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From Babylon to Baghdad: Toward a History of the Herbal in the Near East


Recent publications such as Sylvain Gouguenheim s Aristote au Mont Saint Michel (2008) have called into question the role played by Near Eastern (and especially Arab and Muslim) scholars in the transmission of Greek philosophical, scientific and medical knowledge from antiquity to the middle ages. At the very heart of this problem is the translation movement sponsored by the ¿Abb sid caliphs and wealthy Muslim intellectuals of 8th-10th century Baghdad, and especially its most celebrated protagonist, $unayn ibn Is% q, whose translations from Greek into Syriac and Arabic proved to be foundational. On a superficial level, the questions raised have attracted much media attention, with some critics even evoking the notion of a cultural clash (between the Christian West and the Islamic East). An informed and sober evaluation of this issue is not yet possible, however, since many of the Syriac primary sources shedding light on $unayn s translational activity remain unpublished and therefore inaccessible to historians. The Floriental project will publish the pertinent sources for one particular text genre among $unayn s scientific writings, that of the herbal (defined as a list of plants accompanied by descriptions of their therapeutic properties). Still, $unayn and his school did not work in a vacuum (as he himself admits in his famous Ris la), thus the necessity of a second goal: to contextualize $unayn s herbal writings through the study and publication of other Ancient Near Eastern herbals, not only in Syriac but also in the other languages of ancient scholarship (Babylonian, Greek, Arabic, etc.), and especially those which preceded, and in many respects made possible, $unayn s remarkable translational achievements.

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Rue michel ange 3
75794 Paris

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Ile-de-France Ile-de-France Paris
Activity type
Research Organisations
Principal investigator
Robert Hawley (Dr.)
Administrative Contact
Chiara Chelini (Mrs.)
EU contribution
No data

Beneficiaries (1)