Nikephorus Gregoras and Astrolabes
My interest in Byzantine science began with a text, Nikephorus Gregoras’s “περὶ κατασκευῆς καὶ γενέσεως ἀστρολάβου” (“On the Mathematical Origin and Construction of the Astrolabe”). Gregoras was renowned for his skill in both mathematics and the sciences of the stars. He was favored by emperors and helped reestablish the sciences in 14th-century Constantinople. Yet, at first glance the content and form of his text on the astrolabe seems relatively simple, especially compared to the texts circulating in Arabic and Latin. He must have known of these other traditions.
Why then did he write this text?
Who was his intended audience?
How did a text on the astrolabe advance his goals?
Or why did he think a text on the astrolabe would advance his goals?
Gregoras offers a glimpse of the cultural and scientific values of 14th-century Constantinople and the imperial court. What began (and continues) as a study of a text has become an examination of the scientific culture in the imperial capital.
As our reader continued to work through Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός he either was uninterested in the minor errors in the Greek or didn’t notice them (such as the τοῦ γενεθλίω which clearly should be τοῦ γενεθλίου). He did add a couple corrections, particularly when whole words were missing. And he… Read more
Let’s follow our reader through a couple more aphorisms from Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός. Again he glosses most of the Greek with Latin translations and, once again, corrects a couple scribal errors by writing the correct Greek word above the mistake (though he seems to miss a couple other mistakes). And… Read more
Our premodern reader didn’t just add Latin glosses to his copy of Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός, now and then he emended the Greek. For example, on the second aphorism the copiest wrote “τὴν κρεῖττον”. The reader seems to have been sufficiently bothered by this mistake that he wrote the correct article,… Read more