Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn Zakarīyā' al-Rāzī was not only an outstanding figure in the history of early Islamic medicine but also an important writer of alchemical tracts. He himself gave the titles of twelve alchemical treatises that he composed. His major treatise on this topic was titled The Book of Secrets (Kitab al-Asrar), though scholars such as Julius Ruska have inadvertently given it the title Kitāb al-Sirr al-asrār (The Book of the Secret of Secrets). This latter title is more properly applied to a short treatise by al-Rāzī that was intended as a supplement to the longer Book of Secrets. It is the shorter, supplementary, treatise, The Book of the Secret of Secrets that is preserved in a copy at NLM.
In addition to a copy of Kitāb al-Sirr al-asrār by al-Rāzī, NLM also has copies of two other short alchemical treatises by him: Kitāb al-Tadābīr and Kitāb al-Iḥqāq min sab‘īn. For Kitāb al-Tadābīr, NLM has the only recorded copy, and the fragment from Kitāb al-Iḥqāq min sab‘īn is the only recorded copy of the Arabic original which is otherwise known only through its Latin translation.
For the alchemical writings of al-Rāzī, see Ullmann, Natur, pp. 210-213, and Sezgin, GAS IV, pp. 175-182. See also Georges C. Anawati, 'Arabic Alchemy' in Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science, ed. by Roshdi Rashed (London: Routledge, 1996), volume 3, pp. 853-85, esp. pp. 867-9; and Donald R. Hill, 'The literature of Arabic alchemy' in Religion, Learning and Science in the ‘Abbasid Period, ed. M.J.L. Young, J.D. Latham, and R.B. Serjeant (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 328-43, esp. pp. 335-7.
This alchemical treatise is notable for its practical chemistry and his description of the tools necessary for an alchemical laboratory. It was composed for his pupil Muḥammad ibn Yunus al-Bukhari. The treatise is often confused with the longer treatise Kitāb al-Asrār (The Book of Secrets), to which it was intended as an addendum. Both treatises begin in much the same way, though The Book of the Secret of Secrets is much shorter and differs in much of its contents.
Only four other copies are recorded, three now in Iran and one in Tashkent; see Sezgin, GAS IV, pp. 279-80 no. 1, and Ullmann, Natur, p. 213 note 3. The text has been published in facsimile using a copy now in Meshhed, Iran (Gauharshad MS 953, copied in 838 [= 1434-5]): Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn Zakarīyā' al-Rāzī, Kitab al-Asrar wa-Sirr al-asrar, ed. by Muhammad Taqi Danish-Pazuh (Tehran: Commission Nationale Iranienne pour l'UNESCO, 1964), pp. 117-138. The longer treatise, Kitāb al-Asrār (The Book of Secrets), with which this shorter supplementary essay The Secret of Secrets is often confused, was also edited by Danish-Pazuh in the volume just cited, and the longer treatise has been translated into German by Julius Ruska, who unfortunately gave it the incorrect title of Kitāb al-Sirr al-asrār (The Secret of Secrets); see J. Ruska, 'al-Rāzī's Buch Geheimnis der Geheimnisse, mit Einleitung und Erläuterungen in deutscher Übersetzung', Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften und der Medizin, 1937, vol. 6, pp. 1-245.
Kitāb al-Sirr al-asrār (MS A 33, item 9)
An alchemical treatise titled Kitāb al-Sirr al-asrār (The Book of the Secret of Secrets) by Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn Zakarīyā' al-Rāzī begins near the bottom of this folio. It is notable, among other reasons, for containing a detailed description of laboratory equipment. The copy is undated, probably of the 17th or 18th century.
Arabic. 15 leaves (fol. 147a, line 10-fol. 161b). Dimensions 21 x 14.8 (text area 15.3 x 7.4) cm; 12 lines per page. On fol. 147a, line 11, the title is given as Sirr al-asrār with the author given as al-Rāzī al-mutatabbib (the physician).
A complete copy.
The copy is undated and unsigned. The appearance of the paper, ink, and script suggests 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‘ nafis 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 pastedowns reads: Majmu‘ah: Rasa’il li-Jābir ibn Ḥayyān (Collection: Treatises by Jābir ibn Ḥayyān).
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 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 Ḥayyān (MS A 33, item 1); fols. 11a-26b (item 2) Kitāb al-Malāghim al-thānī by Jābir ibn Ḥayyān (MS A 33, item 2); fols. 27b-36a (item 3) Kitāb al-Malāghim al-thālith by Jābir ibn Ḥayyān (MS A 33, item 3); fols. 37a-47a (item 4) Tafsīr al-Malāghim by Jābir ibn Ḥayyān (MS A 33, item 4); fols. 48b-57b (item 5) Kitāb al-al-Tadābīr by Jābir ibn Ḥayyān (MS A 33, item 5); fols. 58b-89a (item 6) Kitāb al-Uṣūl by Jābir ibn Ḥayyān (MS A 33, item 6); fols. 90a-120b (item 7) Kitāb al-Sirr al-sārr wa-sirr al-asrār by Jābir ibn Ḥayyān (MS A 33, item 7); fols. 121b-147a (item 8) al-Muntakhab min Kitāb al-Ittiḥād by Jābir ibn Ḥayyān (MS A 33, item 8); fols. 147a-161b (item 9) Kitāb al-Sirr al-asrār by al-Rāzī here catalogued; fols. 161b-173b (item 10) Kitāb al-Sirr al-Maknūn by Jābir ibn Ḥayyān (MS A 33, item 10); fols. 174a-185a (item 11) Kitāb al-Wāḥid al-awwal wa-al-thānī wa-al-thālith by Jābir ibn Ḥayyān (MS A 33, item 11); fols. 185a-211b (item 12) Kitāb al-Bāhir by Jābir ibn Ḥayyān (MS A 33, item 12); fols. 212a-217b (item 13) Kitāb al-Khamā'ir al-thālith by Jābir ibn Ḥayyān (MS A 33, item 13); fols. 217b-229a (item 14) Kitāb Tafsīr al-khamā'ir al-thālith by Jābir ibn Ḥayyān (MS A 33, item 14); fols. 229b-230b (item 15) Kitab al-Sha‘ar [quotations from] by Jābir ibn Ḥayyān (MS A 33, item 15); fols. 230b-244b (item 16) Kitab al-Khama'ir by Jābir ibn Ḥayyān (MS A 33, item 16); and fols. 244b-252b (item 17) al-Khalis al-mubarak by Jābir ibn Ḥayyān (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.