Perso-Indica at Cambridge

During the past week, Dr Audrey Truschke (Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge) has been assisting with the Sanskrit manuscript project. Audrey was brought in to catalogue a few manuscripts that mix Sanskrit and Persian texts, and she found several treasures. The two major works she examined are:

  • Two Persian and two Sanskrit manuscripts bound together that belonged to E.B. Cowell, the first professor of Sanskrit at Cambridge (appointed in 1867) who was also a connoisseur and translator of Persian poetry. The four texts in this particular manuscript (Or. 274) are all poetry, and three of the four works have marginal notes in Cowell’s hand. Few people know both Sanskrit and Persian today, and this manuscript attests to the immense linguistic skills of nineteenth-century Orientalists and their wide-ranging appreciation of Indian literary cultures.
  • A notebook of Samuel Lee, a noted Orientalist of the first half of the nineteenth century who served as professor of Arabic and later Hebrew at Cambridge. The present manuscript contains works in Persian, Arabic, and Hindustani. In addition, the backsides of a number of folios contain an unfinished Sanskrit vocabulary list (accompanied by English translations) that Lee may have been keeping as he tried to learn the language. However, the list is rather sparse and contains some odd translations, which suggests that Samuel Lee, like so many, found Sanskrit an incredibly difficult tongue.

Although such bilingual manuscripts are few in number in the Cambridge University Library manuscript collections, we hope that they will prove to be interesting for scholars working in the field of Indo-Persian studies (more about this area of research here and here).