December 3, 2019 0

Astronomy in Medieval Europe

The study of astronomy has fascinated
civilizations for thousands of years. Those living in medieval Europe were no
exception. The University of Colorado, Boulder, Special Collections at Norlin
library, houses many medieval and early modern scientific works. Including those
pertaining to astronomy. “De Sphaera”, for example written by Johannes de Sacrobosco in
the early 13th century, formed the foundation for medieval astronomical
education. Special Collections copy, published in Wittenberg, Germany in 1574,
is unique for its cover. Fashioned of a reused medieval manuscript. “De Sphaera”
begins with a discussion on spheres and their properties,
followed by discussions on planetary motion and the causes of eclipses among
other things. It is noteworthy that Sacrobosco’s universe was geocentric.
The unmoving earth was the center. For this reason his work was superseded by
Copernicus studies of the sixteenth century. Another medieval astronomical
work housed in the Special Collections, is a first printed edition of the Alfonsine
astronomical tables, published in Venice in 1483. These tables were
sponsored by Alphonso X and produced by a team that included Jewish
scholars, Isaac ibn Sid and Yehuda ben Moshe. Their work drew from the previous
astronomical work of Ptolemy in his work “Almagest”, as well as from the Islamic
astronomer Al-Khwarizmi from al-Andalus. The tables completed around the
year 1272 in Castile, quickly became the most popular astronomical tables used in
medieval Europe. Included in the tables are the locations of planets at specific
times, as well as the times of eclipses. This copy of the Alfonsine tables is
interesting for its chained binding. The hole in the back cover was used to chain
the book to a library shelf, a medieval and early modern means of preventing the
theft of the library’s most valuable treasures.

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