ibn Umail-Senior Zadith, Introduction to Tabula Chimica

The engraving we are examining is contained in “Senioris Zadith Fillii Hamuelis Tabula Chimica”, or the chemical table of the old Zadith son of Hamuel,

senior zadith tabula chimicain both Theatrum Chemicum and Biblioteca Chemica Curiosa. The same picture seems to have been also the subject of “ The Book of the Silvery Water and the Starry Earth” by ibn-Umail.

Muhammad ibn Umail al Tamimi, was born and lived in Spain (Cordoba) in tenth century as a son of arabian parents. He seems to have become an isolated representation, and had few students, perhaps only one, to pass on his works. He was called al-Sadik, which supposedly become Zadith in Europe, while ibn-Umail was apparently translated as “son of Hamuel”. His most famed treatise was indeed the afore mentioned“ The Book of the Silvery Water and the Starry Earth”, or Kitab al-ma’ al-waraqi wal-ard an-najmyah (1), which was taken by later researchers as a commentary on “ the Letter of the Sun to the Crescent Moon”, or Risalah ash-shams ila ’l-hilal. To be  more precise “The Silvery Water” was known in Europe as “ The Book of Senior or Tabula Chimica”, while the poem “ Letter of the Sun” is found separately as “ Epistola Solis ad Lunam Crescentem”. The former is alleged to be the inspiration for Aurora Consurgens.

Ibn-Umail was also mentioned by the egyptian Aidamur al-Jildaki, who lived in the first half of the fourteenth century, in his book “ The End of the Search”, as an alchemical authority together with Al Jabair, Avicenna and Razi. In fact it is said that a quite sure datation for Turba Philosophorum to have been written before 900 A.D was reliably attested by Ibn-Umail quoting it. It is not an exaggeration to describe ibn-Umayl as an important presence both in arabic and western hermetic literature.

I must take for granted the assertion of ibn Umayl manuscripts acceptably  fitting into the latin translations from arabic under the name Senior Zadith. In fact I have always restricted myself to read Senior Zadith from latin.  But in this case a comparison between arabic and latin versions should be of extreme interest, allowing that the two mentioned authors were the same person. In fact my opinion is that the first translator to latin had really mess things up. And I’m not too much surprised, because precision and accuracy are only nowadays requirements in western world.  For example, and always concerning Senior Zadith-ibn Umayl, in fourteenth century Geoffrey Chaucer in his “Canterbury Tales” wrote the “ Canon’s  Yeoman’s Tale” in which Senior was the title given to an alchemical treatise attributed to an arabian scholar of the tenth century. In this piece Chaucer was said to have copied some verses of a latin translation (2) from the original arabic of ibn-Umail, trying to impress his audience of pilgrims with his knowledge of alchemical doctrines. But Chaucer apparently did not follow any accurate arrangement.

In the latin version in Theatrum Chemicum, which is more comprehensive of titles than BCC, we find another interesting witness of this lack of accuracy. In fact in addition of the presentation : Philosophiae Chimicae Duo Vetustissima Scripta. Two very ancient scripts of chemical philosophy.

That’s to say: I Senioris Zadith, Filii Hamuelis Tabula Chimica. Chemical Table by Senior Zadith, son of Hamuel.

II Anonimi Veteris Philosophi Consilium conjungii, seu massa Solis & Luna, Libri Tres, vore aurei. Anonymous aged philosophers joined in consultation, or on the mass of sun and moon, three books, really golden.

In the end we can read: Ex Arabico Sermone Latina Facta, cum diversis manuscriptis collata, & marginalibus ornata. Or Made in latin from arabic speeches, with different manuscripts tied and side quoted.

Not to mention the transmission of Ibn-Umail conspicuous parts in such works as “Anonymi Veteri Philosophi Consilium Coniugii, seu De Massa Solis & Luna, libri III…..ex arabico in latinum sermonem reducti”, that’s to say the Joined Council of ancient philosophers, or on the mass of sun and moon, books 3….from the arabic to a latin sermon reduced, in Biblioteca Chemico Curiosa following the most fameus aforementioned treatises (3).

Furthermore some incorrect accentuations (for example in verò) suggests that the translation from arabic   to latin was not carried out by spanish persons, but the original ibn-Umayl manuscripts were probably translated after having outreached Pyrenees.

Senior Zadith is moreover known to the large public for the engraving described in his Tabula Chimica, so I will follow all in order and begin from it. I choose to post the picture printed in Theatrum Chemicum (tome fifth, page 218), since in Biblioteca Chemica the same engraving is in a too small size, being equipped with other eleven pictures from the collection known as Azoth or Aurelia Occulta. Nevertheless the frequent errata and weak prints either in TC and or in BCC edition compelled me to refer to both.

My translation verbatim from latin of BCC Tome second, Liber or book III, Section I, Subsection XII, page 216 and Theatrum Chemicum, tome fifth, page 219. Expect a difficult and rough reading. I have to warn readers  that the discrepancies which can be found with the arabic manuscripts, could not be attributed to me since I just translated from Latin.

Pictura Descriptio. Dixit Senior Zadith filius Hamuel. Intravi ego & Oboël charissima barba in domum quandam subterraneam & postea……

Picture description. Senior Zadith son of Hamuel said: Gorgeously bearded Oboël and I entered in a house in a certain sense done under the earth’s surface, and then I and Elhasam and the passionate Joseph had a gaze beyond all the gates (4), I saw in the ceiling the images of nine painted eagles, having their wings extended as they were flying, their paws really open and extended, and in one paw of every eagle something similar to a very stretched bow from which arrows were used to move. And in the right wall of the house, at entering left, the images of a standing  man beautiful and perfect as much as required, clothed with different garments and colors, having hands extented to an inner thalamus,  close  to a certain statue standing into in the house, to the same side of the wall of the inner thalamus, to the left entering the thalamus in front of it. And it was sitting on a chatedra seat simile to physicians cathedrae and all extracted from that statue, and it (the statue)  had in its lap over its arms and in hands extended over its knees, a marble table extracted from it ( the statue), long as an arm and large as a palm, and the fingers of the hand bent on the table as to keep it (the table) and the table was surely an open book which it is pleasant to have been taken for consideration, in that (table) and in part of the thalamus in which it (the statue) was sitting there  were images of countless different things and strange words.

And there was in the table that it had in its lap half divided by a certain line and in that half image there were  two fowls with their chest in the lower part bent, ot these fowls one had cut wings and the other had two wings, both grasped the tail with the beak of the other as though while flying they wanted to fly with the other  and it (a fowl) wanted to detain the flying one with itself. There were on the other hand those two fowls to be together enclosed, painted in a sphere, quite the image of  two in one, and was the head of the flying one necessarily from ( ex, or coming out from) two spheres, and over these two fowls necessarily the head of the table, near the fingers of the statue there was the image of a shining moon: and from this other part of the table another  sphere, turning towards the inferior fowls. There were now five countless times, the clearly inferior two fowls, of course the image of the moon, and another sphere.

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Iulia Millesima

I’m Italian, from Venezia. I’m an independent researcher. I’ve been studying Alchemy for over thirty years and I have been after a Master.