Session 23 (Free Papers): Arabic influences in Europe

Tuesday, 7 July 2021, 9.00-10.30, Room 217 | Chair: Manuel Pedro Ferreira (CESEM, NOVA FCSH)

Astronomy and music in Toledo from al-Zarqali to Alfonso El Sabio | Harald Gropp (Universität Heidelberg)

800 years ago, in 1221, Alfonso el Sabio (Alphonse the Wise) was born in Toledo. He died in Sevilla in 1284. From 1252 till 1282 he reigned as the king of Castille and Leon in Toledo. He organized and supported the translation of scientific works from Arabic into Castillian and Latin, mainly theology, philosophy, mathematics, chess and games, and astronomy.

In musicology he is most famous for his collection “Cantigas de Santa Maria“ in Portuguese-Galician language. In astronomy his main influence is said to be the Alphonsine Tables. Toledo was conquered by the Christians in 1085 as an important step of the so-called “reconquista“. This was also the start of the translation activities from Arabic into Latin in this town.

The most important scientist in Toledo in the 11th century was al-Zarqali, 200 years earlier than Alfonso. He was born also in Toledo in 1027 and died also in Sevilla in 1087. He emigrated from his home town in 1085. Al-Zarqali was probably the leading astronomer of his time. His most important work was his astronomical tables, also called Toledan Tables. These Toledan Tables were the basis of the later Alphonsine Tables. This particular connection will serve as a starting example for the general purpose of this talk: The ruling astronomer and the scientific king in the multireligious world of the Iberian Peninsula in the quadrivium world of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and last but I hope not least, music.

Barrel-bell shawm: The astrological link | Raffaella Maria Bortolini (Sorbonne University)

During the middle ages, astrology and astronomy have been inextricably linked and, with the tacit acceptance of the Catholic Church, they have been held in high regard by kings and nobles all over Europe. These disciplines came into Europe thanks to the translation of the major Arabic astrological treatises. The Arabs were extremely knowledgeable in this field as well as in the science of medicine, which was closely related to astrology, due to the influence of stars on human bodies. Manuscripts and frescoes representing figures connected to these subjects are therefore fairly abundant in Europe. In addition to the works strictly dedicated to these themes (E.g. The translation of Albumazar’s Liber Astroligiae and the Tacuinum Sanitatis, based itself on an Arabic medicine treatise), we can find a certain number of artistic objects in which the references to the original astrological characters are, at first glance, not completely evident.

The purpose of this paper is to analyse the possible connection between a series of different art works, all containing references to the Arabian tradition of astrology and medicine. The analysis is centred on the apparently accidental shared presence in these images of a particular musical instrument, a shawm with an unusual barrel bell, which might be connected to the Arabic culture as well, and which is frequently represented in Europe mostly in the time period between 1380 and 1420.