A. Mark Smith’s critical edition and translation of Alahacen’s first three books of the De aspectibus is a welcome addition to the history of science. As he points out in the “Introduction” this volume should not be thought of as duplicating Sabra’s similar efforts in the Arabic version, the Kitaab al-Manazir, particularly due to the numerous differences between the Latin version and the Arabic – particularly due to the fact that the first three chapters of Book I are missing from the Latin version (p. Xxiii). As a result, Smith’s efforts here (to be followed by later similar editions of the remainder of De aspectibus) will inevitably spur further research into these works.
In addition to the critical edition and translation, Smith also provides a helpful “Introduction” to Alhacen and his optical influence. In it he addresses the optical theory of Alhacen, the way various important optical texts gave shape to it, as well as addressing the overall influence of Alhacen’s text in the Renaissance. The information here is a succinct summary of many parts of Smith’s other scholarship on the topic, and so I will not summarize it all here.
What should be commented upon, though, is how Smith understands the significance of Alhacen. According to Smith, Alhacen’s significance is best understood in the way it brought the perspectivist tradition to logical completion, the result of which was that he simultaneously laid bare its vulnerabilities (p. Cxvii). Thus, in contrast to Lindberg – who understands Alhacen as establishing the conceptual framework for Kepler – Smith argues that Kepler actually developed his theory of optical thought and the theory of image formation on the retina due to the shortcomings of Alhacen, not because of the framework of Alhacen. To that extent, Smith even seems to suggest that Alhacen is a significant figure for the history of optics, but not essential to it.
As suggest above, this is an exceptionally fine critical edition and English translation, with a very detailed Introduction. Ironically enough, despite the fact that Smith underwent all this work, his overall estimation of Alhacen in the history of optics is quite less than what other scholars have suggested.