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(Re)drawing the lines : the science of the stars in the late fifteenth century Sultanate of Cairo

Fien De Block (UGent)
(2020)
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(UGent) and (UGent)
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Abstract
This dissertation questions the role and place of cilm al-nujūm or ‘the science of the stars, in the late fifteenth century Sultanate of Cairo on the basis of two different but contemporary and indirectly related collections of manuscripts. The study can be situated in both History of Science and in Oriental Studies and therefore aims to come to terms with some of the big debates and narratives that have reigned these disciplines over the last decades. In the first part of this thesis, I discuss how. In order to come to terms with these debates, I argue that a history of science in Islamicate societies can no longer be humanist but should instead be material in outlook. Drawing on this conclusion, I discuss two collections of manuscripts pertaining to the science of the stars in the second and third part of this dissertation. In the second part, I focus on the collection of taqwīm treatises initiated by the muwaqqit or Islamic timekeeper Ibn al-Majdī (d. 850/1447). These texts have previously been looked at as scientific treatises used in the service of religion. The practice to which they pertained was explicitly presented as non-astrological. On the basis of a study of Ibn al-Majdī’s taqwīm corpus or corpus of texts, that is a corpus of texts on the compilation of ephemerides, I argue that a material approach towards these manuscripts in fact shows how none of the categories in this description is present in the historical actors’ categories. Presented as cilm al-mīqāt, the science of timekeeping or, more generally as cilm al-nujūm or the science of the stars, these practices were part of a science of the stars that could in present day terms be labelled scientific as well as religious and astrological. The terminology that is assumed to have been used for astrology in this period, cilm aḥkām al-nujūm, is never used in these works or by contemporary scholars referring to them. In the third part of this thesis, I discuss another late fifteenth century collection of manuscripts from the same period in which the term of cilm aḥkām al-nujūm was used. The works of al-Jamālī Yūsuf ibn Qurqumās al-Ḥamzāwī (d. 902/1497) and Aḥmad ibn Aḥmad Timurbāy (fl. late ninth/late fifteenth C.) bear the mark of a tradition of Neopythagorean, ṣūfī and illuminationist tradition of scholars studying the stars as signs in order to get closer to the invisible reality beyond the empirical world, and ultimately to God. Rather than using the present day categories of science, religion, and magic, this dissertation focusses on the categories that these scholars themselves used to identify their work and the material ways in which they ordered it. By doing this, the dissertation aims to upen up new avenues for research on the early modern history of science in Islamicate societies.
Deze doctoraatsthesis handelt over de rol en plaats van cilm al-nujūm of ‘de wetenschap van de sterren’ in het laat-vijftiende eeuwse Sultanaat van Caïro. Dit onderwerp kan gesitueerd worden binnen de discipline van Wetenschapsgeschiedenis enerzijds en die van Oosterse studies anderzijds en tracht vanuit die gesitueerdheid een uitweg te bieden uit enkele van de grote debatten die deze disciplines de voorbij decennia hebben gekenmerkt. In het eerste deel van dit werk zal ik omschrijven hoe ik denk dat dit mogelijk is. Om tegemoet te komen aan deze debatten, stel ik, is het niet langer mogelijk om een wetenschapsgeschiedenis van de Islamwereld te beoefenen die humanistisch van aanpak is. De weg uit de patstelling die de grote debatten van beide disciplines opleveren, is om ze te combineren. Op basis daarvan wordt hier een materiele benadering van teksten verdedigd. Hiervan vertrekkend, worden er in het tweede en derde deel van deze thesis twee collecties manuscripten besproken. De eerste collectie is een verzameling taqwīm teksten oftewel teksten over en met tabellen die de lengtegraden van de planeten voor specifieke momenten oplijsten. Meer specifiek bespreek ik de traditie taqwīm-teksten die werd toegeschreven aan de Islamitische tijdsmeter of muwaqqit Ibn al-Majdī (st. 850/1447). Deze teksten werden in eerder onderzoek voorgesteld als wetenschappelijke teksten ten dienste van religie. De praktijk waartoe ze behoorden werd bovendien voorgesteld als expliciet anti astrologie. Op basis van een materieële studie van Ibn al-Majdī’s corpus stel ik hier echter dat geen van bovengenoemde categorieën overeenkomt met de beschrijving gegeven door de historische actoren die deze manuscripten produceerden en gebruikten. De manuscripten worden ingeleid als cilm al-mīqāt of de wetenschap van tijdsmeting of meer algemeen als cilm al-nujūm of de wetenschap van de sterren. Hoewel deze manuscripten in hedendaagse termen zowel zouden kunnen worden geclassificeerd als religieus, wetenschappelijk én astrologisch, is dat niet het geval in de terminologie van de historische actoren. De terminologie die wordt gelijkgesteld met astrologie voor deze periode is cilm aḥkām al-nujūm, maar deze komt niet voor in het taqwīm-corpus, noch in contemporaine teksten die ernaar verwijzen. In het derde deel van deze thesis bespreek ik een collectie laat-vijftiende eeuwse manuscripten waarin dat wel het geval is. De werken van al-Jamālī Yūsuf ibn Qurqumās al-Ḥamzāwī (d. 902/ca. 1497) en Aḥmad ibn Aḥmad Timurbāy (fl. late negende/late vijftiende eeuw) getuigen van een traditie neopythagoreïsche ṣūfī denkers en aanhangers van de illuminatieleer die de wetenschap van de sterren beschouwden als een opstap naar inzicht in de onzichtbare, immateriële wereld achter het empirisch waarneembare, en uiteindelijk ook in God. Eerder dan te teksten in te delen door gebruik te maken van de hedendaagse categorieën van wetenschap, religie en magie, focust deze doctoraatsthesis enerzijds op de categorieën die deze geleerden zelf gebruikten om zichzelf voor te stellen en anderzijds op de materiële wijze waarop ze de circulatie van hun teksten richting gaven. Op deze manier wil deze thesis nieuwe wegen openen voor voor wetenschapsgeschiedenis van de vroegmoderne Islamwereld.
Keywords
Science of the Stars, Sultanate of Cairo, Early Modern, Astrology, Astronomy, Boundary work

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Citation

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MLA
De Block, Fien. (Re)Drawing the Lines : The Science of the Stars in the Late Fifteenth Century Sultanate of Cairo. Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte, 2020.
APA
De Block, F. (2020). (Re)drawing the lines : the science of the stars in the late fifteenth century Sultanate of Cairo. Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte.
Chicago author-date
De Block, Fien. 2020. “(Re)Drawing the Lines : The Science of the Stars in the Late Fifteenth Century Sultanate of Cairo.” Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
De Block, Fien. 2020. “(Re)Drawing the Lines : The Science of the Stars in the Late Fifteenth Century Sultanate of Cairo.” Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte.
Vancouver
1.
De Block F. (Re)drawing the lines : the science of the stars in the late fifteenth century Sultanate of Cairo. Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte; 2020.
IEEE
[1]
F. De Block, “(Re)drawing the lines : the science of the stars in the late fifteenth century Sultanate of Cairo,” Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte, 2020.
@phdthesis{8663073,
  abstract     = {This dissertation questions the role and place of cilm al-nujūm or ‘the science of the stars, in the late fifteenth century Sultanate of Cairo on the basis of two different but contemporary  and indirectly related collections of manuscripts. The study can be situated in both History of Science and in Oriental Studies and therefore aims to come to terms with some of the big debates and narratives that have reigned these disciplines over the last decades. In the first part of this thesis, I discuss how. In order to come to terms with these debates, I argue that a history of science in Islamicate societies can no longer be humanist but should instead be material in outlook. Drawing on this conclusion, I discuss two collections of manuscripts pertaining to the science of the stars in the second and third part of this dissertation. In the second part, I focus on the collection of taqwīm treatises initiated by the muwaqqit or Islamic timekeeper Ibn al-Majdī (d. 850/1447). These texts have previously been looked at as scientific treatises used in the service of religion. The practice to which they pertained was explicitly presented as non-astrological. On the basis of a study of Ibn al-Majdī’s taqwīm corpus or corpus of texts, that is a corpus of texts on the compilation of ephemerides, I argue that a material approach towards these manuscripts in fact shows how none of the categories in this description is present in the historical actors’ categories. Presented as cilm al-mīqāt, the science of timekeeping or, more generally as cilm al-nujūm or the science of the stars, these practices were part of a science of the stars that could in present day terms be labelled scientific as well as religious and astrological. The terminology that is assumed to have been used for astrology in this period, cilm aḥkām al-nujūm, is never used in these works or by contemporary scholars referring to them. In the third part of this thesis, I discuss another late fifteenth century collection of manuscripts from the same period in which the term of cilm aḥkām al-nujūm was used. The works of al-Jamālī Yūsuf ibn Qurqumās al-Ḥamzāwī (d. 902/1497) and Aḥmad ibn Aḥmad Timurbāy (fl. late ninth/late fifteenth C.) bear the mark of a tradition of Neopythagorean, ṣūfī and illuminationist tradition of scholars studying the stars as signs in order to get closer to the invisible reality beyond the empirical world, and ultimately to God. Rather than using the present day categories of science, religion, and magic, this dissertation focusses on the categories that these scholars themselves used to identify their work and the material ways in which they ordered it. By doing this, the dissertation aims to upen up new avenues for research on the early modern history of science in Islamicate societies.},
  author       = {De Block, Fien},
  keywords     = {Science of the Stars,Sultanate of Cairo,Early Modern,Astrology,Astronomy,Boundary work},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {286},
  publisher    = {Universiteit Gent. Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte},
  school       = {Ghent University},
  title        = {(Re)drawing the lines : the science of the stars in the late fifteenth century Sultanate of Cairo},
  year         = {2020},
}