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Catalogue: Alchemy

Blue arrow pointing to the right Kitāb al-Uūl   (MS A 33, item 6)
(The Book of Principles)
كتاب الاصول
attributed to Jābir ibn ayyān (8th-9th century)
جابر ابن حيان

The group of 144 alchemical tracts known collectively to medieval bibliographers as Kutub al-Mawazin (The Books of Balances) apparently date from the beginning of the tenth century. One of these treatises was usually titled Kitāb al-Uūl (The Book of Principles or The Book of Roots), though occasionally it has related titles such as Kitāb al-Uūl al-thalith (The Third Book of Principles).

NLM has two copies of a treatise having the title Kitāb al-Uūl. In one copy a later hand has given it the additional title (written using poor grammatical structure) of Uūl fī al-sīnā‘at al-iksir (Principles for the Art of the Elixir). In neither copy is the title given as Kitāb al-Uūl al-thālith, as was incorrectly stated by Sezgin (Sezgin, GAS IV, p. 256 no. 53).

The text of both copies at NLM is identical to that in Dublin, Chester Beatty Library, Arabic MS 4929, fols. 5b-56a, where the treatise is also titled simply Kitāb al-Uūl (M. Ullmann, Katalog der arabischen alchemistischen Handschriften der Chester Beatty Library. Teil I, Beschreibung der Handschriften, Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1974, p. 156). The beginning is also equivalent to a manuscript in Hyderabad, Asaf. Kimiyah MS. 22 (see Kraus, Jabir, p. 125 no. 988).

For other copies see Sezgin, GAS IV, p. 256 no. 23; and Kraus, Jabir, p. 125-6, no. 988.

Kitab al-Usul   (MS A 33, item 6)

Physical Description

Arabic. 32 leaves (fols. 58b-89a). Dimensions 21 x 14.8 (text area 15.3 x 7.4) cm; 12 lines per page. The title and author are given on fol. 58b, line 2, with the title repeated at the end.

The copy is undated and unsigned. The appearance of the paper, ink, and script a date of the 17th or 18th century.

All the items in the volume were copied by the same unnamed person. The volume was given the title Majmu‘ nafīs al-kimiya’ (A Valuable Collection on Alchemy) on fol. 1b, which is a later title page and table of contents. A modern label on the front paste-down reads: Majmu‘ah: Rasa’il li-Jābir ibn ayyān (Collection: Treatises by Jābir ibn ayyān).

The text is written in a large naskh tending to ta‘liq script using black ink with headings in a tomato-red. The text area is frame-ruled. There are catchwords.

There are marginalia in several hands throughout the volume. Some indicate corrections, others (in a very large script) repeat section headings, and some provide brief commentaries. Most of the folios have been numbered in Arabic numerals on the verso; the volume has been recently refoliated in Western numerals.

Fols. 2-188 are composed of a thin, ivory paper with vertical laid lines and single chain lines (no watermarks observed). Fols. 189-252 are composed of a slightly thicker and stiffer light-beige paper that also has vertical laid lines with single chain lines spaced further apart than in the paper of the first group; there are also evident watermarks. The paper is damp-stained and darker near the edges, with considerable water-damage at the top inner corner. It is also slightly soiled through thumbing. Fol. 1 is a watermarked paper slightly different from the rest of the volume.

The volume consists of 252 leaves. Fol. 1a is blank; the folio is a later piece of paper on which someone has written a table of contents for the volume on the verso. Fols. 10b, 27a, 48a, and 89b are completely blank. Fol. 121a is blank except for a short Persian later annotation. Fol. 36b was blank, but a Persian note has since been added to it, and fol. 58a was blank until a short note in red ink was added that repeats the title of the previous item. Carefully written Persian notes have been written at the bottom of fols. 47a and 47b.

Fols. 2a-10a (item 1) contain Kitāb al-Malāghim al-awwal by Jābir ibn ayyān (MS A 33, item 1); fols. 11a-26b (item 2) Kitāb al-Malāghim al-thānī by Jābir ibn ayyān (MS A 33, item 2); fols. 27b-36a (item 3) Kitāb al-Malāghim al-thālith by Jābir ibn ayyān (MS A 33, item 3); fols. 37a-47a (item 4) Tafsīr al-Malāghim by Jābir ibn ayyān (MS A 33, item 4); fols. 48b-57b (item 5) Kitāb al-al-Tadābīr by Jābir ibn ayyān (MS A 33, item 5); fols. 58b-89a (item 6) Kitāb al-Uūl by Jābir ibn ayyān here catalogued; fols. 90a-120b (item 7) Kitāb al-Sirr al-sārr wa-sirr al-asrār by Jābir ibn ayyān (MS A 33, item 7); fols. 121b-147a (item 8) al-Muntakhab min Kitāb al-Ittiād by Jābir ibn ayyān (MS A 33, item 8); fols. 147a-161b (item 9) Kitāb al-Sirr al-asrār by al-Rāzī (MS A 33, item 9); fols. 161b-173b (item 10) Kitāb al-Sirr al-Maknūn by Jābir ibn ayyān (MS A 33, item 10); fols. 174a-185a (item 11) Kitāb al-Wāid al-awwal wa-al-thānī wa-al-thālith by Jābir ibn ayyān (MS A 33, item 11); fols. 185a-211b (item 12) Kitāb al-Bāhir by Jābir ibn ayyān (MS A 33, item 12); fols. 212a-217b (item 13) Kitāb al-Khamā'ir al-thālith by Jābir ibn ayyān (MS A 33, item 13); fols. 217b-229a (item 14) Kitāb Tafsīr al-khamā'ir al-thālith by Jābir ibn ayyān (MS A 33, item 14); fols. 229b-230b (item 15) Kitab al-Sha‘ar [quotations from] by Jābir ibn ayyān (MS A 33, item 15); fols. 230b-244b (item 16) Kitab al-Khama'ir by Jābir ibn ayyān (MS A 33, item 16); and fols. 244b-252b (item 17) al-Khalis al-mubarak by Jābir ibn ayyān (MS A 33, item 17).


The volume is bound in an 18th or 19th century Persian/Turkish binding of brown leather over pasteboards with an envelope flap. Both covers have a blind-stamped large scalloped mandorla panel stamp whose decoration on the inner field has a central flower in full bloom and interweaving vines with full blown and smaller flowers and leaves. There are two small pendants blind-stamped with a single flower-bud. The covers also have blind-tooled frames formed of simple fillets either side of a narrow guilloche roll. The envelope flap has a similar frame, with the small scalloped panel stamp decorated with a small flower in full bloom surrounded by a scalloped design. The spine, fore-edge flap, and edges are recently repaired in a darker brown leather. The envelope flap has a yellow-green paper lining. There are modern pastedowns and endpapers and a recent brown cloth fore-edge flap lining.


The volume was purchased in 1941 by the Army Medical Library from A. S. Yahuda (ELS No. 1683).


Schullian/Sommer, Cat. of incun. & MSS., entry A 33, p. 308.

NLM Microfilm Reel: FILM 48-118 no. 6.

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