Hugh Of Santalla

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The first geomancy translated into Latin from Arabic was Hugh of Santalla's Ars Geomantiae. Hugh of Santalla (or Hugo Sanctelliensis) was an astrologer, alchemist and translator of the first half of the twelfth century born in Santalla in northwest Spain. He appears to have worked under the patronage of Michael the bishop of Tarazona, from 1119 to 1157. Although he to some extent translated the same works as his contemporaries, for instance the Centiloquium ascribed to Ptolemy (Latin versions of which have also been credited to Plato of Tivoli and John of Seville), he appears to have worked independently of the Toledo translators. Hugh's translations are undated but at least some of them, including his Ars Geomantiae, antedated the work of his more famous contemporaries. Hugh's seven known translations are concerned with works of astronomy, astrology and divination. Those on astrology include Albumasar's Book of Rains, Messahala on nativities, a book by pseudo-Aristotle, 'from 255 volumes of the Indians', and De spatula, a treatise on divination from the shoulder-blades of animals. In the preface to the geomancy he promises to write next on hydromancy but says that he has failed to find any books on aeromancy or pyromancy. This is understandable as it seems that the two last forms of divination were simply void categories carried over as labels from classical writers to satisfy the medieval craving for symmetry of classification. Finally, the Emerald Tablet, that archetypal alchemical text attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, was made available from the Arabic in the first Latin translation by Hugh.

There are two basic treatises on geomancy translated by Hugh of Santalla, the Ars Geomantiae2 and the Geomantia Nova:3 they are quite distinct texts.4 In them Hugh mentions the art of spatulomancy which was taken by the Arabs from the Greeks, in contradistinction to geomancy, which was taken by the Greeks from the Arabs. Hugh mentions this derivation of spatulomancy, indicating how well informed he was on the origin of the various forms of divination. This considerably reduces any doubts as to the correctness of his ascription of geomancy to Arab sources. Further, his free use of the twenty-eight Mansions of the Moon in his geomantic work indicates an Arab/Indian source rather than Greek (to whom the twenty-eight Mansions were unknown).

From the incipit of the two works it seems likely that the Ars Geomantiae came before the Geomantia Nova, but further proof of its primacy is provided by later writers.

In the sixteenth century, Christopher Cattan, the Italian author on geomancy, only knew of the existence of the Geomantia Nova in an anonymous manuscript, which he held in great regard as a source work (together with the work of Bartholomew of Parma and a Hebrew work, Ha veenestre). On the other hand, two geomantic poems from Provençal refer to a number of oriental authors, and amongst them only one Christian, Hugh of Santalla.5 The reference however is in the form which indicates that the author of the Provençal poems has seen the Geomantia Nova rather than Ars Geomantiae. Although the name of Hugh of Santalla is quoted in the poems as the introducer of geomancy to the west, his own work is not quoted at length but rather subsequent and more modern treatises are subject to quotation.

It seems certain that the Ars Geomantiae is the first work in Latin on geomancy with the Geomantia Nova being the second, but more popular, because in the latter Hugh's name is included in the titles, almost as if it were part of the description of the science of geomancy. It is possible, but unlikely, that the second treatise was not actually by Hugh, but his name was cited in the title

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Hugh Santalla
Figure 6 Medieval geomantic manuscript of Geomantia Nova by Hugh of Santalla (Florence, Laurentian MS Plut. 30.29 cod. 25 v.)

made all the translations ascribed to him: he was tremendously active but we may assume that many other translations were made under his direction and that he was in fact the head of a school of translators. Later translations may have been ascribed to him because he was considered the translator par excellence of the period. Finally, some ascriptions to him are confusions with the work of the Italian astrologer Gerard of Sabbioneta who flourished in the second half of the thirteenth century.

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