The Transmission of Greek Astral Science into India Reconsidered

Critical Remarks on the Contents and the Newly Discovered Manuscript of the Yavanajātaka

Abstract

Since Pingree's 1978 publication of his work on the Yavanajātaka, the text had established itself as one of the most important historical documents in various fields of Indology, from the history of mathematics and astral science, to Indian chronology and historical contacts among ancient cultures. A number of Pingree's discoveries concerning the text were widely quoted by scholars in the past decades. These discoveries may be summarized as follows: The Yavanajātaka was an astrological/astronomical work composed in 269/270 CE. by Sphujidhvaja, an "Indianized Greek" who lived in the realm of the Western Kṣatrapas. The work was a versification of a prose original in Greek composed by Yavaneśvara in Alexandria in 149/150 CE. The work, though highly corrupted and clumsily expressed, contains algorithms of "ultimately Babylonian origin" and the earliest reference to the decimal place-value with a symbol for zero (bindu). Pingree's discoveries were based largely on readings from the last section of the Yavanajātaka, described by him as "Chapter 79 - Horāvidhiḥ", an exposition of mathematical astronomy. In the recent years, scholars including Shukla (1989) and Falk (2001) pointed out some major flaws in some of Pingree's interpretations and reconstitution of the text. However, further progress of a proper reevaluation of the controversial contents of this chapter has so far been hampered by the lack of a better manuscript. In 2011-2012, additional materials including a hitherto unreported copy of the Yavanajātaka became available to the present author. This paper will therefore be the first attempt to reexamine Pingree's key interpretations of the Yavanajātaka, focusing on this last chapter, in the light of the new textual evidences.

Published
2013-05-01
How to Cite
Mak, B. (2013). The Transmission of Greek Astral Science into India Reconsidered. History of Science in South Asia, 1, 1-20. https://doi.org/10.18732/H2RP4T
Section
Articles