Automatic Wuḍūʾ (الوضوء‎) Pitcher and Errors by Engineers

Introduction

Al-Jazari opens this chapter with the wish of King Salih Nasreddin Mahmud, the third Artuqid king that al-Jazari was serving:

“King Salih disliked a servant or slave-girl pouring water on to his hands for him to perform his ritual ablutions and he wished me to make [something]for pouring water onto his hands for his ritual ablutions.”

The specific reference to ” a servant or slave-girl ” is a bit odd but al-Jazari responded to the challenge and made an “automatic” pitcher.

“Automatic” Pitcher, Topkapi manuscript, 1206.

A servant brings the pitcher and put it on a pedestal; it is a relatively large handsome pitcher. The duck whistles then the water begins to flow from the spout. There are quite a few whistling systems in al-Jazari designs, but this pitcher has no mechanism for the whistling which was probably forgotten. It made me look into error in the book and think about proofreading and editing.

How does it work?

The technical explanation, very minimal this time, will be colored in blue, so anyone who is not interested in siphons can skip those bits. Below is a drawing by the book translator and annotator Donald R. Hill that I edited and attached captions, all remaining errors are my own.

A drawing by the book translator and annotator Donald R. Hill

 

The pitcher is divided into two horizontally, the bottom part until the partition (orange al-Jazari original drawing) and top from the partition till the pitcher’s neck. The Pitcher spout, designed in the shape of a duck’s neck, is a Siphon almost touching the partition. A Siphon is a tube in an inverted ‘U’ shape, which causes a liquid to flow upward with no pump but powered by the pull of gravity. I wrote quite a bit on siphons, for example here. The atmospheric pressure pushes the liquid up in the tube only if the pipe is full of water. In the beginning, the servant pours water until the float submerges. The water level is too low, below the curve in the duck’s neck and no water will come out of the spout. The cover is also divided into two, and the top is separated from the bottom with a valve and a rotating plug. The servant pours water to the top part of the cover, put the pitcher on the pedestal and rotates the knob. The plug has a pipe through and when rotated will allow water down to the tipping bucket. The latter, when full will tip and release its water so the water level will rise into the neck and the ritual ablution begins. Al-Jazari wrote that the pitcher would whistle to notify the King that the purification is starting, but there is no indication, in the drawing or the text of a whistle. You should be aware that al-Jazari made frequent use of whistles based on compressed air and an intelligent engineer should not have difficulty to implement one here.

 

Errors and Proofreading

The missing whistle is not the only error in the book. For example, in the Elephant Water Clock al-Jazari writes that the two chains from the float upward connect to a single ring. This is clearly wrong because each chain is connected to another Dragon. There are probably more mistakes. Also, I’m just beginning to study Arabic and cannot detect errors in spelling or grammar.

The issue of errors in the text is on my mind because when I translate my post to English, I always find some errors in the original text. It can be minor typos, it can be real errors. Sometimes I think that mistakes (typing, proofreading, and essence) are like socks, whatever you’re doing, there’s always missing socks in the laundry, and unlike many pieces of advice online the socks are neither behind the washing machine nor inside the bed covers but simply disappeared forever. Despite the proofing, efforts and the goodwill there are always some individual errors that find their way into the text. My love M. read this text and told that the analogy is not working because socks disappear and errors remain. I think that in my head the two are connected because they are an impudent violation of the law of conservation of mass which states that for any closed system, the mass of the system must remain constant over time. Well, socks disappear, and errors appear from thin air.

I know some people are gifted editors or proofreaders, I think it takes a different set of characteristics than the qualities of good engineers. Obviously, a good editor who has deep knowledge of the language and understands the content can see what is clear and what is not and ask questions that help reveal errors. Engineers’ education does not emphasize the choice of words (what you say) nor style (how you say it) and writing quality, in general, is overlooked. Most engineers are more proficient in mathematical clarity rather than writing with clarity. The editor and the proofreader are naturally very skilled readers, and sometimes writers in their own right. There are certainly engineers who read literature although in my experience not that many. Additional attributes, required for an editor or the proofreader, are less obvious to me, and I don’t know how I can learn them. You need a great eye for errors. I read very fast, because of the ability to distinguish between what is important and what is less so. I’m not exactly flipping pages but I “correct” the text as I read and therefore ignore errors. I think patience in reading is required to see the existing version as well as alternative formulations. This is quite the opposite of the education of an engineer which is more directed to purposeful reading and extracting the meaning. Any good text needs a committed editor and meticulous proofreader. I certainly am not both, and I doubt they were available in Diyarbakir. If this is true no one need to wonder about errors the remained in al-Jazari’s book but to remove his hat in awe because they are so few of them.

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  1. Pingback: Automaton of a slave pouring water and the Artuqid court – The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices

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