al-Ṣafadī (696/1297-764/1345)

Khalīl b. Aybak b. ʿAbd Allāh Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Abū al-Ṣaffā al-Ṣafadī al-Shāfiʿī, was born in Ṣafad, a small town in Galilee, in 696/1297. He was the son of a Mamluk of turkic origin.

He is a major author in various fields:

  • history, more particularly biographical history, since he is the author of various biographical dictionaries, the Wāfī bi-ʾl-wafayāt and the Aʿyān al-ʿAṣr being the biggest and most famous;
  • literature, prose and poetry, correspondance, diplomatics;
  • linguistics, mainly for Arabic.

He did all his career in the Mamluk chancery, occupying different jobs, as far as head of Aleppo chancery (in 759/1358). He lived most of his life in Damascus, but also held important positions in Cairo. He died from the plague in 764/1363, while he was in Damascus.

He was extremely prolific and his activity as a scholar was and still is recognized as outstanding. This is attested among others by the great number of holograph manuscripts of his, that is manuscripts actually entirely written by him, in his own handwriting, that were preserved till today.

A copy of the Maqāmāt by al-Ḥarīrī, in the hand of al-Ṣafadī (Text, comments, illuminations). MS Copenhagen, Kongelige Bibliotek Cod Arab Add 83, f. 5a

For more details, see:

  • Encyclopaedia of Islam (2nd ed.), vol. VIII, p. 759-760 (Rosenthal)
  • Rowson, Everett K. (2009). “Al-Ṣafadī”. In J. E. Lowry & D. J. Stewart (Eds.), Essays in Arabic Literary Biography II: 1350–1850. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, p. 341-357.
  • Lāšīn, Muḥammad ʻAbd al-Majīd (2005). aṣ-Ṣafadī wa-āṯāru-hu fī ʾl-adab wa-al-naqd. Madīnat Naṣr, al-Qāhirah: Dār al-Āfāq al-ʻArabiyyah.

Al-Ṣafadī’s Library

Authors’ libraries are important in many respects. They inform us about the author’s readings at different moments of his/her life, information that we can relate to the author’s other aspects of life: writing activitiesplaces of living, personal and professional network... But if we take a broader look at them, we also gather information about the period’s readings: what is in vogue then? which texts do circulate? which authors are read? do scholars read their contemporaries or authors from the past?... In this regard, an author’s library is made of the books owned by him/her, but also by the books he read or consulted: the latter are part of his mental library.

The way we can gather such information is two fold:

  • one can use the textual sources, relying on the author’s possible assertions (autobiographical notes scatterd in his/her writings, correspondence, and so on), or what is said in his/her biography;
  • another complementary way is to check manuscripts pages in search of paratextual elements (i.e. written words that are not part of the text) that were written by the author in question. These paratextual elements can be ownership statements (“this book is from Mr. Whathisname’s library”), reading statements (“I read this book [in that year]”, signature), licences of transmission (or ijāza, a text that can assume different formats, stating basically “this book was read in the presence of Mr. Whathisname and the latter was given the licence to transmit it”), kind of blurb (taqrīẓ), among others.

Several paratextual elements by al-Ṣafadī were found on manuscripts pages: 9 ownership statements, on books about biography, adab (belles-lettres), history, or juridico-religious matters (ḥadīṯ, and others) for instance. It is interesting to note that he often writes them perpendicularly to the direction of the page. Moreover, 2 blurbs were discovered, displaying a very adorned style.
Besides, ownership marks of his son Muḥammad are telling as well, as he probably inherited his father’s library. In the current state of research, 3 of them were discovered. They also appear on a number of al-Ṣafadī’s holograph manuscripts.

An ownership mark, on a manuscript title page.