ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

215. Origin of Philosophy among the Arabians. -- Even previous to the Hegira (622), and the Mussulman conquest by which they subjugated Persia and Syria, the Arabians had come into contact with the Christian civilization, "from which they received that treasure of learning they were afterwards destined to restore when they had made it fructify for centuries".{1} The cultivation of the positive sciences, as well as the pursuit of religious knowledge, developed a characteristic Arabian philosophy, which, however, did not make any notable progress until it came into contact with Grecian thought. This was in 750, when the Abbassides replaced the Ommaïades and invited Syrian scholars to the court at Bagdad: the advent of the Syrians, under such high patronage, gave a decided impetus to intellectual culture. They proceeded to introduce the Arabians to the great monuments of Grecian philosophy by translating these from Syriac into Arabic. This movement was commenced under Caliph-Al-Mansour (753-774) and was vigorously promoted by Al-Mamoun. The latter established at Bagdad, about the year 832, a school of translators under the direction of HONAÏN BEN ISAAC (the JOHANNITIUS of the scholastics, fl. 873), a contemporary of Scotus Eriugena at the Palatine court and of Photius at Byzantium. The work of translation was continued in the tenth century by the Syrian Christians, among whom we may mention COSTA BEN LUCA. And it embraced not merely works of Grecian philosophy but also works on medicine and mathematics.{2} Their philosophical studies came after their scientific studies. And while the Syrians themselves confined their attention almost exclusively to the Organon (214), the translators made all the great works of Aristotle known to the Arabians. At the same time they transmitted the commentaries of Alexander of Aphrodisias, Porphyry, Themistius and Ammonius. Plato was less known, but Neo-Platonic traditions were fresh and vigorous. We meet them in one of the earliest of the translated works (840 at the latest), the famous Theology of Aristotle, falsely attributed to the Stagirite, being in reality a collection of the Enneads (iv.-vi.) of Plotinus, dating from the third or fourth century.{3} As for Arabian commentaries on the Isagoge, over five hundred of them have been counted.

Under these influences Arabia developed a philosophy which flourished for about three centuries and a half, first in Arabia itself and afterwards in Spain.

{1} CARRA DE VAUX, Avicenne, p. 49 (Paris, 1900).

{2} There were also translations of certain Persian and Indian works of lesser importance (ibid., p. 37).

{3} A Latin paraphrase appeared at Rome in 1519 under the title: Sapientissimi Aristotelis Stagiritae Theologia sive mistica philosophia secundum Aegyptios noviter reperta et in latinum castigatissime redacta (quoted by CARRA DE VAUX, op. cit., p. 74).

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