Who Saved Greek Political Philosophy? The Flemings, Not the Arabs
From the desk of The Brussels Journal on Thu, 2007-09-20 23:21
It is true that some Greek and other classics were translated to Arabic, but it is equally true that Muslims could be highly particular about which texts to exclude. As Iranian intellectual Amir Taheri explains: “It is no accident that early Muslims translated numerous ancient Greek texts but never those related to political matters. The great Avicenna himself translated Aristotle’s Poetics. But there was no translation of Aristotle's Politics in Persian until 1963.”
In other words: There was a great deal of Greek thought that could never have been “transferred” to Europeans by Arabs, as is frequently claimed by Western Multiculturalists, because many Greek works had never been translated into Arabic in the first place. Muslims especially turned down political texts, since these included descriptions of systems in which men ruled themselves according to their own laws. This was considered blasphemous by Muslims, as laws are made by Allah and rule belongs to his representatives.
William of Moerbeke was a Flemish scholar and prolific translator who probably did more than any other individual for the transmission of Greek thought to the West. His translation of virtually all of the works of Aristotle and many by Archimedes, Hero of Alexandria and others paved the way for the Renaissance. He was fluent in Greek, and was for a time Catholic bishop of Corinth in Greece. He made highly accurate translations directly from the Greek originals, and even improved earlier, flawed translations of some works. His Latin translation of Politics, one of the important works that were not available in Arabic, was completed around 1260. His friend Thomas Aquinas used this translation as the basis for his groundbreaking work The Summa Theologica. Aquinas did refer to Maimonides as well as to Averroes and Avicenna and was familiar with their writing, but he was rather critical of Averroes and refuted some of his use of Aristotle.
Like Aquinas, William of Moerbeke was a friar of the Dominican order and had personal contacts at the top levels of the Vatican. Several texts, among them some of Archimedes, would have been lost without the efforts of Moerbeke and a few others, and he clearly did his work on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church. Moreover, one of the reasons why he did this was because the translations that were available in Arabic were incomplete and sometimes of poor linguistic quality. The Arabic translations, although they did serve as an early reintroduction for some Western Europeans to Greek thought, didn’t “save” Greek knowledge as it had never been lost. It had been preserved in an unbroken line since Classical times by Greek, Byzantine Christians, who still considered themselves Romans, and it could be recovered there. There was extensive contact between Eastern and Western Christians at this time; sometimes amiable, sometimes less so and occasionally downright hostile, but contact nonetheless. The permanent recovery of Greek and Classical learning was undertaken as a direct transmission from Greek, Orthodox Christians to Western, Latin Christians. There were no Muslim middlemen involved. See also: How Flanders Helped Shape Freedom in America, 11 July 2005 Europe Must Find its Roots in America, 4 July 2005