Alfonso X, el Sabio Escuela de Traductores [1252-1277]

[Scientific works: Christian and Jewish Translators]


Note on translation activity until Alfonso took over the School of Translators (mid 13th c.): The Vernacular. The use of the vernacular-Castillian-as a bridge in the translation of Arabic words into Latin had important consecuences for the development of Spanish at this early stage. The Spanish translations, although only an oral "rough draft"-standing as they did, between two such highly elaborated and precise languages as Arabic and Latin-constituted a formidable exercise in the formation of a mode of expression that struggled to be artistic. As a result, Spanish prose by the 13th century had molded itself to Arabic syntax. Not until the 14th century does European (Latin) prose become once again the model for Spanish prose. Naturally, Alfonso's decision to make Castillian the target language did not lessen the effect of Arabic syntax on Spanish prose, quite the contrary, as the works so translated reached a much wider audience within Spain. His decision to abandon Latin as the target language for the translations did, of course, have significant consequences for the sphere of influence this vast body of material was to enjoy beyond Spain's borders.

Christian Translators:


Alvaro (de Oviedo). Translator in Toledo under Alfonso X and Sancho IV
Libro Conplido (De judiciis Astrologiae) Alvaro did the Lat. trans. using Jehuda ben Moses Cohen's oral Span. trans. of the Arabic treatise by Abenragel. The only documented case of a double, simultaneous translation. The prolog to Libro de los juicios... states that Jehuda "traslato de lengua araviga en castellana" while the prolog to De judiciis states that Jehuda "transtulit de arabico in ydeoma mateernum" and that Alvaro in turn "transtulit de ydeomate materno in latinum". In the traditional method of translation used at Toledo since the time of Juan Hispalense and Domingo Gundisalvo, Jehuda read the Arabic text, giving an oral translation into Spanish while Alvaro, hearing the translation, dictated its Latin equivalent to a scribe. The novelty Alfonso adopted was to add to this "two-expert" team a scribe who actually wrote down the oral Spanish version. Very early on Alfonso suppressed almost completely the transation into Latin, but he didn't sacrifice the concept of the "two-expert" teams.

Garci Pérez. Assisted Jehuda ben Moses Cohen in the trans. of the Lapidary.

Maestre Bernardo el Arábigo. Islamic convert, assisted Abraham Alfaquí in the 1277 revision of the Libro de la açafeha, done in Burgos.

Maestre Ferrando de Toledo. Translator of first (1256) version of the Libro de la açafeha

Juan D'Aspa (Daspa). Assisted Jehuda ben Moses Cohen in the literal translation of the Libro de la alcora and the Libro de las cruzes, both finished in 1259.

Guillén Arremon D'Aspa (Daspa). Scholar, learned in astrology. Collaborated with Jehuda on translation of the IIII libros de las estrellas de la ochaua espera.

Edigio de Tebladis (de Parma). Italian, translated into Latin Ptolemy's Quatripartito ( ), with commentaries of Ibn Ridwan. Translated into Latin, Jehudas's Spanish version of Ibn Aben Ragel's Liber de Judiciis Astrologiae (Libro conplido en los iudizios de las estrellas) with Pietro de Reggio. Did not work directly with Arabic texts.

Juan de Mesina. Unidentified translator of the second version of the IIII Libros de las estrellas de la ochaua espera (1276).

Juan de Cremona. King's notary, worked with Jehuda and Samuel ha-Levi and fellow Italian, Juan de Mesina on the IIII Libros...

Bonaventura of Siena. King's notary and scribe. Translated Abraham's Spanish translation Escala de Mohama into French in Seville in 1264 (Livre de leschiele Mahomet).

Pietro Reggio. Italian (?), notary of the Royal Chancellery. Collaborated with Edigio de Tebaldis on Libro complido....

Jewish Translators:


Jehuda ben Moses Cohen (Mosca el Menor) de Toledo Alfonso's physician.
Translator (primarily), compiler and author.

Tratado de la açafeha. Latin trans. (Ar. text by al-Zarqali) with Guillelmus Anglicus, 1231.

Lapidario, 1250 and 1279; Span. trans.(Ar. trans by Abu-l`Ayis of Chaldean text). 15 treatises on astrolgy (affects of stars on man and properties of 360 stones with which to ward off neg. astral infl.); begun 1243 w help of Garcí Pérez; revised and % into cpts 1279. (11 treatises lost).

El Libro conplido en los iudizios de las estrellas, 1254; Span. trans. 5 of 8 parts (as in Ar. and Lat. versions) on judicial astrology; Ar. text by Abu-l-Hassan `Ali ibn Abil-Rigal (Aben Ragel); Latin recension by Alvaro (of Oviedo?), based on Span. vers. De judiciis astrologiae

Los IIII libros de las estrellas de la ochaua espera, 1256; Span. trans. with Guillen Arremon Daspa (d'Aspa), clerk. Derived from an Arabic work by `Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi, a catalog of the stars in turn based on ideas of Menelaos of Alexandria. Chaldean orig. Alfonso had it revised and ordered by cpts. in 1276 by Samuel ha-Levi, Joan de Mesina and Joan de Cremona and Jehuda ben Moses Cohen. 1256 version lost. (Astrognosia, astronoma'stica y astrote'tica)

Libro de las cruces, 1259; Span., with Johan d'Aspa, for Oviedala (Abu Said `Ubaid-Allah); 65 cpts on aspects of stellar life and how they apply to the king (1st teatise on Astrology in Castille); not included in Alfonso's collect. Libros del saber de Astronomía

Libro de las Tablas Alfonsíes, 1256-1277; Span. trans., co-compiled and authored with Isaac ibn Cid (Rabiçag) by order of Alfonso, who found the Tabulae Toletanae unsatisfactory. Based on observations of astronomers Alfonso gathered in Toledo: "Aben Raghel y Alquibicio, his Toledan masters; Aben Musio y Mohamat, of Seville; and Joseph Aben Alí and Jacobo Abenvena, of Córdoba, and others, more than 50, that he brought from Gascony and Paris with big salaries, and the king ordered them to translate Ptolemy's Quadripartitum and gather books by Montesan and Algazel; ... that they get together at the Alcazar de Galiana, and dispute the Movement of the firmament and stars, presiding, when the King should be absent, Abenragel and Alquibicio; ... and after having done this great work from 1258-1262, he sent them to their lands, contented, according them free passage, and that they and their descendents should be free of all taxes and tributes and duties, for which there are letters dated in Toledo, the 12th day of May, era 1300 (May 1261 or 1262)"[Prolog]. Latin versions, especially John of Saxony's, (2nd half of 14th c.), although they were known in Paris in 1292. Numerous editions of the Tabulae Alphonsii (or Tabulae Toletanae): Venice, 1485, Leipzig, 1580, etc. Hebrew trans. by Mose ben Abraham de Nîmes, 1460, by Qalonymus, 1465. Copernicus' working copy, ms Upsala.

Libro de la faiçon dell espera. et de sus figuras. et de sus huebras. que es llamado Libro de la alcora, 1259; Span. literal trans. with Juan d'Aspa. A treatise on the celestial spheres by Qusta ibn Luqa; revised and augmented in 1277 for the Royal Scriptorium as part of the Libros del saber de Astronomía.

Tetrabiblon or Quatriparito (Ptolemy), 1271-75; Span. trans. (lost) Synthesis of orig. by Juan Gil de Zamora. Latin trans of Span. by Edigio de Tebaldis and, from it, a French recension.

Isaac Ibn Cid (Rabiçag = Rabi Zag, etc.) of Toledo "Nuestro Sabio"

Author (primarily) and translator, worked mostly b/w 1263-1277. Study and exegesis of Talmud, cantor of Toledo, wealthy capitalist (one of 4 Jews Alfonso depended heavily on and compensated generously. Learned in astronomy, astrology, arquitecture and mathematics.

Libro de las armellas o de la açafeha, commisioned by Alfonso, who wanted it "bien conplido et bien llano de entender" so that "any man could readily use it". Really 2 treatises, how to build the instrument and how to use it. Derived from an 11th c. Arabic teatise on the same subject by al-Zarqali.

Libro del astrolabio redondo. % 3 parts: construction of the instrument, the firmament and its movement, use of the instrument. No known direct source, but there were at least 2 earlier Arabic teatises on the subject.

Libro del ataçir, book on the flat astrolabe (for rapid calulations of movement of the stars) Typically used by Astrologers. Ordered by Alfonso to compose the book "so that men can become knowlegeable of the things of this world as well as of the importance of the life of man and of the good and evil things in it".

Lamina Universal. In the prolog Alfonso explains that the original (Arabic) work was done in Toledo and from it Arzarquiel made his "açafea". (Original attributed to Ibn Jalaf of Córdoba, ca. 1019.)

Libro de quadrante pora rectificar, 1277, (on the construction and use of the cuadrant ["quadrans vetus", not "quadrans nouus"]). No known Arabic work on the subject, so its not clear whether Rabiçag composed or translated it.

Four works on the construction of clocks, commisioned by Alfonso.

Libro del relogio de la piedra de la sombra.

Libro del relogio dell agoa. (Complaining of the annoying inaccuracy of clocks ("non puede ser que non alcançassen en cada ora algun yerro. et quanto mas se yuan las oras. yuasse el yerro alçando"), the king ordered Rabiçag to employ "quantas maestrias podies poner" into constructing one that would keep time.)

Libro del relogio dell argen uiuo.

Libro del relogio del palacio de las oras. (Book on the construction of a palace with windows disposed such that light entering them throughout the day would reflect the time on the patio.)

Abraham, Alfaqui' de Toledo. ( -1294).

Translator, compiler and "capitulador", active b/w 1260-1277. Physician to Alfonso and his son, Sancho. Held hostage for five years together with 4 other prominent court Jews by rebellious nobles seeking the elimination of port taxes and duties. Restored to his position in 1275. Haskins' criticism of the undue literalness of the Alfonsi translators (Studies in the History of Meiaeval Science, 18) probably refers to Abraham's work, often described as "exact, meticulous, extremely literal".

Libro de la Constitucion (Construction) del Universo. Span. trans. of Litab fi-hay'at al-alam yb Abu `Ali al-Haitam. Latin trans., under several titles, from the Spanish: De mundo et coelo, De motibus paletarum, etc. Hebrew trans. by Jacob ben Mahir, in turn trans. into Latin by Abraham de Balmes, XV cent.

La Escala de Mahoma (Mi'rag). Span. trans. from Arabic (Halmacreig). Exegetical narration of Mohammed's nocturnal journey (Azora 17 Koran); (1264, lost). Bonaventura of Siena translated the Spanish version into French in Seville in the same year. Several Latin trans.

Libro de la Açafeha. In the prolog Alfonso gives the history of the work: Azarquiel, the original author, wrote it in honor of the Moorish king of Toledo, Alemun (1037-1074), then went to Seville where he wrote another book on how the instrument works for al-Mu `tamid (1068-1091), and this work was translated from Arabic to Spanish by Master Fernando de Toledo on orders from Alfonso who later ordered Master Bernaldo the Arab (convert from Islam) and Abraham, his alfaqui', to retranslate the work in Burgos, "better and more accurately". As happened also with the Libro de las estrellas fijas, Alfonso was apparently dissatisfied with the inaccuracies of the first translation. Thus it seems he is responsible for the "extreme literalness" ascribed to Abraham and other translators in the field. These retranslations further attest to the king's considerable interest in and knowledge of astronomy and astrology as well as to his personal involvement in the activities of his school of translators -- an endeavor Haskins chalks up to "legend"(p.7).

Samuel ha-Levi Abulafia de Toledo

Author, compiler and translator, ( - 1276), active during the third quarter of the century. Of illustrious Abu-l`Afiyat family (Abraham ben Samuel ha-Levi Abulafia[1240-1291], writer, cabalist, mystic and pseudoprophet who attempeted to convert Pope Nicolas III to Judaism in 1280; Joseph ben Todros ha-Levi Abulafia, Meir ben Todros ha-Levi Abulafia [el Rab], Talmudist, writer, personal physician of the Queen (Violante), accompanied royal family to Perpignan on Alfonso's trip to discuss with Pope Gregory I his claims to the "Imperio Romano").

Libro del relogio de la candela, the 5th of 5 compilations on clocks ordered by Alf.

Libro de la fábrica y de instrumento del levantamiento que en arábigo se llama ataçir. Span trans. from Arabic; lost, but preserved in Gueruccii filio cionis Federighi civis Florentini's Italian trans. of the Span. text, done in Seville in 1341.

Los IIII libros de las estrellas de la ochaua espera. The original 1256 composition by Jehuda ben Moses Cohen and Guillen Arremon Daspa was revised in 1276 by Joan de Mesina, Joan de Cremona (Christians), and Samuel ha-Levi (compiler) and Jehuda (also compiler, the second time around.)

Xosse Alfaqui' Little known collaborator. In 1277, reflecting Alfonso's intensified efforts to complete his astonomical and astrological works, he commisioned Xosse to write the final chapter of theLibro de la alcora, the astronomical treatise by Qusta ibn Luqa, trans. by Jehuda ben Moses Cohen in 1259.


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