Brevis ac perutilis co[m]pilatio Alfragani astronomo[rum] pertissimi totu[m] id continens quo ad rudimenta astronomica est opportunum [Compilatio introductoria in astronomiam. Translated by John of Spain].

Ferrara: Andreas Belfortis, Gallus, 3 September, 1493.

First edition, extremely rare, of this foundation work of early modern astronomy, the Kit b f Jaw mi Ilm al-Nuj m, now usually known in the West as the Elements of Astronomy. This is an exceptional copy, in an untouched contemporary binding, with numerous annotations and calculations in a contemporary hand. “This book marks the beginning of the period during which Arab astronomers introduced new elements into the science of astronomy, and exhibited an attitude of healthy scepticism and caution toward the contents of Ptolemy’s works” (Sezgin, p. v). “The influence of the Elements on medieval Europe is clearly attested by the existence of numerous Latin manuscripts in European libraries. References to it in medieval writers are many, and there is no doubt that it was greatly responsible for spreading knowledge of Ptolemaic astronomy, at least until this role was taken over by Sacrobosco’s Sphere. But even then, the Elements of al-Fargh n continued to be used, and Sacrobosco’s Sphere was clearly indebted to it” (DSB). The great French historian of science Pierre Duhem summarized the influence of al-Fargh n ’s treatise as follows (quoted from Sezgin, p. vi). “Everything which Robert Grosseteste, a leading figure in the thirteenth-century Aristotelian school of Paris, attributed to Ptolemy in his Summa Philosophiae, was in fact taken from al-Fargh n . We note further that the Italian astronomers from the thirteenth until the beginning of the fourteenth century depended completely upon the book of al-Fargh n when they referred to Ptolemy … Similar facts are known concerning the influence of al-Fargh n upon the famous Italian poet Dante Alighieri, who also obtained all the Ptolemaic astronomical ideas in his Il convivo from the book of al-Fargh n . Finally, I mention that Regiomontanus, the famous Renaissance scholar, delivered lectures in Padua in 1464 based on al-Fargh n ’s book.” On his first voyage to find the Indies, Christopher Columbus used the data on the measurement of the earth in al-Fargh n ’s work. “In a Latin marginal note to Pierre d’Ailly’s Imago Mundi, Columbus wrote: ‘Note that from Lisbon south to Guinea I frequently observed the course carefully and afterwards I many times took the Sun’s altitude with the quadrant and other instruments, and I found agreement with al-Fargh n , that is, that 56 miles equalled one degree’” (Glick, p. 132); Ptolemy had given the less accurate value of 50.3 miles. (Columbus’ calculations were badly wrong, however, as al-Fargh n used a longer mile than the one used in fifteenth century Spain). No other copy in auction records, and we are aware of only one other copy having appeared on the market in several decades (and that in a nineteenth-century binding – W. P. Watson, Cat. 8 (1997), n. 1, £25,000). OCLC lists four copies in US (Columbia, Harvard, Morgan and Smithsonian).

Provenance: Extensively annotated with interesting marginalia and calculations in a contemporary hand (a little shaved to outer margins); Charles William Dyson-Perrins (1864-1958), English bibliophile, businessman and philanthropist (bookplate on front paste-down) – his sale, Sotheby & Co., 17 June, 1946, lot 11. “Perrins was a collector of the vintage and calibre of Yates Thompson, Fairfax Murray and Pierpont Morgan” (The Book Collector, Winter 1958, p. 354); Robert B. Honeyman (1897-1987), American bibliophile and metallurgical engineer – his sale, Sotheby’s, October 30, 1978, lot 70.

The foundations of Islamic science in general and of astronomy in particular were laid two centuries after the emigration of the prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in AD 622. Then the new Abbasid dynasty, which had taken over the caliphate in 750 and founded Baghdad as the capital in 762, began to sponsor translations of Greek texts. In just a few decades the major scientific works of antiquity – including those of Galen, Aristotle, Euclid, Ptolemy, Archimedes and Apollonius – were translated into Arabic. The most vigorous patron of this effort was Caliph al-Ma’m n, who acceded to power in 813, and founded an academy called the House of Wisdom. The Academy’s principal translator of mathematical and astronomical works was a pagan named Th bit ibn Qurra (836-901). He wrote more than 100 scientific treatises, including a commentary on the Almagest. The most important astronomers of the Academy were al-Fargh n (b. 797 or 798) and his successor al-B ttan (858-929).

Written after the death of al-Ma‘m n in 833 but before 857, the Elements was al-Fargh n ’s best-known and most influential work. It gives a comprehensive account of the elements of Ptolemaic astronomy that is entirely descriptive and nonmathematical. These features, together with the admirably clear and well-organized manner of presentation, must have been responsible for the popularity this book enjoyed.

The Elements comprises thirty chapters. Chapter 1, to which nothing corresponds in the Almagest, describes the years of the Arabs, the Syrians, the Romans, the Persians, and the Egyptians, giving the names of their months and days and the differences between their calendars.

Chapters 2–5 expound the basic concepts of Almagest I.2–8: the sphericity of the heavens and their rotation (Chapter 2); the sphericity of the earth (Chapter 3), which al-Fargh n justifies on the evidence that the sun, the moon and the stars rise and set at different times in different parts of the world; the central position of the earth in the heavens, which he justifies on the evidence that each part of the earth is visible from the sky at exactly the same distance (Chapter 4). He also states that the size of the earth in relation to the heavens is as the point in a circle. Chapter 5 discusses the two primary movements of the heavens: the universal movement of everything from east to west and the movement of the stars (sun, moon and planets) from west to east. He explains that the zodiac is divided into 12 equal parts, and he gives their names, and that each sign of the zodiac is divided into 30 degrees and therefore the circle consist of 360 degrees. Al-Fargh n gives the Ptolemaic value for the inclination of the ecliptic as 23° 51′, and reports the (more accurate) value determined at the time of al-Ma‘m n as 23° 35′.

Chapters 6–9 give a description of the inhabited quarter of the earth and list the seven climes and the names of well-known lands and cities. In Chapter 6 al-Fargh n describes the Equator, which divides the earth into two parts, and the North and South poles. He then discusses the inhabited part of the earth, the horizon, meridian, and differences between summer and winter and between day and night. Chapter 7 describes the appearance of the sun in different places on the earth, notably the places where the sun rises for several months without setting and those where it sets for several months without rising. In Chapter 8, al-Fargh n details the measurements of the earth and the seven ‘climes’ into which he divided the inhabited part of the earth (divisions by latitude). He gives the Ma‘m nic measurements of the circumference and the diameter of the earth: 20,400 miles and approximately 6,500 miles, respectively. Chapter 9 explains latitude and longitude and gives the names and geographical locations of several cities in each clime.

Chapters 10 and 11 discuss ascensions of the signs of the zodiac in the direct spheres, horizons of the equator, and oblique spheres, horizons of the climes, and equal and unequal temporal hours. Chapter 12 describes the spheres of each of the planets and their distances from the earth, listing the distances between the spheres of each planet in the following order: the smallest and nearest to the earth is the sphere of the moon, followed by the spheres of Mercury, Venus, the sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and finally the sphere of the fixed stars. He also explains such astronomical terms as ‘belt of the sphere of the zodiac,’ ‘epicycles,’ ‘eccentrics,’ ‘apogee’ and ‘perigee.’ Chapters 13 and 14 deal with the movement of the sun, moon, planets and fixed stars in their spheres from west to east, called ‘longitude movement.’ He also explains why the fixed stars are regarded as being fixed. Chapter 15 describes the retrograde motions of the ‘wandering planets’, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Chapter 16 gives the magnitudes of the eccentricities of the sun, the moon and the planets, and of the epicycles, and Chapter 17 gives the approximate values of the periods of revolution of the planets in their orbits. Al-Fargh n asserts that the slow eastward motion of the sphere of the fixed stars about the poles of the ecliptic through one degree every 100 years (the Ptolemaic value) is shared by the spheres (the apogees) of the sun, as well as of those of the moon and the five planets. Chapter 18 describes the movement of the fixed and moving stars in a north-south direction, or ‘latitude movement’.

Chapter 19 is on the number of the fixed stars, their classification according to their magnitude, and the positions of the most remarkable among them. Of the 1022 measured stars, 15 are of the first magnitude, 45 of the second, 208 of the third, 474 of the fourth and 217 of the fifth. Al-Fargh n lists the 15 stars of the first magnitude and provides detailed information about their location. Chapter 20 describes the ‘lunar mansions,’ the 28 segments of the ecliptic (often called stations or houses) through which the Moon passes in its orbit around Earth, and the particular stars located in each. Chapter 21 gives the distances of the planets from the earth (Ptolemy had stated only the distances of the sun and the moon), and Chapter 22 the magnitudes of the planets compared with the magnitude of the earth (“Ptolemy only showed the magnitude of the sun and of the moon, but not that of the other planets; it is, however, easy to know the latter by analogy with what he did for the sun and the moon”); according to al-Fargh n the magnitude sequence is as follows: the biggest is the sun, followed by 15 fixed stars, then Jupiter, Saturn, other fixed stars, Mars, earth, Venus, the moon, and finally Mercury.

Chapter 23 is on the rising and setting of the sun, moon and planets, Chapter 24 on their ascension, descension, and occultation, Chapter 25 the phases of the moon and the five planets, Chapter 26 the ascent of the five planets, Chapter 27 the parallax of the moon and planets, and Chapters 28–30 solar and lunar eclipses and their intervals. According to al-Fargh n , a solar eclipse occurs when the moon reaches a point between the sun and the earth, and a lunar eclipse occurs when the earth’s shadow falls on the moon’s surface. He states that intervals between solar and lunar eclipses must be at least six lunar months, and he explains several cases in which the interval may be greater.

Although the Elements are based on the Almagest, al-Fargh n differs from Ptolemy in many details. Al-Fargh n agrees with Ptolemy’s theory of precession, but whereas Ptolemy believed precession only affects the planets al-Fargh n believes it also affects the sun’s apogee, so that there are two movements of the sun, the movement in the eccentric and the movement of its apogee. In addition, some of the data given by al-Fargh n differ from Ptolemy’s: as already noted, al-Fargh n gives the greatest inclination between the equator and the ecliptic as 23° 35′, compared to Ptolemy’s value of 23° 51′; he gives the length of a degree at the equator as 56 nautical miles, while Ptolemy’s value is 50.3 miles; and there are further differences between the two astronomers on the eccentricity and diameter of the epicycle of the moon, the elongations of Mars and Venus, and the anomalistic motion of Saturn. In most cases al-Fargh n ’s values were more accurate than Ptolemy’s.

Two Latin translations of the Elements were made in the twelfth century, one by John of Spain (John of Seville) about 1137 under the title Differentie scientie astrorum, and the other by Gerard of Cremona before 1175 titled Liber de aggregationibus scientiae stellarum et principiis celestium motuum. Printed editions of the first translation appeared in 1493 [offered here], at Nüremberg in 1537 (Continentur in hoc libro Rudimenta astronomica, with the commentary of Regiomontanus), and at Paris in 1546 (Alfragania astronomorum pertissimi compendium) – this was the first edition to include the name of the translator in print. Gerard’s translation was not published until 1910. Jacob Anatoli made a Hebrew translation of the book in 1231, Quizzur almagesti, that served as the basis for a third Latin translation by Jacob Christmann (Muhamedis Alfragani Arabis Chronologica et astronomica elementa), which appeared at Frankfurt in 1590. Jacob Golius published the Arabic text, based on a manuscript at Leiden (MS. Or. 8418/5, ff. 17-33), at Amsterdam in 1669 (Muhammedis Fil. Ketiri Ferganensis, qui vulgo Alfraganus dicitur, Elementa Astronomica, Arabice & Latine), but Golius’ new Latin translation and notes covered only the first nine chapters of al-Fargh n ’s work.

This first edition was printed by Andreas Belfortis, the first and most important printer in Ferrara, who printed 55 titles between 1471 and 1493. This is the only one of his works to contain illustrations, and appears to be the first illustrated book printed at Ferrara. Belfortis’ career was interrupted twice by political upheavals and war: in his final phase, from 1481 to 1493, he printed scientific and medical works, including commentaries on Avicenna and Mesue. The charming full-page illustration on the verso of the title-page, a portrait of al-Fargh n and of an ‘heremita’, probably a member of the Eremita family of Ferrara, is in the style of the Ferrara master Cosimo Tura and has attracted the attention of art historians. “The editor of this tract appears to have been a member of the Ferrarese family of Eremita, not an Augustinian, although he is so represented in the cut” (Cicognara, quoted in the BM Catalogue). The portrait is much reproduced even today (e.g., by the Library of Congress).

Little is known with certainty about al-Fargh n ’s life. Although known today as an astronomer, it is in connection with his engineering activities that we have some information about him. Al-Fargh n supervised the construction of the New Nilometer at Old Cairo, completed in 861, the year in which caliph al-Mutawakkil, who ordered the construction, died. Al-Mutawakkil had also charged the two sons of M s ibn Sh kir, Mu ammad and A mad, with supervising the digging of a canal running through the new city of al-Ja‘fariyya, which al-Mutawakkil had built near S marr on the Tigris and named after himself. They delegated the work to al-Fargh n , but unfortunately he made a serious error, making the beginning of the canal deeper than the rest, so that water which entered the mouth of the canal would not flow properly through its other parts. When al-Mutawakkil learned of this, he threatened to crucify Mu ammad and A mad, but they were saved by Sanad ibn ‘Al who vouched for the correctness of al-Fargh n ’s calculations, and said that if there had been an error it would be visible in four months’ time when the level of the water would decline. However, as had been predicted by astrologers, al-Mutawakkil was murdered shortly before the error became apparent. Al-Fargh n wrote a number of other works on astronomy, including a commentary on the astronomical tables of al-Khw rizm , the founder of algebra, as well as treatises on the astrolabe and on sundials. The crater Alfraganus on the Moon is named after him.

BMC VI, 605; Carmody, p. 144; Goff A-460; GW 1268; HC *822; Honeyman 70 (this copy); Houzeau & Lancaster 1112; IGI 351; Klebs 51.1. Lippmann, p. 153; Pellechet 513; Proctor 5753; Sander 279; Stillwell 13; the Crawford Library copy is the only one recorded by Grassi. Abdukhalimov, ‘Ahmad Al-Farghani and his Compendium of Astronomy,’ Journal of Islamic Studies, Vol. 10 (1999), pp. 142-58. Glick et al (eds.), Medieval Science, Technology, and Medicine: An Encyclopedia, 2005. Sezgin (ed.), Jaw mi ilm al-nuj m wa-u l al- arak t al-sam w ya [von] A mad ibn Mu ammad ibn Kath r al-Fargh n ; herausgegeben als Elementa astronomica mit lateinischer Übersetzung von Jacob Golius; Nachdruck der Ausgabe Amsterdam, 1669, 1986. Shaw, ‘Andreas Belfortis, First Printer in Ferrara: A Revised Chronology of his Output, 1471–1478,’ La Bibliofilia 105 (2003), pp. 3-25. For the relation between the Elements and Sacrobosco’s Sphere, see Thorndike, The Sphere of Sacrobosco and its Commentators (1949), pp. 15-18.



4to (197 x 147 mm), ff. 30, 35 lines, outstanding full-page woodcut on verso of first leaf, representing the beturbaned author reading a book and at his side a smaller figure of an ‘heremita’ using a compass, eight woodcut diagrams in text (small marginal light damp-stain to first gatherings, two tiny clean tears to margins of title-page). Contemporary limp vellum.

Item #4492

Price: $185,000.00