Johannes Hispalensis

The original aim of my research was to focus mainly on the work of Johannes Hispalensis: John of Seville.

Johannes Hispalensis was a translator of considerable fame working supposedly c. 1140 – 1154 in the Iberian Peninsula (now called Spain). As my research unfolded, however, it became apparent that Hispalensis’s accredited translations were not always his, and some that he had executed, were purported to have been translated by someone else.

He was most famous for his translations of Arabic mathematical treatises into Latin, although he was never a mathematician in his own right. He was most prolific in a period when there were many translators, often with similar surnames as his, such as Hispanus, Hispanensis and Hispaniensis. As a result of my research, only the former was found to be a true translator. The latter two were scribes’ errors.

Although Hispalensis became famous for his mathematical work, he began his translations with three that had a medical theme. His first one, the Secretum Secretorum, was dedicated to a “Queen T.” who was assumed to have been Queen Tarasia of Portugal (Theresa). The second was a translation about gout dedicated to a “Pope Gregory”, who was the anti-pope. The third was the De differentia spiritus et animae. A revision of this early work was later dedicated to Archbishop Raymond of Toledo, and it was generally assumed by historians that Hispalensis worked in Toledo at the time of Raymond’s archbishopric. However, the only manuscript to mention Toledo was the De differentia spiritus et animae, and my research shows no other indication that Hispalensis either worked in Toledo or had any other links to the area, except for the one reference in his dedication to Raymond.

After a great deal of research centred on extant copies of the translations accredited to Hispalensis and others that had ownership elsewhere, many discrepancies were found and a more correct list formed. The research was also able to trace an historical framework, which could encompass his life, career and catalogued works. A surprising number of facts and hypotheses emerged from this historical research. Amongst them was evidence that Hispalensis had actually started translating at the beginning of the 12th century in Portugal, and that his work ended in 1142. His history evolved at the same time as other great historical figures, such as Alfonso VI, and his sister Urraca, Queen Tarasia of Portugal and Sisnando Davidiz.

My doctoral thesis eventually contained an appendix citing a vast number of Latin translations and their whereabouts, and made an attempt to isolate those belonging to Hispalensis. It also delved into the historical aspects and collected information from the accredited work of many Hispanists and Latinists to enable a variety of suppositions to be put forward regarding Hispalensis’s possible life. Amongst those whose opinions were most valued were Lynn Thorndike, Richard Lemay and Marie-Thérèse d’Alverny.

It is a fascinating history of a great translator, covering many decades and a considerable amount of descriptions and references to Latin translations.

Dr Maureen Robinson