Abu Ma’shar al-Balkhi : biography
Abū Maʿshar, Jaʿfar ibn Muḥammad al-Balkhī (also known as al-Falakī or Ibn Balkhī, Latinized as Albumasar, Albusar, or Albuxar) (10 August 787 in Balkh, Khurasan – 9 March 886 in Wāsiṭ, Iraq), was a Persian astrologer, astronomer, and Islamic philosopher, thought to be the greatest astrologer of the Abbasid court in Baghdad. He was not a major innovator and as an astrologer he was not intellectually rigorous. Nevertheless, he wrote a number of practical manuals on astrology that profoundly influenced Muslim intellectual history and, through translations, that of western Europe and Byzantium.
Astrology and natural philosophy
Richard Lemay has argued that the writings of Albumasar were very likely the single most important original source of Aristotle’s theories of nature for European scholars, starting a little before the middle of the 12th century.Richard Lemay, Abu Ma’shar and Latin Aristotelianism in the Twelfth Century, The Recovery of Aristotle’s Natural Philosophy through Iranian Astrology, 1962.
It was not until later in the 12th century that the original books of Aristotle on nature began to become available in Latin. The works of Aristotle on logic had been known earlier, and Aristotle was generally recognized as "the master of logic." But during the course of the 12th century, Aristotle was transformed into the "master of those who know," and in particular a master of natural philosophy. It is notable that the work of Albumasar (or Balkhi), in question, is a treatise on astrology. Its Latin title is "Introductorium in Astronomiam", a translation of the Arabic Kitab al-mudkhal al-kabir ila ‘ilm ahkam an-nujjum, written in Baghdad in the year 848 A.D. It was translated into Latin first by John of Seville in 1133, and again, less literally and abridged, by Herman of Carinthia in 1140 A.D. Amir Khusrav mentions that Abu Maʿshar came to Benaras (Varanasi) and studied astronomy there for ten years.
His works on astronomy are not extant, but information can still be gleaned from summaries found in the works of later astronomers or from his astrology works.
Introductions to astrology
- Kitāb al‐mudkhal al‐kabīr, an introduction to astrology which received many translations to Latin and Greek starting from the 11th-century. It had significant influence on Western philosophers, like Albert the Great.
- Kitāb mukhtaṣar al‐mudkhal, an abridged version of the above, later translated to Latin by Adelard of Bath.
- Kitāb al‐milal wa‐ʾl‐duwal ("Book on religions and dynasties"), probably his most important work, commented on in the major works of Roger Bacon, Pierre d’Ailly, and Pico della Mirandola.
- Fī dhikr ma tadullu ʿalayhi al‐ashkhāṣ al‐ʿulwiyya ("On the indications of the celestial objects"),
- Kitāb al‐dalālāt ʿalā al‐ittiṣālāt wa‐qirānāt al‐kawākib ("Book of the indications of the planetary conjunctions"),
- Kitāb al‐ulūf ("Book of thousands"), preserved only in summaries by Sijzī.
- Kitāb taḥāwil sinī al‐mawālīd ("Book of the revolutions of the years of nativities"). translated into Greek in 1000, and from that translation into Latin in the 13th century.
- Kitāb mawālīd al‐rijāl wa‐ʾl‐nisāʾ ("Book of nativities of men and women"), which was widely circulated in the Islamic world.
Books available in Latin and Greek translations
- De magnis coniunctionibus, ed.-transl. K. Yamamoto, Ch. Burnett, Leiden, 2000, 2 vols. (Arabic & Latin text)
- De revolutionibus nativitatum, ed. D. Pingree, Leipzig, 1968 (Greek text)
- Liber florum Translated by James Herschel Holden in Five Medieval Astrologers (Tempe, Az.: A.F.A., Inc., 2008): 13-66.
- Introductorium maius, ed. R. Lemay, Napoli, 1995–1996, 9 vols. (Arabic text & two Latin translations)
- Ysagoga minor, ed.-transl. Ch. Burnett, K. Yamamoto, M. Yano, Leiden-New York, 1994 (Arabic & Latin text)