Along with the throne Our Lord God created a writing table as large as the distance that could be covered in a thousand years. This table was made of white pearl, and the edges were of ruby, and the middle of the table was of emerald, and the writing on it was entirely of light. Our Lord gazed upon this table one hundred times a day, and every time He looked there, He made and destroyed, created and slew: upon some He bestowed honors, and He took them away from others, some He raised, and others He humbled. And all that He wished, He judged and executed according to His will. Along with the aforesaid table, Our Lord God created a writing pen of light that was as long as the distance a man could covered in five hundred years, and it was of like breadth. After God created the pen, He ordered it to write. The pen said to Him: “What shall I write?” and He answered: “You will record My wisdom and everything that I created from the beginning of the world until its end.”
☛ The prophet of Islam in Old French: the Romance of Muhammad (1258) and the Book of Muhammad’s ladder (1264) translated by Reginald Hyatte, New York: Brill, 1997, p. 126 (The Book of Muhammad’s ladder, chap. XX). See the editor official website for this book.
The Latin translation of this quote is used (as is, without a French translation) as the epigraph to the French edition of Giorgio Agamben’s essay “Bartleby o della contingenza”. The essay was first published in Italian in 1993 by Quodlibet editors. The French translation by Carole Walter was published by Circé editors in 1995 under the title Bartleby ou la création. The English translation by Daniel Heller-Roazen appeared under the title “Bartleby, or On Contingency” in 1999 in the volume Potentialities: collected essays in philosophy. It’s worth noting that the English translator translated the Latin epigraph as well.
To learn more about The Book of Muhammad’s ladder see Wikipedia’s articles “Isra and Mi’raj” and “Kitab al-Miraj”.
Bellow is the excerpt in Latin, as it appears in the French translation of Agamben’s essay:
Nam simul cum cathedra creavit Deus tabulam quamdam ad scribendum, que tantum grossa erat quantum posset homo ire in mille annis. Et erat tabula illa de perla albissima; et extremitas ejus undique de rubino et locus medius de smaragdo. Scriptum vero in ea existens totum erat purissime claritatis. Respiciebat namque Deus in tabulam illam centum vicibus die quolibet ; et quantiscumque respiciebat vicibus, construebat et destruebat, creabat et occidebat. Aliquibus enim donabat honores et aliquibus auferebat, aliquos ad summa levabat et aliquos ducebat ad infima. Judicabat eciam et cuncta faciebat juxta sue beneplacitum voluntatis. Creavit namque Deus cum predicta tabula pennam quamdam claritatis ad scribendum, que habebat in se tantum longitudinis quantum posset homo ire in Vc annis et tantumdem in latitudine quidem sua. Et ea creata, precepit sibi Deus ut scriberet. Penna vero dixit: ‘Quid scribam?’ At ille respondit: ‘Tu scribes sapienciam meam et creaturas omnes meas a principio mundi usque ad finem’.
One can access the whole Latin translation online: Liber Scalae Machometi.
A French translation (by Gisèle Besson and Michèle Brossard-Dandré) was published in 1991 by Livre de Poche (Amazon, Google Books).
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