World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


ISLAMIC SCIENCE- HOMAGE TO PROFESSOR MERCÈ COMES - 1/3: Astrology and Science in Medieval Islamic Societies (185) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: WED 21, 9.00-11.00 am

· NOT_DEFINED institution: University of Barcelona, Department of Semitic Philology (Spain)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Miquel Forcada Nogués

· NOT_DEFINED language: English/Français

· NOT_DEFINED description: Astrology, which had in Medieval times a generally acknowledged status of science, attained a high degree of technical sophistication in Islamic societies. The purpose of this panel is to show the rich complexity of medieval Islamic astrology, particularly in the field of applied mathematics, and its relationship with other disciplines.

Chair: Julio Samsó Moya, University of Barcelona, Department of Semitic Philology

Discussant: Josep Casulleras, University of Barcelona, Department of Semitic Philology

Paper presenter: José Bellver, Boston College, The science of letters and astrological correspondences.
The Madkhal ila `ilm al-huruf ascribed to Ibn þArabi in the context of his works on huruf. The Science of letters (`ilm al-huruf) is the meditation on the letters of the Arabic alphabet, which is somehow equivalent to the Hebraic Qabbalah. In medieval Islam, its practitioners considered the revelation of the word of God to parallel the creation of the world. Being regarded as the ultimate scriptural elements, the Arabic letters (huruf) were considered to be in correspondence with the cosmological elements and thus provided with elementary properties Hence, the Science of letters mirrors other sciences based upon elementary properties such as astrology and alchemy. The Madkhal ila `ilm al-huruf is a short introduction to the science of letters usually credited to the Andalusian sufi master Ibn `Arabi (d. 638/1240) in almost all extant manuscripts. However, as it is not included in the lists that this author gives of his own works and its style is merely descriptive and devoid of metaphysical acuteness, voices have been raised that disregard its attribution to him. The purpose of this paper is to put the Madkhal ila 'ilm al-huruf in the context of Ibn `Arabi’s major works on the Science of letters and to depict the astrological correspondences contained in it, which were widely accepted in mystical and esoteric circles.

Paper presenter: Montse Díaz-Fajardo, University of Barcelona, Department of Semitic Philology , The astrological prediction by tasyir computation in the North of Africa (11th-15th centuries)
Astrologers sought with tasyir to give an answer to questions as the length of a life, of a kingdom, or to know future events. Arabic medieval astrologers used, basically, two kinds of tasyir: Darajat al-qisma or «Degree of the division» (1º = 1 year) and Burj al-dawr or «Sign of the revolution» (30º = 1 year). The Darajat al-qisma was used to know the length of a human life. Its computation took place on the equator due to the existence of a link between the rotation of this sphere and time. The Burj al-dawr was applied to many different subjects. Its computation was done on the ecliptic as a result of the link of this sphere with the motion of stars. The group of Maghribi astrologers composed by Ibn Abi-l-Rijal (fl. Qayrawan, ca. 965-1050), Ibn Azzuz (d. Constantina, 1354), Ibn Qunfud (Constantina, 1339-1407) and al-Baqqar (fl. Fez, 1411-1418) used the tasyir Burj al-dawr and, in general, the tasyir on the ecliptic. The antecedents of this tasyir are to be found in Classical and Eastern Islamic astrology. In al-Andalus, it appeared in the 11th century. The aforementioned astrologers followed Ibn Abi-l-Rijal’s computation with some modifications depending on the kind of prediction. This presentation will focus on several examples of this kind of tasyir. While astrologers themselves justified the astrological prediction with scientific (verification of planetary motions) or historical arguments (reconstruction of the past of a dynasty), tasyir was a technique commonly used, not an obsolete topic: al-Baqqar includes a set of tasyir tables in which he lists, in time intervals, the positions of an indicator on the sphere of the zodiacal signs. These tables simplified the task of astrologers.

Paper presenter: Marc Oliveras, University of Barcelona, Department of Semitic Philology, On scientific poetry in Islam: astronomical and astrological didactic poetry
In the past, the transmission of knowledge gave priority to orality over literacy and to memory over understanding. For that reason, didactic poetry was a popular genre throughout antiquity and medieval times in scientific circles. We will focus on astronomical and astrological didactic poetry in Greek, Latin and Arabic (from Aratus of Solos, 3rd c. BC to 'Alî b. Abî al-Rijâl, 11th c.), so as to find the similarities between these traditions, study their metres, and answer questions like: Why the ancient authors used poetry for conveying notions which could be easier understood in prose?

Paper presenter: María José Parra, University of Barcelona, Department of Semitic Philology, Astrology in the Arabic translations of Zaqut’s Almanach Perpetuum
The aim of this discussion is to show the problems that arose with the use of the Almanach Perpetuum (the planetary positions are tropical) by Andalusian and Maghribi astrologers who always cast sidereal horoscopes. It contradicts an astrological basic rule. I will use the different Arab manuscripts (17th-19th centuries) where there are several examples and passages that I will expose as a clue to determine, also, if this almanac was used by astrologers or if it was also used by muwaqqits, who were interested in the tables of the Sun, the Moon, and conjunctions and oppositions of the two luminaries.