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The Arabic original of (ps.) Māshā'allāh's Liber de orbe: its date and authorship

  • TARO MIMURA (a1)

Liber de orbe, attributed to Māshā'allāh (d. c.815), a court astrologer of the Abbasid dynasty, was one of the earliest Latin sources of Aristotelian physics. Until recently, its Arabic original could not be identified among Arabic works. Through extensive examination of Arabic manuscripts on exact sciences, I found two manuscripts containing the Arabic text of this Latin work, although neither of them is ascribed to Māshā'allāh: Berlin, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Ms. or. oct. 273, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania University Library, MS LJS 439. In this paper, I describe these two manuscripts in great detail, so that I confirm their originality of the Liber de orbe, and then by analysing the contents of the Arabic text, I deny the attribution to Māshā'allāh, and identify the title and author as Book on the Configuration of the Orb by Dūnash ibn Tamīm, a disciple of Isaac Israeli (c.855–c.955).

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1 On his biography and works see Belenkiy, Ari, ‘Māshāʾallāh ibn Atharī (Sāriya)’, in Hockey, Thomas et al. (eds.), The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers, New York: Springer, 2007, pp. 740741; Pingree, David, ‘Māshā’ allāh’, in Coulston Gillispie, Charles (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography, 16 vols., New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1970–1980, vol. 9, pp. 159162.

2 Carmody, Francis, Arabic Astronomical and Astrological Sciences in Latin Translation: A Critical Bibliography, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1956, pp. 2324.

3 This title is recorded in the list of the translated works of Gerard of Cremona (1114–1187). The titles of manuscripts of this work slightly vary; see Obrist, Barbara, ‘William of Conches, Māshā'allāh, and twelfth-century cosmology’, Archives d'histoire littéraire et doctrinale du Moyen Age (2009) 76, pp. 2987, 64–68.

4 Pingree, David, ‘Māshā'allāh: some Sasanian and Syriac sources’, in Hourani, F. (ed.), Essays on Islamic Philosophy and Science, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1975, pp. 514 (a pioneering study on the Latin Liber de orbe), has a synopsis of its contents.

5 Obrist, op. cit. (3); Obrist, Barbara, ‘Guillaume de Conches: cosmologie, physique du ciel et astronomie: Textes et images’, in Obrist, Barbara and Caiazzo, I. (eds.), Guillaume de Conches: Philosophie et science au XIIe siècle, Micrologus Library 42, Florence: SISMEL, 2011, pp. 123196.

6 Obrist, Barbara, ‘Twelfth-century cosmography, the De scecretis philosophie, and Māshā'allāh (attr. to) Liber de orbe’, Traditio (2012) 67, pp. 235276.

7 Note that LL has no author name; see Obrist, op. cit. (3), p. 33.

8 Sela, Shlomo, ‘Maimonides and Māshā'allāh on the ninth orb of the signs and astrology’, Aleph (2012) 12, pp. 101134.

9 MS P is uploaded at, accessed 27 March 2014.

10 Wilhelm Ahlwardt, Verzeichnis der arabischen Handschriften, 10 vols., Berlin: A.W. Schade's Buchdruckerei (L. Schade), 1887, 10 vols., repr. Hildesheim: G. Olms, 1980–1981, vol. 5, pp. 141–143.

11 The |…| part of this word is illegible. I will read it .

12 See Ahlwardt, op. cit. (10), p. 143.

13 Someone has repaired this word by sticking on a small slip and writing on it , so that this word looks like a semi-duplicate of .

14 To clarify the peculiarities of these examples from MS B, I present the corresponding readings found in MS P and their English translations. Henceforth, I indicate, for example, MS B, folio 1a, lines 1–2 by ‘B: 1a, 1–2’, and MS P, page 1, lines 1–2 by ‘P: 1, 1–2’. As will be explained later, MS P has page numbers instead of folio numbers.

15 I indicate a line break by ‘/’ in an Arabic passage when needed.

16 See Obrist, op. cit. (6), pp. 243–246

17 I quote the Latin headings from Obrist, op. cit. (3), pp. 69–80.

18 I describe the chapter headings based on MS B, and when MS P has a different reading, I record it at the bottom of the text. Throughout this paper, I use the following sigla for denoting variant readings: ] separates reading in the text from the variant; : separates variant and manuscript sigla; + added in; – missing from; |…| indicates a damaged and unreadable part; ( ) my comments; MS B; MS P; (crossed out in); (unreadable); (margin). Note that, as will be explained later, MS P does not have the entire text, so it lacks some chapter headings.

19 I read bi-l-rūmīya’. Al-Rūmīya means Rome as well as Greece. In this context, this term denotes Rome.

20 Similar examples are found in Chapters 2, 18, 21, 25, 29 and 37.

21 The following Arabic text is based on MS B. Variant readings from MS P are noted at the bottom of the text.

22 I use Messahalah (Iohannes Stabius ed.), De scientia motus orbis, Iohannes Weissenburger, Nuremberg, 1504.

23 I quote from Obrist, op. cit. (6), p. 272.

24 See the description in note 9 above.

25 That is to say, it lacks Chapters 10–12, 14, 18–21, 23 and 36.

26 I put (!) by a peculiar reading in MS B; variant readings from MS P are noted at the bottom of the text.

27 That is to say, the encompassing orb governing the daily motion of the world.

28 Useful summary of this Aristotelian theory is found in Gregory, Andrew, ‘William Harvey, Aristotle and astrology’, BJHS (2014) 47, pp. 199216, 204–213.

29 In the rest of the paper, I present critically edited texts based on MS B and MS P, and note variant readings at the bottom of the texts, where I use the sigla defined in note 18 above. For the sake of convenience, I number quotations of ArLO as e.g. Fr. (=fragment) 1.

30 On the reception of this Aristotelian theory in the Islamic world see Lettinck, Paul, Aristotle's Meteorology and Its Reception in the Arab World, Leiden and Boston: Brill, 1999, pp. 209224.

31 Aristotle also mentions similar phenomena described here. See Lettinck, op. cit. (30), pp. 210–211.

32 When I emend a reading of a text only preserved in MS B, I note the original reading at the bottom of the text.

33 Note that the Arabic text lacks the explanation of this point; however, it is described in the figure appended to this chapter in MS B.

34 On the details of the ninth orb see Sela, op. cit. (8).

35 See Sela, op. cit. (8), pp. 114–118.

36 I use the translation in Arthur Arberry, J., The Koran Interpreted, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 69, with some modification.

37 Kennedy, E.S., A Survey of Islamic Astronomical Tables, Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1956.

38 Jamil Ragep, F., Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī's Memoir on Astronomy, 2 vols., New York: Springer-Verlag, 1993, vol. 1, pp. 2946.

39 Stroumsa, Sarah, Freethinkers of Medieval Islam: Ibn al-Rawāndī, Abū Bakr al-Rāzī and Their Impact on Islamic Thought, Leiden: Brill, 1999.

40 Words in angle brackets (< >) are additions made by me to restore the text.

41 On these concepts see Tester, S.J., A History of Western Astrology, Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1987, pp. 73, 77.

42 See Freudenthal, Gad, ‘The astrologization of the Aristotelian cosmos: celestial influences on the sublunary world in Aristotle, Alexander of Aphrodisias, and Averroes’, in Bowen, Alan C. and Wildberg, Christian (eds.), New Perspectives on Aristotle's De Caelo, Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009, pp. 239281.

43 See Goldstein, Bernard, The Arabic Version of Ptolemy's Planetary Hypotheses, Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1967, p. 11.

44 Pingree, op. cit. (4), pp. 9–12.

45 We cannot overlook the fact that the planetary models in ArLO are primitive compared to the Ptolemaic system. I presented a paper ‘Planetary models in pseudo-Mashā'allāh's Liber de orbe in the early `ilm al-hay'a tradition’ at iCHSTM 2013 (Manchester), where I pointed out the possibility of salvaging a pre-Ptolemaic planetary system from ArLO.

46 Note that MS P lacks the information of this date.

47 It also contradicts attribution to al-Khwārizmī by some hands on the front page of MS B.

48 See Vajda, Georges, Le commentaire sur le Livre de la Création de Dūnaš ben Tāmīm de Kairouan (Xe siècle) (ed. Fenton, Paul B.), Leuven: Peeters, 2002, pp. 23.

49 Vajda, op. cit. (48), pp. 3–6.

50 Vajda, op. cit. (48), pp. 6–10.

51 Stern, S.M., ‘A treatise on the armillary sphere by Dunas ibn Tamīm’, in Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, ed. Homenaje a Millás-Vallicrosa, 2 vols., Barcelona: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, vol. 2, pp. 373382, gives the Arabic text of its preface. I will describe the details of this work later.

52 Hayman, A. Peter, Sefer Yeṣira: Edition, Translation and Text-Critical Commentary, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004.

53 Vajda, op. cit. (48), pp. 11–12.

54 Vajda, op. cit. (48), pp. 10–20.

55 On this passage of the Sefer Yezira see Hayman, op. cit. (52), pp. 74–76. In this paper, I follow the passage numbering of the Sefer Yezira in Vajda, op. cit. (48).

56 Vajda, op. cit. (48), pp. 56–69.

57 See Vajda, op. cit. (48), pp. 59–61.

58 I quote the following text from Vajda, Georges, ‘Le commentaire kairouanais sur le “Livre de la Création” [1]’, Revue des études juives (1946–1947) 107, pp. 99156, 147, lines 19–23.

59 Vajda, op. cit. (48), p. 146, lines 7–14.

60 See also Stern, op. cit. (51), p. 377. I am planning to edit this work.

61 See Stern, op. cit. (51), pp. 375–376.

62 Note that at the middle of Chapter 28 (folio 34b), which is the longest, the heading ‘Chapter 1 of Part 3’ is found; however, as recorded in the colophon, this work has two parts. Thus I conclude that this heading is a later addition.

63 When I emend a reading, I note the original reading at the bottom of the text, where I denote MS A as with the same sigla defined in note 18 above.

64 Vajda, op. cit. (48), p. 144; Hayman, op. cit. (52), p. 29 n. 93.

65 For his stance on this three-elements theory see Y. Tzvi Langermann, ‘Review: George Vajda, Le commentaire sur le “Livre de la Création” de Dūnaš ben Tāmīm de Kairouan (Xe siècle)’, Jewish Quarterly Review (2005) 95, pp. 346–352, 348–9.

66 Hayman, op. cit. (52), p. 109; see also Vajda, op. cit. (48), p. 98.

67 I quote the text from Vajda, Georges, ‘Nouveaux fragments arabes du commentaire de Dunash b. Tamim sur le “Livre de la Création”, Revue des études juives (1954) 113, pp. 3761, lines 3–9. The sign ‘(!)’ in the text is by Vajda. When I emend a reading of Vajda, I note his reading at the bottom of the text.

68 Hayman, op. cit. (52), pp. 85–87.

69 Vadja, op. cit. (48), p. 42, line 5. Words in angle brackets are Vajda's emendation. See also Vajda, op. cit. (48), p. 76–78.

70 As Vajda notes, the manuscript has heavy corruption here in about ten words.

71 Hayman, op. cit. (52), pp. 152–158.

72 Vajda, op. cit. (48), p. 61, lines 23–32. I underline a quotation from the Sefer Yezira.

This article is a revised version of my paper ‘The Arabic original of (ps.) Māshā'allāh's Liber de orbe: its date, authorship, and contents’, presented at the Māshā'allāh, Book of the Sphere: The Arabic Versions and Their Circulation in Latin and Hebraic Cultures workshop held on 14 February 2013, Université Paris Diderot, France. I would particularly like to thank Barbara Obrist, who gave me an opportunity to present this paper, provided the Latin transcription, and always encouraged me to research this topic. I am deeply grateful to Charles Burnett, who connected me to Barbara Obrist, and gave precious comments on an early draft. I am also very grateful to Jamil Ragep, who gave me a chance to look through many Arabic manuscripts. Finally I must note that without Hasan Umut's kind help, I could not have accessed the Ayasofya MS.

This article is based upon work supported by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Quebec Government and McGill University under Grants Nos 12587 (PL Prof. Robert Wisnovsky) and 203634 (PL Prof. Jamil Ragep). Any opinions, findings and conclusions, or recommendations, expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Quebec government or McGill University.

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