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Computing Planetary Positions: User-Friendliness and the Alfonsine Corpus

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Chapter Summary

Astronomical tables are ways to turn the treatment of complex problems into elementary arithmetic. Since Antiquity astronomers have addressed many problems by means of tables; among them stands out the treatment of planetary motion as well as that for the motions of the Sun and the Moon. It was customary to assign to the planets constant mean velocities to compute their mean longitudes at any given time in the past or the future, and to add to these mean longitudes corrections, called equations, to determine their true longitudes. This chapter restricts attention to the five planets, with an emphasis on their equations. It deals with what we call the standard tradition, beginning with Ptolemy's Handy Tables, and discuses the new presentations that proliferated in Latin Europe in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, some of which reflect a high level of competence in mathematical astronomy.

Keywords: mathematical astronomy; planetary motion; Ptolemy's Handy Tables



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