HELLENISTIC ASTROLOGY VIA MIDDLE PERSIAN AND ARABIC

Omar Tiberiadis astronomi preclarissimi liber de nativitatibus et interrogationibus.

Venice, Giovanni Battista Sessa, 1503.

4to, ff. 32, roman letter, with a large allegorical woodcut on title representing Jupiter, Mars, Saturn and other astronomical bodies, several printed charts, a woodcut table (f. 30v), woodcut initials, and woodcut printer’s devices at foot of title (Zappella 602) and beneath colophon (Zappella 277); title and verso of final leaf slightly dust-soiled, inner margin of title a little stained, some light foxing, trimmed rather close at head, but a good copy in modern red morocco.

£5000

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US $6513€5554

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First edition of Omar Tiberiades’s influential astrological treatise, edited by the renowned astrologer and mathematician Luca Gaurico (1475–1558); extremely rare.

In its original Arabic, Omar’s treatise is essentially a translation, with later interpolations, from the Middle Persian translation of the original Greek of Dorotheus of Sidon’s Pentateuch (late first century AD). It is therefore one of our best sources for the study of Hellenistic astrology. As the title of Dorotheus’s work suggests, it is divided into five books (Omar’s third book in fact incorporates the final three of the Pentateuch), the first four dealing with natal astrology and the fifth with electional and inceptional astrology (katarchic astrology).

‘Together with Messahalah, the Persian astrologer ‘Umar ibn al-Farruḫān aṭ-Ṭabarī belonged to the earliest generation of astrologers active in Baghdad in the first decades of the Abbasid empire. Omar was involved in drawing up the horoscope for the foundation of Baghdad in 762, and apparently continued to have good relations to the court. He still lived in 812. Of his various astrological writings, at least two were translated into Latin: the first is the Kitāb al-Mawālīd (“On Nativities”), a work in three books with some appendices, which was translated by John of Seville in the first half of the twelfth century . . . . Second, Hugo of Santalla in the twelfth century translated the Muḫtaṣar masā’il al-Qayṣarānī (“Abridgement of the Caesarean(?) Interrogations”), a book of 138 chapters on astrological judgements; this translation was split up and incorporated into two compilatory works, the Liber trium iudicum, and its expansion, the Liber novum iudicum, dating from the mid-twelfth century’ (D. N. Hasse, Success and suppression. Arabic sciences and philosophy in the Renaissance, 2016, p. 396). The fourth book in the present edition, a treatise called De interrogationibus (ff. 19–29) is in fact a translation by Salio of Padua of an abbreviated version of Omar’s Iudicia. It describes techniques for calculating astrologically favourable days for many activities, including conception and birth, travel and voyages, fishing and hunting, waging war, political ventures, avoiding theft, and so on. A section on mercantile matters is concerned with methods for determining optimal times for pricing commodities and for buying and selling.

The large title woodcut, in a curiously mannered style, shows Jupiter enthroned between and above Saturn and Mars amidst clouds and beneath the sun and moon. At the feet of each figure are shown the two zodiacal signs over which he presides.

Adams O171; Essling 1378; Sander 5181; Wellcome 4625. COPAC records copies at the British Library, Cambridge (Corpus and Trinity), and Christ Church Oxford. OCLC records four copies in the US (Arizona, Cleveland, Illinois, and The College of Physicians of Philadelphia) and adds the Wellcome in the UK.

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