The Scientific World of the Crown of Aragon under James I
By Joan Vernet
Quaderns de la Mediterrània, Vol.9 (2009)
Introduction: This article seeks to provide a general overview of the cultural landscape during the reign of James I, with a particular focus on science. The term “science” will for these purposes be taken to refer to the wide range of disciplines that are studied today in faculties of science, veterinary science, pharmacology and medicine. Science in the 13th century stemmed – at least for the most part – either directly or indirectly from Arab sources. It was shaped in accordance with the particular philosophical and theological ideology of its proponents, who were essentially split into two main groups: the Averroists and the anti-Averroists. Both groups enjoyed support from across the religious spectrum in the Crown of Aragon territories; in other words, from Christians, Jews and Muslims. For the purposes of this article, it will be necessary to grapple with certain philosophical and theological issues that may, at first glance, seem somewhat unrelated to the subject in question.
The sources and reference works available to us as researchers in this field – that of the Christian and Muslim world of the 13th century’s Crown of Aragon – are relatively few and far between. Much the same could have been said of Castilian science if it had not been for Alfonso the Wise, who spearheaded the creation of the immense Libros del saber de astronomía (“Books on Astronomy Knowledge”) compendium.
We can probably accept as a given the fact that 13th-century Christian science was a pale imitation of its Muslim counterpart. In so saying, I am in no way courting controversy. Indeed, this assertion is actually one of the few areas of agreement over the last 100 years of debate about Spanish science – both Menéndez y Pelayo and Echegaray accepted this to be the case, as have all those who have followed. Consequently, 13th-century Christian academics had two cultural languages: Latin for philosophical and theological concerns and Arabic when dealing with scientific issues. Jewish thinkers used Hebrew and Arabic, and Spanish Muslim scholars, simply Arabic – in spite of the fact that interest in Latin writings or those by Christian authors was notable during this period. This final point is evidenced, for example, by Ibn Said al-Maghribi’s remarks about Kitáb al-Anwa’ (The Calendar of Cordoba), penned three centuries earlier by Recemundo and Arib ben Said, in the appendix that he wrote to Ibm Hazm’s Risala fi fald al-Andalus (“Praise Epistle to al-Andalus”)