The intellectual lives of itinerant Shi’i astrologers of the Banū Sāsān departed from most other groups of the 10th to 15th centuries in their embrace of an innovative book and print culture. The ghurabā’ were cultural innovators and producers, though their ingenuity was generally denounced in premodern Arabic sources as “trickery.” In the realm of arts and letters, the Banū Sāsān have inspired numerous characters in maqāmāt (picaresque tales) and shadow plays, but their own contributions to what Shawkat Toorawa has called “Islamicate writerly cultures” deserve elaboration. The ghurabā’ astrologers developed and sustained the most sophisticated literary culture. They introduced block printing to Middle Eastern communities, likely serving as the vector of transmission from Central Asian communities that had been block printing for centuries prior, and created a new genre of illustrated astrological book that they called bulhān. There is evidence that block printing developed and spread beyond gharīb circles and that the books used by street astrologers were adapted to royal tastes at the Ottoman court.
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