Organized Session

Persian Astronomy in the Seveteenth and Eighteenth Centuries

Organizer

Peter Barker

University of Oklahoma

Chair

Robert Westman

University of California, San Diego, emeritus

Metadata

Session Abstract

This session describes Persian astronomy during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and international responses to it. The first paper establishes the existence of a previously unknown research tradition founded on the astronomical work of the Persian jurist Bahāʾ al-Dīn al-ʿĀmilī (d. 1621). This research tradition was extended over the next two centuries by students and followers in Safavid Persia and Mughal India. The second paper documents a resurgence of interest in Persian astronomy in the Ottoman Empire between 1730 and 1800, especially Abbas Vesim's mid-eighteenth century commentary on Ulugh Beg's Zij-i Sultani. The third paper describes interest in Arabic, and especially Persian, astronomy in Britain and France during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. For instance, Oxford astronomer John Graves published a Latin-Persian grammar with an explanation of abjad numerals in 1649. Like the Ottomans, Graves and his circle also made extensive use of Ulugh Beg's Zij-i Sultani.
In the roundtable discussion that concludes the session questions like the following will be addressed:
-- Should we abandon the view that science in the Islamicate world declined before or at the same time as the Scientific Revolution in Europe?
-- Has previous historical work mis-located the centers of original Islamicate science during the European 'Scientific Revolution' by ignoring the Safavids and Mughals?
-- How does Ottoman astronomy compare with astronomy in the Safavid and Mughal empires?
-- When did Europeans stop regarding Islamicate science as equal or superior to their own?

Presenter 1

Astronomy in Seventeenth Century Persia: Bahāʾ al-Dīn al-ʿĀmilī's Dissection of the Orbs and its Commentary Tradition

Younes Mahdavi

University of Oklahoma

Abstract

A century after the nascent Safavid dynasty had proved its supremacy over former local rulers in Persia and established a unified central government, Bahāʾ al-Dīn al-ʿĀmilī (1547-1621), a well-known jurist who authored several works in mathematics and astronomy, dedicated the Dissection of the Orbs, an elementary book on astronomy, to his most powerful patron ʿAbbās I (r. 1587-1626). The Dissection had also been dedicated to three shahs who ruled before ʿAbbās. Although not initially produced for a didactic purpose, the Dissection became the subject of numerous commentaries made by the authors' disciples and subsequent scholars over the course of the next two centuries in Safavid Persia, Mughal India and the Ottoman Empire. In addition to the author's own Gloss, more than forty commentaries of various lengths, some critical, some supplying material missing in the Dissection, promoted the fame of the book and its author. Besides establishing the existence of an active scientific tradition in Safavid Persia during the seventeenth century, this paper addresses two related questions regarding the publication and the widespread circulation of the Dissection: what was the author's original purpose for composing the book, and how did it become known among many scholars inside and outside Persia in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Metadata

Presenter 2

Persian Astronomy in Istanbul, 1730-1800

B. Harun Küçük

University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

Scholars and amateurs of Istanbul talked about Persian astronomy -- but also Persian philosophy - much more extensively over the eighteenth century than they did before or after. Most scholars barely knew about it during the seventeenth century. Introductory manuals and translations from the second quarter of the eighteenth century onwards rendered the older texts intellectually accessible, while the newly established public libraries brought physical access to unprecedented levels. In this talk, I'll be providing a brief overview of this later episode in the Ottoman engagement with Persian astronomy and of its possible causes and effects. The central piece of evidence will be Abbas Vesim's mid-eighteenth century commentary on Ulugh Beg's Zij-i Sultani (1438).

Metadata

Presenter 3

Arabic and Persian Astronomy in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Europe

Peter Barker

University of Oklahoma

Abstract

As other papers in this session show, active Islamicate scientific traditions existed in Persia and India during the early modern period. In this paper I document European recognition of and interest in these traditions in three ways: ongoing expeditions to collect Islamicate sources (now held in European collections); translations and editions of Islamicate scientific sources, and reports on Islamicate scientific achievements sent to European scientific societies. Although some attention has been paid to European interest in Arabic sources during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, almost nothing has been said about Persian. As a step in this direction I describe the work of Oxford astronomer John Graves (or Greaves, 1602-52), who published a Latin-Persian grammar with an explanation of abjad numerals in 1649, and, in his astronomical work, used material from the most important Islamicate astronomical tradition, which was still active in Persia and India. I conclude that early modern Europeans did not believe their science was unique, or necessarily superior to science elsewhere.

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Commentator

Panel Discussion