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Edited by Josefina Rodríguez-Arribas, Charles Burnett, Silke Ackermann and Ryan Szpiech

First published as a special issue of the journal Medieval Encounters (vol. 23, 2017), this volume, edited by Josefina Rodríguez-Arribas, Charles Burnett, Silke Ackermann, and Ryan Szpiech, brings together fifteen studies on various aspects of the astrolabe in medieval cultures. The astrolabe, developed in antiquity and elaborated throughout the Middle Ages, was used for calculation, teaching, and observation, and also served astrological and medical purposes. It was the most popular and prestigious of the mathematical instruments, and was found equally among practitioners of various sciences and arts as among princes in royal courts. By considering sources and instruments from Muslim, Christian, and Jewish contexts, this volume provides state-of-the-art research on the history and use of the astrolabe throughout the Middle Ages.

Contributors are Silke Ackermann, Emilia Calvo, John Davis, Laura Fernández Fernández, Miquel Forcada, Azucena Hernández, David A. King, Taro Mimura, Günther Oestmann, Josefina Rodríguez-Arribas, Sreeramula Rajeswara Sarma, Petra G. Schmidl, Giorgio Strano, Flora Vafea, and Johannes Thomann.

Josefina Rodríguez-Arribas

Abstract

The subject of this article is the treatise on the astrolabe ring (1492/1493) by Bonetus de Latis (Jacob ben Immanuel Provenzale). The treatise belongs to a four-centuries-old tradition of Jewish treatises on the astrolabe, written mainly in Hebrew and more rarely in Judaeo-Arabic, Judaeo-Spanish, Spanish, and Latin, and produced mostly in southern Europe and Turkey. Bonetus’s text is the second treatise written in Latin by a Jew, following Abraham ibn Ezra’s treatise on the planispheric astrolabe (Rouen 1154). My purpose is to compare it with other contemporary treatises on similar instruments and with a little earlier treatise on the astrolabe in Hebrew (by Eliyahu Cohen of Montalto, fifteenth century) in order to understand the contribution of this instrument and why the treatise was so highly regarded among Bonetus’s contemporaries. The instrument depicted in Bonetus’s booklet can be considered one of the last contributions of Jewish culture to the history of the astrolabe; these contributions stretch back to the first Hebrew writings on the instrument in the twelfth century. The Latin text and the English translation are included at the end of the article together with the Latin text and translation of the longest version of the introduction to the treatise. The contents of the treatise are exactly the same in all editions of Bonetus’s text, but there are two versions of the introduction and one is longer and more complete than the other. I have used both versions in my study, the one in the version printed, among others, in 1557 (shorter) and the one in the version of the treatise printed, among others, in 1507 (longer).

Johannes Thomann

Abstract

The main topic of this article comprises four unpublished Arabic texts on astrolabe-like instruments for showing the conditions of eclipses. They are the earliest technical descriptions of eclipse computers in any language. The first text is a treatise by ʿAlī ibn ʿĪsā (ninth century) on a special astrolabe for lunar phases and eclipses. The second text is an anonymous redaction of the first text with some omissions and additions. The third text describes a similar instrument with a different design, which was invented by Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad Nasṭūlus al-Asṭurlābī in the year 893/894 CE. The fourth anonymous text describes a plate for a graphical solution of the size of a lunar eclipse. In the concluding part, later Arabic descriptions of eclipse computers are summarized, some traces of these texts on real astrolabes are mentioned, and finally some comparable medieval Latin texts are referred to. Four Appendices contain an edition of the Arabic texts and English translations.

Azucena Hernández

Abstract

The astrolabe of Petrus Raimundi, made in Barcelona in 1375, occupies a significant position in the set of medieval Spanish astrolabes with Latin inscriptions, as it is the only one signed and dated that has survived to the present day. A full description and study of the astrolabe is presented in the context of the support given to the manufacturing of scientific instruments by King Peter IV of Aragon. Although the astronomical and time reckoning features of the astrolabe are fully detailed, special attention is given to its artistic and decorative features. The relationships between Petrus Raimundi’s astrolabe and those manufactured in al-Andalus, the region under Islamic rule within the Iberian Peninsula in the Middle Ages, are highlighted, as well as the links with astrolabe production in other European Christian kingdoms. The role played by astrolabes in medicine is considered and first steps are taken towards discovering the identity of Petrus Raimundi.

Josefina Rodríguez-Arribas, Charles Burnett and Silke Ackermann

Laura Fernández Fernández

Abstract

This article analyses the relationship between text and image in one of the most important scientific manuscripts commissioned by Alfonso X the Learned, El Libro del saber de astrologia (Ms. 156 BH Complutense University, Madrid). The main topic deals with the depiction of astrolabes in the four treatises devoted to this instrument in the codex, and the connexion established between the real astrolabes, the depicted ones, and the written sources used by the Alfonsine team.

Günther Oestmann

Abstract

From the middle of the fourteenth century until the Early Modern period, several monumental astronomical clocks were erected in Europe, and on many of them astrolabe dials were placed. On a group of earlier clocks, “southern astrolabes” (i.e. with stereographic projection from the North Pole) were employed, whereas later examples show a “northern astrolabe” (i.e., a stereographic projection from the South Pole), which is commonly used on portable astrolabes. The material and textual evidence as well as reasons for this change shall be examined. Moreover, the question of transmission of special variants of stereographic projection from East to West will be discussed.

Volume-editor Josefina Rodríguez-Arribas, Charles Burnett, Silke Ackermann and Ryan Szpiech

David A. King

Abstract

Research on medieval European astrolabes has hitherto been somewhat haphazard. Most pieces are unsigned and undated, many difficult to assign to a specific region. Some early ones cannot be understood without reference to the Islamic tradition from which they derive. What are perhaps the most important pieces from a historical point of view—the earliest-known astrolabe, from 10th-century Catalonia, and the astrolabe made by the leading astronomer of 15th-century Europe, Regiomontanus,—were declared fakes or suspicious before they could be studied seriously. A detailed study of groups of related instruments, for example, those with Hebrew inscriptions, is a most welcome contribution. A survey of the clearly-identifiable astrolabes made in medieval England (or France or Italy) has never been undertaken; maybe this list might encourage somebody willing to learn the language of instruments to undertake such a task.

John Davis

Abstract

The great Sloane astrolabe in the British Museum is the largest and most important of all medieval English instruments and yet its history is completely lost. In this paper, evidence from its various engravings is used to show that it is likely to have been commissioned, ca. 1326, by Richard de Bury as a teaching tool for Prince Edward of Windsor who was soon to become King Edward III. Comparisons are made with two illuminated manuscripts, the “Milemete Treatise” and a copy of the Secretum Secretorum, which were also used in the Prince’s education. Two other medieval astrolabes, now in Liège and in the London Science Museum, are believed to be closely associated with the Sloane instrument and derived from it.