Al-Sufi’s “Book of the Constellations of the Fixed Stars,” followed by Maxims, and al-Qazwini’s “The Wonders of Creation”


This manuscript volume preserves two works. The first is a 14th-century copy of Kitāb ṣuwar al-kawākib (Book of the constellations of the fixed stars) by ʻAbd al-Rahman ibn ʻUmar al-Sufi (903–86). The second is a 17th-century Ottoman Turkish translation of the first part (on the supra-terrestrial creatures) of Kitāb ‘Ajā’ib al-makhlūqāt wa-gharā’ib al-mawjūdāt (The wonders of creation), a two-part cosmography by Zakariya Ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini (1203–83). Inserted between the two works are four pages of maxims attributed to various authors, including Plato, Jesus, Muhammad, and Ali. Al-Sufi, known in the West as Azophi, was born in Persia (present-day Iran) and worked in Isfahan and in Baghdad. He is known for his translation from Greek into Arabic of the Almagest by the ancient astronomer Ptolemy. The book presented here is his most famous work, written around 964. In this work, al-Sufi describes the 48 constellations that were established by Ptolemy and adds criticisms and corrections of his own. For each of the constellations, he provides the indigenous Arabic names for their stars, drawings of the constellations, and a table of stars showing their locations and magnitude. Al-Sufi’s book spurred further work on astronomy in the Arabic and Islamic worlds, and exercised a huge influence on the development of science in Europe. The work was frequently copied and translated. Al-Qazwini was born in the Persian town of Qazwin and worked as a legal expert and judge in Persia and Iraq. He is also known for his geographical dictionary, Āthār al-bilād wa-akhbār al-‘ibād (Monument of places and history of God's bondsmen), which like this cosmography reflects learning in a wide range of disciplines. The Wonders of Creation enjoyed great popularity in the Arab world and was transmitted in numerous copies for centuries. The author of the Turkish translation is unknown, but the effort appears to have been dedicated to the Ottoman sultan Mustafa I (1591–1639).

Last updated: March 16, 2017