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,
Muhammad ibn Umail al Tamimi, was born and lived in Spain (Cordoba) in the 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 aforementioned “ 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 dating 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 reading Senior Zadith in 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 of latin had really messed things up. And I’m not too surprised, because precision and accuracy are only nowadays requirements in the western world. For example, and always concerning Senior Zadith-ibn Umayl, in the 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 of Theatrum Chemicum, which is more comprehensive of titles than BCC, we find another interesting witness of this lack of accuracy. In fact in addition to 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 famous aforementioned treatises (3). Furthermore, some incorrect accentuations (for example in verò) suggest 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 the 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 on 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 extended to the inner thalamus, close to a certain statue standing 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 cathedra seat simile to physicians cathedrae and all extracted from that statue, and it (the statue) had in its lap over its arms and 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, of 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.
On the other hand, the other half of the head of the table was bending towards the fingers of the statue, there was an image of a sun emitting beans, like an image of two in one. And in another part another image of the sun with a descending bean. And these are three, of course, two lights and two beans in one. Of this one a bean was descending and resting on the inferior part of the table, an encompassed black sphere is divided by its circumference and made of two-thirds and a third.
The third really has the form of a crescent moon and the inferior part is white without blackness and the black sphere encompasses it their form is quite the form of two in one, and the sun is pure. And that is an image of one in the one. And those are similarly five, and the result is ten, according to the number of those eagles and black earth.
I exposed to you all this and composed in poetry and we have nothing but by the mercy of God, whose name be blessed, so realize and think well of it and over it, and I painted to you the single images of its table and in it, there are images and representations in its place in this poetry, from these chapters you will be able to examine what these representations mean.
I even exposed and explained these ten representations and then demonstrated their aim in my verses, that clearly I could not without poetry, and be manifestly unveiled to you what that wise hid, who made that statue in his house, in which he described the whole science in his representations and taught his sapience in his stone and showed it to the clever.
You have to know that this statue is the representation of sapience, and which is existing on the table over his arms and knees in his lap, his science is hidden, whose I described by means of representations so as to lead those who will acknowledge and understand, what wises had wanted for those approaching them.
- Published by E. Stapleton and M.Hidayat Husain in volume 12 of “Memoirs of the Asiatic Society” 1933 (not verified);
- So the latin translation published in “ De chemia Senioris antiquissimi philosophi libellus” Strasbourg 1566 was not the first one;
- BCC Tome second, Liber or book III, Section I, Subsection XIII, page 235;
- I know in the Arabic version the writer appointed the place as the prisons of Joseph, but one can hardly find any trace of that here in Latin: in the sentence “universos carceres joseph ignitos” we do not have any genitive case form for Joseph, in fact “of Joseph” would be “Josephis” or “Josephi” , latins always declined personal names. Carcer-is means gate and consequently prison. Universos is not an ancient latin word. Of course, it could be a medieval neologism. By the way, the whole sentence is alchemically inconsistent, in both versions;