The Bodleian Libraries’ important 12th-century copy of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Ṣūfī’s Book of Fixed Stars, an illustrated Arabic treatise on the Constellations is now available online via Digital Bodleian and Fihrist.
Bodleian Libraries MS. Huntington 212, an early copy of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Ṣūfī‘s book Kitāb Ṣuwar al-kawākib al-thābitah or Book of the Constellations of the Fixed Stars was made in 566 AH/1170 CE for the treasury of Sayf al-Dīn Ghāzī II, Zangid Emir of Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq. This is attested to by a gilded dedication panel on folio 1r. The panel is virtually illegible now to the naked eye as it was apparently defaced by a subsequent owner; possibly to efface the memory of a rival (see left).
The manuscript, which is part of a large collection bought by the Library in 1693 from the Orientalist Robert Huntington, is believed to be the fourth oldest surviving copy of the treatise and has recently been the object of a large scale conservation project by Robert Minte of the Conservation team at the Bodleian Libraries.
This copy’s importance and significance has increased since doubts were raised about the authenticity of the date of Bodleian Libraries MS. Marsh 144, the colophon of which states that it was made in 400 AH/1009 CE. It is likely to have been made more than 150 years later than this.
Al-Ṣūfī’s treatise was originally composed in about 964 CE and contains images of most of the 48 Classical Constellations both as they appear on the celestial sphere and on the celestial globe – each being a mirror image of the other – together with tables of data on the position (latitude and longitude) and magnitude of each star which makes up the constellation. Al-Ṣūfī’s observations represent an advance on those made by Ptolemy in the 2nd century CE.
The Huntington Collection copy also contains two rare images of so-called Bedouin Constellations superimposed over the Ptolemaic ones, and these appear on folios 40r-40v, and also on folio 74v, where a constellation in the form of a camel appears drawn in red ink alongside the classical constellation of Andromeda (see below).
Thanks to the conservation work done on the manuscript it is now available for scholarly study once again, and will also travel to an exhibition in New York later in 2016.