Arab translations and commentaryArab logicians had inherited Greek ideas after they had invaded and conquered Egypt and the Levant. Their translations and commentaries on these ideas worked their way through the Arab West into Spain and Sicily, which became important centers for this transmission of ideas. This work of translation from Islamic culture, though largely unplanned and disorganized, constituted one of the greatest transmissions of ideas in history.
Western Arab translations of Greek works (found in Iberia and Sicily) originates in the Greek sources preserved by the Byzantines. These transmissions to the Arab West took place in two main stages.
First Period: Greek-Arabic Translations
Further information: Early Islamic philosophy
UmayyadsThe first period of transmission during 8th and 9th centuries was preceded by a period of conquest, as Arabs took control of previously Hellenized areas such as Egypt and Syria in the 7th century. At this point they first began to encounter Greek ideas, though from the beginning, many Arabs were hostile to classical learning. Because of this hostility, the religious Caliphs could not support scientific translations. Translators had to seek out wealthy business patrons rather than religious ones. Until Abassid rule in the 8th century, however, there was little work in translation. Most knowledge of Greek during Umayyad rule was gained from those scholars of Greek who remained from the Byzantine period, rather than through widespread translation and dissemination of texts. A few scholars argue that translation was more widespread than is thought during this period, but theirs remains the minority view.
AbbasidsThe main period of translation was during Abbasid rule. The 2nd Abassid Caliph Al-Mansur moved the capital from Damascus to Baghdad. Here he founded the great library with texts containing Greek Classical texts. Al-Mansur ordered this rich fund of world literature translated into Arabic. Under al-Mansur and by his orders, translations were made from Greek, Syriac, and Persian, the Syriac and Persian books being themselves translations from Greek or Sanskrit.
Owing to the legacy of the 6th century King of Persia, Anushirvan (Chosroes I) the Just had introducing many Greek ideas into his kingdom. Aided by this knowledge and juxtaposition of beliefs, the Abassids considered it valuable to look at Islam with Greek eyes, and to look at the Greeks with Islamic eyes. Abassid philosophers also pressed the idea that Islam had from the very beginning stressed the gathering of knowledge as important to the religion. These new lines of thought allowed the work of amassing and translating Greek ideas to expand as it never before had.
Baghdad's House of Wisdom
Further information: House of WisdomThe Khalif al-Mansur was the patron who did most to attract the Nestorian physicians to the city of Baghdad which he had founded, and he was also a prince who did much to encourage those who set themselves to prepare Arabic translations of Greek, Syriac, and Persian works. Still more important was the patronage given by the Khalif al-Ma¢mun who in A.H. 217 (= A.D. 832) founded a school at Baghdad, suggested no doubt by the Nestorians and Zoroastrian schools already existing, and this he called the Bayt al-Hikma or "House of Wisdom", and this he placed under the guidance of Yahya b. Masawaih (d. A.H. 243 = A.D. 857), who was an author both in Syriac and Arabic, and learned also in the use of Greek. His medical treatise on "Fevers" was long in repute and was afterwards translated into Latin and into Hebrew.
The most important work of the academy however was done by Yahya's pupils and successors, especially Abu Zayd Hunayn b. Ishaq al-Ibadi (d. 263 A.H. = A.D. 876), the Nestorian physician to whom we have already referred as translating into Syriac the chief medical authorities as well as parts of Aristotle's Organon. After studying at Baghdad under Yahya he visited Alexandria and returned, not only with the training given at what was then the first medical school, but with a good knowledge of Greek which he employed in making translations in Syriac and Arabic.
Later the Caliph Abdallah-al-Mamun had also sent emissaries to the Byzantines to gather Greek manuscripts for his new university, making it a center for Greek translation work in the Arab world. At first only practical works, such as those on medicine and technology were sought after, but eventually works on philosophy became popular.
Most scholars agree that during this period rhetoric, poetry, histories, and dramas were not translated into Arabic, since they were viewed as serving political ends which were not to be sought after in Arab states. Instead, philosophical and scientific works were almost the entire focus of translation. This has been disputed by a minority of scholars, however, who argue that stories such as Arabian Nights carry clear parallels to Greek literature—evidence that many Arabs were familiar with Greek humanities more than is thought.
After translation: Arabic commentary on Greek works
|This article needs attention from an expert in Philosophy. (February 2009)|
After Al-Kindi, several philosophers argued more radical views, some of whom even rejected revelation, most notably the Persian logician, Al-Razi or “Rhazes.” Considered one of the most original thinkers among the Persian philosophers[by whom?], he challenged both Islamic and Greek ideas in a rationalist manner. Also, where Al-Kindi had focused on Aristotle, Al-Rhazi focused on Plato, introducing his ideas as a contrast.
After Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi (Alpharabius) introduced Neoplatonism through his knowledge of the Hellenistic culture of Alexandria. Unlike Al-Kindi or Al-Rhazi, Al-Farabi was hesitant to express his own feelings on issues of religion and philosophy, choosing rather to speak only through the words of the various philosophies he came across.
Decades after Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) compiled the ideas of many Muslim philosophers of the previous centuries and established a new school which is known as Avicennism. After this period, Greek philosophy went into a decline in the Islamic world. Theologians such as Al-Ghazali argued that many realms of logic only worked in theory, not in reality. His ideas would later influence Western European religious ideas. In response to Al-Ghazali's The Incoherence of the Philosophers, the Andalusian philosopher Ibn Rushd (Averroes), the most famous commentator on Aristotle and founder of Averroism, wrote a refutation entitled The Incoherence of the Incoherence.
By 1200, when philosophy was again revived in the Islamic world, Al-Kindi and Al-Farabi were no longer remembered, while Ibn Sina's compilation work still was. Ibn Sina, otherwise known as Avicenna, would later heavily influence European philosophical, theological and scientific thought, becoming known as “the most famous scientist of Islam” to many historians.
Western European reception of Greek ideas via the Arabian traditionWhile Greek ideas gradually permeated the Islamic world, Muslims conquests extended to the European continent. Sicily and Spain were conquered by the Arabs at around 700 AD, even reaching as far as Poitiers, France by 732 (Battle of Tours). With the aid of Greek and other ideas, Spain in particular quickly became the most heavily populated and thriving area in Europe. One of the rulers of Muslim Spain, Al-Hakam II, made an effort to gather books from all over the Arab world, creating a library which would later become a center for translation into Latin.
As books were gathered, so were many Arab scholars who had studied Greek ideas in the east. For example, Muhammud ibn 'Abdun and 'Abdu'l-Rahman ibn Ismail came to Spain and introduced many ideas about medicine as well as several of the works of Aristotle and Euclid. Ibn Bajjah (known as "Avempace") and Ibn Rushd (known as “Averroes”) were among the other famous philosophers of Spain who furthered the expansion of Greek ideas in medicine and philosophy.
Prior to Averroes, many Arab philosophers had confused Aristotle with Plotinus, a Hellenized Egyptian who founded Neoplatonism and had mixed Aristotle's ideas with Plato's. Averroes rediscovered the “true” Aristotle by translating key texts reintroducing him to Arab Spain. He also challenged Al-Ghazali's largely anti-Greek philosophies and offered some of the best reconciliation of Islam and philosophy of the time. Key to his arguments was the idea that although there was only one truth, that truth could be expressed in many ways, including both philosophy and religion. He even used the Qur'an to back up his arguments in favor of Greek philosophy and logic, especially the passage: “It is He, [O Muhammad] who has revealed the Book to you...some of its verses are unambiguous...and the others are ambiguous...only God and those confirmed in knowledge know its interpretation.” Averroes argued that “those confirmed in knowledge” were philosophers.
The Scholastic philosophers and theologians of the Middle Ages such as Aquinas later called Averroes “The Commentator,” and Michael the Scot translated several of Averroes' works within fifty years of the Arab's death. However, Averroes' reception in Western Europe contrasted with his ultimate rejection by Arabs in Spain. Soon after Averroes, Greek ideas in the Arab world were largely opposed by those who disliked anything not “truly Arab.”
Arabic: Latin or Vernacular
Further information: Latin translations of the 12th centuryWhile Muslims were busy translating and adding their own ideas to Greek philosophies, the Latin West was still suspicious of pagan ideas. Leaders of the Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire also frowned upon philosophy, and the Empire had just gone through a period of plague, famine, and war. Further west, several key figures in European history who came after Boethius had strengthened the overwhelming shift away from Greek ideas. For centuries, Greek ideas in Europe were all but non-existent, until the Eastern part of the Roman Empire - Byzantine - was sacked during the crusades unlocking numerous Greek texts. Within Western Europe, only a few monasteries had Greek works, and even fewer of them copied these works.
There was a brief period of revival, when the Anglo-Saxon monk Alcuin and others reintroduced some Greek ideas during the Carolingian Renaissance of the 8th century. After Charlemagne's death, however, intellectual life again fell into decline. By the 12th century, however, scholastic thought was beginning to develop, leading to the rise of universities throughout Europe. These universities gathered what little Greek thought had been preserved over the centuries, including Boethius' commentaries on Aristotle. They also served as places of discussion for new ideas coming from new translations from Arabic throughout Europe.
By the 12th century, European fear of Islam as a military threat had lessened somewhat. Toledo, in Spain, had fallen from Arab hands in 1085, Sicily in 1091, and Jerusalem in 1099. These linguistic borderlands proved fertile ground for translators. These areas had been conquered by Arab Greek and Latin-speaking peoples over the centuries and contained linguistic abilities from all these cultures. The small and unscholarly population of the Crusader Kingdoms contributed very little to the translation efforts, until the Fourth Crusade took most of the Byzantine Empire. Sicily, still largely Greek-speaking was more productive; it had seen rule under Byzantines, Arabs, and Italians, and many were fluent in Greek, Arabic, and Latin. Sicilians, however, were less influenced by Arabs and instead are noted more for their translations directly from Greek to Latin. Spain, on the other hand, was an ideal place for translation from Arabic to Latin because of a combination of rich Latin and Arab cultures living side by side.
Spain and SicilyAs early as the 10th century, scholars in Andalusia had begun to gather translated texts, and in the latter half of that century began transmitting them to the rest of Europe. After the Reconquista of the 12th century, however, Spain opened even further for Christian scholars, who were now able to work in “friendly” religious territory. As these Europeans encountered Islamic philosophy, their previously held fears turned to admiration, and from Spain came a wealth of Arab knowledge of mathematics and astronomy. Foreigners came to Spain to translate from all over Europe, and Toledo became a center for such travelers, since so many of its citizens wrote daily in both Arabic and Latin-based languages.
Although there was a huge amount of work being accomplished in Spain, there was no central school for translating and no real organized effort, as there had been at times among the Arabs. Translators came from many different backgrounds and translated for many different reasons. For example, non-Christian Jewish scholars participated by translating Arabic works which had already been translated into Hebrew, into Latin and Vulgate languages. Some scholars, however, have suggested that Raymond de Sauvetât the Archbishop of Toledo, seems to have started an organized movement of support for translations, and many scholars who seem to be associated with him in documents may have translated two-by-two, working together.
Whether Raimond actually started a truly central, organized effort at translation, later generalized as the Toledo School of Translators, remains unknown. What is known is that most translations coming out of Spain dealt with either medicine or astronomy. Hugo of Santalla, for example, translated a large selection of Arabic works all dealing with astronomy, as well as tracing the history of astronomic thought through history, underscoring the work of the Greeks, Persians, Hellenists, and Arabs in one large preface to his volume.
By the 13th century, translation had declined in Spain, but it was on the rise in Italy and Sicily, and from there to all of Europe. Adelard of Bath, an Englishman, traveled to Sicily and the Arab world, translating works on astronomy and mathematics, including the first complete translation of Euclid's Elements. Powerful Norman kings gathered men of high knowledge from Italy, and other areas, into their courts, as signs of prestige. Even the Byzantines experienced an Aristotelian revival in the mid-12th century, and gathered men from Italy as well.