Hydraulic Imagery in Medieval Arabic Texts

Hydraulic Imagery in Medieval Arabic Texts

The Arabic reports about irrigation, dams and water-powered machines form a cultural construction which could be called hydraulic imagery. The term imagery is related to the perception patterns concerning hydraulic constructions inasmuch these patterns are reproduced in documental genres in the specific geographical, historical and cultural context of the sources. Thus the references on water-power range from reports about milling output in terms of day-production of meal or flour up to impressive accounts about marvellous machines with the features of a perpetuum mobile. These references are embedded in various textual sources which belong to a quite heterogeneous spectre of literary genres including geographical and cosmographical works (like those of al-Dimashq), technological treatises (like the compendia of ingenious devices presented by Bana Musa and al-Jazari) as well as administration documents. Undoubtedly such reports are inspired by the historical reality of hydraulic constructions scattered from al-Andalus and the Maghreb in the Muslim West to Mesopotamia and Transoxania in the East. However, the specific reporting forms as well as several features attributed textually to the constructions under discussion reflect narrative conventions of the specific literary genre rather than realistic representation modes of technological artefacts. 

The present study develops a typology of such patterns and proposes interpretation models for their emerging on the basis of the specific socio-economic context and the features of the dominant literary traditions in which the narrative patterns concerning the hydraulic imagery are encountered. 

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