Situating a Fatimid wisdom compilation in al-Andalus: the case of al-Mubashshir ibn Fatik’s Mukhtar al-Hikam and its Latin and Spanish translations

David Joseph Wrisley

American University of Beirut, Lebanon

My paper is based on digital textual research that attempts to situate in al-Andalus a compilation of wise sayings by al-Mubashshir ibn-Fatik composed in fifth/eleventh century Egypt. There is evidence of this text circulating in al-Andalus as early as the early sixth/twelfth century and the influence of this text on medieval Iberia and European cultures is often discussed, although that influence has never been subjected to quantitative analysis.

Although the Arabic text and its paratext contains significant Islamic material—including passages clearly marking its Isma’ili orientation—such passages were largely excised from in the translation into Spanish. The research question I am pursuing is whether the specific diction of the Arabic original and translations was typical of al-Andalus or not. Initial research I have carried out in the field of computational stylistics (otherwise known as stylometry) tends to point to the centrality of the Spanish and Latin translations within specific literary fields.

 This paper will discuss what results we might infer from the above network of most frequent words in this Spanish language corpus (and a Latin one not shown). For the purposes of this conference, I will press further tracing lexical evolution in a few fields (ethics, natural and political philosophy) prevalent in the Arabic, Spanish and Latin versions of the Mukhtar al-Hikam, in order to mine a larger trilingual corpus for those terms. The purpose of this experiment will be to discuss to what extent we can speak of potential conceptual influence of a text emerging from a learned Shi’ite environment in al-Andalus and then subsequently on thirteenth-century Europe.

The paper will end with some general reflections about how textual analysis and other computational techniques from the digital humanities can be applied in translingual use cases, particularly those involving knowledge transfer from Islamic lands of the southern Mediterranean.

Keywords: translation, digital textual analysis, translingual corpora, stylometry, text mining.