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Cross-Cultural Scientific Exchanges in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1560–1660

Avner Ben-Zaken

Publication Year: 2010

Avner Ben-Zaken reconsiders the fundamental question of how early modern scientific thought traveled between Western and Eastern cultures in the age of the so-called Scientific Revolution. Through five meticulously researched case studies—in which he explores how a single obscure object or text moved in the Eastern world—Ben-Zaken reveals the intricate ways that scientific knowledge moved across cultures. His diligent exploration traces the eastward flow of post-Copernican cosmologies and scientific discoveries, showing how these ideas were disseminated, modified, and applied to local cultures. Never before has a student of scientific traffic in the Mediterranean taken such pains to see precisely which instruments, books, and ideas first appeared where, in whose hands, by what means, and with what implications. In doing so, Ben-Zaken challenges accepted views of Western primacy in this fruitful exchange. He shows not only how Islamic cultures benefited from European scientific knowledge but also how Eastern understanding of classical Greek texts informed developments in the West. Ben-Zaken’s mastery of different cultures and languages uniquely positions him to tell this intriguing story. His findings reshape our understanding of scientific discourse in this critical period and contribute to the growing field of cross-cultural Christian-Muslim studies.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

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INTRODUCTION. Incommensurable Cultures?

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pp. 1-7

... “Europeans have many vanities similar to this one.” But when al- Zigetvari prepared an almanac based on the astronomical tables of the Latin work, the chief astronomer saw that it conformed to the authoritative tables prepared by late medieval Muslim astronomers, and he became convinced of the value of the Latin work. ...

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1 Trading Clocks, Globes, and Captives in the End Time

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pp. 8-46

In 1580, an anonymous painter illustrated a manuscript entitled Shāhinshāh nāma (Book of the King of Kings). One of his miniatures documents scientific activity at the observatory established by the newly crowned Ottoman sultan, Murād III. When he came to power in 1574, he urged an Egyptian judge and rising star in natural science, ...

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2 Exchanging Heliocentrism for Ur-Text

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pp. 47-75

In 1623, an Italian traveler, Pietro della Valle, reached the Portuguese colony of Goa, in western India, aft er nine years of travel in the Near East. In the same year, a Jesuit, Christopher Borrus (or Borri), on his way back to Italy, also stopped in Goa aft er his missionary work in Cochin- China (southern Vietnam). Della Valle and Borrus stayed in the same monastery and met for the first time at a midday meal. They exchanged views about the various Eastern cultures ...

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3 Transcending Time in the Scribal East

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pp. 76-103

In 1629, Joseph Solomon Delmedigo published in Amsterdam a somewhat incoherent book entitled Sefer Elim (Book of Elim). The book was printed by Menasseh Ben- Israel (Spinoza’s teacher) and was a collection of articles on natural philosophy and mathematics. Before his arrival in Amsterdam, Delmedigo had traveled in the Eastern Mediterranean (1616–19), where he participated in a public contest in mathematics, collected ancient manuscripts, studied the Cabala, ...

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4 Converting Measurements and Invoking the "Linguistic Leviathan"

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pp. 104-138

Just before his death in 1652, John Greaves (b. 1602), a professor of astronomy, published Astronomica quaedam ex traditione Shah Cholgii Persae, a bilingual, Persian- Latin edition of a late fifteenth- century astronomical work from Persia. To this work he attached a Persian- Latin astronomical dictionary, which was addressed to Latin- readers. The inspiration for this linguistic astronomical project came in 1637, when Greaves left his position at London’s Gresham ...

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5 Exchanging Heavens and Hearts

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pp. 139-162

In 1634, Tommaso Campanella joined the court of Cardinal Riche lieu in Paris and stimulated there a great interest in the Copernican cosmology. In the same year, a court cosmographer named Noël Duret dedicated to Richelieu a book entitled Nouvelle théorie des planètes, which included astronomical tables calculated from the tables of Ptolemy, Copernicus, Tycho, and Lansbergen.1 In 1660, the Ottoman scholar Ibrāhīm Efendi al- Zigetvari Tezkireci translated ...

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CONCLUSION. From "Incommensurability of Cultures" to Mutually Embraced Zones

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pp. 163-166

An exclusive depiction of the local development of science has been qualified ever since scholars began exploring the rich interconnections between travel and science. Studies concerning the discovery of the New World and the rise of natural history, however, focused on European travelers as they headed westward, to the New World, and left unnoticed the cross- cultural exchanges that ...

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pp. 167-169

I owe great debts to many individuals. My advisor, Theodore Porter, envisioned the potential of the project from our first meeting. I am especially grateful to him for showing me that historical scholarship requires not only strong evidence, clarity of mind, creativity, and power of imagination, but also a good sense of humor. I was fortunate to have a dissertation committee with each member covering a particular angle of this new niche. Herbert Davidson, Robert ...


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pp. 171-217

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 219-235


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pp. 237-246

E-ISBN-13: 9780801899928
E-ISBN-10: 0801899923
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801894763
Print-ISBN-10: 080189476X

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 30 halftones
Publication Year: 2010