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Carrie's Farwell to Physicke (1586) & Al-Farghani's Elements of Astronomy (13th c.)




In the 9th century, the Persian scholar Al-Farghani wrote his Elements of Astronomy on the Celestian Motions (or, Astronomia differentia, also titled Alfragani Elementa Astronomica, because of the lack of authority titles in the pre-Modern period). In part a summary of Ptolomy’s Greek Almagest, and in part a scientific tour de force in its own right, the Elements of Astronomy presented a (correct) calculation of the circumference of the earth and the tilt of the Earth’s axis. In the 12th century, this Arabic text was translated into Latin, first by John of Seville, then by Gerard of Cremona. The Latin text puts to bed the tired fallacy that particularly Medieval peoples believed the Earth was flat. On this leaf the last line reads: Dicamusque cum puncto sphere terre esset punctus sphere celi necesse fuit ut superficies circuli equinoctii diei divideret superam terre… [And let us say that when the point of the sphere of the earth be the point of the sphere of the sky, it is necessary that the surface of the equinoctial circle should divide the upper part of the earth…] The content of this section of text deals with the equinoxes and solstices, with “erratic planets”, with the astrological names for the 12 parts of the sky (Capricorn, Aries, and Taurus are named in particular), and with the shockingly accurate calculation of the tilt of the Earth’s axis at 23 degrees and 34 minutes.


English features, such as the wedged ascenders on the letters l and b couple with spiky letters g, to place us in the English countryside right as Oxford is about to explode with scholarship in the thirteenth century. The hand is a clear, early Gothic, which is starting to fuse convex curves and has almost entirely adopted the round s. The scribe uses abbreviations but not to the detriment of legibility. The margins are wide, even in its current state, allowing for notes which were never taken.


The text that Dante used to write of Beatrice that which has never been written of any other woman and to model his concept of the earthly and heavenly spheres.

The text that provided Christopher Columbus the calculations to believe he could make it around the world.


This is that text.


It has been over 40 years since the last recognised Alfraganus text from this time period was offered on auction.


About the Manuscript:


[Likely Oxford, England, 1st half of the 13th century] Single partial leaf of Al-Farghani/Alfraganus’ Astronomi differentia (also titled: Alfragani Elementa Astronomica) Chapter V, used as limp vellum binding for 16th century treatise on medicine. (145 x 190mm). Approx. 29 lines, in early Gothic script, with one 2-line initial in red with blue pen-flourishes; one rubricated line filler; red and blue pilcrows. Abbreviations used but still quite legible. Likely originally two columns, bottom foredge-side remains, with ruling still visible. A flaw in the parchment obscures several words. Crossed tironian ets, wedged ascenders, sharp g (bottom bowl occasionally flattened), 2-shaped r, two compartment a (not always closed), some (but not consistent) fusion of convex curves, slash over i, primarily round s with occasional terminal long s, tongued e, round and slated d, single uncial T.


Arabic to Latin translations attributed to John of Seville (ca. 1135 or 1142) and Gerard of Cremona (before 1175), both Toledo-based translators. This leaf seems to follow the John of Seville translation.


About the Book:


CARY, Walter. A briefe Treatise, called Caries farewell to Physick, newlie imprinted and augmented : wherein are to be found diverse and speciall helps for manie ordinarie diseases. Hereunto is adioined an other treatise called the Hammer for the Stone. Published by Walter Carie, for the common vse and benefit of his countrie. At London, Printed in the now dwelling house of Henrie Denham, in Aldersgate street at the signe of the Starre. [First text undated; 1586]


[6], 57, [1]; [24]p. Signatures A-D viii; A vii, B iv. Headlines read “Caries farewell to Physicke.” Bii-Bvi defective, Bvi has a strip torn from the blank fore edge margin which doesn't affect the text and Dv is lacking.

The Hammer has a title page dated 1586 with printer’s device featuring goat’s head, unpaginated and with a separate signature sequence.

This version unrecorded on ESTC.


Carie offers treatments for ailments such as "swimming of the head", "heart-burning", "those who have no appetite to meate", "those who are troubled with the gnawing of the guts of stomach...", both the yellow and black iandesse, "greene sicknes", many times of ague, the plague (of course), the disease of English wanton, and "wormes of all sorts". And let us not forget "those that are troubled with biles, scabs, itches, or suchlike." He could hardly keep his "potion which is to be used in sundrie cures" to himself as he bid a farewell to physicks [being a physician].


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