The First (Printed) Spanish Sphere

This is the third in a set of posts on editions of Sacrobosco’s Sphere produced in Spain and Portugal.


In 1535, Francisco Faleiro, translated the Sphere into Spanish. This is, to my knowledge, the first printed Sphere in Spanish, although there were certainly vernacular translations in manuscript both earlier and later. Faleiro was a Portuguese cosmographer who came to Spain in 1518.  Faleiro’s translation was titled Treatise on the sphere and on the art of navigation (Tratado del esphera y del arte del marear) and it was published in Seville in 1535. The book was published by Juan Cromberger, the leading printer in Seville at this time.  Almost 90% of Cromberger’s output was vernacular texts like Faleiro’s Treatise. Faleiro was a cosmographer at the House of Trade in Seville from 1519 to 1532.  The House of Trade was founded in 1503 by the Spanish crown to coordinate and regulate commerce and navigation to the Americas and the Indies. The institution was responsible for training and licensing pilots, and administered an exam to make sure they knew how to use navigational instruments.  Faleiro, as the resident cosmographer, would have been responsible for teaching pilots and navigators, and he made his translation of the Sphere for this purpose.  It was imperative for navigators to have a basic understanding of the motion of heavenly bodies in order to use the newly developed navigational instruments. Faleiro’s book was, as the title suggests, two separate books: the first a partial translation of Sacrobosco’s Sphere and the second a treatise on navigation.


Faleiro translated portions of the Sphere, rearranged them, and added new material, reflecting the book’s function as a teaching text for men who were going to sea.  Indeed the text is small enough that conceivably it actually was taken to sea for use as a reference.  However, despite this clearly practical context, Faleiro’s Sphere is notable for the repeated emphasis on the importance of cosmographical knowledge in cultivating Christian piety.  In the introduction, Faleiro claims he has translated the Sphere “for those like me who do not have polished Latin” (para que los que como yo no alcancaren la polida latinidad) so that they might be able to learn about “the admirable works and marvels of God” (delas admirables obras y maravillas de dios). Contemplation of the divine works of creation will lead the reader to a deeper knowledge and love of God.  The Christian who learns about the heavens

will know much more clearly the greatness, power, and wisdom with which such work was made, and with much more understanding, joy and knowledge give praise to the Lord, as the psalmist says: The heavens declare the glory of God.

Mas el christiano que por todo esto passare contemplando y viendo como el esphera y la orden della es la mas excelente y admirabile obra entre todas las obras despues de la que dios a su semejanca hizo: con mucha mas claridad conocera la grandeza / poder / y saber del que tal obra hizo: y con much mas conocimiento / gozo y saber dara loores al señor: y conel psalmist dira.  Celi enarrant gloriam dei.

Faleiro did not simply translate the Sphere.  He expanded on various sections, and cut others entirely.  In his discussion of the planets he comments on their influences on human life and health.  For example, he informs readers that Saturn is cold and dry, connected to the humor melancholy, and has a generally negative effect on human life.  This was all quite standard astrological fare, but not in Sacrobosco’s original text.  Faleiro uses it to emphasize the interconnectedness of the heavens and the earth, and the magnificence of God’s plan for the world.  Faleiro cut out the last section of Sacrobosco’s Sphere which detailed the motions of the sun and the moon.  Perhaps he deemed them too technical and unnecessary for his projected audience.


Faleiro corrected and updated Sacrobosco’s original text.  For example, Sacrobosco had asserted that there were five climactic zones, a torrid zone around the equator which was too hot to sustain life, two frigid zones around the arctic and Antarctic poles which were too cold to sustain life, and two temperate zones which were the right temperature to sustain life.  Faleiro pointed out that Portuguese voyages to the Cape of Good Hope and Brazil demonstrated that no portion of the earth was uninhabitable.  And far from being arid deserts, the equatorial regions were remarkably fertile.  According to travelers reports, “cucumbers and melons, pears, lettuce, eggplant, and many other fruits” (pepinos y melones / peras / lechugas / berenjenas: y otras muchas frutas) grew year round in the torrid zone, rather than only in a particular season as in the temperate zone.  However, the peoples of this region were sometimes strange – Magellan allegedly found people almost the size of giants on his voyages of 1520-21.  In general, Faleiro informs his readers,

The temperate zone is populated by the best part of people, most endowed with reason and of better understanding and more skill than people who inhabit the other zones.

Esta templada zona es poblada por la mayor parte de gentes mas acogidas a razon y de mejores entendimientos y mas abiles y para mas que las otras gentes de que son abitadas las otras zonas.

He is also concerned to explain how this newly acquired geographical knowledge can be incorporated into biblical interpretation.  He concludes that Asia and Europe are in the temperate zone, while most of Africa is in the torrid zone.  And it is in the temperate zone that all the important historical events have occurred.  The first human beings were created and sinned for the first time in the temperate zone.  Noah built his ark in the temperate zone.  The twelve tribes of Israel were dispersed in the temperate zone.  And so on.  All the events of biblical and world history occurred in Europe and Asia.  Africa was in this account devoid of history and significance.  Significantly, there is very little in Faleiro’s translation of the Sphere that refers to the practical uses of astronomy in navigation.  That is all reserved for the second half of the book, on the art of navigation.  The material in the Sphere was clearly necessary for the reader to make sense of the navigational tools and techniques described in the second part, but Faleiro cast his version of the Sphere as a pious contemplation of the wonders of the cosmos God created and the unfolding of human history according to God’s plan.


Ricardo Arroyo Ruiz-Zorrilla, “Introduction” in Francisco Faleiro, El Tratado de la Esphera y Arte de Marear (Madrid: Ministerio de Defensa, 1989).

Victor Navarro Brotóns, “Astronomia y cosmografía entre 1561 y 1625: Aspectos de la actividad de los matemáticos y cosmógrafos españoles y portugueses” Cronos 3 (2000): 349-80.

Edward Collins, “Francisco Faleiro and Scientific Methodology at the Casa de la Contratación in the Sixteenth Century” Imago Mundi: The International Journal for the History of Cartography Volume 65, Issue 1, 2013, 25-36.

Francisco Falero, Tratado del esphera y del arte del marear : con el regimie[n]to de las alturas : co[n] algu[n]as reglas nueuame[n]te escritas muy necessarias (Seville: Juan Cromberger, 1535). Facsimile with introduction by Timothy Coates.

Juan Gil, El exilio portugués en Sevilla: de los Braganza a Magallanes (Sevile, Fundación Cajasol, 2009).

Clive Griffin, The Crombergers of Seville: The History of a Printing and Merchant Dynasty (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988).

María M. Portuondo, Secret Science: Spanish Cosmography and the New World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).

Alison Sandman, “Cosmographers vs. Pilots: Navigation, Cosmography, and the State in Early Modern Spain” (PhD dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2001).

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