al-Waajid | The Finder

As had been the case in Baghdad earlier where a few names stand out from the numerous anonymous translators and scribes who had transformed the works of the ancients into Arabic, in the west a few individuals are mentioned in histories as key translators of Arabic works. Also, as had been the case in Baghdad where non-Arabs and non-Muslims were often the translators, the same proved to be true in Andalusia. In much the same manner as the Hellenized Syrian Hunayn had translated Greek into Syrian and his sons had then translated the Syrian into Arabic, in Spain it was often a Jew or a Muslim convert who translated Arabic texts into Hebrew or an Iberian vernacular tongue from which learned Christians made the first literal Latin translations. Just as the Arabs had sought out Greek and Persian manuscripts from schools in Syria, Asia Minor, and Persia, Christian scholars from all parts of Western Europe sought out Arabic manuscripts from schools and libraries in Toledo, Seville, and, especially, Cordova. [Gabrieli, 1979]

However, Toledo was the first center of translation after Christian forces took control of the city from the Arabs in 1085. aving learned that the Muslims possessed Arabic translations of the basic works of the Ancient World, and had access to complete manuals of the sciences that were considered essential, the presiding Archbishop began to sponsor efforts to discover the knowledge available in Arabic texts. [Rodinson, 1979] One of the earliest was an English mathematician and astronomer, Robert of Chester, who worked in Toledo from 1141-1147 and who, in addition to translating works on astronomy, did the first Latin version of the Koran. Others known to have worked in and around Toledo in this period included the Spaniard John of Seville, the Frenchman Robert of Retines, the Englishman Abelard of Bath, the Scotsman Michael Scotus, the Dalmatian Hermannus Allamanus (also known as Hermann the German), and the Italian Gerard of Cremona. [Hitti, 1971; Gabrieli, 1979]

Gerard (1114-1187) is regarded as one of the most important translators due to the importance of the works accredited to him. He had gone to Toledo to find Arabic versions of philosophical Greek texts. However, once there he encountered the great philosophic and scientific works of Arab scholars. Gerard began the translation of Abu-Ali al-Husayn Ibn Sina’s (980-1037) Kitab al-Shifa (The Book of Healing), a philosophical encyclopedia consisting of four major books in logic, physics, mathematics, and metaphysics, each divided into sections subdivided into essays and chapters. This work, estimated to be perhaps the longest book of its kind ever written by one man, postdated the slightly shorter work that Ibn Sina is most noted for, his al-Qanun fi al-Tibb (The Canon of Medicine). A systemization of the medical knowledge of his age, when it was printed in Rome in 1593 it was 833 pages long and contained about a million words. It remained a staple text in Western medical schools for 400 years, in Eastern medical schools for 600. These translations made Ibn Sina (known better in the West as Avicenna, from the Hebrew version of his name, probably from an anonymous Jewish translator) the philosophical touchstone from which western philosophers transferred Avicenna’s observations about Muslim life to a Christian context. [Rodinson, 1979] Gerard additionally translated works by Archimedes, as well as 9th century Iraqi enhancements to the Greek, that together eventually helped to form western concepts of spatial relationships (directly influencing the ideas of Fibonacci and his work on the Golden Mean, for example). [Vernet, 1979] From the philosopher-scientist al-Kindi, Gerard translated his works on the intellect and on sleep and dreams. [Hitti, 1971]

A century later, another center of translation sprang up around Seville. The work of the Toledo and Seville translators resulted in the translation from Arabic into Latin of the scientific works of Hippocrates, Euclid, Ptolemy, Galen, and other Greek scientists as well as the translation of the additions to the Greek made by Arab scientists such as al-Khwarizmi and Ibn Sina. They additionally translated the theological works of the Cordovan Arab theologian, Ibn Rushd (1126-1198). Ibn Rushd, known to the West as Averroës, is most notable for his commentaries on Aristotle and it was through him, in the Latin adaptation begun by Michael Scotus as early as 1230, that Aristotelianism was introduced into Western thought. Translations of Ibn Rushd’s commentaries eventually became a key component of the studies of the young Thomas Aquinas. In his effort to systematize Catholic theology, Aquinas repeatedly mentions Avicenna and often quotes to criticize him. Through Aquinas, Arab philosophy established a firm foothold in the western Christian tradition. [Gabrieli, 1979; Brockelmann, 1960]

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