Secretum Secretorum

The Saying on Political Wisdom: Arabic Ottoman Manuscript Page from the Secretum Secretorum attributed to Aristotle. (MS Reis el-Kuttap (Asir I), 1002.)

Secretum Secretorum (The Secret of Secrets) otherwise known as The Education of Princes was one of the most popular book of the Medieval Europe. It first came to Latin from Arabic from Syriac translations of a supposed Greek original attributed to Aristotle in the 12th Century. The Arabic text is attributed to Ikhwan al-Safa (the Brotherhood of Purity) of Basra, Iraq (10th Century) who report to have taken the bulk of it from the translation of Yahia ibn al-Batriq, a Christian from Syria.

The above saying captured the attention of Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) who quotes and analyses it at length in his Muqaddimah. Ibn Khaldun also quotes -- on the authority of the historian al-Mas`udi -- a similar saying attributed to Khosraw in his commentary that a "similarly shortened form is ascribed to `Ali [ibn Abi Talib]", the fourth caliph of Islam and the Prophet's cousin. In the delightful translation of the octagon offered by Rosenthal we read:

"[1] The world is a garden the fence of which is the dynasty.(*) [2] The dynasty is an authority through which life is given to proper behavior. [3] Proper behavior is a policy directed by the ruler. [4] The ruler is an institution supported by the soldiers. [5] The soldiers are helpers who are maintained by money. [6] Money is sustenance brought together by subjects. [7] The subjects are servants who are protected by justice. [8] Justice is something familiar, and through it the world persists. The world is a garden..."

Ibn Khaldun offers the comment:

"... and then it [the octagon] begins again from the beginning. These are eight sentences on political wisdom. They are connected with each other, the end of each one leading to the beginning of the next. They are held together in a circle with no definite beginning or end. (The author) [presumed to be Aristotle] was proud of what he had hit upon and made much of the significance of the sentences."

(See, Ibn Khaldun's "The Muqqadimah: An Introduction to History" translated from the Arabic by Franz Rosenthal, Bollingen Series XLIII, Pantheon Books, New York, N.Y., 1958, Vol. I:80-82.)

(*) The Arabic word "dawlah" (lit. "state") is translated here as dynasty. From the verb "daala" (to exchange hands, to deal). The "state" was called as such because of its dynamic constantly changing state.

Manuscript 0
Manuscript 0
Manuscript 0
Manuscript 0

Old English version
Rare French manuscript at gallica
French text
Hungarian manuscript page
Another manuscript page