al-Fattaah | The Opener

In a repetition of the situation in the East in the 8th and 9th centuries, translation in the West in the 12th and 13th centuries was provided impetus by several strong leaders, leaders interested in the learning of the Arabs both for polemical reasons and for reasons of personal curiosity. Many Western scholars were attracted to the cultural value of the information in Arabic texts, most notably in the intellectual center that was Cordova. However, as Christian Spaniards gradually took control of Arab Spain, bishops wanted to see translations made in order to see what the Arabs knew so that such knowledge might be used in the struggle against Islam. As Rodinson noted, an oversimplified, Manichean view of Islam formed as a result of the need to demonize the enemy during the Crusades.

The first such efforts began in Toledo after it had been taken from the Muslims by Christian forces in 1085. Again, in ironic similarity to the behavior of the Byzantines to Arabs seeking Greek manuscripts, some Arab leaders tried to forbid the sale of Arabic books to Christians because of a fear they would translate them and attribute their authorship to the bishops instead of to the original authors. This was not an unfounded fear. Bishops from at least five other Iberian cities, in picking up the translation task into the 12th century, had their own names appended as being responsible for math and astronomical translations. By this time, many Spanish locales were full of translators, but Toledo had remained a center of Arab learning even after the Christian conquest and thus remained an accessible source for finding Arab scholarly works. Under Archbishop Raymond of the city (1126-1152), a school of translators flourished and attracted interested scholars from the continent as well as the British Isles. Toledo continued its work in this field for more than a century. In 1250 it was chosen as the site for a school of Oriental studies – the first of its kind in Europe – founded by an order that trained missionaries to Islam and Judaism. [Hitti, 1971; Anawati, 1979; Vernet, 1979]

In the next century, King Alfonso X of Castille and Leon, sponsored another center for translation in Seville. Alfonso (surnamed “the Astronomer” and “the Wise”) was an ardent advocate of Muslim learning in Christian Spain. Through his leadership, the Arabic translation of the scientific works of Hippocrates, Euclid, Ptolemy, Galen, among others, as well as the revisions and additions made by al-Khwarizmi, al-Battani, al-Farghani, Ibn Sina, among others, were made accessible to the West. Alfonso began a secular approach to scholarship and had works translated both nto Latin and into Spanish. His interest in the Iberian culture, no matter from which linguistic culture it had sprung, caused him to have Arab fables and literature translated as well. [Hitti, 1970; Gabrieli, 1979]

However, Spain was not the only center for translation, and Alfonso X and the Spanish bishops were not the only sponsors for translation. In Sicily, a polyglot mixture of many cultures, Norman kings were so taken by Arab culture that they affected Arab dress and customs. Critics referred to the Arabophiles Roger I, Roger II, and Frederick II as “half-heathens” and as “baptized Sultans of Sicily.” But starting with Roger in the early 12th century, the throne was interested in learning all it could from the culture they had inherited. Roger I was particularly interested in agronomy and public administration, Roger II in geography. [; Plessner, 1979]

Frederick II, who ruled from 1215 to 1250, was the highpoint. Ruler of both Germany and Sicily, he preferred to live in Sicily and to dress as an Arab. In 1220, he acquired the title of Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and in 1225, via marriage, became also the King of Jerusalem. Even as he led Crusades against the Muslim world, he brought back ideas from them. Able to read the Arabic classics in their original, Frederick sought to expand himself in the realm of philosophy and lured Michael Scotus in 1220 from the translation center at Toledo to Sicily, where he translated Ibn Rushd’s commentaries on Aristotle. In 1224, Frederick founded the University of Naples, the first university founded by royal charter, and the translations made in Sicily eventually became the texts for students here. It was at Naples that Thomas Aquinas began his studies. Frederick also imported Hermannus Allamanus from Spain in 1240 and continued to sponsor additional translations of most of the other great Arab theologians and philosophers. These efforts eventually introduced Dante to the works of Arab mystics and helped frame some of his own great works. [Anawati, 1979]

... aware of his indebtedness to Moslem philosophers, the famed Italian poet did not consign them to the inferno, as he was bound to do by the teaching of his church, but to the border region termed limbo. [Hitti, 1970, p. 164]

The Arab Bridge | ash-Shakoor | al-Mu’eed | al-Muquddim | al-Waajid | al-Fattaah | al-Hafeez | al-Hayy | References | Footnotes | Author