Sunday, 19 October 2008

The Travels of Ibn Battutah

I bought Tim Mackingtosh-Smith's version of The Travels of Ibn Battutah in Dubai on the way home from Turkey and am now deep into it, following maps (and endnotes) and relating it to where I've visited in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey. It's a strangely put together travel tale - missing the sorts of things that the contemporary travel writer would include - and including things that most contemporary travellers could/would not. He was a qadi and invited to meet sultans, kings and sometimes queens.

It's distant and impersonal but fascinating for the insight it gives you into how things operated. It's one thing to go to a today and another read of it in 1325-55. Apart from the 'I know that castle' effect, the work is interesting for the sensibility which is particular to the man and the insight to the upper ranks of the cultures though which he moved.

Some of it is plainly fabrication - famously, his description of the pyramids, but it draws you on. The mysterious people of the Darkness, questions which you know will not be answered (what happened to the wife, where to the slave girls disappear to), place names which seem to have no equivalence, the description of Baghdad which seems recent (once beautiful, rich, but now wrecked).

Ibn Battutah went to Quniyah (Konya) and to the resting place of Rumi (Jalal al-Din) - his gloss is a bit less reverent version of returning after seeking Shamsi:
Subsequently he came back to the, after many years, but he had become demented would speak only in Persian rhymed couplets which no one could understand. His disciples used to follow him and write down that poetry as it issued from him, and they collected it into a book called the Mathnawi. [Mesnevi]

I'm in Turkestan and Afghanistan now. Don't blame me if I don't answer your emails. I'm reading.

No comments: