chapter  2
The transmission of the Tārīkhnāma’s text
Pages 25

Pre-modern Muslims thought about books and texts very differently from the way we do today. One of the most distinctive characteristics of Islamic civilization is the importance given to orality, which was considered a more reliable and desirable method of transmitting texts than writing, although both existed side by side. Even after paper became widely available in the third/ninth century, allowing the cheaper copying of books, oral transmission retained its prestige and it was never entirely abandoned.1 For

instance, the historian Miskawayh (d. 421/1030) tells us that History had been transmitted to him both orally and in writing.2 Oral transmission was so esteemed that authors would sometimes indicate that a work had been transmitted to them orally whereas in reality they had been working from a manuscript.3 The primacy of orality in

transmitting texts had varying results in different literary fields. In where precision was important, and a reputable scholar would not wish to alter deliberately what had been transmitted to him, there was a strong emphasis on memorization, and subsequently, when manuscript editions became widespread (if always regarded with suspicion), on collating the text of various manuscripts.