateinischen Texte der Wiener Sammelhandschrift“. In Franz Babinger u.a. (ed.): Literaturdenkmäler aus Ungarns Türkenzeit – Nach Handschriften in Oxford und Wien. Berlin/Leipzig: Walter de Gruyter& Co. 88-130.
MITTWOCH, Eugen/MORDTMANN, Johann Heinrich (1927): „Die Wiener Sammelhandschrift“. In Franz Babinger u.a. (ed.): Literaturdenkmäler aus Ungarns Türkenzeit – Nach Handschriften in Oxford und Wien. Berlin/Leipzig: Walter de Gruyter& Co. 70-87.
RÖMER, Claudia (2009): “16. yy. Arap harfleriyle yazılmış Almanca dinî ve dünyevî metinler ile Evliya Çelebi’nin Seyahatname’sindeki Almanca örnekler – bir karşılaştırma“. In Nuran Tezcan (ed.): Çağının Sıradışı Yazarı Evliyâ Çelebi. Istanbul: Yapi Kredi Yayınları. 365-372.
RÖMER, Claudia (im Druck): “Cultural Assimilation of a 16th-Century New Muslim ‒ the mecmua ÖNB A.F. 437”. In İlhan Şahin (ed.): Proceedings of CIEPO 19, Van, July 26-30 2010.

Austrian National Library, Vienna (Austria)
Shelfmark: Cod. A.F. 437
Material: European Paper, 162 folios, 151 of them covered on both sites, mostly by 15 lines
Measurements: 17.1 x 11.2 cm, cut after original production
Cover: not original
Date: ca. 1590

Text by Branka Ivušić
© for all images of the manuscript: Austrian National Library