ʿAlī ibn Riḍwān: Commentarius in Claudii Ptolemaei Quadripartitum

A commentary in dialogue form on the work of the second-century Alexandrian scholar Claudius Ptolemy known as the Tetrabiblos or Quadripartitum, written by the Egyptian physician[1] ʿAlī ibn Riḍwān (988–1061/1062 or 1067/1068, known in the Latin West as Haly Abenrudian). Both titles refer to the division of the work into four books. Ptolemy’s work was probably written between about 150 and 168,[2] and its original title was probably Ἀποτελεσματικά. The Tetrabiblos is a companion piece to another famous book of Ptolemy, the Almagest (Μαθηματικὴ σύνταξις, after 146/147 [3]). The latter deals with astronomy, the former with astrology. The commentary in Arabic was written after 1006 – we know this because ʿAlī ibn Riḍwān mentions the supernova of 1006 in it.[4]  One of the interesting features of the commentary is that in the preface, the author dispels the common misconception that the astronomer Ptolemy was one of the Ptolemaic rulers by providing a serious historical argument.[5]  The commentary (together with the original work) was translated from Castilian into Latin by Egidio de’ Tebaldi (Aegidius de Tebaldis) of Parma sometime between 1271 and 1275. Neither a modern edition nor a translation of the commentary has yet been produced.

The manuscript was originally written for Wenceslaus IV (King of Germany 1376–1400, King of Bohemia 1378–1419). The fol. 1. recto page, he is shown in the lower left-hand corner held in a clasp in the large letter W. The black and gold colours of his dress reflect the colours of the coat of arms of the King of Germany, and the white shawl wrapped around his neck and body is probably connected with the Order of the Towel he founded.[6]  In addition to the shawl, the symbols associated with Wenceslas are the figures of women bathing, which are also found in the German-language so-called Wenceslas Bible made for the king (ÖNB Cod. 2759–2764, c. 1390s).

Of the coats of arms, the royal coat of arms and banner of the Bohemian king were made in Prague, while the coats of arms and flag of the Árpád and Hunyadi families are the result of a Buda repainting, and the use of colour suggests that they are the work of the so-called ’first herladic painter’.[7] According to the description of the manuscript by Maria Theisen, originally the Luxembourg coat of arms was displayed instead of the coat of arms of Matthias (King of Hungary 1458–1490, King of Bohemia 1469–1490).[8]  Another possibility, however, is the coat-of-arms of Wenceslas as King of Germany. The Czech lion and the coat-of-arms of the King of Germany appear in several places as Wenceslas’ emblems in the Wenceslas Bible.

The manuscript, together with the manuscript Clm 826 of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek[9] and the mixed astronomical manuscript ÖNB Cod. 2352 (c. 1393),[10] is evidence of Wenceslas’ interest in astrology and astronomy.

It is not known when and by what route the manuscript reached Buda, but one possibility is through Sigismund of Luxembourg (King of Hungary 1387–1437, King of Germany 1411–1437, King of Bohemia 1419–1437), half-brother of Wenceslas, who was King of Hungary from 1387 and inherited the Bohemian throne after the death of the childless Wenceslas in 1419. A further possible link is Catherine of Poděbrady, Matthias’ first wife, daughter of King George of Poděbrady of Bohemia (r. 1458–1471). When and how the volume came to be in the Habsburg court library in Vienna after Matthias’ death is also an open question.[11] Edina Zsupán identified the page numbering in red ink with the hand of Wilhelm IV Haller (1478–1534), patrician of Nuremberg,[12] which would suggest that the book was in his possession. (He did certainly own another astrological corvina, Wolfenbüttel Herzog August Bibliothek Cod. Guelf. 69.9. Aug 2°.) The possibility has been raised that the volume may have come to the imperial library from the heirs of Philipp Eduard Fugger in 1655,[13] but this is not entirely certain. (Márton Veszprémy)

The data sheet below is partly based on the detailed description of the manuscript: THEISEN, Maria, “Cod. 2271”, in JENNI, Ulrike, THEISEN, Maria, Mitteleuropäische Schulen IV. (ca. 1380–1400), Hofwerkstätten König Wenzels IV. und deren Umkreis, Textband. Veröffentlichungen zum Schrift- und Buchwesen des Mittelalters. Reihe I, Die illuminierten Handschriften und Inkunabeln der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek Band 13 (Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2014), 123–131.


[1] ULLMANN, Manfred, Die Natur- und Geheimwissenschaften in Islam. Handbuch der Orientalistik. 1. Abt, Der Nahe und der Mittlere Osten 6.2. (Leiden: Brill, 1972.) 337.

[2] Ptolemy refers to the Almagest as an already existing work in the Tetrabiblos, so the Tetrabiblos can be dated to the end of the scholar’s life. BOLL, Franz, “Studien über Claudius Ptolemaeus. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der griechischen Philosophie und Astrologie”. Jahrbücher für classische Philologie, Suppl. Bd. 21. (1894), 49–244., 66.

[3] N. T. Hamilton, N. M. Swerdlow and G. J. Toomer showed in their 1987 study that the Almagest is certainly later than the astronomical inscription from Ptolemy in the city of Canopus, which dates from 146 or 147 AD. HAMILTON, N. T., SWERDLOW, N. M., TOOMER G. J., “The Canobic Inscription. Ptolemy’s Earliest Work”, in BERGGREN, J. L., GOLDSTEIN, B. R., ed., From Ancient Omens to Statistical Mechanics. Essays on the Exact Sciences Presented to Asger Aaboe. Acta historica scientiarium naturalium et medicinalium 39. (Copenhagen: University Library, 1987.), 55–73.

[4] DUNLOP, D. M., “The Mudhākarāt fī ʿIlm an-Nujūm (Dialogues on Astrology) attributed to Abū Maʿshar al-Balkhī (Albumasar)”, in BOSWORTH, C. E., ed., Iran and Islam. In Memory of the Late Vladimir Minorsky. (Edinburgh: University Press, 1971.), 229–246., 230.

[5] SEZGIN, Fuat, Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums. 7. Bd. Astrologie, Meteorologie und Verwandtes bis ca. 430 H. (Leiden: Brill, 1979.) 44., LEJBOWICZ, Max, “Guillaume Oresme, traducteur de la Tetrabible de Claude Ptolémée”. Pallas 30. (1983), 107–133., 122., BOUDET, Jean-Patrice, “Ptolémée dans l’Occident médiéval: roi, savant et philosophe”, in The Medieval Legends of Philosophers and Scholars. Micrologus 21. (Firenze: SISMEL : Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2013.), 193–217., 201.

[6] Personal communication by László VESZPRÉMY (12 March 2023).

[7] Personal communication by Edina ZSUPÁN (17 March 2023).

[8] THEISEN, Maria, “Cod. 2271”, in JENNI, Ulrike, THEISEN, Maria, Mitteleuropäische Schulen IV. (ca. 1380–1400), Hofwerkstätten König Wenzels IV. und deren Umkreis, Textband. Veröffentlichungen zum Schrift- und Buchwesen des Mittelalters. Reihe I, Die illuminierten Handschriften und Inkunabeln der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek Band 13 (Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2014), 123–131., 125.

[9] The Bayerische Staatsbibliothek manuscript Clm 826, which contains Abraham ibn Ezra’s Reʾshit ḥokhmah in Pietro d’Abano’s translation, Albumasar in Sadan, and the collection of aphorisms called Liber novem iudicium, was also made for him.  For a description of the manuscript, see: BOLL, Franz, Sphaera, Neue griechische Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der Sternbilder (Leipzig: Teubner, 1903.)

[10] The manuscript belonged to Wenceslas. PORRES DE MATEO, Beatriz, “Astronomy Between Prague and Vienna in the 15th Century: the Case of John Šindel and John of Gmunden”, in CHRISTIANSON, John R. [et al.], ed., Tycho Brahe and Prague: Crossroads of European Science. (Frankfurt am Main: Deutsch, 2002.) 248–255., 251.; LÁNG, Benedek, Unlocked Books. Manuscripts of Learned Magic in the Medieval Libraries of Central Europe (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008.) 233.

[11] An earlier conjecture attributed the page numbering to Hugo Blotius (court librarian between 1575–1608), which would have suggested that the volume would most likely have been in the court library in Vienna as early as the sixteenth century. THEISEN, Cod. 2271, 123. However, this assumption is now rejected. Personal communication by Maria THEISEN (6 June 2023). I express my thanks to Regina CERMANN for her kind contribution.

[12] CERMANN, Regina, “Beschreibung einer problematischen Corvine: Cod. Guelf. 69.9 Aug. 2°”, in ZSUPÁN, Edina, Hrsg., unter Mitarbeit von HEITZMANN, Christian, Corvina Augusta. Die Handschriften des Königs Matthias Corvinus in der Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel. Ex Bibliotheca Corviniana. Supplementum Corvinianum 3. (Budapest: Bibliotheca Nationalis Hungariae, 2004.), 122–151., 135.

[13] LEHMANN, Paul, Eine Geschichte der alten Fuggerbibliotheken, I–II. Schwäbische Forschungsgemeinschaft bei der Kommission für bayerische Landesgeschichte, Reihe 4, Bd. 3 und 5, Studien zur Fuggergeschichte, Bd. 12 und 15. (Tübingen: Mohr (Siebeck), 1956–1960), I. 200., II. 556., FRANZ, Monika, “Die Handschriften aus dem Besitz des Philipp Eduard Fugger mit Berücksichtigung der Handschriften des Johannes Schöner in der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek”. Codices manuscripti 14. (1988) Heft 2–3., 61–133., 72. I express my thanks to Regina CERMANN for her kind help.


Shelfmark: Cod. 2271
Country: Austria
City: Vienna
Keeper location: Österreichische Nationalbibliothek
Digitized corvina: at the keeper location
Author: ʿAlī ibn Riḍwān
Content: Commentarius in Claudii Ptolemaei Quadripartitum
Translator: Egidio de’ Tebaldi
Writing medium: parchment
Number of sheets: III + 414 + II*
Sheet size: 410 × 290 mm
Place of writing: Prague
Date of writing: around 1400
Illuminator: Quadripartitum-Illuminator A, Quadripartitum-Illuminator B; first heraldic painter
Place of illumination: Prague; Buda (repainted coat-of-arms)
Date of illumination: around 1400; late 1480s (repainted coat-of-arms)
Crest: coat-of-arms and flag of Wenceslaus IV (King of Germany 1376–1400, King of Bohemia 1378–1419) as King of Bohemia; coat-of-arms of the House of Árpád, the coat-of-arms of the Hunyadi family with the raven on a flag (first heraldic painter); coat-of-arms of Matthias Corvinus (King of Hungary 1458–1490, King of Bohemia 1469–1490) as King of Hungary and Bohemia, with the raven of the Hunyadi family in the inescutcheon (first heraldic painter); coat-of-arms of Matthias Corvinus as King of Hungary and Bohemia, without inescutcheon, on both front and back covers
Possessor, provenience: Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia; Matthias Corvinus; Wilhelm IV Haller (1478–1534) (?); Vienna Court Library
Binding: guilded corvina leather binding (Buda, late 1480s)
Language of corvina: Latin
Condition: restored (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)