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Albohali's De Iudiciis Natiuitatum was translated into Latin by Plato of Tivoli in 1136, and again by John of Seville in 1153.[1] Here is the Nuremberg edition of John of Seville's translation, 1546.

The Renaissance of the 12th century saw a major search by European scholars for new learning, which led them to the areas of Europe that once been under Muslim rule and still had substantial Arabic-speaking populations, but that had recently been reconquered by Christians. This meant central Spain and Sicily, both of which had come under Christian rule in the eleventh century. The combination of a substantial numbers of Arabic-speaking scholars and Christian rulers made these areas intellectually attractive yet culturally and politically accessible to Latin scholars. A typical story is that of Gerard of Cremona (c. 1114-87), who is said to have made his way to Toledo, well after its reconquest by Christians in 1085, because he[2]

arrived at a knowledge of each part of [philosophy] according to the study of the Latins, nevertheless, because of his love for the Almagest, which he did not find at all amongst the Latins, he made his way to Toledo, where seeing an abundance of books in Arabic on every subject, and pitying the poverty he had experienced among the Latins concerning these subjects, out of his desire to translate he thoroughly learnt the Arabic language....

Unlike the interest in the literature and history of classical antiquity during the Renaissance, 12th century translators sought new scientific, philosophical and, to a lesser extent, religious texts. The latter concern was reflected in a renewed interest in translations of the Greek Church Fathers into Latin, a concern with translating Jewish teachings from Hebrew, and most significantly, an interest in the Qur'an and other Islamic religious texts.[3] In addition, some Arabic literature was also translated into Latin.[4]


Translators in Italy

Just before the burst of translations in the 12th century, Constantine the African, a Christian from Carthage who studied medicine in Egypt and ultimately became a monk at the monastery of Monte Cassino in Italy, translated medical works from Arabic. Constantine's many translations included Ali ibn Abbas al-Majusi's medical encyclopedia The Complete Book of the Medical Art (as Liber pantegni),[5] the ancient medicine of Hippocrates and Galen as adapted by Arabic physicians,[6] and the Isagoge ad Tegni Galeni[7] by Hunayn ibn Ishaq (Johannitius) and his nephew Hubaysh ibn al-Hasan.[8] Other medical works he translated include Isaac Israeli ben Solomon's Liber febribus, Liber de dietis universalibus et particularibus and Liber de urinis; Ishaq ibn Imran's psychological work al-Maqala fi al-Malikhukiya as De melancolia; and Ibn Al-Jazzar's De Gradibus, Viaticum, Liber de stomacho, De elephantiasi, De coitu and De oblivione.[7]

Sicily had been part of the Byzantine Empire until 878, was under Muslim control from 878-1060, and came under Norman control between 1060 and 1090. As a consequence the Norman Kingdom of Sicily maintained a trilingual bureaucracy, which made it an ideal place for translations. Sicily also maintained relations with the Greek East, which allowed for exchange of ideas and manuscripts.[9]

Ibn Butlan's Tacuinum sanitatis, Rhineland, 2nd half of 15th century.

A copy of Ptolemy's Almagest was brought back to Sicily by Henry Aristippus, as a gift from the Emperor to King William I. Aristippus, himself, translated Plato's Meno and Phaedo into Latin, but it was left to an anonymous student at Salerno to travel to Sicily and translate the Almagest, as well as several works by Euclid from Greek to Latin.[10] Although the Sicilians generally translated directly from the Greek, when Greek texts were not available, they would translate from Arabic. Admiral Eugene of Sicily translated Ptolemy's Optics into Latin, drawing on his knowledge of all three languages in the task.[11] Accursius of Pistoja's translations included the works of Galen and Hunayn ibn Ishaq.[12] Gerard de Sabloneta translated Avicenna's The Canon of Medicine and al-Razi's Almansor. Fibonacci presented the first complete European account of the Hindu-Arabic numeral system from Arabic sources in his Liber Abaci (1202).[5] The Aphorismi by Masawaiyh (Mesue) was translated by an anonymous translator in late 11th or early 12th century Italy.[13]

James of Venice, who probably spent some years in Constantinople, translated Aristotle's Posterior Analytics from Greek into Latin in the mid-twelfth century, [14] thus making the complete Aristotelian logical corpus, the Organon, available in Latin for the first time.

In 13th century Padua, Bonacosa translated Averroes' medical work Kitab al-Kulliyyat as Colliget,[15] and John of Capua translated the Kitab al-Taysir by Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar) as Theisir. In 13th century Sicily, Faraj ben Salem translated Rhazes' al-Hawi as Continens as well as Ibn Butlan's Tacuinum sanitatis. Also in 13th century Italy, Simon of Genoa and Abraham Tortuensis translated Abulcasis' Al-Tasrif as Liber servitoris, Alcoati's Congregatio sive liber de oculis, and the Liber de simplicibus medicinis by a pseudo-Serapion[16]

Translators on the Spanish frontier

Dioscorides De Materia Medica in Arabic, Spain, 12th-13th century.

As early as the end of the tenth century, European scholars travelled to Spain to study. Most notable among these was Gerbert of Aurillac (later Pope Sylvester II) who studied mathematics in the region of the Spanish March around Barcelona. Translations, however, did not begin in Spain until after 1085 when Toledo was reconquered by Christians.[17] The early translators in Spain focused heavily on scientific works, especially mathematics and astronomy, with a second area of interest including the Qur'an and other Islamic texts.[18] Spanish collections included many scholarly works written in Arabic, so translators worked almost exclusively from Arabic, rather than Greek texts, often in cooperation with a local speaker of Arabic.[19]

One of the more important translation projects was sponsored by Peter the Venerable, the abbot of Cluny. In 1142 he called upon Robert of Ketton and Herman of Carinthia, Peter of Poitiers, and a Muslim known only as "Mohammed" to produce the first Latin translation of the Qur'an (the Lex Mahumet pseudoprophete).[20]

Translations were produced throughout Spain and Provence. Plato of Tivoli worked in Catalonia, Herman of Carinthia in Northern Spain and across the Pyrenees in Languedoc, Hugh of Santalla in Aragon, Robert of Ketton in Navarre and Robert of Chester in Segovia.[21] The most important center of translation was the great cathedral library of Toledo.

Plato of Tivoli's translations into Latin include al-Battani's astronomical and trigonometrical work De motu stellarum, Abraham bar Hiyya's Liber embadorum, Theodosius of Bithynia's Spherica, and Archimedes' Measurement of a Circle. Robert of Chester's translations into Latin included al-Khwarizmi's Algebra and astronomical tables (also containing trigonometric tables).[22] Abraham of Tortosa's translations include Ibn Sarabi's (Serapion Junior) De Simplicibus and Abulcasis' Al-Tasrif as Liber Servitoris.[12] In 1126, Muhammad al-Fazari's Great Sindhind (based on the Sanskrit works of Surya Siddhanta and Brahmagupta's Brahmasphutasiddhanta) was translated into Latin.[23]

In addition to philosophical and scientific literature, the Jewish writer Petrus Alphonsi translated a collection of 33 tales from Arabic literature into Latin. Some of the tales he drew on were from the Panchatantra and Arabian Nights, such as the story cycle of "Sinbad the Sailor".[4]


The "Toledo School"

King Alfonso X (the Wise)

One of the sponsors of translations in Spain was Archbishop Raymond of Toledo, (1125-52), to whom John of Seville dedicated a translation in appreciation. Starting from this fragmentary evidence, nineteenth-century historians proposed that Raymond had established a formal translation school, but no specific evidence for such a school has emerged and its existence is now doubted. Many of the translators worked outside Toledo and those who did work in Toledo, worked after Raymond's episcopacy.[24]

Toledo, however, was a center of multilingual culture, with a large population of Arabic speaking Christians (Mozarabs) and had prior importance as a center of learning. This tradition of scholarship, and the books that embodied it, survived the conquest of the city by King Alfonso VI in 1085. A further factor was that Toledo's early bishops and clergy came from France, where Arabic was not widely known. Consequently the cathedral became a center of translations, which were on a scale and importance that "has no match in the history of western culture".[25]

Among the early translators at Toledo were an Avendauth (who some have identified with Abraham ibn Daud), who translated Avicenna's encyclopedia, the Kitāb al-Shifa (The Book of Healing), in cooperation with Domingo Gundisalvo, Archdeacon of Cuéllar.[26]

Al-Razi's Recueil des traités de médecine translated by Gerard of Cremona, second half of 13th century.
Depiction of the Arab physician Al-Razi, in Gerard of Cremona's "Recueil des traités de medecine" 1250-1260.

The most productive of the Toledo translators was Gerard of Cremona,[27] who translated 87 books,[28] including Ptolemy's Almagest, many of the works of Aristotle, including his Posterior Analytics, Physics, On the Heavens and the World, On Generation and Corruption, and Meteorology, al-Khwarizmi's On Algebra and Almucabala, Archimedes' On the Measurement of the Circle, Aristotle, Euclid's Elements of Geometry, Jabir ibn Aflah's Elementa astronomica,[22] Al-Kindi's On Optics, al-Farghani's On Elements of Astronomy on the Celestial Motions, al-Farabi's On the Classification of the Sciences, the chemical and medical works of al-Razi (Rhazes),[5] the works of Thabit ibn Qurra and Hunayn ibn Ishaq,[29] and the works of al-Zarkali, Jabir ibn Aflah, the Banu Musa, Abu Kamil, Abu al-Qasim, and Ibn al-Haytham (including the Book of Optics).[30] The medical works he translated include Haly Abenrudian's Expositio ad Tegni Galeni; the Practica, Brevarium medicine by Yuhanna ibn Sarabiyun (Serapion); Alkindus' De Gradibus; Rhazes' Liber ad Almansorem, Liber divisionum, Introductio in medicinam, De egritudinibus iuncturarum, Antidotarium and Practica puerorum; Isaac Israeli ben Solomon's De elementis and De definitionibus;[13] Abulcasis' Al-Tasrif as Chirurgia; Avicenna's The Canon of Medicine as Liber Canonis; and the Liber de medicamentis simplicus by Ibn Wafid (Abenguefit).[15]

At the close of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth centuries, Mark of Toledo translated the Qur'an (once again) and various medical works.[31] He also translated Hunayn ibn Ishaq's medical work Liber isagogarum.[15]

Later translators

Michael Scot (c. 1175-1232)[32] translated the works of al-Betrugi (Alpetragius) in 1217,[5] al-Bitruji's On the Motions of the Heavens, and Averroes' influential commentaries on the scientific works of Aristotle.[33]

King Alfonso X of Castile (reigned 1252-84) continued to promote translations, as well as the production of original scholarly works.

David the Jew (c. 1228-1245) translated the works of al-Razi (Rhazes) into Latin. Arnaldus de Villa Nova's (1235-1313) translations include the works of Galen and Avicenna[34] (including his Maqala fi Ahkam al-adwiya al-qalbiya as De viribus cordis), the De medicinis simplicibus by Abu al-Salt (Albuzali),[15] and Costa ben Luca's De physicis ligaturis.[13]

In 13th century Portugal, Giles of Santarem translated Rhazes' De secretis medicine, Aphorismi Rasis and Mesue's De secretis medicine. In Murcia, Rufin of Alexandria translated the Liber questionum medicinalium discentium in medicina by Hunayn ibn Ishaq (Hunen), and Dominicus Marrochinus translated the Epistola de cognitione infirmatum oculorum by Ali Ibn Isa (Jesu Haly).[15] In 14th century Lerida, John Jacobi translated Alcoati's medical work Liber de la figura del uyl into Catalan and then Latin.[16]

Willem van Moerbeke, known in the English speaking world as William of Moerbeke (c. 1215 – 1286) was a prolific medieval translator of philosophical, medical, and scientific texts from Greek into Latin. At the request of Aquinas, so it is assumed -- the source document is not clear -- he undertook a complete translation of the works of Aristotle or, for some portions, a revision of existing translations. He was the first translator of the Politics (c. 1260) from Greek into Latin. The reason for the request was that the many copies of Aristotle in Latin then in circulation had originated in Spain (see Gerard of Cremona). These earlier translations were assumed to have been influenced by the rationalist Averroes, who was suspected of being a source of philosophical and theological errors found in the earlier translations of Aristotle. Moerbeke's translations have had a long history; they were already standard classics by the 14th century, when Henricus Hervodius put his finger on their enduring value: they were literal (de verbo in verbo), faithful to the spirit of Aristotle and without elegance. For several of William's translations, the Greek texts have since disappeared: without him the works would be lost. William also translated mathematical treatises by Hero of Alexandria and Archimedes. Especially important was his translation of the Theological Elements of Proclus (made in 1268), because the Theological Elements is one of the fundamental sources of the revived Neo-Platonic philosophical currents of the 13th century. The Vatican collection holds William's own copy of the translation he made of the greatest Hellenistic mathematician, Archimedes, with commentaries of Eutocius, which was made in 1269 at the papal court in Viterbo. William consulted two of the best Greek manuscripts of Archimedes, both of which have since disappeared.

Other European translators

Adelard of Bath's (fl. 1116-1142) translations into Latin included al-Khwarizmi's astronomical and trigonometrical work Astronomical tables and his arithmetical work Liber ysagogarum Alchorismi, the Introduction to Astrology of Abū Ma'shar, as well as Euclid's Elements.[35] Adelard associated with other scholars in Western England such as Peter Alfonsi and Walcher of Malvern who translated and developed the astronomical concepts brought from Spain.[36] Abu Kamil's Algebra was also translated into Latin during this period, but the translator of the work is unknown.[22]

Alfred of Sareshel's (c. 1200-1227) translations include the works of Nicolaus of Damascus and Hunayn ibn Ishaq. Antonius Frachentius Vicentinus' translations include the works of Ibn Sina (Avicenna). Armenguad's translations include the works of Avicenna, Averroes, Hunayn ibn Ishaq, and Maimonides. Berengarius of Valentia translated the works of Abu al-Qasim (Abulcasis). Drogon (Azagont) translated the works of al-Kindi. Farragut (Faradj ben Salam) translated the works of Hunayn ibn Ishaq, Ibn Zezla (Byngezla), Masawaiyh (Mesue), and al-Razi (Rhazes). Andreas Alphagus Bellnensis' translations include the works of Avicenna, Averroes, Serapion, al-Qifti, and Albe'thar.[37]

In 13th century Montpellier, Profatius and Bernardus Honofredi translated the Kitab alaghdiya by Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar) as De regimine sanitatis; and Armengaudus Blasius translated the al-Urjuza fi al-tibb, a work combining the medical writings of Avicenna and Averroes, as Cantica cum commento.[16]

Other texts translated during this period include the alchemical works of Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber), whose treatises became standard texts for European alchemists. These include the Kitab al-Kimya (titled Book of the Composition of Alchemy in Europe), translated by Robert of Chester (1144); the Kitab al-Sab'een translated by Gerard of Cremona (before 1187), and the Book of the Kingdom, Book of the Balances and Book of Eastern Mercury translated by Marcelin Berthelot. Another work translated during this period was De Proprietatibus Elementorum, an Arabic work on geology written by a pseudo-Aristotle.[5] A pseudo-Mesue's De consolatione medicanarum simplicum, Antidotarium, Grabadin was also translated into Latin by an anonymous translator.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Houtsma, p.875 [1]
  2. ^ C. Burnett, "Arabic-Latin Translation Program in Toledo", p. 255.
  3. ^ M.-T. d'Alverny, "Translations and Translators," pp. 426-33
  4. ^ a b Irwin, Robert (2003), The Arabian Nights: A Companion, Tauris Parke Paperbacks, p. 93, ISBN 1860649831  
  5. ^ a b c d e Jerome B. Bieber. Medieval Translation Table 2: Arabic Sources, Santa Fe Community College.
  6. ^ M.-T. d'Alverny, "Translations and Translators," pp. 422-6
  7. ^ a b Jacquart, Danielle, "The Influence of Arabic Medicine in the Medieval West", p. 981   in (Morelon & Rashed 1996, pp. 963-84)
  8. ^ D. Campbell, Arabian Medicine and Its Influence on the Middle Ages, p. 4-5.
  9. ^ C. H. Haskins, Studies in Mediaeval Science, pp 155-7
  10. ^ M.-T. d'Alverny, "Translations and Translators," pp. 433-4
  11. ^ M.-T. d'Alverny, "Translations and Translators," p. 435
  12. ^ a b D. Campbell, Arabian Medicine and Its Influence on the Middle Ages, p. 3.
  13. ^ a b c Jacquart, Danielle, "The Influence of Arabic Medicine in the Medieval West", p. 982   in (Morelon & Rashed 1996, pp. 963-84)
  14. ^ L.D. Reynolds and Nigel G. Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, Oxford, 1974, p. 106.
  15. ^ a b c d e f Jacquart, Danielle, "The Influence of Arabic Medicine in the Medieval West", p. 983   in (Morelon & Rashed 1996, pp. 963-84)
  16. ^ a b c Jacquart, Danielle, "The Influence of Arabic Medicine in the Medieval West", p. 984   in (Morelon & Rashed 1996, pp. 963-84)
  17. ^ C. H. Haskins, Studies in Mediaeval Science, pp. 8-10
  18. ^ M.-T. d'Alverny, "Translations and Translators," pp. 429-30, 451-2
  19. ^ C. H. Haskins, Renaissance of the Twelfth Century, p. 288
  20. ^ M.-T. d'Alverny, "Translations and Translators," p. 429
  21. ^ M.-T. d'Alverny, "Translations and Translators," pp. 444-8
  22. ^ a b c V. J. Katz, A History of Mathematics: An Introduction, p. 291.
  23. ^ G. G. Joseph, The Crest of the Peacock, p. 306.
  24. ^ M.-T. d'Alverny, "Translations and Translators," pp. 444-7
  25. ^ C. Burnett, "Arabic-Latin Translation Program in Toledo", pp. 249-51, 270.
  26. ^ M.-T. d'Alverny, "Translations and Translators," pp. 444-6, 451
  27. ^ C. H. Haskins, Renaissance of the Twelfth Century, p. 287. "more of Arabic science passed into Western Europe at the hands of Gerard of Cremona than in any other way."
  28. ^ For a list of Gerard of Cremona's translations see: Edward Grant (1974) A Source Book in Medieval Science, (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Pr.), pp. 35-8 or Charles Burnett, "The Coherence of the Arabic-Latin Translation Program in Toledo in the Twelfth Century," Science in Context, 14 (2001): at 249-288, at pp. 275-281.
  29. ^ D. Campbell, Arabian Medicine and Its Influence on the Middle Ages, p. 6.
  30. ^ Salah Zaimeche (2003). Aspects of the Islamic Influence on Science and Learning in the Christian West, p. 10. Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation.
  31. ^ M.-T. d'Alverny, "Translations and Translators," pp. 429, 455
  32. ^ William P. D. Wightman (1953) The Growth of Scientific Ideas, p.332. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 1135460426.
  33. ^ Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexicon
  34. ^ D. Campbell, Arabian Medicine and Its Influence on the Middle Ages, p. 5.
  35. ^ Charles Burnett, ed. Adelard of Bath, Conversations with His Nephew, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. xi.
  36. ^ M.-T. d'Alverny, "Translations and Translators," pp. 440-3
  37. ^ D. Campbell, Arabian Medicine and Its Influence on the Middle Ages, p. 4.


  • Burnett, Charles. "The Coherence of the Arabic-Latin Translation Program in Toledo in the Twelfth Century," Science in Context, 14 (2001): 249-288.
  • Campbell, Donald (2001). Arabian Medicine and Its Influence on the Middle Ages. Routledge. (Reprint of the London, 1926 edition). ISBN 0415231884.
  • d'Alverny, Marie-Thérèse. "Translations and Translators", in Robert L. Benson and Giles Constable, eds., Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century, p. 421-462. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Pr., 1982.
  • Haskins, Charles Homer. The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Pr., 1927. See especially chapter 9, "The Translators from Greek and Arabic".
  • Haskins, Charles Homer. Studies in the History of Mediaeval Science. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1967 (reprint of the Cambridge, Mass., 1927 ed.) Most of the book deals with the translations of Arabic and Greek scientific literature.
  • Joseph, George G. (2000). The Crest of the Peacock. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691006598.
  • Katz, Victor J. (1998). A History of Mathematics: An Introduction. Addison Wesley. ISBN 0321016181.
  • Morelon, Régis & Roshdi Rashed (1996), Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science, Routledge, ISBN 0415124107

External sources


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