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Two Elephants

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Ibn Bakhtīshū
(d. 1058)

Two Elephants

Manāfi˓-i ḥayavān (The Benefits of Animals), in Persian, for Shams al-Dīn Ibn Ẓiyā˒ al-Dīn al-Zūshkī

Persia, Maragha
Between 1297 and 1300
212 x 230 mm

Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1912

MS M.500, fol. 13r
Item description: 

The two interlocking and rather affectionate elephants shown here make up one of the finest of the forty-four large illustrations in the manuscript Manāfi˓-i ḥayavān (The Benefits of Animals). They are royal elephants, as seen from their caps and the bells on their feet. The text describes both the habits and medicinal derivatives of the animal. Among the former, for example, it is stated that the tongue of the elephant is upside down, for if it were not, it could speak, and that the elephant was called "barrus on account of its voice, whence the voice is called baritone." Among the latter—and these have not been tested by the Morgan—are suggestions that elephant broth is good for colds and asthma, that elephant dung (taken with or without honey) prevents conception, and that one dram of ivory filings will bring about conception.

Exhibition section: 

Natural History and Astrology
The miniatures presented here derive primarily from two extraordinary Islamic manuscripts that depict the natural world and the heavens. The first, Manāfi˓-i hayavān (The Benefits of Animals), is considered one of the ten greatest surviving Persian manuscripts. It dates from the reign of Ghazan Khan (1295–1304), the Mongol ruler who ordered a Persian translation of the book, and concerns the nature and medicinal properties of humans, animals, birds, reptiles, fish, and insects. The other, Matāli˓ al-sa˓āda wa manābi˓ al-siyāda (The Ascension of Propitious Stars and Sources of Sovereign), was commissioned by Sultan Murād III (r. 1574–95), an Ottoman ruler deeply interested in astronomy, cosmology, demonology, poetry, and mysticism.