Mamluk Cards

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The Arabic inscriptions on the Topkapi Mamluk cards

While the inscriptions on the top of the Topkapi deck's court cards contain some random poems the inscriptions on the bottom contain the titles of the court cards. What the court titles say contains almost all we know about Mamluk cards. This point seemed important enough to me to rather discuss the calligraphy as well as the proposed transciptions with several speakers of Arabic (warm thanks to Caro and Klaus) to confirm the translations Dummett/Abu-Deeb have suggested. If some of what I am reporting here should be wrong it's due to my bad memory and my own misconception only.

From the calligraphy to the transcriptions

With the help of two speakers of Arabic I was able to match the calligraphy to modern Arabic script and to confirm the transcriptions proposed by Dummett/Abu-Deeb. I am still not sure though that I correctly matched all the details of the calligraphy to the Arabic script although the script and the transcriptions apparently do represent what the calligraphy says.

The suit of polo sticks:

The suit of multitudes:

The suit of scimitars:

The suit of coins:

Translations of the court titles

What I have been told about the meaning of the titles confirms the translations by Dummett/Abu-Deeb, but also explains L. A. Mayer's misconception about the titles of the king of polo-sticks and the king of multitudes.

'ahad al-arkn malik al-jawknone of the pillars also is the king of polo sticks
n'ib malik al-jawknthe deputy of the king of polo sticks
thni n'ib jawkna second deputy of polo sticks
ahad al-arkn malik al-tmnone of the pillars also is the king of multitudes
qushquli n'ib malik al-tmnqushquli is the deputy of the king of multitudes
qarj thn n'ib al-tmnqaraja is the second deputy of multitudes
malik al-suyfthe king of scimitars
n'ib malik al-suyfthe deputy of the king of scimitars
malik al darhimthe king of dirhams/coins
n'ib malik al darhimthe deputy of the king of dirhams/coins
thni n'ib darhima second deputy of dirhams/coins

The titles for the king of polo sticks as well as all the multitudes titles are complete sentenses. Both people I talked to found that this was unexpected to be used for card titles. One was looking at the caligraphy for the king of multitudes very closely searching for one more little bow or bit of line that would have changed the grammar into a genitive form. This would have changed the meaning into something like "one of the pillars of the king of polo sticks" and would not form a full sentense any more. Only after not finding this bit he confirmed the translation above.

This is interesting because this genitive form is what L. A. Mayer used as a translation, together with a different meaning of "arkn", namely "helper". As a consequence he interpreted the kings of multitudes and polo sticks as examples of a different court card. It seems that his translation was not at all far fetched and only turns out to be wrong when examining the caligraphy very closely, giving a translation that is actually less obvious than the one L. A. Mayer came up with.

The translations for the second deputies of polo sticks and coins use indefinite articles, unlike for all the other titles, since there doesen't seem to be any trace of the word "al" in the calligraphy that would have indicated a definite article. A possible explanation for this inconsistency is that both of these cards come from the type two deck, and it is possible that the inscriptions on these cards have originally belonged to the cards and thus are a fair bit older than the other inscriptions.

It is also worth noting that the correct translations of the deputies' titles is indeed "deputy" and "second deputy", not "upper viceroy" and "lower viceroy" as they are sometimes called. This makes it easy to find an obvious name for the fourth court card that must have existed in the original deck, namely "third deputy".

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Last change: 15-May-2016

Created: Sep 2015