Ṯābit ibn Qurra’s Treatise on the Sea. An edition, translation, and study of the text
Colin Murtha (Trier)
In Aristotle and those working under the influence of his Meteorology, the sea was a proper object of direct scientific and philosophical inquiry. The salinity of the sea especially posed a rather perplexing puzzle, and with the use mainly of natural analogs to explain the chemical processes which underpin the sea’s salinity, natural philosophers put forward their naturalistic theories, but sometime in the 9th century, the Sabian polymath Ṯābit ibn Qurra (d. 901) took to an interpretation of the sea and its salinity in strictly theological terms. He argues that the sea in all its salinity reflects the wisdom of the Creator, because for instance, were the vast seas filled with fresh water, this would corrupt and putrefy the air, leading to mass epidemic and widespread death. God thus made the sea salty, so he argues, so that life could flourish on the face of the Earth. In this article, I present a first edition of the unique Istanbul manuscript, an English translation, and a detailed study of its main arguments.