News story

Latest volume in the Epistles of the Brethren of Purity Series published

12th March 2014
Book Jacket On Natural Sciences: An Arabic Critical Edition and English Translation of Epistles 15 & 21.

The Institute of Ismaili Studies is pleased to announce the publication of the next volume in the Epistles of the Brethren of Purity (Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’ Series), entitled On Natural Sciences: An Arabic Critical Edition and English Translation of Epistles 15 & 21, edited and translated by Carmela Baffioni with a foreword by Dr Nader El-Bizri.

The Ikhwan al-Safaʾ (Brethren of Purity), the anonymous adepts of a tenth-century esoteric fraternity based in Basra and Baghdad, hold an eminent position in the history of science and philosophy in Islam due to the wide reception and assimilation of their monumental encyclopaedia, the Rasaʾil Ikhwan al-Safaʾ (Epistles of the Brethren of Purity). This compendium contains fifty-two epistles offering synoptic accounts of the classical sciences and philosophies of the age. Divided into four classificatory parts, it treats themes in mathematics, logic, natural philosophy, psychology, metaphysics, and theology, in addition to didactic fables.

This volume comprises the initial seven epistles on the natural sciences, which correspond to the corpus of Aristotle’s great works on the philosophy of nature, whilst also incorporating an Islamic interpretation of Neoplatonic ideas. Besides providing the necessary references to works by Aristotle and other Greek authors, this book deals with pre-modern doctrines that were prevalent in the Ismaili literature of that epoch, which are echoed in the Ikhwan al-Safa’info-icons epistles; foremost of which is the hierarchical representation of the three natural kingdoms, reflected in the hierarchy of human beings.

The basis of human salvation is here seen in the relation between divine Artisan and human artisan, both of whom accomplish their works by actualising their knowledge. Although moral behaviour is a necessary condition, salvation cannot be reached without a thorough knowledge of the sciences described progressively in the Rasaʾil Ikhwan al-Safaʾ.