Ce fragment d’un ouvrage perse utilisé comme reliure éclaire l’histoire

Davantage que le fond, la forme d’un livre, sa couverture ou encore sa reliure peuvent être aussi de véritables témoignages historiques. La reliure d’un manuscrit britannique du XVe siècle vient éclairer l’histoire de l’Irlande médiévale. En effet, il s’agit d’un fragment du manuel le plus connu du médecin perse Avicenne, traduit en irlandais, la première connue jusqu’à ce jour. Un document qui révèle un lien jusqu’à lors peu exploité entre les médecins irlandais du Moyen Âge et le monde musulman. 

Pendant 500 ans, l’ouvrage aura siégé dans une maison familiale à Cornwall. L’année dernière la famille a voulu satisfaire sa curiosité sur cette reliure un peu spéciale. Elle a donc contacté le professeur irlandais Pádraig Ó Macháin, professeur à l’University College Cork.

« L’utilisation du parchemin découpé faisant office de reliure dans de vieux manuscrits est une chose courante dans la tradition européenne, mais j’ai tout de suite su qu’il s’agissait d’une découverte importante », a expliqué le professeur.

C’est ensuite la professeure Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha de l’Institut d’études avancées de Dublin, experte en médecine irlandaise médiévale, qui a identifié le texte. Il s’agit d’un fragment de Canon de la médecine, la très célèbre encyclopédie médicale de Ibn Sīna, plus connu aussi sous le nom de Avicenne, l’un des érudits perses les plus influents de l’âge d’or islamique. L’ouvrage aurait été achevé vers 1020.

Une traduction irlandaise inédite

Mais le plus fascinant reste à venir. Le texte, à l’origine rédigé en arabe, avait été traduit en latin, mais aucune traduction irlandaise n’avait été jusqu’ici enregistrée. Rien n’est encore sûr, mais pour Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha, la traduction aurait été faite par Gérard de Crémone sur la version latine et non sur l’original. 

« C’est l’un des ouvrages médicaux les plus influents jamais écrits », a-t-elle déclaré. « Le fait qu’il a été traduit prouve que ce texte a été étudié en Irlande, et qu’il y avait donc un lien évident avec le monde musulman. »

Dans l’Irlande médiévale, l’érudition médicale était comparable à celle pratiquée sur le continent. Des universitaires irlandais se seraient ainsi rendu dans les écoles de médecine européennes et auraient ramené leurs connaissances dans leur pays. 

« Si le fragment a été traduit en irlandais, c’est que la langue d’apprentissage dans l’Irlande médiévale était l’irlandais, et non le latin comme beaucoup d’autres contrées », a affirmé Ó Macháin. « Les étudiants lisaient donc en irlandais plutôt qu’en latin, créant ainsi un référentiel unique de connaissances médicales dans une langue vernaculaire. » 

Bien que de nombreuses références à Ibn Sina et à son travail apparaissent dans de vieux textes médicaux irlandais, il s’agit de la seule preuve connue d’une traduction complète de son encyclopédie. 
Le fameux manuscrit de
Voynich bientôt décodé

« Nous savons maintenant, et pour la première fois, que le Canon a été traduit en irlandais. Ce fragment doit provenir d’un très gros manuscrit », a ajouté le professeur. 

L’Histoire avec sa grande hache

L’utilisation de ce fragment du 11e siècle comme reliure éclaire aussi une tout autre histoire, celle de la conquête de l’Irlande. Ce fragment aurait en effet été découpé et utilisé comme reliure à la suite de l’invasion anglaise. À cette époque, les livres traduits étaient détruits, endommagés ou encore découpés. 

« C’est un coup de chance que ce fragment ait été récupéré et utilisé pour relier un texte administratif, il aurait pu disparaître » a-t-il continué.

Les propriétaires de l’ouvrage ont décidé d’enlever la reliure pour la numériser sur Web Irish Script on Screen. « La découverte et la numérisation de ce texte ont été une aventure très enrichissante », a conclu Ó Macháin. « C’était vraiment très enthousiasmant, un de ces moments qui valent la peine d’être vécus. »

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