Theophilus of Edessa

Theophilus of Edessa (695–785 CE), also known as Theophilus ibn Tuma and Thawafil, was a Greco-Syriac medieval astrologer and scholar in Mesopotamia.[1] In the later part of his life he was the court astrologer to the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mahdi.

He translated numerous books from Greek to Syriac, including the Iliad.[2]


His life is described in the Syriac Chronicle of Bar-Hebraeus (1226–1286):

Theophilus served the Caliph al-Mahdî, who esteemed him very much because of his superiority in the art of astrology. It is said that one day the Caliph wanted to take a trip into one of his provinces and to take his court with him. The Caliph's wife sent someone to say to Theophilus: "It is you who have advised the Caliph to take this trip, thereby imposing upon us the fatigue and boredom of the journey, which we don't need. I hope therefore that God will make you perish and disappear from this world, so that, rid of you, we may find some peace." Theophilus replied to the servant who had brought him this message: "Return to your mistress and say to her: "It is not I who have advised the king to take this trip; he travels when it pleases him to do so. As for the curse that you have cast upon me for God to hasten my death, the decision about it has already been taken and affirmed by God; I shall die soon; but do not suppose that I shall have died so that your prayer might be fulfilled; it is the will of my Creator that will accomplish it. But you, O Queen, I say to you: "Prepare a lot of dust for yourself; and when you learn that I am dead, pile all that dust on your head." When the Queen had heard these words, she was seized with a great fear, and she wondered apprehensively what the result would be. A little while afterward, Theophilus died and twenty days after him the Caliph al-Mahdî also died. That which Theophilus had determined came to pass.

Theophilus was a Maronite Christian. Among other works he translated the Iliad into Arabic.[3] He also wrote a lost historical (syriac) chronicle.

Works on astrology (in Greek)

These books have been preserved more or less intact, along with fragments of their Arabic versions.


Theophilus's lost history was used by a number of later writers. The Jacobite patriarch Dionysius of Tel Mahre (818–45) cited it on several occasions in his own world history, the Annals. The tenth-century Melkite historian Agapius of Hierapolis also used material from Theophilus.


  1. A History of Horoscopic Astrology By James H. Holden, p. 104
  2. Brown, Peter. The Rise of Western Christendom (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, 2003) p. 311
  3. Moffett, Samuel Hugh. A History of Christianity in Asia, (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1998, p. 354

Further reading

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 10/16/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.