The first philosophical fantasy novel

To fall asleep lately I’m reading Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, by Ibn Tufayl or Tufail, written in the 12th century. It’s about a child marooned on an island from infancy, raised by a doe, who figures out philosophy and spirituality from first principles. Before age 7, he invents clothing and modesty, as well as rudimentary weapons.

When his loving doe-mother dies, he tries to figure out how if he can find and fix what’s wrong with her by cutting open her heart, which has an empty chamber where he figures the intangible part of her that wasn’t her body, that loved him and that he loved, must have been.

Then he goes on to dissect and vivisect other animals of the island to figure out how Life works. I think he is going to discover the idea of the divine in his next 7 years.

Somewhere along the way the frame story narrated by Ibn Tufayl explains how we know that the earth and sun are both spherical and how from that plus the properties of light and heat we know that life can exist at the Earth’s equator.

This book was translated into Latin in 1671 under the title Phliosophus Autodidactus and it sounds like it was super influential.

Ibn Tufayl’s Wikipedia article tells us this was written in part as a response to al-Ghazali‘s Incoherence of the Philosophers.

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