Donnerstag, 26. November 2015

Doctoral project by Jakub Sypiański: "Science without frontiers? Political motivations and socio-religious reactions to the exchanges of knowledge between the East Roman Emperors and the Muslim rulers in 750-1100 A.D."

A report by Valeria Zubieta Lupo.
On November 19th, Jakub Sypiański presented his doctoral project and gave us some insights into his research. The main aim of his study is to analyse the social and political elements of the exchange of knowledge between East Roman Emperors and Muslim rulers in the period between 750 and 1100 A.D. He tries to identify the social context behind the literary depictions of these exchanges. Moreover, he seeks to understand in which way they were involved and shaped by internal and foreign politics on one hand, and by popular religious prejudices on the other.
The Arabo-Roman intellectual contact was forged in one main scenario, the Abbasid Greco-Arabic translation movement between the 8th and the 10th century A.D. Some researchers believe that the so-called "Macedonian Renaissance" in the eastern Roman Empire was influenced by this movement [Fn. 1]. The Abbasid translation movement was strongly supported by the ruling dynasty. Indeed, philosophical, medical and mathematical works from Greek, Persian and Sanskrit were translated into Arabic. 
The Abbassid caliphs acquired the manuscripts that were later translated to Arabic through spoils of war during the campaign in Byzantium, science missions sent to Constantinople and gifts from Byzantine emperors. About 60 works were translated into Greek: 28 astronomical and astrological, 17 medical and pharmacological, and among others 1 religious, 3 scientific, 3 meteorological, 2 on divination, 4 literary, 1 alchemical. The peak of Byzantine translations from Arabic is during the 11th century. 
The starting point of Mister Sypiański's research are the following hypotheses:
  • The depiction of intellectual interactions was immersed in the social context of the writers and influenced by their prejudices and political aims.  
  • Possession of knowledge had particular social and political uses. Some of them were shared by Arabs and Byzantines, which facilitated intellectual exchange; likewise there were differences that led to misunderstandings.
  • The existence of a Mediterranean "court culture", due to the circulation of members amongst Byzantine, Abbasid, Andalusian and Western elites, shaped the Arabo-Roman intellectual contacts.
  • The scientific rivalry enacted during diplomatic encounters was a tool of internal and external Propaganda.

The main sources that he analyses in his doctoral project are episodes contained in written sources dating from 8th to the 13th A.D. century, like Al-Mamun's dream, gifts to al-Mansur, horoscopes, invitation of Leo the Mathematician to Baghdad, and others. In addition, writings from translators like Simeon Seth are taken into account. 
Finally, Mr. Sypiański gave us an insight about some conclusions that can be drawn from an initial analysis of the above mentioned sources: 
  • Arabo-Islamic sources: the "Roman" and/or "Greek" origin of science is sometimes positive and sometimes negative.
  • This simultaneous expression of opposite views is a result of different social attitudes and of the implication of various social milieu.
  • The Byzantine sources comment on the legitimacy of sharing ancient "Roman" knowledge with the infidel foreigners
  • Byzantine sources: almost no comments on the "exoticism" of translated and imported science.

[1] Gutas, Dimitri: Arabic into Byzantine Greek: Introducing a Survey of the Translations. New Haven 2012, p. 246-262.

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