Saturday 5 November 2005: 16.00-17.15
METM 05, Barcelona, Spain

Issues in the history of Mediterranean science communication

Panel organizer: Frances Luttikhuizen

From Edessa to Baghdad: the Nestorians and their unique role in scholarly inquiry in pre-Islamic times

Frances Luttikhuizen, PhD in applied linguistics, editor and independent scholar, Barcelona, Spain. Dr. Luttikhuizen has written many textbooks used for teaching English for specific purposes.
The Arabs first became acquainted with Greek science through Syriac-speaking scholars living in Jundi-Shapur (modern-day Iran). Many of these scholars were Nestorian Christians whose ancestors, centuries earlier, had fled Edessa (southern Turkey) for religious reasons. The Islamic conquest of Jundi-Shapur in 636 did not greatly interfere with the academic pursuits of the Syriac scholars. In fact, when the capital was moved to Baghdad around 760, it became a centre of scholarship in imitation of Jundi-Shapur. The role taken by the early caliphs in the translation movement was crucial. The year 830 saw the founding of the Bayt al-Hikmah (House of Wisdom), where a new wave of translators worked. The leading personality was Hunayn ibn Ishaq (809-877), a Nestorian Christian. Hunayn’s paramount concern was textual purity. By abandoning the literal tradition of translation and placing translation on a sound scientific footing, these long forgotten Nestorians prepared the way for the great Islamic scientists of the Middle Ages whose names and works would later become well known and remembered in the West.

Arabic literature and science in Byzantium

Alain Touwaide, PhD, Department of Botany, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., USA. Dr. Touwaide writes on the history of science.

In the history of translation and international communication, the case most often cited as the perfect example is the enterprise of translation launched in 9th century Baghdad and aimed at assimilating the legacy of previous cultures: certainly Greek culture was involved, but so were the Indian and Persian cultures and others. It is therefore common to affirm that Arabic science was rooted in its Greek predecessor. Though fundamentally correct, that representation is incomplete, however, for there is a second panel to be added to the picture—so as to form a diptych. Specifically, probably from the 10th century and certainly during the 14th, Arabic science was translated into Greek in Byzantium.

This paper will explore this little known phase of medieval culture, by showing examples illustrating the nature and importance of this enterprise of a new type of translation. In so doing, the paper will focus on the actors of this transfer of knowledge, their origin and work places, as well as their methods of translation. The paper will also investigate the reasons why the movement took place and suggest some interpretations that will shed a very new light on the history of culture in the Mediterranean, traditionally viewed as mainly of a Greek nature.

Note: The announced contribution of Dr. Farrokh Habibzadeh (Language of science: yesterday, today, tomorrow) of the Eastern Mediterranean Association of Medical Editors (EMAME), the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME), and the Iranian Journal of Medical Sciences has unfortunately had to be canceled for this year because of insurmountable travel problems.

Dr. Habibzadeh’s presentation is expected for 2006, and his abstract will be re-posted at that time.

In place of that presentation, Mary Ellen Kerans, one of the METM organizers, will briefly explain the story behind the logo chosen to launch our first meeting of a Mediterranean network of language experts and communication facilitators. The logo evokes the 14th century meeting of builders convened by the Bishop of Girona, at his own expense, to solve a daunting architectural problem by way of debate among experts. This is one of the earliest attempts we know of in which an authority in a European city emerging from the Middle Ages sponsored a professional meeting of outsiders.