History revisited

How knowledge travelled from East to West (and back again) in the early modern world

The flow of scholarly work between the Mughals and Europe involved translation, re-translation, re-interpretation and development.

Christoph Clavius was born in Bamberg in either 1538 or 1537 (an amusing discrepancy for a scientist whose fame derives from his work on calendar reform) and was initiated into the Jesuit order by Saint Ignatius Loyola in Rome in 1555, and passed away in 1612, an eminent scholar. Many of Clavius’ works were influenced by Latin translations of Arabic scientific works, including those of Ibn Rushd (in particular his commentary on Aristotle), the astronomers Abū Ma‘shar, al-Biṭrūjī and al-Farghānī, as well as the mathematician Thābit b. Qurra, among many other scientists writing in Arabic and Persian whose works Clavius cites.

Book 4 of Christoph Clavius, Gnomonices Libri Octo, published in Rome in 1581 (533.k.2, pp. 442-43).

Clavius is an excellent example of the many Jesuit scientists of his age who continued to teach Ptolemaic astronomy (i.e. a geocentric vision of the solar system, indeed the universe, in which the planets and stars orbited the earth in concentric circles), despite the rise of – and often despite their own familiarity with and endorsement of – Copernican astronomy. Christoph Clavius’ Gnomonices Libri Octo, on the art of gnomonics (timekeeping through the use of a sundial), was published in 1581.

Mu‘tamid Khān's Arabic translation of the identical passage (IO Islamic 1308, ff. 289v-290).

Arabic version

This work also exists in a fascinating Arabic translation emanating from the Mughal empire that was purchased by Richard Johnson (1753-1807), a well-known collector of manuscripts and miniature paintings who worked for the East India Company. Johnson made an annotation on the flyleaf of the manuscript that the translator of Clavius’ work was sent to Portugal by Aurangzeb – presumably to study or in some diplomatic capacity.

The full note reads, “Upon Dialling. Work of Clavius in Latin translated into Arabic by Maatemed Khan who went to Portugal in the time of Aurungzebe. This is the original foul copy of the translation in the hand of the translator (i.e., the 'foul copy' being the first draft, in contrast to the 'fair copy')."

Richard Johnson's explanatory note (IO Islamic 1308).

A further note, in Arabic, added by the translator’s son, reads: “Draft of the Book of Measures [Kitāb al-Maqāyīs] which was composed by Clavius the Frank [Kalāwīūs al-Firinjī] in the Latin language, and my father, God have mercy on him, translated it into the [clear - mubīn?] Arabic language, possessor of virtuous talents including the perfection of acquired knowledge, Rustam called Mu‘tamad Khān, the son of Qubād, gatherer of proofs of knowledge, perceiving the secrets of the spoken and the tacit, given the name Diyānat Khān al-Ḥārithī al-Badakhshī, may God be fair with both of them and elevate them. Signed: I, who am a feeble slave begging for the mercy of the One and the intercession of the Prophet, Mīrzā Muḥammad, may God cause him to attain eternal happiness”.

Note by Muʻtamad Khān's son (IO Islamic 1308, f.1v).

Complex process

This translation offers some fascinating possibilities. The first is the demonstration of how knowledge circulated in the early modern world. Clavius’ work, which responded to and was inspired by Arabic mathematicians and scientists in Latin translation, here a generation after its publication is translated back into Arabic to be read, presumably by elites at the court of Aurangzeb, where the work’s translator and his son were courtiers. This translation demonstrates the complexity of knowledge flows – that they were synchronic as well as diachronic, and also involved a process not just of translation, but of re-translation, re-interpretation and development as they travelled.

Furthermore, the inscriptions taken in tandem, one in English made by an East India official, the other in Arabic by a Mughal courtier, open the possibility that already in Aurangzeb’s reign, Mughal elites travelled to Europe perhaps to study. In the case of Mu‘tamid Khan, the translator of this text, he mastered the technical idiom of geometry and mathematics in Latin, and then translated it into an equally complex scholarly language, Arabic. Not an uncommon intellectual feat at the Mughal court, this process of scientific translation remains to be studied in depth. It is also possible that the presence of the Jesuits at Goa had an influence on the production of this translation, but firm evidence remains to be found.

This article first appeared on the British Library's Asian and African Studies blog.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The ordeal of choosing the right data pack for your connectivity needs

"Your data has been activated." <10 seconds later> "You have crossed your data limit."

The internet is an amazing space where you can watch a donkey playing football while simultaneously looking up whether the mole on your elbow is a symptom of a terminal diseases. It’s as busy as it’s big with at least 2.96 billion pages in the indexed web and over 40,000 Google search queries processed every second. If you have access to this vast expanse of information through your mobile, then you’re probably on something known as a data plan.

However, data plans or data packs are a lot like prescription pills. You need to go through a barrage of perplexing words to understand what they really do. Not to mention the call from the telecom company rattling on at 400 words per minute about a life-changing data pack which is as undecipherable as reading a doctor’s handwriting on the prescription. On top of it all, most data packs expect you to solve complex algorithms on permutations to figure out which one is the right one.

Source: giphy.com
Source: giphy.com

Even the most sophisticated and evolved beings of the digital era would agree that choosing a data pack is a lot like getting stuck on a seesaw, struggling to find the right balance between getting the most out of your data and not paying for more than you need. Running out of data is frustrating, but losing the data that you paid for but couldn’t use during a busy month is outright infuriating. Shouldn’t your unused data be rolled over to the next month?

You peruse the advice available online on how to go about choosing the right data pack, most of which talks about understanding your own data usage. Armed with wisdom, you escape to your mind palace, Sherlock style, and review your access to Wifi zones, the size of the websites you regularly visit, the number of emails you send and receive, even the number of cat videos you watch. You somehow manage to figure out your daily usage which you multiply by 30 and there it is. All you need to do now is find the appropriate data pack.

Promptly ignoring the above calculations, you fall for unlimited data plans with an “all you can eat” buffet style data offering. You immediately text a code to the telecom company to activate this portal to unlimited video calls, selfies, instastories, snapchats – sky is the limit. You tell all your friends and colleagues about the genius new plan you have and how you’ve been watching funny sloth videos on YouTube all day, well, because you CAN!

Source: giphy.com
Source: giphy.com

Alas, after a day of reign, you realise that your phone has run out of data. Anyone who has suffered the terms and conditions of unlimited data packs knows the importance of reading the fine print before committing yourself to one. Some plans place limits on video quality to 480p on mobile phones, some limit the speed after reaching a mark mentioned in the fine print. Is it too much to ask for a plan that lets us binge on our favourite shows on Amazon Prime, unconditionally?

You find yourself stuck in an endless loop of estimating your data usage, figuring out how you crossed your data limit and arguing with customer care about your sky-high phone bill. Exasperated, you somehow muster up the strength to do it all over again and decide to browse for more data packs. Regrettably, the website wont load on your mobile because of expired data.

Source: giphy.com
Source: giphy.com

Getting the right data plan shouldn’t be this complicated a decision. Instead of getting confused by the numerous offers, focus on your usage and guide yourself out of the maze by having a clear idea of what you want. And if all you want is to enjoy unlimited calls with friends and uninterrupted Snapchat, then you know exactly what to look for in a plan.

Source: giphy.com
Source: giphy.com

The Airtel Postpaid at Rs. 499 comes closest to a plan that is up front with its offerings, making it easy to choose exactly what you need. One of the best-selling Airtel Postpaid plans, the Rs. 499 pack offers 40 GB 3G/4G data that you can carry forward to the next bill cycle if unused. The pack also offers a one year subscription to Amazon Prime on the Airtel TV app.

So, next time, don’t let your frustration get the better of you. Click here to find a plan that’s right for you.

Source: giphy.com
Source: giphy.com

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Airtel and not by the Scroll editorial team.