Project icon: lavishly furnished initial letter with a painting of Ptolemy using an astrolab.

Ptolemaeus Arabus et Latinus

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Work B.18

Canon Ptolomei et Pictagore de diversis eventibus secundum naturas planetarum

This text is one of the many versions of the so-called ‘calculus of the victorious and the vanquished’, an onomantic device whose aim is to predict which of the two opponents will win in a fight, whether a sick person will live and other such questions on the basis of the numerical values of the names of the people concerned. This device is attested in Greek and other languages since Antiquity and Ibn al-Nadīm knew one Arabic version ascribed to Ptolemy under the title ‘The Adversaries, Which One of Them Succeeds’ (tr. B. Dodge, The Fihrist of al-Nadīm. A Tenth-Century Survey of Muslim Culture, New York-London, 1970, I, 640). The present version is ascribed to both Ptolemy and Pythagoras in the title (omitted in the London MS), attribution which may simply stem from the fact that both men are named in the text as experts in this device (‘regula est in qua laboravit satis Pictagora et Ptolomeus’). Ptolemy and/or Pythagoras are frequently named as experts in or inventors of this device in other Latin versions, for instance MSS London, BL, Addit. 15236, s. XIII-XIV, f. 129v (ed. Burnett, 156-157: ‘sicut Philemo [read ‘Ptolomeo’] et Pictagore fecit per astronomicam artem istius argumenti…’) and London, BL, Sloane 3554, s. XV, f. 14v (ed. Burnett, 158: ‘Hec ars que dicitur arithmum Tholomei…’).


‘(Budapest, OSK, lat. 59) Canon Ptolomei et Pictagore de diversis eventibus secundum naturas planetarum. Inventum Ptolomei et Pictagore secundum naturas planetarum subtilissima doctrina conpilatum… Regula est in qua laboravit satis Pictag<ora> et Ptolomeus. Hanc Alexander magnus secum habuit in omni suo discursu per orbem — Sex et sex maior vincet. Sex et septem habens 7 vincet.’


C. Burnett, ‘The Eadwine Psalter and the Western Tradition of the Onomancy in Pseudo-Aristotle’s Secret of Secrets’, Archives d’Histoire Doctrinale et Littéraire du Moyen Age 55 (1988), 143-167: 150 and 152 (reprinted in C. Burnett, Magic and Divination in the Middle Ages. Texts and Techniques in the Islamic and Christian Worlds, Aldershot, 1996, XI).


Burnett, 155-156 (from MS London, BL, Arundel 339).