Contesting the Greek Past in Ninth-Century Baghdad
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CitationConnelly, Coleman. 2016. Contesting the Greek Past in Ninth-Century Baghdad. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractFrom the eighth century through the tenth, the ‘Abbāsid capital of Baghdad witnessed the translation, in unprecedented numbers, of Greek philosophical, medical, and other scientific texts into Arabic, often via a Syriac intermediary. Muslim and sometimes Christian patrons from all sectors of ‘Abbāsid high society paid princely sums to small groups of Graeco-Arabic translators, most of whom were Syriac-speaking Christians. In this diverse ‘Abbāsid milieu, who could claim to own the Greek past? Who could claim to access it legitimately? Who were the Greeks for ‘Abbāsid intellectuals and how did the monumental effort to translate them make or fail to make the Greek past a part of the ‘Abbāsid present?
This dissertation is divided into three chapters, each investigating a distinct ninth-century approach to accessing the Greek past. Chapter 1 investigates ninth-century narratives attempting to explain how the Greek sciences came to flourish in ‘Abbāsid Mesopotamia. Against this backdrop, I shed new light on the polymath and patron of translation al-Kindī and his attempts to claim direct access to the Greeks via both an abstract teleology inspired by Aristotle and a concrete genealogy that connected his ancestral tribe of Kinda to the Greeks. In Chapter 2, I analyze other Muslim intellectuals, such as the litterateur al-Jāḥiẓ, who radically doubt the ability of Graeco-Arabic translators—the majority of whom, once again, were Christians—to provide such access to the Greek past. I argue that previous commentators on these critiques have missed their subtext, namely the Islamic concept of taḥrīf whereby Christians are held to have corrupted the Bible in order to transmit a distorted version of the prophetic past that contradicts God’s ultimate revelation, the Qur’ān. Finally, in Chapter 3, I investigate the attitudes toward translation and the Greek past of the Ḥunayn circle of Graeco-Arabic translators, who do in fact alter Greek cultural elements in the texts they translate, presenting an idealized version of the Greek past which both Christians and Muslims can claim.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:33493255
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