Archive for the ‘Astronomy & astrology’ Category

On the nature of the seven planets (Syriac)   Leave a comment

The recent transit of Venus has been in the news for the past few days, so it’s a fine time to have another look at something astronomical-astrological (see here for a previous post on the theme). Below is an image from Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo (SOAA) ms 148, a manuscript from, at the earliest, the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century, this terminus from the fact that, in addition to some of Bar ʿEbrāyā’s poems (mušḥātā, see Takahashi 2005: 313-346), it also contains texts from David Puniqāyā (d. ca. 1500) and Sergius of Ḥāḥ (d. 1508). The selection below is the beginning of a poem, Bar ʿEbrāyā’s “On the nature of the seven planets” in the heptasyllabic meter with rhyming lines, the seven planets being the “wandering — as opposed to fixed — stars” known in antiquity: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the sun, Venus, Mercury, and the moon.

SOAA 148, f. 58v

As you can see, someone has penciled the planet names in Arabic (Garšūnī) in the margins. The poem was published, without the use of this manuscript, in Dolabani’s edition of Bar ʿEbrāyā’s poetry (1929: 77-78, no. 6.3), but it’s not in Scebabi’s edition (Rome, 1877). Bar ʿEbrāyā lists those things or people associated with each planet in the order given above. A comparison between the printed edition, based on manuscripts in Jerusalem and Mosul, and the Aleppo manuscript yields a notable difference: Dolabani has only given the domiciles (baytā here in Syriac, as also οἶκος in Greek with this meaning) for Mercury and the moon, the last two planets, but the Aleppo manuscript gives domiciles for all seven of the planets, which means that the manuscript has ten more heptasyllabic lines than the printed text. In addition, the two-part little poem printed in Dolabani separately as 6.4 is clearly taken by the scribe of this manuscript as part of the poem on the planets, and the subject matter and phraseology indeed fits.

A review of Takahashi’s bibliography for the poems will show that much work remains to be done on them, including not least a proper edition, which would be no small task given the plethora of known manuscripts. Till then, let this little notice stand as a harbinger of what else might be discovered.


Dolabani, Y., ed. 1929. Mušḥātā d-Mār Grigorios Yoḥannān Bar ʿEbrāyā mapryānā qaddišā d-madnḥā. Jerusalem. Reprint, Glane, 1983.

Takahashi, H. 2005. Barhebraeus: A Bio-Bibliography. Piscataway.

The circle of the Zodiac, planetary signs, and metals   1 comment

Dayr al-Za`farān ms. no. 197, f. 71r

In Dayr al-Za`farān ms. no. 197—quite a motley arrangement of texts, fragments, and notes—after a fragment from the Syriac Cause of All Causes,[1] and before a short commentary in Garšūnī on the Nicene Creed, there is this page that concisely presents some basic astrological and alchemical data. On the right of the page (the picture here [click to enlarge] has been rotated 90º to the right) is the zodiacal circle: names of the signs in Syriac on the outside, the sign itself, and the number of the sign on the inside.[2] The list on the left is in two parts: first come the signs for each of the seven planets[3] (i.e. as then conceived: sun, moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury), and secondly the metals that are associated with each of these seven planets (now listed in the correct order) in alchemy.[4]

It’s not clear why this page, which fits incongruously with its surroundings, is here. The Nicene Creed commentary is on the verso side of the folio; there is no blank page intervening. While there is material in The Cause of All Causes related to the planets, etc., this diagram is not part of the work (there are other diagrams in it), and the included fragment of the work in this manuscript has nothing whatsoever to do with the planets or astrology. For whatever reason it is here, it’s a diverting find.

[1] Ed. C. Kayser, Leipzig, 1889; German trans., 1893.

[2] Cf. James Evans, The History and Practice of Ancient Astronomy (New York and Oxford, 1998), p. 76.

[3] Ibid., pp. 350-351.

[4] For the most comprehensive resource for the little studied subfield of Syriac alchemy (some Arabic sources are included, too), see Marcellin Pierre Eugene Berthelot and Rubens Duval, Histoire des sciences: La chimie au moyen âge. Tome 2: L’alchimie syriaque. Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1893.

%d bloggers like this: