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09:27, Mon 28 Sep 2009
Bink Hallum and Uwe Vagelpohl discuss the formation of the Islamic civilisation through translation
Alchemy and alcohol are only two of the many Arabic words which came all the way to Albion. The word alchemy had to travel a long distance: original a Greek term used in Hellenised Egypt, it passed into Arabic, Latin, French, and finally English. Translation made this transfer of ideas possible.
During the heyday of the Islamic empire in the eighth to tenth centuries, a massive translation movement from Greek into Arabic took place. Without it, our modern world would hardly be the same. No algebra and algorithms, for instance; no chemistry and no medicine as we know it. Islam itself would be unrecognisable, because Muslim theologians and lawyers used the tools of Greek logic and argumentation to develop their own disciplines.
Graeco-Arabic studies, a rapidly growing field within Classics, investigates this translation movement. Why were nearly all available Greek texts translated into Arabic? How did these translations lay the foundation for much of Muslim civilisation? And who were the people who produced them?