Thinking in Lines and Circles: Geometric Script Patterns and Visualization of Knowledge in Medieval Islamicate Societies (1100–1250 AD)




Kazani, Zahra

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What do we see when we look at writing? In addition to the verbal messages conveyed by the written words, visual dimensions of script are powerful tools that hold semantic value. This dissertation focuses on one such visual element—the arrangement of written words into geometric shapes or patterns in the context of medieval Islamicate societies (1100–1250 AD)—to uncover its meanings. The dissertation offers a primary case study of the Kitāb al-diryāq (Book of Antidotes, 595 AH/1199 AD, BnF arabe 2964), an illuminated and illustrated manuscript with a variety of geometric patterns created using Arabic script. By examining a broad range of materials (scientific manuscripts, magical objects, and architectural decoration) across Late Antiquity and the medieval period, this heuristic study argues that the arrangement of script in geometric patterns was a vital medium of visualizing knowledge and transmitting knowledge—the form not only carrying cultural meanings but also shaping the reception of verbal messages. Magic is one form of knowledge that is particularly fruitful for examining the function of the geometric script patterns in general, and of the Kitāb al-diryāq in particular. This study traces the contexts in which the geometric script patterns appear, the cultural practices associated with them, and the medieval worldviews in which the patterns circulated. In considering these factors, the study argues that the combination of shape and script is embedded with knowledge that reflects the medieval scientific, magical, and popular imagination.



Islamic art and architecture, Arabic calligraphy, geometric shapes, medieval magic, medieval science, esotericism, Late Antiquity