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Dead medium: Chaucer's Astrolabe Manual
From: (Richard Kadrey)
Source(s): Geoffrey Chaucer

(((bruces remarks: It's a pleasure to welcome noted poet and diplomat Geoffrey Chaucer (appr. 1340-1400) back to the Dead Media Project (see Working Note 00.2, "Chaucerian virtual reality"). The following contains selected highlights from Chaucer's treatise on the astrolabe, originally some 14,811 Middle-English words. This document is said to be the earliest known "technical manual" in the English language. It was originally written for a child of ten, "lyte Lowes" or 'little Lewis,' who is thought to have been the son of a friend of Chaucer's. Sadly, the boy succumbed to the high child- mortality rates of the plague-ridden 14th century, and Chaucer's tech manual was never completed.

(((Personally, I find this document well-nigh unreadable. Keep in mind, however, that this is probably a "Big Dummies' Guide to the Astrolabe," since it was once considered proper reading for a child of ten. This may be as close as we can get to imagining what a Windows 95 software manual might look like to people six hundred years from today -- bruces)))

"A Treatise on the Astrolabe"
by Geoffrey Chaucer, appr. 1391

"Lyte Lowys my sone, I aperceyve wel by certeyne evydences thyn abilite to lerne sciences touching nombres and proporciouns; and as wel considre I thy besy praier in special to lerne the tretys of the Astrelabie. (...) by mediacioun of this litel tretys, I purpose to teche the a certein nombre of conclusions aperteynyng to the same instrument.

"I seie a certein of conclusions, for thre causes. The first cause is this: truste wel that alle the conclusions that han be founde, or ellys possibly might be founde in so noble an instrument as is an Astrelabie ben unknowe parfitly to eny mortal man in this regioun, as I suppose. An-other cause is this, that sothly in any tretis of the Astrelabie that I have seyn there be somme conclusions that wol not in alle thinges parformen her bihestes; and somme of hem ben to harde to thy tendir age of ten yeer to conceyve.

"This tretis, divided in 5 parties, wol I shewe the under full light reules and naked wordes in Englissh, for Latyn ne canst thou yit but small, my litel sone. (...)

"Now wol I preie mekely every discret persone that redith or herith this litel tretys to have my rude endityng for excusid, and my superfluite of wordes, for two causes. The first cause is for that curious endityng and hard sentence is ful hevy at onys for such a child to lerne. And the secunde cause is this, that sothly me semith better to writen unto a child twyes a god sentence, than he forgete it onys.

"And Lowys, yf so be that I shewe the in my light Englissh as trewe conclusions touching this mater, and not oonly as trewe but as many and as subtile conclusiouns, as ben shewid in Latyn in eny commune tretys of the Astrelabie, konne me the more thank. And preie God save the king, that is lord of this langage, and alle that him feith berith and obeieth, everich in his degre, the more and the lasse. But considre wel that I ne usurpe not to have founden this werk of my labour or of myn engyn. I n'am but a lewd compilator of the labour of olde astrologiens, and have it translatid in myn Englissh oonly for thy doctrine. And with this swerd shal I sleen envie.



"Here begynneth the descripcioun of thin Astralabie.

"1. Thyn Astrolabie hath a ring to putten on the thombe of thi right hond in taking the height of thinges. And tak kep, for from henes forthward I wol clepen the heighte of any thing that is taken by the rewle "the altitude," withoute moo wordes.

"2. This ryng renneth in a maner toret fast to the moder of thyn Astrelabie in so rowm a space that it distourbith not the instrument to hangen after his right centre.

"3. The moder of thin Astrelabye is thikkest plate, perced with a large hool, that resceiveth in hir wombe the thynne plates compowned for diverse clymates, and thy reet shapen in manere of a nett or of a webbe of a loppe."


"6. Tlle est syde of thyn Astrolabie is clepid the right syde, and the west syde is clepid the left syde. Forget not thys, litel Lowys."



"1. To fynde the degre in which the sonne is day byday, after his cours aboute.

"Rekne and knowe which is the day of thy month, and ley thy rewle up that same day, and than wol the verrey poynt of thy rewle sitten in the bordure upon the degre of thy sonne.

"Ensample as thus: -The yeer of oure Lord 1391, the 12 day of March at midday, I wolde knowe the degre of the sonne. I soughte in the bakhalf of myn Astrelabie and fond the cercle of the daies, lo the whiche I knowe by the names of the monthes writen under the same cercle. Tho leyde I my reule over this forseide day, and fond the point of my reule in the bordure upon the firste degre of Aries, a litel within the degre. And thus knowe I this conclusioun." (...)

Richard Kadrey (