Thursday, May 3, 2012

Alfonsine Tables and Arabic names of stars

Alfonso X of Castile
Many Spanish/Latin transliterations of Arabic star names were given in the Alfonsine tables compiled during the Crusader period in Toledo in 1252. This work is a significant cultural bridge between Islamic Astronomy carrying on Greco-Roman traditions, Jewish scientists active in Caliphate of Cordoba and Christian world in Europe.

Alfonsine Tables are an example of the multicultural and multilingual environment that prevailed in early Medieval Spain. At the time of the Crusades it was an important peaceful meeting ground for Christian, Jewish and Islamic cultures.

The Castilian tradition carries on also today as the majority of the bright stars in the northern sky have Arabic names even the cultural and scientific prominence of the Islamic world has markedly declined from the heydays of the past.

[Alfonso X of Castile (1221 – 1284) also called Alfonso the Wise] assembled a team of scholars, known as the Toledo School of Translators, who among other translating tasks, were commanded to produce new tables that updated the Tables of Toledo.

The new tables were based on earlier astronomical works and observations by Islamic astronomers, adding observations by astronomers Alfonso had gathered in Toledo, among them several Jewish scholars, like Yehuda ben Moshe and Isaac ibn Sid. He also brought Aben Raghel y Alquibicio and Aben Musio y Mohamat, from Seville, Joseph Aben Alí and Jacobo Abenvena, from Córdoba, and fifty more from Gascony and Paris.

The instructions for the Alfonsine tables were originally written in Castilian Spanish. The first printed edition of the Alfonsine tables appeared in 1483, and a second edition in 1491. Georg Purbach used the Alfonsine tables for his book, Theoricae novae planetarum (New Theory of the Planets). Nicolaus Copernicus used the second edition in his work. One use of these and similar astronomical tables was to calculate ephemerides, which were in turn used by astrologers to cast horoscopes.

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