28 Mar 2020

Noachian Musings

The opening chapter of Ibn Mājid’s Fawā’id starts right at the beginning of navigation, explaining that “the first one to ride the sea, and the first one to deal systematically with its concerns (rattaba asbābahu) and the first one to craft a ship” was Noah. This is perfectly in tune with the Abrahamic view of history, finding echoes in the textual traditions of Judaism and Christianity.

What is not so common and I have kept pondering after our first reading session (and while we contemplate moving our meetings to the cyberspace) is the relation between the stars of Ursa Major and the parts of the ship.

According to this very ancient and fundamental idea, master craftsmen on earth are always imitating a heavenly model. This is what is called mimesis in Greek, a word of subtly metaphysical reach, of ritual liturgical meaning, and quite simply the reason why “imitation is the best way to be original.” From another angle, this correspondence between the ship design and the constellations bespeaks yet another aspect of mimesis: since number comes directly from the observation of the stars (Plato, Epinomis), and given that artistic (meaning here also technical) design is in practice based on number, it will only be normal that the design of the prototype of all ships is patterned after the order of Heaven.
Noah has particular rights to our attention these days, since he must rank somewhere there first among the patron saints and precursors of quarantine: he spent forty days and forty nights on a floating zoo, with bleak prospects, without internet, but, we can surmise, with a trusting heart. Let us keep Noah afloat in our minds! [JA]

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