Charting the Heavens - The Alfonsine Tables -With Manuscript Annotations

ASTRONOMY. Alfonso X, King of Castile and Leon (1221-1284); Ibn Saʿīd (Sid), Isaac (fl. mid-13th c.); Judah ben Moses (fl. mid-13th c.); Santritter, Johannes Lucilius (1460-1498)

Tabule astronomice Diui Alfonsi regis Romanoru[m] et Castelle : nuper [quam] diligentissime cum additionibus emendate.

Venice: Ex officina litteraria Petri Liechtenstein, 1521


Quarto: 21.5 x 15.8 cm. 120 lvs. Collation: A-C8, D-E4, F-Q8


With attractive woodcut initials in the text and a large woodcut printer's device printed in red and black on the final leaf. A very fine copy with a few trivial marks and occasional contemporary annotations On the final leaf is a Latin poem in a contemporary hand mentioning Pythagoras, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Plato, and other Greek philosophers.Provenance: Libreria Mediolanum, Milan, 1997.

These astronomical tables, computing the positions of the sun, moon and planets in relation to the fixed stars, are based on the tables calculated by order of Alfonso X, "el Sabio", King of Castile and Leon (1221-1284), which became known as the Alfonsine Tables. This collection was first printed in 1483. This third edition (first issue 1518) is based on the 1492 printing edited by Johannes Santritter, and contains additional entries that had appeared in the star table derived from John of Gmunden (ca. 1380-1442). The third edition also includes Santritter's "Canones (introductions) siue propositiones in tabulas Alfonsi", which replaced the canons of Johannes de Saxonia used in the 1483 edition. While similar to the earlier edition, some of the tables have been expanded, and a few new tables have been added. In this edition angles are given in degrees, minutes and seconds whereas in the first edition only degrees and minutes were given. 

Alfonso X, King of Castile and León from 1252 until his death in 1284, was known as El Sabio (the learned or the wise) because of his strong interest in scientific and intellectual matters. He founded schools and universities, encouraged scholars to translate Arabic writings into Spanish, and generally laid the foundation for Spanish science. The scientific accomplishments of his reign are universally acknowledged. 

In the early 1260s Alfonso ordered that a new calculation of the Toledan astronomical tables be made to replace those compiled by the Cordoban astronomer Abū Isḥāq Ibrāhīm ibn Yaḥyā al-Naqqāsh al-Zarqālī (c. 1029-c. 1087). These new Tablas Alfonsinas, also produced in Toledo, were the work of Judah ben Moses (a Spanish/ Jewish physician and astronomer) and Isaac ibn Sid (a Spanish/Jewish astronomer and collector of instruments) about 1272. Using instruments provided by King Alfonso, the two men "observed the sun throughout a whole year, particularly at the equinoxes and solstices and at the middle of the signs of Taurus and Scorpio, Leo and Aquarius; they also observed conjunctions of planets inter se and with fixed stars, and solar and lunar eclipses."(Dreyer)

No complete copies of the Alfonsine tables in their original form are extant. The Latin collections of tables in use in the 14thand 15thcenturies, transmitted under the name of Alfonso, were compiled from various sources. They contain parts of the original tables in modified form, now converted to the sexagesimal system (probably the work of Jean de Lignières at Paris in the early fourteenth-century.) For a discussion of the complexities of the manuscript collections, see Emmanuel Poole, "The Alfonsine Tables and Alfonso-X of Castille" in Journal for the History of Astronomy, Vol.19, NO.2/57/May, P. 97, 1988.

These collections remained in general use until superseded by Kepler’s Tabulae Rudolphinæ (Rudolphine Tables) in 1627.

Edit16 1132; Tomash & Williams A60; USTC 808746. Literature: Dryer, On the Original Form of the Alfonsine Tables, in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 80, p.243-262.