The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, taking place in the Capital from May 22 - 28, featuring a wide range of books and publishers, has on sale a rare gem: A 15th-century European book – often described as the most beautifully illustrated book of the European Renaissance – with the first Arabic words ever printed.
“We have one of the earliest books ever printed in the world in our exhibit this year – the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, published within the first 100 years of the invention of printing and considered to be the most beautiful illustrated book of the European Renaissance. It features the very first published appearance of Arabic words anywhere in the world, two of the three inscriptions accompanied by beautiful woodcuts. It additionally honours Arabic as one of the world’s four sacred languages alongside Greek, Roman and Hebrew. It is a book that would take pride of place in any Middle Eastern museum collection, not just for its aesthetic beauty but for its historical significance,” says Pom Harrington, owner of the rare book seller Peter Harrington.
There are three Arabic inscriptions in the text, the first not illustrated, the other two accompanied by woodcuts. One of the illustrations shows the protagonist arriving at three gates, symbolising three entrances to universal knowledge, above which are carved epigraphs in Greek, Roman, Hebrew, and Arabic characters.
Other rare books associated with the early significance of the Arabic language include:
- The exceedingly rare first Arabic dictionary printed in the Arab world, Jean-Joseph Marcel’s Vocabulaire français-arabe, printed in Cairo in 1798 to aid Napoleon’s efforts – £37,500
- First editions of two foundational grammars by Thomas Erpenius instrumental in the western study of Arabic – £9,750
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