Texts

Irish astronomical tract

  • Early Modern Irish
  • prose
  • Irish texts, Irish scientific texts

Early Modern Irish adaptation based on a Latin translation (Liber de orbe) of a lost astronomical tract written in Arabic by Masha’allah (Māshā’allāh) ibn Athari, a Persian Jewish scholar (fl. early 9th c.). The Irish text appears to be based on a longer, 40-chapter version of the Latin text as opposed to the shorter (27-chapter) and better known version which was first printed in the 16th century and has been attributed to Gerard of Cremona.

Title
Irish astronomical tract
The text was edited as An Irish astronomical tract by Maura Power and has been referred to by various other descriptive titles. As an alternative, Williams suggests an Irish title based on its use in the prologue: Da cailibh na firmaminnti ⁊ na ceithre dula ‘On the characteristics of the firmaments and the four elements’.
Manuscripts
Language
  • Early Modern Irish
  • Secondary language(s): Latin language
Date

Power points to the mention of spechlai ‘spectacles’. Under the assumption that it required no introduction for the readership of the text, she takes it as an indicator of a date by which time their use had gained some currency in Ireland, after c.1325.

Form
prose (primary)
Textual relationships
  • (Possible) sources:
  • Liber de orbe of Masha'allah (longer Latin translation)

Classification

Irish texts Irish scientific texts

Keywords

astronomy

Sources

Primary sources Text editions and/or modern translations – in whole or in part – along with publications containing additions and corrections, if known. Diplomatic editions, facsimiles and digital image reproductions of the manuscripts are not always listed here but may be found in entries for the relevant manuscripts. For historical purposes, early editions, transcriptions and translations are not excluded, even if their reliability does not meet modern standards.

[ed.] [tr.] Williams, John Alfred, “The Irish astronomical tract: a case study of scientific terminology in 14th century Irish”, unpublished M. Phil. thesis: University of Sydney, Department for Celtic Studies, 2002.  
abstract:
Included in this work, is a general historical overview of the development of astronomical knowledge in the West from the realms of Greek scholarship in classical times through to the Renaissance and the threshold of modern physics. The subject matter of both the Irish Tract and this review extends beyond the strict confines of astronomy, encompassing the physical sciences in general. The extent of astronomical knowledge in medieval Ireland is given specific attention with a review of scholarly works in Latin since the seventh century. This includes a number of specialist studies on astronomical topics and related cosmographical fields. Also included are numerous incidental references to astronomical matters from both Irish and Latin literature during the Middle Ages. Attention is devoted to the surviving manuscript copies of the Tract and the question of its sources, origin and purpose. A possible Dominican context for the compilation and dissemination of the Tract is considered. A detailed commentary of the technical content of each chapter is presented, together with reference to contemporary developments in the West and to the occasional clues as to the institutional, geographical and chronological origins of the Tract. A study of the technical terminology used by the Irish compiler is presented in detail. Reference is made both to earlier Irish terminology where appropriate, as well as to the limitations imposed by the fact that many of the scientific concepts were yet to attain clarity that came with the advent of Newtonian physics, Copernican astronomy and post-Colombian geography. The data entries on ms Stowe B are evaluated and compared with computer generated data of astronomical movements in the 14th and 15th centuries with a view to ascertaining the time of compilation of the Tract and its working life. A A revised English translation of the Tract is included in the appendices together with Maxwell Close's unpublished commentary to relevant portions. An Irish edition, closely following the ITS edition of 1914 is also included. Corruptions to the text are footnoted together with the likely run of the original text.
 : <link>
130–205 (translation); 206–248 (text, with additional notes) Revised translation, with Power’s text (reprinted) and Maxwell Close’s unpublished commentary.
[ed.] [tr.] Power, Maura [ed. and tr.], An Irish astronomical tract, based in part on a mediaeval Latin version of a work by Messahalah, Irish Texts Society 14, London: Irish Texts Society, 1914.
CELT – edition: <link> CELT – translation: <link>
[ed.] [tr.] O'Curry, Eugene, Lectures on the manuscript materials of ancient Irish history, delivered at the Catholic University of Ireland during the sessions of 1855 and 1856, Dublin, 1861.
Internet Archive: <link>, <link> Internet Archive – Originally from Google Books: <link>, <link>, <link> Internet Archive – multiple copies: <link>
658 [‘GG’] Excerpt from a single manuscript only.
[ed.] O'Farrelly, John J., “Irish cosmographical tract; transcription of the Irish text with contractions retained (from Stowe B ii 1)”, unpublished, 1893.  
Handwritten. Manuscript: Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 3A 7, 852.
Consulted by Williams.
[ed.] O'Farrelly, John J., “Irish cosmographical tract; transcription of the Irish text with contractions retained (contractions in Irish extended, with reference to the Marsh copy & RIA copy 2)”, unpublished, 1893.  
Manuscript: Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 3A 10, 855.
Consulted by Williams.
[tr.] O'Farrelly, John J., and Maxwell H. Close [comments (1901)], “English translation of the Irish astronomical tract”, unpublished, 1893.  
Typed. Manuscript: Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 3A 9, 854. Includes handwritten comments made in 1901 by Maxwell H. Close.
Consulted by Williams.
[tr.] O'Farrelly, John J., “Irish cosmographical tract; English translation”, unpublished, 1893.  
Handwritten. Manuscript: Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 3A 8, 853.
Consulted by Williams.

Secondary sources (select)

Fitzpatrick, Siobhán, “The heavens, earth and imagined islands: an introduction to the medieval medical and astronomical resources of the Royal Irish Academy Library”, in: Kelly, Mary, and Charles Doherty (eds), Music and the stars: mathematics in medieval Ireland, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2013. xiv + 249 pp + 16 (ill.). 159–195.
Obrist, Barbara, “William of Conches, Māshā'Allāh, and twelfth-century cosmology”, Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du Moyen Âge 76 (2009): 29–87.
Williams, John Alfred, “The Irish astronomical tract: a case study of scientific terminology in 14th century Irish”, unpublished M. Phil. thesis: University of Sydney, Department for Celtic Studies, 2002.  
abstract:
Included in this work, is a general historical overview of the development of astronomical knowledge in the West from the realms of Greek scholarship in classical times through to the Renaissance and the threshold of modern physics. The subject matter of both the Irish Tract and this review extends beyond the strict confines of astronomy, encompassing the physical sciences in general. The extent of astronomical knowledge in medieval Ireland is given specific attention with a review of scholarly works in Latin since the seventh century. This includes a number of specialist studies on astronomical topics and related cosmographical fields. Also included are numerous incidental references to astronomical matters from both Irish and Latin literature during the Middle Ages. Attention is devoted to the surviving manuscript copies of the Tract and the question of its sources, origin and purpose. A possible Dominican context for the compilation and dissemination of the Tract is considered. A detailed commentary of the technical content of each chapter is presented, together with reference to contemporary developments in the West and to the occasional clues as to the institutional, geographical and chronological origins of the Tract. A study of the technical terminology used by the Irish compiler is presented in detail. Reference is made both to earlier Irish terminology where appropriate, as well as to the limitations imposed by the fact that many of the scientific concepts were yet to attain clarity that came with the advent of Newtonian physics, Copernican astronomy and post-Colombian geography. The data entries on ms Stowe B are evaluated and compared with computer generated data of astronomical movements in the 14th and 15th centuries with a view to ascertaining the time of compilation of the Tract and its working life. A A revised English translation of the Tract is included in the appendices together with Maxwell Close's unpublished commentary to relevant portions. An Irish edition, closely following the ITS edition of 1914 is also included. Corruptions to the text are footnoted together with the likely run of the original text.
 : <link>
Ó Concheanainn, Tomás, “The scribe of the Irish astronomical tract in RIA B ii 1”, Celtica 11 (1976): 158–167.
Close, Maxwell H., “Remarks on a cosmographical tractate in the Irish language”, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 6 (1900–102): 457–464.
Close, Maxwell H., “Irish astronomical tract; introduction, comments and appendices”, unpublished, 1901.  
Dublin, Royal Irish Academy Library, MS 854 3A9.
Contributors
Dennis Groenewegen
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