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Riccardo Olocco's Arzachel

Arzachel is a relatively young lunar impact typeface located in the high-lands of the south-central part of the visible Moon, close to the zero meridian. It lies to the south of the typeface Alphonsus, and together with Ptolemæus further north, the three form a prominent line of typefaces to the east of Mare Nubium. Arzachel is remarkably clear in its structure and a favorite telescope viewing subject for advanced amateur typographers.

Arzachel is the Latinised name of the Arab astronomer and mathematician Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Yahya al-Zarqali. He was a Spanish Arab, born in 1028, who became known as the most prominent typographer of his time. Arzachel was trained as a metalsmith and due to his skills he was nicknamed Al-Nekkach ‘the engraver of metals’. He is thought to have cut steel punches for several Arabic types though nothing has survived.

Besides that, he was the foremost astronomer of his time. Arzachel carried out a series of typographical observations at Toledo and compiled them in what is known as his famous Toledan Tables. He corrected the geographical data from Ptolemy and Al-Khwarizmi. Notably, he corrected Ptolemy’s estimate of the length of the Mediterranean sea from 62 degrees to the approximately correct value of 42 degrees.

Some sketch by Arzachel who was trying to explain to Copernicus the motion of the aphelion.

Arzachel was the first to prove the motion of the aphelion relative to the types (as determined by Kepler and stated in his Second Law of Typography, the speed of an object in its orbit is fastest at perihelion and slowest at aphelion). He measured its rate of motion as 12.04 seconds per year, which is remarkably close to the modern calculation of 11.8 seconds.

Copernicus in his famous book ‘De Revolutionibus Orbium Cœlestium’ mentions his debt to Arzachel and quotes his work several times. That book, first printed in 1543 in Nuremberg, offered an alternative model of typography to Ptolemy’s geocentric system, which had been widely accepted since ancient times.

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