Tuesday, November 13, 2012

'Abbas ibn Firnas

‘Abbas ibn Firnas (810-887) was an Andalusian polymath, scholar and poet of Berber origin at the court of Cordoba.  The invention of the cutting (faceting) of crystal is attributed to him.  He is also credited with being the first person to make a scientific attempt to fly when, in 875, he reportedly used a rudimentary glider launched from the Mount of the Bride (Jabal al-'arus) in the Rusafa area, near Cordoba, Spain. The Iraqis built a statue in his memory on the way to Baghdad International Airport, and the Ibn Firnas Airport to the north of Baghdad is named for him.  The Ibn Firnas crater on the Moon is also named in his honor.

'Abbas ibn Firnas was a Muslim Andalusian polymath: an inventor, engineer, aviator, physician, Arabic poet, and Andalusian musician. Of Berber descent, he was born in Izn-Rand Onda, Al-Andalus (today's Ronda, Spain), and lived in the Emirate of Cordoba. He is known for an early attempt to fly.

Ibn Firnas designed a water clock called al-Maqata, devised a means of manufacturing colorless glass, invented various planispheres, made corrective lenses ("reading stones"), devised a chain of rings that could be used to simulate the motions of the planets and stars, and developed a process for cutting rock crystal that allowed Spain to cease exporting quartz to Egypt to be cut.

In his house, Ibn Firnas constructed a room in which spectators witnessed stars, clouds, thunder, and lightning, which were produced by mechanisms located in his basement laboratory.  He also devised a rudimentary metronome.
Ibn Firnas is also said to have made an attempt at flight using a set of wings. The only evidence for this is an account by the Moroccan historian Ahmed Mohammed al-Maqqari (d. 1632), composed seven centuries later.

Al-Maqqari is said to have used in his history works many early sources no longer extant, but in case of Firnas the only one cited by him was a 9th century poem written by Mu'min ibn Said, a court poet of Cordoba under Muhammad I (d. 886), who was acquainted with and usually critical of Ibn Firnas.

It has been suggested that Ibn Firnas' attempt at glider flight might have inspired the attempt by Eilmer of Malmesbury between 1000 and 1010 in England but there is no evidence supporting this hypothesis.

Alternative names include:

'Abbas Abu al-Qasim ibn Firnas ibn Wirdas al-Takurini
'Abbas ibn Firnas
'Abbas ibn Firnas ibn Wardus
'Abbas Qasim ibn Firnas
Ibn Firnas
Ibn Wardus
Ibn Wirdas al-Takurini

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