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(fl. ca. 950 in Aleppo, Syria)


Al-Qabīṣī, who came from either the Qabīṣa near Al-Mawsil (Mosul) or that near Sāmarrā’ (both are in Iraq), studied under ‘Alī ibn Aḥmad al-’lmrānī in Al-Mawsil and became a recognized authority on Ptolemy’s Almagest (according to Ibn al-Qiftāī, in 980/981). Al-’Imrānī, who died in 955/956, does in fact refer to al-Qabīṣī in his De electionibus horarum (J. M. Millás-Vallicrosa. Las traducciones orientales en los manuscritos de la Biblioteca Catedral de Toledo [Madrid, 1942], 338).

Although al-Qabīṣī’s education was primarily in geometry and astronomy, his principal surviving treatise, Al-madkhal ilā sināʿat Aḥkām al-nujūm (“Introduction to the Art of Astrology”) in five sections, which he dedicated to Sayf al-Dawla, the Ḥamdānid ruler of Aleppo from 944/945 to 966/967, is on astrology. The date of this work is fixed by his use of the year 948/949 as an example in the fourth section. The book, as its title indicates, is an introductory exposition of some of the fundamental principles of genethlialogy; its present usefulness lies primarily in its quotations from the Sassanian Andarzghar literature and from al-Kindī, the Indians, Ptolemy, Dorotheus of Sidon, Māshā’allah. Hermes Trismegistus, and Valens. Although completely lacking in originality, it was highly valued as a textbook. There are many Arabic manuscripts (including some in Hebrew script), although it was never found to need a commentary, and it was translated into Latin by Joannes Hispalensis in 1144, and into French (presumably from the Latin) by Pelerin de Pousse in 1362. Joannes’ Latin version was commented on by Joannes de Saxonia at Paris in 1331 and by V. Nabod in 1560, and was also the text commented on by Francesco degli Stabili, called Cecco d’Ascoli, who lived between 1269 and 1327.

A manuscript in Istanbul, MS 4832 of the Ayasofya Library, contains three short treatises of al-Qabīṣī, of which the first two are dedicated to Sayf al-Dawla. These are a Risāla fi anwā’ al-a’dād (“Epistle on the Kinds of Numbers”), a Risāla fī al-ab’ād wa al-ajrām (“Epistle on Distances and Volumes”), and a commentary on the astronomical handbook written by al-Farghānī in the middle of the ninth century. Further, al-Qabīṣī himself refers in the introduction to his Madkhal to his now lost Kitāb fi ithbāt ṣinā’at Aḥkām al-nujūm (“On Confirming the Art of Astrology”), composed as a response to an attack on the art by one ’lsā ibn ’Alī, and in Madkhal IV 1 to a treatise on the namūdār (a significant point in a horoscope).

More doubtful are two other works sometimes attributed to our author. A poem describing the rainbow is at times said to have been written by Sayf al-Dawla, at times by al-Qabīṣī. And a De planetarum coniunctionibus of Alchabitius, which was translated into Latin by Joannes Hispalensis and commented on by Joannes de Saxonia, is not sections four and five of the Madkhalas has been suggested and was not known to either of our chief Arabic sources of information about al-Qabīṣī, al-Bayhāqī, and Ḥājjī Khalifa. The Latin text was translated into French by Oronce Finé in 1551.


The most complete article on al-Qabīṣī, in which all of the relevant literature is cited, is that by D. Pingree in the new ed. of the Encyclopaedia of Islam. The Madkhal in its Latin version (entitled Isagoge) was published many times in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The eds. that can be confirmed are as follows: by Matheus Moretus de Brixia (Bologna, 1473); by E. Ratdolt (Venice, 1482), and with the commentary of Joannes de Saxonia (Venice, 1485); by I. and G. de Forlivio (Venice, 1491); by I. and G. de Gregoriis (Venice, 1502, 1503); by M. Sessa (Venice, 1512); by B. Trot, with the commentary of Joannes de Saxonia and the notes of Petrus Turrellus (Leyden, 1520?); by M. Sessa and P. de Ravanis, with the commentary of Joannes de Saxonia (Venice, 1521); by P. Liechtenstein, with the commentary of Joannes de Saxonia (Venice, 1521); and by Simon Colinaeus with the same commentary (Paris, 1521). V. Nabod’s commentary was published as Enarratio elementorum astrologiae (Cologne, 1560), and Cecco d’Ascoli’s Commento all’ Alcabizzo was edited by P. G. Boffitto (Florence, 1905).

The possibly spurious De planetarum coniunctionibus was also often published by E. Ratdolt, with the commentary of Joannes de Saxonia (Venice, 1485); by I. and G. de Forlivio (Venice, 1491); by M. Sessa and P. de Ravanis (Venice, 1521); and by P. Liechtenstein (Venice, 1521). The French trans. by Oronce Finé was published as an appendix to his Les canons et documents tres amples touchant l’usage et practique des communs almanach (Paris, 1551, 1557).

David Pingree

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