Engraving of a crowned Ptolemy being guided by the muse of Astronomy, Urania
, from Margarita Philosophica
by Gregor Reisch
, 1508. Although Abu Ma'shar
believed Ptolemy to be one of the Ptolemies
who ruled Egypt after the conquest of Alexander
, the title ‘King Ptolemy’ is generally viewed as a mark of respect for Ptolemy's elevated standing in science.
Ptolemaeus (Πτολεμαῖος Ptolemaios) is a Greek name. It occurs once in Greek mythology, and is of Homeric form. It was common among the Macedonian upper class at the time of Alexander the Great, and there were several of this name among Alexander's army, one of whom made himself pharaoh in 323 BC: Ptolemy I Soter, the first king of the Ptolemaic Kingdom. All male kings of Hellenistic Egypt, until Egypt became a Roman province in 30 BC ending the Macedonian family's rule, were also Ptolemies.
The name Claudius is a Roman name, belonging to the gens Claudia; the peculiar multipart form of the whole name Claudius Ptolemaeus is a Roman custom, characteristic of Roman citizens. Several historians have made the deduction that this indicates that Ptolemy would have been a Roman citizen. Gerald Toomer, the translator of Ptolemy's Almagest into English, suggests that citizenship was probably granted to one of Ptolemy's ancestors by either the emperor Claudius or the emperor Nero.
The ninth-century Persian astronomer Abu Maʿshar presents Ptolemy as a member of Egypt's royal lineage, stating that the descendants of Alexander's general Ptolemy I, who ruled Egypt, were wise "and included Ptolemy the Wise, who composed the book of the Almagest". Abu Maʿshar recorded a belief that a different member of this royal line "composed the book on astrology and attributed it to Ptolemy". We can evidence historical confusion on this point from Abu Maʿshar's subsequent remark "It is sometimes said that the very learned man who wrote the book of astrology also wrote the book of the Almagest. The correct answer is not known." There is little evidence on the subject of Ptolemy's ancestry, apart from what can be drawn from the details of his name (see above); however, modern scholars refer to Abu Maʿshar's account as erroneous, and it is no longer doubted that the astronomer who wrote the Almagest also wrote the Tetrabiblos as its astrological counterpart.
Ptolemy wrote in ancient Greek and can be shown to have utilized Babylonian astronomical data. He might have been a Roman citizen, but was ethnically either a Greek or a Hellenized Egyptian. He was often known in later Arabic sources as "the Upper Egyptian", suggesting he may have had origins in southern Egypt. Later Arabic astronomers, geographers and physicists referred to him by his name in Arabic: بَطْلُمْيوس Baṭlumyus.