Abbas Ibn Firnas, the Last Mechanician?

Abbas Ibn Firnas, also known as Abbas Qasim Ibn Firnas was a Berber polymath from Ronda in the south of Iberia known for his design of the al-Maqata, a complicated water-clock and other devices, including corrective lenses, a metronome and simple astronomical devices such as armillary spheres.

In his house he built a room in which spectators witnessed stars, clouds, thunder, and lightning, which were produced by mechanisms hidden in his basement laboratory.

In ArM5 terms, Ibn Firnas was perhaps a rare example of a Gently Gifted non-Hermetic wizard who had learnt the lost art of Mechanica of Heron (see Ancient Magic, pages 75-88). The exact origin of his mechanical abilities may be unknown, but he most certainly would have consulted the works of the Banu Musa in addition to having access to uncorrupted original works of Heron and the other Alexandrians.

Whether a lineage of mechanica producing hedge magicians or their works still survives in Andalusia is up to individual Troupe’s to determine, but the Jerbiton Larta magus Al-Idhâdah may be an unGifted remnant of this tradition (see Sub Rosa #5, “Dar al-Nujum Covenant”, pages 12-18 or the full article posted here). Although no publically known works survive of this talented Muslim engineer, his collected work notes would provide valuable Insight into integrating Mechanica of Heron into Hermetic magic (see Ancient Magic, pages 5-9).

Story Seed: The Flight of Armen Firman

Some records claim that Ibn Firnas’s glider flight was inspired by an incident from his youth. In 852, the young polymath observed a man jump from a tower using a huge bat-like cloak with struts to break his fall. Although suffering minor injuries, the man escaped relatively unharmed by the fall but mysteriously disappeared shortly thereafter. All that was left behind was apparently his name, Armen Firman – a name later believed to be the Latinized form of Ibn Firnas.

Armen Firman was reputedly a somewhat eccentric Andalusian magus of House Verditius active in the early 9th century, known for his almost crippling dependence on oversized mechanical casting tools. The incident recalled by the youthful Ibn Firnas was an example of one of Armen’s less successful experiments. Attempting to integrate aspects of the lost art of Heron into the existing mysteries of his House, he botched during an experimentation involving a mechanical variant of Wings of the Soaring Wind and was lucky not to be killed. The resulting publicity around his flight drew disapproving attention from the Quaesitors of Iberia and he was discouraged from pursuing further research.

Example semi-mechanical spell TBA

Armen Firman’s lab texts may provide a useful resource for magi attempting to integrate Heron’s mechanical breakthroughs into mainstream Hermetic magic. His surviving lab texts, if recovered, provide a source of Insight for attempts to integrate the Mutable Device Breakthrough only and may be studied to gain Breakthrough points.

Armen may have produced several other semi-Hermetic effects, but still had several decades of experimentation ahead of him – if collated and decoded, his lab texts can provide a boost of up to 24 Breakthrough points to a researcher engaged in the same project (see Houses of Hermes: True Lineages, page 29 for details).


* Mechanica of Heron: Can this be done? thread (Xavi, Jan 2011)


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