Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Greg Crane of Tufts University explains the importance of Arabic translations of documents from Ancient Greece.
Greg Crane is Professor and Department Chair of Classics at Tufts University. He also serves as the editor-in-chief of The Perseus Digital Library, a project that offers free access to ancient works via the public web. Crane has a long-standing interest in the relationship between the humanities and rapidly developing digital technology. The Perseus project has been created to explore what happens when libraries move online and embrace new forms of digital publication.
Dr. Gregory Crane - Greek Manuscripts and Arabic Translations
Many scientific terms such as algebra and chemistry come to us from Arabic. European culture rediscovered ancient sources like Aristotle and Euclid via Latin translations from Arabic translations of the Greek originals. For two hundred years, a direct translation of the Greek Aristotle's Poetics was available in Latin but Western European scholars preferred to work with a Latin translation of Averroes' Arabic commentary on Aristotle's Poetics. The Renaissance reemphasized the Greek originals but at the same time marginalized the Arabic intermediaries and original research without which the Renaissance as we know it would not have happened. While it is clear the importance of interconnections in language, few of us can explore them in any detail - the linguistic barriers are too great. The source materials are too hard to work with and often inaccessible.
Understanding the historic circulation of ideas through the Mediterranean and the intimate bonds between Europe and the southern and eastern Mediterranean is critical if we are to appreciate more fully the world of which we are a part. Arabic speaking intellectuals know this very well while ignorance of this story in Europe and North America distorts our view of how we relate to the Middle East today.
Fortunately, digital collections and services have begun to transform how we work with complex sources, produced over thousands of years in difficult languages such as Greek, Arabic, and Latin. I have overseen a project in which undergraduates with knowledge of Arabic work with students who have studied Greek and Latin. Together they analyzed in detail how versions of Aristotle in all three languages related to each other. Digital technology allowed them to explore topics that would have been intellectually inaccessible a decade ago. Technology has also enabled them to contribute to a knowledge base that will open these ancient sources to deeper, broader study than was ever before feasible.