Al-Kashi's letter

A letter from Jamshid al-Kashi to his father has survived and gives us a rare glimpse into details of the intellectual life at UIugh Beg's court. In this letter (translated in the book by David A King and Mary Helen Kennedy (eds.), Studies in the Islamic exact sciences. Reprints of papers by E S Kennedy, colleagues and former students (American University of Beirut, 1983), p. 724]) al-Kashi describes at length the accomplishments of UIugh Beg who, he says:-

... has by heart most of the glorious Quran ... and every day he recites two chapters in the presence of (Quran) memorizers and no mistake is made. He knows (Arabic) grammar well and he writes Arabic composition extremely well, and like-wise he is well posted in canon law; he has knowledge of logic, rhetoric, and elocution, and likewise of the Elements (of Euclid), and he himself cultivates the branches of mathematics, and this has reached the extent that one day while riding he wanted to determine the date, which was a Monday of [the month of] Rajab, between the fifth and the tenth in the year eight hundred and eighteen (A. H.), as to what day it was of the (astronomical) season of the year. From these very given data, by mental computation, and from horseback, he determined the true longitude of the sun (correct) to degrees and minutes. When he came back he asked this humble servant about it. Truly, since in mental computation the quantities must be retained by memory and others determined, and there is a limit to one's strength of retention, he (i.e. I) was not able to extract it to degrees and minutes, but contented myself with degrees.

JOC/EFR March 2006

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