The Books of the Wisdom of Astronomy


The manuscript Libros del saber de astronomía (The books of the wisdom of astronomy) comprises 16 treatises on the science of the heavenly bodies and the instruments used in their study. The work contains translations from the Aramaic and the Arabic made by various people, including Yehuda ben Moshe Hakohen (also seen as Jehuda ben Moses Cohen) and Rabiçag de Toledo (also seen as Rabbi Zag and Isaac ben Sid), always with the direct input from King Alfonso X of Castile and Leon (1221‒84, called Alfonso the Wise) so as to guarantee the use of the most correct Castilian. The translators, from the Toledo school, included Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The work is divided into three broad thematic sections: astronomy (covered in Treatise 1, which describes the celestial spheres and the signs of the zodiac, constellation by constellation); the operation and manufacturing of various instruments for astronomical observations (covered in Treatises 2 through 10 as well as 16); and instruments for measuring time (Treatises 11 through 15). Toledo, Burgos, and Seville are mentioned in the codex, suggesting that these cities were places where the work might have been made. Scholars believe, however, that at the time the work was composed, in 1276‒79, the Alphonsine scriptorium was based in Seville. The codex has all of the characteristics of the books produced by King Alfonso’s scriptorium. It consists of 201 folios on thick but well-prepared parchment, as would be expected from the product of a royal scriptorium. The text was copied by one hand, in a uniform and careful textual Gothic script, in brown ink for the text and red ink for the legends in the chapters. Red paragraph signs mark the beginning of each paragraph; upper-case letters are decorated with details in red. The text is in two columns across all pages, whether or not there are illustrations. The illustrations, executed with the utmost refinement and skill, include the initials at the beginnings of books and chapters; the flourishes that mark the margins of the columns in some parts of the codex and that occur at the end of some paragraphs; various illustrative tables; and the images that illustrate the text itself. The red and blue ink initials and the cartouches, in calligraphic filigree, are especially outstanding and representative of the Gothic and Mudejar influences in the decoration. However, the most representative decorations, 162 of which are full page, are those that illustrate the text with a clear didactic purpose. The codex, originally in the library of Queen Isabella the Catholic and later sold to Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros by King Ferdinand II of Aragon, was included in the first set of works held in the library of the Complutense University. There are nine extant copies of the work, all produced later. These copies help to further knowledge of damaged or lost sections of the original manuscript.

Last updated: December 29, 2015