Florence: In officina Iuntarum, Bernardi filiorum, 1567.
First edition, very rare, of the only surviving work of Hipparchus (c. 190-127 BC). “Even the most casual discussion of ancient astronomy will not fail to call Hipparchus of Nicaea in Bithynia ‘the greatest astronomer of antiquity’ (Otto Neugebauer, ‘Notes on Hipparchus,’ Astronomy and History: Selected Essays (1983), p. 320). Our knowledge of Hipparchus’ works is principally derived from the present work, Commentary on the Phaenomena of Eudoxus and Aratus, what may be inferred from it about his earlier work, and from references to him by other contemporary authors, notably Ptolemy, who refers to him repeatedly in the Almagest. Only two copies of this work have appeared at auction in the last 40 years.
“The work of Hipparchus, based as it was on a merging of Greek and Babylonian approaches, marks the transition between qualitative and quantitative mathematical astronomy. Hipparchus’ contributions to astronomy were enormous. In the words of the French astronomer Delambre: ‘When we consider all that Hipparchus invented or perfected, and reflect upon the number of his works and the mass of calculations which they imply, we must regard him as one of the most astonishing men of antiquity, and as the greatest of all in the sciences which are not purely speculative, and which require a combination of geometrical knowledge with a knowledge of phenomena’” (Linton, From Eudoxus to Einstein: A History of Mathematical Astronomy, p. 52). Hipparchus invented trigonometry, compiled the first comprehensive star catalogue in the western world, and discovered the precession of the equinoxes. He was probably also the first to consider a heliocentric model of the solar system, but abandoned it because his calculations showed that it was incompatible with perfectly circular orbits, as was believed to be mandatory in the science of the time.
“In the mid-fourth century B.C., Eudoxus wrote a pioneering work naming and describing the constellations. This is now lost (Hipparchus is the main source of our knowledge of it). In the early third century B.C., Aratus wrote a poem based on Eudoxus, called “Phaenomena,” which became immensely popular and is still extant. Not long before Hipparchus a mathematician, Attalus of Rhodes, wrote a commentary on Aratus (now lost). Hipparchus’ treatise is a critique of all three works. None of the three contained any mathematical astronomy, only descriptions of the relative positions of stars, simultaneous risings and settings, and the like; and much of Hipparchus’ criticism in books 1 and 2 is of the same qualitative kind. But even from this, one can see that he had fixed the positions of a number of stars according to a mathematical system (he incidentally notes some polar distances, declinations, and right ascensions). The last part of book 2 and the whole of book 3 are devoted to his own account of the risings and settings of the principal constellations … Whereas his predecessors had merely reported the stars or constellations that rise and set together with a given constellation, Hipparchus gave the corresponding degrees of the ecliptic (for risings, settings, and culminations). At the end of book 3 is a list of bright stars that lie on or near twenty-four-hour circles, beginning with the hour circle through the summer solstice. Hipparchus says that the purpose of this is to enable one to tell the time at night when making astronomical observations.
“In this treatise Hipparchus indicates the position of a star in various ways. We have already mentioned declination (which he calls “distance from the equator along the circle through the pole”) and polar distance (the complement of declination) … The assignment of the stars to the hour circles at the end of book 3 is also a form of right ascension. Besides these equatorial coordinates, we find in the section on simultaneous risings and settings a mixture of equatorial and ecliptic coordinates: Hipparchus names the point of the ecliptic that crosses the meridian together with a given star. In other words, he gives the point at which the declination circle through the star cuts the ecliptic. It is significant that this, the “polar longitude,” is one of the standard coordinates for fixed stars in Indian astronomical texts. There are no purely ecliptic coordinates (latitude and longitude) in Hipparchus’ treatise.
“Far from being a “work of his youth” as it is frequently described, the commentary on Aratus reveals Hipparchus as one who has already compiled a large number of observations, invented methods for solving problems in spherical astronomy, and developed the highly significant idea of mathematically fixing the positions of the stars (Aristyllus and Timocharis recorded a few declinations in the early third century, but we know of nothing else before Hipparchus)” (G. J. Toomer in DSB).
Most of what is known about Hipparchus is derived from references in Strabo’s Geography, Pliny’s Natural History and Ptolemy’s Almagest. He was probably born in Bithynia (modern Iznik in Turkey), where he carried out his first scientific work. Around 142 B.C. he moved to Rhodes where he lived and worked for the remainder of his life. He died some time after 127 B.C. The lunar crater Hipparchus and the asteroid 4000 Hipparchus are named after him.
Censimento 16 CNCE 22499; Houzeau & Lancaster 838; Pettas, Giunti, p.246.
Folio (300 x 190 mm), pp. , 123, . Text in Greek with Latin preliminaries, woodcut printer’s lily device on title-page, woodcut head- and tail-pieces, woodcut vignette on final leaf verso, three arabesque Greek initials in the Byzantine style, seven historiated initials. Contemporary limp vellum, manuscript spine lettering, small hole in front paste-down and title due to adhesion between the two, light damp stain to outer margin of first 8 leaves, some marginal annotations in Greek, a few worm holes through the last half of the text and rear board, in all a very good and genuine copy in its original binding, unrestored. Provenance: Biblioteca de Cingaris, 1798 (bookplate on front paste-down).