Manuscripts on the battlefields: Early modern Ottoman subjects in the European theatre of war and their textual relations to the supernatural in their fight for survival

Şen, A. Tunç

Where can we find today those copies that we know once accompanied a specific individual or group on a journey in early modern times? What manuscript notes or other miscellaneous textual fragments might we find in these volumes? Could these notes allow us to capture, in their own contemporaneity, the personal reflections and emotional states of individuals on particular journeys or in struggles for survival? What could such details tell us about their relationship to writing, to the natural world around them, to time, or to the supernatural? And how have these manuscripts in motion, some of which eventually found their way into the hands of non-Ottomans, contribute to the accumulation of Islamic manuscripts in early modern European collections? This article sets out to address these questions by spotlighting the contents of a curious manuscript of clear Ottoman provenance currently housed in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) in Paris. The book includes several separate short tracts and textual fragments, mostly dealing with calendric computation and different divination techniques, penned down by manifestly different hands, some not fully literate in Arabic script. The nature of texts found in the manuscript and some of the curious notes on certain folios of the book (left by an Ottoman sailor taking part in military ventures and directly addressing his fellow seafarers on board) offer a unique window into capturing, with striking immediacy, the sentiments of a particular Ottoman individual and his respective community in motion that had resort to supernatural forces and other tools of divination in their fight for survival under dire circumstances.

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Aca’ib: Occasional papers on the Ottoman perceptions of the supernatural

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February 8, 2022