Images of Persian Manuscripts Online.

Ursula Sims-Williams has a post on the Asian and African studies blog of the British Library announcing that they’ve uploaded more than 15,000 images of Persian manuscripts online. I got the news from Victor Mair’s Log post of a couple days ago, but I’ve been to share it until I could access the British Library blog — I’ve been getting 404 errors. Now that I’ve done so, here it is, but be warned that it may vanish behind the “not found” screen again. Be patient.

Also, Mair points out “one of the most amazing items”:

A leaf from the Saddar (‘100 doors’), a popular compilation of 100 rules for Zoroastrians which range from justifying instant death for sodomy to the treatment of good and evil animals, and the avoidance of different forms of pollution. This copy, dated Samvat 1631 (AD 1575), is in Persian language, but transcribed in Avestan (Old Iranian) script, together with a Gujarati translation. (BL IO Islamic 3043, f 137r)

He adds, “There is a nice discussion (in the comments section) of why the interspersed Gujarati translation is upside down,” and his summary is well worth reading.


  1. My comment at the Log on multi-directional and inverted text:

    There are strange things done in the world of multidirectional text. This is example is not directly on point, but indicates the kind of thing that can happen.

    Classical Mongolian script is written vertically from top to bottom, with lines that progress from left to right across the page (unlike CJK vertical scripts, which progress from right to left). This is because Mongolian script is descended (via several intermediaries) from the Aramaic script, which was and is written horizontally from left to right. In essence, the forms of the script were created by rotating the page as a whole 90° counterclockwise, causing right to become down and down to become left.

    Now when Arabic text is embedded in Mongolian, it is written upwards; that is to say, against the direction of the Mongolian, just as Arabic text embedded in English is written against the direction of the English. However, when for any reason Mongolian script must be written horizontally, it is not rotated back 90° clockwise. Instead, the page is rotated a further 90° counterclockwise, producing glyphs that are read left to right. They are upside down with respect to their Aramaic ancestors, and any embedded Arabic text will be in fact upside down.

  2. GeorgeW says:

    John Cowan: “. . . the Aramaic script, which was and is written horizontally from left to right.”

    Aramaic, like Hebrew and Arabic, was written right to left.

  3. Yes, of course. ‮Dyslexia‬ strikes again.

  4. Thanks so much for this link! I’m quite speechless.

  5. Glad you liked it, Beth!

  6. Rodger C says:

    There’s a Mongolian-English dictionary that prints the Mongolian words left to right. Natural enough, but the result looks just like Aramaic upside down.

  7. Does anyone know the cultural history of how Mongolian script came to be derived from Aramaic? I know the Mongols made it to Mesopotamia, but I think by that time it was Arabic…

  8. It comes from Old Uyghur script of Uyghurs, their neighbour and vaincus. Old Uyghur script is in turn an adaptation of one of the countless Central Asian Aramaic-derived scripts for Old Turkic.

  9. George Gibbard says:

    Specifically, Old Uyghur writing was derived from the Sogdian script:

  10. I have just read a preliminary proposal for Old Uyghur in Unicode. It prescribes that when written in a horizontal context, OO (unlike Mongolian) will be represented RTL, so that the letter shapes will resemble their Aramaic and Sogdian counterparts. Curiously, there are only 17 letters in OO: aleph, beth, gimel, waw, zayin, heth, yodh, kaph, lamedh, mem, nun, samekh, pe, sadhe, resh, taw, lesh. (These names are by analogy with Aramaic, not native names.)

  11. Is OO meant to be OU, or am I missing some Unicodical subtlety?

  12. OU indeed. I don’t know why I wrote OO.

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