Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Book of Curiosities of the Sciences and Marvels for the Eyes

In June 2002, the Bodleian Library acquired the unique complete manuscript of a hitherto unknown Arabic cosmographical treatise, the Kitāb Gharāib al-funūn wa-mulla al-uyūn, known as the Book of Curiosities. The manuscript is a copy, probably made in Egypt in the late 12th or 13th century, of an anonymous work compiled in the first half of the 11th century in Egypt. The treatise is extraordinarily important for the history of science, especially for astronomy and cartography, and contains an unparalleled series of diagrams of the heavens and maps of the earth.

This newly discovered manuscript contains a remarkable series of early maps and astronomical diagrams, most of which are unparalleled in any Greek, Latin or Arabic material known to be preserved today. The rhyming title of the volume, Kitāb Gharā’ib al-funūn wa-mulah al-uyūn, loosely translates as The Book of Curiosities of the Sciences and Marvels for the Eyes.
The volume contains a single Arabic treatise in five books, of which only the first two were copied in the present manuscript. The first book, on celestial matters, is composed of 10 chapters, and begins with a description of the heavens and their influence upon events on earth. It contains a number of unique illustrations and rare texts, including an illustrated discourse on comets and several pages depicting various prominent stars nearby the ‘lunar mansions’ star-groups near the ecliptic whose risings and settings were traditionally used to predict rain and other meteorological events. The author’s interest here is primarily astrological and divinatory, and no mathematical astronomy is presented.(...more>>>)

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