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The Arcadian Library. "Early Printed Translations of Other Arabic Scientific Texts: An Introduction." . , 2016.

Arcadian Library
Online. Web. 2 May 2017. <>.

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Copyright The Arcadian Library 2017

Early Printed Translations of Other Arabic Scientific Texts
by The Arcadian Library

DOI 10.24157/ARCS_005
Subtitle: An Introduction
Keywords: Abbasid, Arabic manuscripts, Aleppo, Astrology, Astronomy, Baghdad,
Chemistry, Cremona, Early Modern Period, Geometry, Incunable,
Mathematics, Oxford, Padua, Renaissance, Seville, Venice
Identifier: ARCS_005


Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics

Astronomy and Astrology
The European Quest for Arabic and Persian Astronomy

As part of the Translation Movement centring on the House of Wisdom in Abbasid Baghdad, numerous
works relating to chemistry, physics, astronomy and astrology were brought together and translated into
Arabic, facilitating new discoveries, theories and systems of experimentation. From the astrological
works of Albumasar, MashaAllah and Ulugh Begh to the Ptolemaic commentaries by Alfraganus, Al-
Tusi and Alhazen, from new astronomical tables that would be used by the greatest European physicists
of the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to mathematical innovations that form the basis
of modern technology, these Arabic works found a large audience in late Medieval and Renaissance

Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics
Besides medicine, the Arabs and Persians were known for their achievements in chemistry, and above
all in alchemy. The very identity of the most productive writer in this field, Geber (Jabir ibn Hayyan),
probably from Khorasan, working in the late eighth and early ninth centuries, has been questioned, but
his works were highly successful and contain valuable views on methods of chemical research. The
library has an edition of his , printed in Venice in 1542; the exposition of his work by the alchemist from
Brescia, Giovanni Bracesco, of 1548; the last sixteenth-century edition printed in Strasburg together
with his ; and a of the German translation of his texts published in 1710 with woodcut illustrations.

There was also a strong interest in Arab and Persian mathematicians, geometricians and physicists. In
1570 the Italian mathematician from Urbino, Federico Commandino, edited the by Muhammad al-
Baghdadi who died in 1141, possibly translated by Gerard of Cremona, on the division of surfaces,
an exercise in Euclidean geometry which Commandino had received from the English magus and
engineer John Dee. Two years later, in 1572, there appeared the of Alhazen, or Ibn al-Haitham,
who revolutionized the science of optics in the tenth century. The work, edited by the German
mathematician Friedrich Risner, was venerated by Kepler, Constantijn Huygens and Descartes. Then,
in 1594, the Medici Press in Rome printed in Arabic the by Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, once the adviser of the
Mongol leader Hulagu Khan and the builder of the observatory at Maragha in the thirteenth century.

The work that intrigued so many mathematicians in the seventeenth century was the of Apollonius of
Perga. The first four books of this text were known in Greek, but there remained the fifth, sixth and
seventh books which seemed to exist only in Arabic. The translation had been made in Baghdad in
the ninth century by the brothers known as the Banu Musa. It introduced the words ellipse, parabola
and hyperbola into mathematical vocabulary. Various Arabic manuscripts of the Conics had found
their way to Western Europe during the seventeenth century. Some were the full translation by the
Banu Musa, and others were of a summary made by Abd al-Malik al-Shirazi. In 1668 a manuscript
of the summary was presented to the Bodleian Library in Oxford. In the same year Oxford University
commissioned a transcription of the full translation from a manuscript held by Leiden University
Library. The mathematician Edward Bernard, who later became Savilian professor of astronomy at
Oxford, travelled to Leiden to complete the transcription, and thereafter worked for many years on a
Latin translation of books V, VI and VII of the text, making meticulous comparisons with the summary
version. But his work was incomplete at his death.

It was the English astronomer Edmund Halley who published an edition of the Conics in 1710 which
presented the Greek text, with a Latin translation, of the first four books, and a Latin translation of
the three Arabic books, together with his own conjectural restoration of the lost eighth book. To do so
he had used Bernards transcription of the Arabic and had collated it with another manuscript of the
Banu Mousa translation which had belonged to Jacobus Golius, professor of Arabic and mathematics
at Leiden. Four years earlier, in 1706, Halley had also translated another text by Apollonius known
only in Arabic, on the division of a ratio, the . This too had been transcribed and partly translated
into Latin by Bernard from a manuscript brought to England by John Greaves, and it was the discovery
of Bernards version at the Bodleian which prompted Halley to complete it, to learn Arabic and to
tackle the Conics.

Astronomy and Astrology

The Arabs excelled in the fields of astronomy and astrology, and here too the Arcadian Library has
some of the earliest examples of printed books on the subject. The earliest, published in Venice in
1485, is the , the third edition of the introduction to astrology written in Aleppo in the tenth century
by Abu l-Saqr al-Qabisi, known as Alcabitius, translated into Latin by John of Seville and edited
in the fourteenth century by John of Saxony. Then, also translated by John of Seville, edited by
Regiomontanuss pupil Johann Engel, and dating from 1488, there is Albumasars astrological manual,
. Dating from 1489 we have the of a standard work on the motions of the planets and their effects, the
De magnis coniunctionibus, annorum revolutionibus, ac eorum perfectionibus and the Introductiorium
in astronomiam, also by Albumasar. A , with a beautiful frontispiece and other woodcuts, appeared in
Venice in 1515. 1533 saw the publication of the by Firmicus Maternus together with various texts by
Arab authors and a preface by Brunfels. In 1577, there appeared the Latin translation by Leunclavius
of Albumasars work on dreams, . The text only existed in Greekthe Arabic version had long been
lostand in Paris in 1603 the first edition of the Greek version was published together with the Latin
under a different title, .

A further incunable on astronomy is the 1493 edition of Ptolemys ,which also contains important
Arabic texts. The authors include, besides Geber, Muhammad ibn Jabr al-Harrani al-Battani, who
worked in Syria in the late ninth and early tenth centuries. One of his main achievements was
the accurate determination of the solar year, and his work had an immense effect on European
astronomers such as Copernicus, Tycho Brache and Kepler. The library also has the 1645 edition of his
. Another author in the 1493 edition of the Liber quadripartitus is Mashaallahibn Athari from Basra.
Mashaallah was one of the astronomers who took part in the debates which led to the foundation
of the Abbasid capital of Baghdad in the eighth century. His De elementis et orbibus coelestibus,
containing an introduction to astronomy and a study of Aristotles Physics, is an early indication of the
Islamic interest in Greek science. The text exists only in Latin and influenced Joachim Rheticus, who
saw to the publication of Copernicus De revolutionibus in 1543. It was edited by Rheticuss pupil
Johann Heller in 1549. The , once in Rheticuss own library before becoming part of the Schnborn-
Buchheim collection in Vienna, has his marginal annotations. The library also has, dating from the
same year, Hellers edition of John of Sevilles translation of other astrological texts by Masha'allah.

Another astronomical text in the library is the astrological compendium by the eleventh-century
Tunisian astronomer al-Shaibani, or Haly Abenragel, whose presentation of lunar mansions is also
thought to have influenced Kepler. The library has a of his Liber in iudiciis astrorum printed in 1485,
the of 1520, and a of the same text, which had been translated from Arabic into Spanish by Judah ben
Moshe and thence into Latin by Aegidius de Tebaldis and Petrus de Regio. Then there are two editions
of the Rudimenta astronomica by Alfraganus (Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Kathir al-Farghani), who
worked in Baghdad and Egypt in the ninth century, translated by John of Seville. The first is an printed
by Andreas Belfort in Ferrarait has the distinction of being the first illustrated book to be produced
in that cityand the second is the . Image from ARC_13615
Alfraganus, Brevis ac utilis co[m]pilatio Alfragani astronomo[rum] peritissimi totu[m] id continens
quod ad rudimenta astronomica est opportunum, Ferrara, 1493, ARC_13615

Besides working on the construction of a nilometer, Alfraganus wrote on the astrolabe and played an
important part in propagating the knowledge of Ptolemaic astronomy. Edited by the Reformer Philip
Melanchthon and with notes by Regiomontanus who had lectured on Alfraganus at Padua, the 1537
edition also contains, in a translation by Plato of Tivoli, al-Battanis text on the motion of the stars.

The European Quest for Arabic and Persian Astronomy

The European quest for Arabic and Persian astronomy was persistent and increased as the concern
with chronology intensified. The adoption in many parts of Europe of the Gregorian calendar after
the reform carried out in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII and the progressive abandonment of the earlier
Julian calendar led to various works on chronology in which Arab tables played an important part. The
most famousand the bestof such works was the De emendatione temporum by the French scholar
working in Leiden, Joseph Justus Scaliger. It first appeared in Paris in 1583, but was heavily revised
many years later, and it was for the second edition of 1598 that the printer and Arabist Franciscus
Raphelengius, the son-in-law of the French typographer in Antwerp Christophe Plantin, the Leiden
branch of whose firm he was managing, had a set of Arabic types cut. The Arcadian Library has a
copy of this , once owned by the vice-admiral Dominique Mry de Vic, Vicomte dErmenonville.
In the early seventeenth century we find some of the best Orientalists in England producing editions
of the astronomical tables drawn up by Tamerlanes grandson, Ulugh Beg, governor of Samarkand,
where he built an observatory, and his fathers successor as ruler of the entire area. Beg was killed in
1449. In 1648 John Greaves published the tables at Oxford, together with , the Savilian professor of
astronomy. He republished the in London in 1650 , while the polymath Thomas Hyde, professor of
both Arabic and Hebrew at Oxford, issued yet in 1665.