views updated


(b. Madrid, Spain, second half of the tenth century; d. Córdoba, Spain, ca. 1007)


Little is known of al-Majrīṭī’s life. He must have been quite an important personality, for Ibn (Hazm d.1064) mentions him in his Ṭawq al-ḥamāma (“The Ring of the Dove”). It would appear that he early settled in Córdoba where, as a very young man, he studied with a geometrician named ’Abd al-Ghāafir ibn Muhammad; it may also be assumed that he was connected with the group of hellenizing scholars patronized by the Umayyad caliph ‘Abd al-Rahmāan III (A.D. 912–l;961). It is known that he was engaged in making stronomical observations in about A.d. 979; in this period he must have revised the astronomical tables of al-Khwārizmī. At some later date he also was responsible for making the Rasā’il of the Ikhwāan al-Ṣafā’ known to Andalusian astronomers. He may in addition have served as court astrologer.

Al-Majrīṭī had several important disciples, whose later dispersion into all the privinces of Spain made his work known throughout the peninsula. One of these, al-Kirmāanī (d. 1066), continued al-Majrītī’s work in carrying Ikhwāan al-ṣafā’s Rasā’il into Zaragoza and to the northern frontier. Another, Abul-Qāsim Asbagh, better known as Ibn al-Samḥ (d. 1035), published a two-part treatise of 130 chapters on the construction and use of the astrolabe, as well as some astronomical tables constructed by the Indian methods, and a book, Libro de las láminas de los siete planetas, that was translated into Spanish and incorporated into the Libros del saber de astronomia. Others of al-Majrīṭī’s followers were Abū l’-Qāsim Aḥmad, nicknamed Ibn al-ṣaffår (d.1034), whose work on the astrolable is, in its Latin version, attributed to al-Majrīiṭī the astrologer Ibn al-Khayyāāṭ (d. 1055), much praised in the Memoris of the zirīi king ’Abd Allāh; al-Zahrāawī; and Abū Muslim ibn Khaldūn of Seville. Thorugh these men al-Majrīṭīi exercised a considerable influence on the work of later scientists.

Of al-Majrīṭī’s own works, the actual number is in some dispute. In general, it may be assumed that the magical and alchemical works attributed to him are spurious, especially since Ibn ṣå‘id does not refer ton them in his ṭabaqāt. The works that may be considered genuine are the Commercial Artihmetic (Mu‘āmalāt), which, according to Ibn Khaldūn, dealt with sales, cadaster, and taxes, using arithmetical, geometrical, and algebraic operations, all of which were apparently used without much distinction; the very brief Treatise on the Astrolabe(not to be confused with the longer work by Ibn al-ṣaffār), which treated both the construction and use of that instrument; his adaptation of al-Khwārizmī’s astronomical tables to the longitude of Córdoba and to the Hijra calendar; his revision of some tables by al-Battānī some notes on the theorem of Menelaus; and the lost Tastīh basīt al-kura,an Arabic translation of Ptolemy’s Planisphaerium, which survives in a Latin version drawn from the Arabic by Hermann of Dalmatia (1143) and in a Hebrew recension (al-Majrīṭī’s annotaions to the original are also still extant).

Of the works often—but probably wrongly— attributed to al-Majrīṭī, the Rutbat al-ḥakīm (“The Rank of the Sage”) was composed after 1009; it is alchemical in nature, and gives formulas and instructions for the purification of precious metals and describes the preparation of mercuric oxide on a quantitative basis. Ghāyat al-̣hakim (“The Aim of the wise”) was translated into Spanish in 1256 by order of Alfonso el Sabio; it was widely distributed throughout Europe under the title Picatrix (a corruption of Buqāṭis = Hippocrates), and is a compendium of magic, cosmology, astrological practice, and esoteric wisdom in general. As such, it provides the most complete picture of superstitions current in eleventh-century Islam. Also attributed to al-Majrītī are various opuscules which are in fact extracts, including passages on zoology and alchemy, from the Rasā’il of the Ikhwān al-Safā’, or have a certain relationship with these Rasā’ (like the Risālat al jāmī’a).


I. Original Works. Al-Majrīṭī’s writings and those spurious works attributed to him are catalogued in Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur, I (Weimar, 1898), 243, and supp. I (Leiden, 1937), 431.

Of the genuine works, theTreatise on the Astrolabe is edited and translated, with commentary, in J. Vernet and M.A. Catalá, “Las obras matemáticas de Maslama de Madrid,” in Al-Andalus, 30 (1965), 15–45; see ibid., pp. 46–47, an analysis of the position of the fixed stars by M. A. Catalá. Recent publications of the spurious works include Hellmut Ritter, ed.,Ghāyat al-hakim (Leipzig, 1933), and German trans. with Martin Plessner as “Picatrix.” Das Ziehl des Weisen von Pseudo-Mab`riti(London, 1962); and Jamil Saliba, ed., Risāla al-jamī’a(Damascus, 1948), which provides a good illustration of eleventh-century Ismā’ili propaganda.

II. Secondary Literature. On al-Majrīṭī’s revision of al-Kwārizmi’s tables, see G. J. Toomer, in Dictionary of Scientific Biography, VII, 360–361; see also Axel Björnbo and H. Suter, Thabits Werke über den Transversalensatz (liber de figura sectore), (Erlangen, 1924), 23,79, and 83. On the works probably falsely attributed to him, see E. J. Holmyard, “Maslama al-Majrītī and the Rutbat and bibliography related to it, see the index by Willy Hartner, Oriens, Occidens (Hildesheim, 1968).

Supplementary material may be found in J. A. Sánchez Pérez, Biografias de matemáticos á,rabes que florecieron en Espan¯a (Madrid, 1921), no.84; George Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science, I (Baltimore, 1927), 668–669; and H. Suter, Die Mathematiker und Astronomen der Araber und ihre Werke (Leipzig, 1900), 176.

Juan Vernet

About this article


Updated About content Print Article