20 August 2005

star names

Alun (great name, pity about the U) is serialising Star names and their meanings, a learned tome from 1899. I started reading because my favourite cousin has the good luck, or whatever, to be named after Alpha Scorpii. On the other hand, if I hadn't found it I'd be missing out on vital knowledge like:

In the year 1252 Europe resumed its old position in astronomical work by the compilation of Los Libros del Saber de Astron0mia, the celebrated Alfonsine Tables, by Arabian or Moorish astronomers, at Toledo, under the patronage of the Infante, afterward King Alfonso X, El Sabio, the Wise, and the Astronomer, of Leon and Castile, who” abandoned the crown for the astrolabe and forgot the earth for the sky.”

These Tables and their Latin translations are strongly Arabicized, as plainly appears in our modem star-titles drawn from them; while the whole work is in the main only copied from Ptolemy with some necessary correc tions. But it probably fairly represents the science of the Middle Ages, and was in use until at least the 16th century; for Eden,[2] in 1555, quoted from Gemma Phrysius’ On the Maner of Fyndynge the Longitude: ” Then eyther by the Ephemerides or by the tables of Alphonsus . . .” Various editions have been printed: the first in 1483, two hundred years after Alfonso’s death; again, in 1492 and 1521, all at Venice and in Latin; in 1545 at Paris; in 1641 at Madrid; and, lastly, splendidly reproduced there in 1863 -1867, in the earliest accessible Spanish text, with illustrations, supposed copies of the original.

It was this Alfonso who has so often been condemned for his remark:

Had I been present at the Creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better ordering of the universe;

but as he was speaking of the absurd Ptolemaic system, it does not seem so irreverent now as it did before Copernicus’ day. Carlyle quoted it in his History of Friedrich II of Prussia,

that it seemed a crank machine; that it was pity the Creator had not taken advice!

and said that this, and this only, of his many wise sayings is still remembered by mankind.

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