ḤĀFEẒ EṢFAHĀNI, Mawlānā Moḥammad, known as Moḵtareʿ (inventor), was a 9th-10th/15th-16th century engineer who left a treaty, Se resāla dar ekòterāʿāt-e ṣanʿati. According to this treaty, he was the author of 14 inventions but unfortunately only three of his works are described in detail, while the others are mentioned only in passing. Among them is a house security lock designed in 888/1483, a paper-smoother device made in 912/1506, a hydraulic machine to card cotton, a mechanical device to produce an ink of a higher quality, a device that catches a thief and holds him until the arrival of the proprietor, two different time-keepers, a special water elevator wheel, and other non-mechanical inventions. The three described inventions are: a special water mill, a hydraulic oil-mill, and a weight-driven mechanical clock constructed following a European model.
Considering the dates of two recorded inventions, i.e., his house lock in 888/1483 and his paper smoother in 912/1506, Ḥāfeẓ Eṣfahāni’s productive life must have covered at least a time span of about 23 years (from 1483 to 1506), meaning that he was active even after the rise of the Safavids to power in 907/1501. He was certainly a Shiʿite Moslem as he invented his 14 devices in remembrance of the 14 infallibles (maʿṣums) of Twelver Shiʿism, i.e., the Prophet Moḥammad, his daughter Fāṭema and the twelve Imams.
The famous historian Ḵvānd Mir is the only one of his contemporaries who mentions him. In his, Maʾāṯer al-moluk (p. 242), he states that Mawlānā Moḥammad Eṣfahānī considers himself an engineer (mohandes) and that he has constructed a timekeeper (ṣanduq-e sāʿat). However, it is evident that Ḵvānd Mir had not realized the real value of Ḥāfeẓ Eṣfahāni’s work. The timekeeper that this historian refers to was the first weight-driven mechanical alarm clock ever made, not only in the Islamic world, but in the whole Orient. Ḥāfeẓ Eṣfahāni was not attached to any particular royal court, but he must have been a well-known engineer to be summoned by the Timurid court of Sultan Ḥosayn-e Bāyqarā (q.v.; the clock-making operation was undertaken under the patronage of the famous man of culture and politics, the vizier ʿAli-Šir Navāʾi) to construct a clock along the lines of a European model. Ḥāfeẓ Eṣfahāni relates that in order to save the high esteem of Islam, the Ottoman Sultan, Bāyazid II (886/1481-918/1512), whose engineers and artisans had failed to reproduce an essentially European type of mechanical clock, sent one of these clocks to Iran to be constructed there. The European clock reached Tabriz and then Herat, but nobody seems to have managed to work out how it operated. The Timurid court then asked Ḥāfeẓ Eṣfahāni to fulfill this task, and not only did he solve the puzzle and describe it in his treaty, but he also made both a portable and a fixed kind of the originally European clock (Ḥāfeẓ Eṣfahāni, pp. 12-16, Mohebbi, 1996, pp. 191-92). According to Zinat al-majāles (p. 772), written in 1004/1595, one of his reproductions, then out of usage, was fixed in the tower of a hospital in Kāšān.
A schematic representation of his clock which does not include the alarm part is shown in PLATE I. The technical vocabulary that Ḥāfeẓ Eṣfahāni uses (like modir, šāẓia, langar) to designate different parts of his clock shows that he partly borrowed it from the clepsydra and the astrolabe, a fact which suggests that he was already familiar with those devices (Mohebbi, 1998, p. 196). His hydraulic oil-mill is proof of his mechanical knowledge. He also invited his contemporaries to construct the new oil-mill by enumerating the advantages of his new invention as follows: better hygiene in comparison to animal-driven mills where the oil was in contact with the dung and urine of animals; higher efficiency compared to traditional methods of oil extraction; the possibility of uninterrupted operation, and thus higher production of oil; lower costs of maintenance compared to other oil presses and mills; it needed only a single operator; and finally it was less dangerous than the traditional oil presses whose huge beam could cause irreparable accidents (Ḥāfeẓ Eṣfahāni, pp. 95-97; Mohebbi, 1996, p. 218).
Ḵvānd Mir, Maʾāṯer al-moluk, ed. M. H. Moḥaddeṯ, Tehran, 1372 Š./1993.
Majd-al-Din Moḥammad al-Ḥosayni, Zinat al-majāles, ed. A. Aḥ-madi, Tehran, 1342 Š./1963.
Parviz Mohebbi, Technique et resources en Iran du 7ème au 19ème siècle, Institut Français de Recherche en Iran (IFRI), Tehran, 1996.
Idem, “Le vocabulaire technique chez Ḥāfeẓ Isfahāni,” in La science dans le monde Iranien, Actes du colloque de Strasburg, 6-8 Juin, 1995, etudes reunites et prèsantèes par Z. Vesel et al., IFRI, Tehran, 1995, pp. 190-99.
Moḥammad Ḥāfeẓ Eṣfahāni, Se resāla dar eḵterāʿāt-e ṣanʿati: ṣāʿat, āsiā, dastgāh-e rawḡan-keši, natijat al-dawla, ed. Taqi Bineš, Tehran, 1350 Š./1971.
M. Nurbaḵš, “Sāʿat-e mekāniki dar Irān,” Āyanda 13/6-7, 1366 Š./1987, pp. 395-408.
Originally Published: December 15, 2002
Last Updated: March 1, 2012
This article is available in print.
Vol. XI, Fasc. 5, pp. 510-511