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SCIENCE IN THE OTTOMAN WORLD: علم حيوانات و نباتات [İlm-i Hayvanât ve Nebatât / The Knowledge of Animals and Plants]


An early illustrated Ottoman zoology and botany book in a magnificent red morocco binding is a translation of a contemporary German book. The translation, made by a medical doctor to sultan Abdulmejid I,  Hekimbaşı Salih Efendi, during the time of the Tanzimat, was a major contribution to Ottoman understanding of the Western contemporary biology and terms, which provided the grounds for the further developing of science.


Large 8°. [2 pp.] introduction, 89 pp. lithograph and letterpress, [2 pp] blank, 25 black and white double-page lithographed plates, [2 pp.] blank, contemporary red morocco binding with gilt debossed decoration, original pink endpapers, gilt edges (minor age-toning and foxing, binding lightly scratched, lower corners of endpapers accidentally mounted on the inner side of the boards and torn with a narrow loss of paper – possibly due to the leaking glue during the bookbinding process).

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An early illustrated scientific book in Ottoman language, published in 1865 and showcasing anatomy of animals and images of various plants, is a translation of  Naturhistorischer Schulatlas für den methodischen Unterricht [Atlas of Natural History for a Methodical Lesions] by Carl Arendts, which was published in Leipzig in 1858 and a year later in under a French title Éléments d’histoire naturelle et de technologie, à l’usage de la jeunesse.

The book was published in the enlightened political reforms of the Tanzimat Era (1839-75).

The text should not be seen as a translation in the Western sense, but an introduction of the contemporary scientific discoveries and learning methods, which became a ground for a development of the Ottoman modern science and its separation from the traditional Islamic perception.

The translator was Mehmet Salih Efendi, also known as Hekimbaşı Salih (Hekimbaşı meaning the chief physician to the sultan). Salih was born in Istanbul and in studied medicine at the  Imperial Military School of Medicine, the first Ottoman institution of such kind, founded in 1827 by sultan Mahmud II. and based on the Western examples. The lectures were held in French.

After the graduation Salih briefly worked in Cairo, but returned to Istanbul after a year to serve as a second chief physician to sultan Abdulmejid I and to lecture at the Imperial Military School of Medicine. He was soon promoted to the chief physician (Hekimbaşı), the position he held under a reign of the following two sultans and he supervised all the medical institution in the city.

In 1866, Hekimbaşı Salih played an important role in organizing a large conference to stop a great plague epidemic in Europe and the Ottoman lands and in determining the International Quarantine rules.

As an interesting information, Salih’s house, an attractive red wooden mansion on the Bosporus called Hekimbaşı Yalısı, where he planted a herbal garden and was studying the medical effect of the plants. survives until today.

The book is very rare. The same title with almost identical binding is housed in the Turkish Historical Society Library in Ankara (A007373, A/5393).

We could find one example of the book on Worldcat (Bavarian State Library).

References: Özege, Eski harflerle 8896. OCLC 785851545.

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