Abū Maʿshar al-Balkhī: a ‘philosophus’ in Ninth-Century Baghdad

Abū Maʿshar al-Balkhī: a ‘philosophus’ in Ninth-Century Baghdad
27 October 2018, 9.00am - 6.30pm
Conference / Symposium
Warburg Institute, Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AB

Abū Maʿshar Ja‘far ibn Muḥammad ibn ‘Umar al-Balkhī (Albumasar), who lived from 787 to 886 A.D., is the best-known astrologer of the Middle Ages. And yet he was more than this. Aside from writing, also, separate texts on astronomy, arithmetic and the astral religion of the Sabians, he includes in his Great Introduction to Astrology his own ideas on the whole range of natural science, from elemental lore to celestial physics, as well as discussions of geography, medicine, midwifery, agriculture and much else. He contributed greatly to the intellectual ferment of mid ninth-century Baghdad, when texts were being translated into Arabic on a massive scale from Greek, Syriac, Persian and Sanskrit. His writings, in turn, had a profound influence on later scholars, not only in the Islamic world, but also, through translation, in the worlds of Greek, Hebrew and Latin scholarship. And yet no thorough study of Abū Maʿshar’s scientific thinking has been made. The breadth of his interests require the collaboration of scholars from several fields: astronomy, astrology, cosmology, medicine, geography, folklore, Arabic literary studies, Islamic theology and more. It is for this reason that we shall hold a conference on Abū Maʿshar. In preparation for the conference a practical session on the techniques of Arabic and Latin astrology in the Middle Ages will be held on the afternoon before it starts (Friday, 26 October). This will be led by Helena Avelar and Luís Ribeiro. 

This conference will provide the opportunity to announce the imminent publication in Brill’s series Islamic Philosophy, Theology and Science of The Great Introduction to Astrology by Abū Maʿšar (2 vols.), edited and translated by Keiji Yamamoto and Charles Burnett. It will also commemorate the work of Professor Yamamoto who sadly died on 17 July this year. 

The conference will be preceded by two workshops on Friday 26 October. Please note spaces are very limited for both workshops:

1.00-2.15 Esoteric Traditions and Occult Thought Reading Group - special session on key passages from Abū Maʿshar from Abū Maʿshar’s Great Introduction in Arabic and Latin, led by Liana Saif and Charles Burnett. See full details here - no booking required but please note spaces are very limited (30 max) and will be allocated on a first come, first serve basis.

3.00-5.00 Workshop II. Techniques of Medieval Astrology. Booking required - see full details here. Please note spaces are very limited (30 max). 

Saturday 27 October

9.00-9.15 Registration

9.15-9.30 Greetings from Charles Burnett and Peter Adamson

9.30-10.00 Charles Burnett, ‘The Worldview of the Astrologer and Philosopher Abū Maʿshar’

10.00-10.30 Carmela Baffioni, ‘Philosophical and Scientific Issues in Abū Maʿshar’

10.30-11.15 Liana Saif, ‘Abū Maʿshar the Magician’

11.15-11.45 Coffee break

1145-12.15 Sâqib Bâburî and Bink Hallum, ‘Abū Maʿshar and Number Magic’

12.15-1.00 Michael Noble, ‘Astrology as Soteriology: the Reception of Abū Maʿshar in the Thought of Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī’

1.00-2.30 Lunch break

2.30-3.30 Coffin Lecture: Peter Adamson, ‘Why Should Historians of Philosophy Care About Astrology?’

3.30-4.00 Tea break

4.00-4.30 Dag Nikolaus Hasse, ‘The Translation Methods used by John of Seville and Hermann of Carinthia of Abū Ma‘shar’s Great Introduction’ 

4.30-5.00 Dorian Greenbaum, ‘Abū Maʿshar and Astrological Lots: Tradition and Innovation’

5.00-5.30 Shlomo Sela, ‘Abū Maʿshar in Medieval Hebrew Culture’

5.30-6.15 Stephan Heilen, ‘The Debt to Abū Maʿshar’s Astrological Works in the Historical Predictions by John of Lübeck and Paul of Middelburg’

6.15-6.30 Conclusions

6.30 Drinks Reception

Organisers: Charles Burnett (Professor of the History of Arabic-Islamic Influences in the West, the Warburg Institute, University of London) and Peter Adamson (Professor of Late Antique and Arabic Philosophy, Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich).

Funded by the Warburg Institute, the Coffin Trust, and the Division of the History of Science and Technology of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science and Technology


Warburg Events
020 7862 8910