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The Greek-Arabic Translation That Enriched Europe

How the Theology of Aristotle is linked to the Arab-Islamic world

Last update: 2018-03-27 13:04:43

The European Research Council - ERC has been financing research projects since 2007 in the EU, encouraging interdisciplinary work and the innovation of scientific research in particular. The ERC Advanced Grants are among the most sought after and prestigious recognitions with which the ERC backs research in all scientific sectors.



In the sphere of human sciences, the project “Greek into Arabic. Philosophical Concepts and Linguistic Bridges” has been going on since 2010 and is coordinated by Cristina D’Ancona (University of Pisa), Gehrard Endress (University of Bochum) and Andrea Bozzi (ILC/CNR, Pisa), with its centre in the Department of Philosophy of the University of Pisa.



The project is dedicated to the transmission of Greek knowledge in the Arab world. The ERC “Greek into Arabic” project applies the most advanced data mining techniques elaborated by computational linguistics to the Greek philosophical works translated into Arabic. The text being researched is one of the most important of the origins of Arab-Islamic philosophy, the so called ‘Theology of Aristotle’. Based on extracts of Plotinus and enlarged with numerous additions, the ‘Theology’ attributed to ‘Aristotle’ had a decisive role around the middle of the IX century in persuading the elites of the first Abbasid caliphate of the fact that Greek philosophy perfectly coincided with the Islamic doctrine of tawhid (uniqueness and transcendence of God).



Intervening on the contents and lexicon of the ‘Theology of Aristotle’, it was possible to attribute to Aristotle, the ‘First Master’ of the philosophy of the Greeks, the creation of the universe by ‘the blessed and Most High God’. The ‘Theology of Aristotle’ was unknown until the Latin Middle Ages, unlike its twin text, the ‘Liber de Causis’, which was instead famous and expounded upon by Thomas of Aquinas too.



The Arab-Latin translations of the XII and XIII centuries, and in particular those of the annotations of Averroes on Aristotle, had convinced the European intellectuals that in the Arab world there was still a part of precious Aristotle that had not been discovered; it comes as no surprise therefore that when the ‘Theology’ was translated from Arabic into Latin in 1519, its attribution to Aristotle was not questioned. At a later date, many doubts arose and the ‘Theology’ was ousted from the Aristotelian corpus; it was only in the XIX century that its Neo-Platonist origin was to be highlighted.



This important text has not yet been critically edited, but to do this it is necessary to acquire the manuscripts, many of which are kept in libraries outside Europe (Egypt, Turkey, Iran, India). Furthermore, the meticulous comparison of the Arab text with its Greek origin is needed: all this has now been made possible by the ERC ‘Greek into Arabic’ project, which permits a group of researchers of various disciplines to travel in the search for manuscripts, to study the tradition of the text, its language and its philosophical content, and to apply the most advanced instruments of computational linguistics to the comparison of the Arabic text with its Greek source.



Thanks to the longstanding experience of the Orientalists of the Ruhr-Universität of Bochum on the one hand and the Istituto di Linguistica Computazionale of the CNR on the other, the group researching the transmission of philosophical works from Greek into Arabic at the University of Pisa has begun its work on the manuscripts and study of the text. The main results of the first year of work can be found on its website. The ERC Greek into Arabic project will announce the objectives reached to date to the international scientific community in an open conference foreseen on Monday 3 October 2011 (Santa Croce in Fossabanda, Pisa, 10 a.m.) at the opening of the workshop of the three teams (3-5 October).