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UNESCO - Dialogue among Civilizations

Civilizations:
How we see others,
how others see us

Proceedings of the International Symposium
Paris, 13 and 14 December 2001

Medieval philosophy and exchanges
between the two shores of the Mediterranean[i]

Alain de Libera
Director of Studies at EPHE, Religious Sciences Section

Moses begat Noah and Noah begat Eunuch and Eunuch begat O’Halloran . . .
and Benamor begat Dupont-Durand and Dupont-Durand begat Savorgnanovitch and
Savorgnanovitch begat Japerstone and Japerstone begat Szombathely and
Szombathely begat Virag and Virag begat Bloom et vocabitur nomen eius Emmanuel.
James Joyce, Ulysses

I intend to speak here of a foreigner, and a traveller too; a most foreign foreigner, who nevertheless gave Europe the first sense of its existence as a ‘spiritual concept’, and who has been accorded – by a philosopher, admittedly – the following function: ‘constantly to exercise through European man its role of leadership [die archontische] for the whole of mankind’.[i] The foreigner’s name, as you will have guessed, is ‘Philosophy’. We need to consider each of the terms used by the thinker I am referring to – Edmund Husserl (in a lecture given in Vienna on 7 and 10 May 1935) – we must define ‘the eruption (or the invasion) of philosophy’ as ‘the original phenomenon of spiritual Europe’, its ‘immanent teleology’ and ‘infinite task’, in a ‘total society’, ‘with its ideal orientation’ [ideal gerichteten Allsozietät]. The terrain under consideration is theoretical, rather than cartographical: it includes the United States (but excludes the gypsies, who have their own ‘historical authenticity’); its place of origin is Greece, and its spiritual purpose or telos is a ‘universal rationalism’ which calls on non-Europeans to ‘Europeanize’ themselves. We see then the conceptual hammering out of Husserl’s terminology, of what I would call the ‘transcendental’ dimension of ethnocentricity – though that perhaps smacks of pedantry. It is this philosophical vision of a Europe (though one could just as well speak of ‘the West’) destined to be the bearer of humanity’s telos, which I intend to examine critically here by considering ‘Philosophy’s’ foreign, indeed migrant, status during what we call the ‘Middle Ages’. However, ‘one train may conceal another’ – as French level crossings warn us – and it is the same with prejudices. The title I have chosen is an instance of this: it mentions a Mediterranean of two shores. Yet this ‘White Sea’, ‘Mare Nostrum’, ‘Mittelmeer’, has four shores: to the south and north, but also to the east and west – as Sophia’s travels westwards from the Orient remind us, or will shortly. This ‘spiritual’ geography becomes here the daughter of history – just plain ‘history’; and it is with this ancestry and its imaginative world, its legends, that I should like to entertain you briefly.

A book completed in 1935, the same year as Husserl’s Crisis of European Humanity, but published only after the war, may serve as our guide here: Mahomet et Charlemagne, by the Belgian historian Henri Pirenne, developing ideas advanced for the first time in an article of the same name in the Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire in 1922. [ii] There are other contenders for guide: Louis Bertrand, for example, the eulogist of colonization, who wrote of the Muslims (again, in the 1930s), ‘but there is something else in their rage: an awareness of their inferiority, of their degradation – and that is utterly unforgivable. Insist as they may that they despise the Christian dog and spit upon him, or behind his back: they still feel this object of their execration belongs to a superior race’. Pirenne’s thesis is quite differently clothed, if not entirely differently conceived. It is, one might say, the presentable face, the scholarly one. The thesis, which he presents as a medieval historian, is simple: a contrast of two types of conquest, the Germanic and the Arab, and an assessment of their respective contributions to the fate of what had been Romanitas, the Roman world. It can be summarized in one sentence: Islam broke the unity of the Mediterranean, which had survived the Germanic invasions. To be quite clear: according to Pirenne, the Mediterranean unity of the ancient world, and the essence of Roman culture, were not destroyed by the Germanic invasions; not even when, in the fifth century, there was no longer any Emperor in the West (at Rome), but only in the East (at Constantinople). It was the Muslim invasion that split the Roman world in two – which the Germanic peoples had not done:

The instrument of the breakdown of the ancient tradition was the rapid and unexpected advance of Islam. This had the consequence of finally separating the East from the West, putting an end to the unity of the Mediterranean. Lands such as Africa and Spain, which had continued to be part of the community of the West, moved from now on in the orbit of Baghdad. What we have is another religion, another culture in every aspect. The western Mediterranean, now a Muslim lake, stopped being the thoroughfare for trade and ideas that it had continued to be until this time.[iii]

Forced to follow its own devices, shut out of the western Mediterranean, the western part of the former Roman Empire was, from 650 on, helplessly cut off from the eastern part; and in what was, from now on, the Christian West, ‘the axis of history was pushed away from the Mediterranean, northwards’. The process culminated in 800 with the setting up of a new Roman Empire of the West, dominated by a dynasty from the north, the Carolingians. On the eastern side, also, the link that the Germanic invasion had left untouched was broken: Byzantium was no more than the centre of a Greek Empire reduced to defending its last possessions: Naples, Venice, Gaeta, Amalfi. Stripped to its core, then, Pirenne’s thesis is that the Muslim invasion put an end to the ancient tradition, that it hurled Europe into the ‘Middle Ages’, just at the moment when Europe was at last poised to ‘become Byzantine’ (to its great advantage).[iv] By the start of the eighth century the Greek dream was over: the western Mediterranean was in the hands of Saracen pirates; ‘in the ninth century they took the islands, destroyed the ports, descended everywhere in their razzias’ – the economic unity of the Mediterranean was ‘shattered … it would remain so until the age of the Crusades’.[v] 

The thesis is a powerful one, especially today, with all the talk of the ‘North-South axis’ and of the antagonism between northern Europe and the Mediterranean lands, including southern Europe, the Mezzogiorno, for example, which the ideologists of an independent Padania regard as a parasitic zone of poverty, underemployment and crime. Pirenne’s scenario is not all absurd. One might indeed be tempted to say, with some reason, that in shattering the East-West unity of the ancient world, the solidarity of the Christian Orient and Occident, or the eastern and western wings of the Roman world, Islam forced Europe back into its northern marches, that it had – by a sort of domino effect – encouraged the development of conflictual North-South relationships between the new ensembles defined by that conquest, and in this way contributed to the irresistible rise of Germanic Europe at the expense of the Roman part, severed from the East and increasingly obliged to turn northwards. When all is said and done, it is undeniable that the North did decisively move ahead of the South, for the sole reason that Islam snatched the Christian East away from the Christian West; and that one unexpected result of the ‘Arab conquest’ was that the ‘axis of civilization tilted’. At least the scenario has the merit of acknowledging that the Mediterranean has four shores.

In my view, however, Pirenne’s text can and should be regarded in quite a different light: as a ‘symptom’, if that is not too hackneyed a term. For on reading these lines, on looking more closely at the picture they draw of boundaries between late Antiquity and the High Middle Ages, we can in a sense witness the birth of a European ‘collective historical unconscious’. To pick a few terms: ‘assimilation’, ‘razzias’, ‘stranglehold over civil society’: do we not have here, ready formed, the whole gamut of fears which are still feeding xenophobic ideologies obsessed with security? At its outset, a stone’s throw from its ‘single currency’, just a few weeks after what is euphemistically known as ‘the events of 11 September’, the Europe of the Third Millennium would find plenty in Mahomet et Charlemagne with which to back up its polemical identity, for it has never ceased to relive ‘the events’ of the years 650–750, about which generally it knows nothing, through the practical consequences (if not theoretical detail) of the analysis of a few historians as echoed in various distorted forms in the media. 

But there is more. This presentation of Islam as responsible for the shattering of the Roman world and the ‘cause’ of the West corresponds to a vision of the history of ideas claiming to re-establish a direct descent from Greece, expunging from the West and from its memory what has been called ‘the unacknowledged debt’ to the Jewish tradition and what I have called ‘the forgotten legacy’ from the Muslim Arab one. Tracing descent back to Greece and bypassing the Arabic interval (and, we must add here, the Jewish one, as the two are connected): that is the hermeneutical ignis fatuus which accompanies the exclusively Christian political vision of the West – even where, as in the present case, the exercise involves passing over Christianity itself in a frenetic stampede towards the ‘Hellenic dawn’. Now anyone who doubts that both Jews and Arabs shared a common fate ‘in the eyes of others’ need do no more than open Ernest Renan’s Averroès et l’averroïsme. In this book, published by Durand in 1852 and reprinted by Michel Lévy as early as 1861, we read that the ‘Semitic race’ has never produced anything of its own; that everything in the Semitic East (and indeed the Middle Ages) in the way of ‘philosophy, properly speaking’ was borrowed from Greece, though misrepresented and travestied. We are shown the Middle Ages as inheriting an ‘Egyptian and Syrian Greece, adulterated by the admixture of barbarous elements’, its bulk an interminable digression between the modern world and that of ‘the true, original Greece’ . . . ‘considered in its pure and classical expression’. In short, we find a period of ‘decadence and syncretism’, which has no ‘right’ to ‘give us lessons’.[vi] This is the Renan who (in Souvenirs of Childhood and Youth) virtually curses the apostle Paul as an ‘ugly little Jew’ for making the world a desert by inaugurating a miserable millennium in which Reason was silenced.[vii] I make no further comment; Renan’s case needs none. It is to be feared, however, that not all minds are yet rid of the ideas he bundled together – which brings us back to Philosophy.

Pirenne’s ‘northern Europe’, intended to give an account of the formation and the unity of the Carolingian world, has some unexpected twins, or clones. I should like, if I may, to mention here the ‘Nordic’ and ‘Germanic’ Europe of one of Husserl’s pupils: Martin Heidegger. Without going into fruitless controversies about the political thinking (and stance) of the author of Sein und Zeit, it is enough, for the overall theme of this symposium – civilizations seen through others’ eyes – to recall what kind of view the philosopher of Messkirch had of the ‘history of being’ as the‘destiny of the West’. Let us, to be brief, note that like Renan he makes the connection between Germany and Greece a direct one, with no foreign mediator or mediation; that he constructs a spiritual world whose coherence and unity is in part due (apart from speculations on the kinship of the Greek and Germanic languages as ‘naturally philosophical’ ones) to the fact that it includes neither Jews nor Arabs.

Heidegger’s ‘Europe’ thinks of itself as, wishes to be, indeed claims that it is Greek. There is a fantasy of origins here, which itself has an origin: in the idea that the ‘destiny of the West’ is philosophical – or, rather, that its destiny is Philosophy itself. 

The word philosophia tells us that Philosophy is something which determines, above all else, the existence of the Greek world; and indeed more: philosophia also fundamentally determines the innermost core of our western European history. This much-used phrase, ‘western European philosophy’ is in truth a tautology. Why? Because ‘philosophy’ is Greek in its very being – and Greek means here: Philosophy is, in its original being, of such a nature that it was the Greek world and only the Greek world which Philosophy first of all took hold of and claimed for its deployment . . . . The assertion that Philosophy is Greek in its very being means only that the West and Europe, and they alone, are originally, in the very innermost core of their progress through history, ‘philosophical’. This is what the birth and supremacy of sciences bears witness to; it is because science stems from the very innermost core of the European West’s progress through history, by which I mean the philosophical approach, it is because of this that they are today in a position to mark their particular character on the history of Man all over the world.[viii]

The vision of ‘civilization’ conveyed in these lines implies that there is no philosophy outside the West – that there is not even any word for it. Behind this linguistic realism a notion of the ‘West’ is at work that seems to me to exemplify the very essence of ethnocentricity. Heidegger leaves aside the Middle Ages: he has to, for the sake of his thesis; for if he considered for a moment the Europe of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, he would have to acknowledge that the Arabs of al-Andalus were at that time every bit as ‘Western’ as the Germans of Thuringia, thought of themselves as such, and were regarded as such by the ‘Easterners’. This is the first drawback of historical schemes such as Pirenne’s. Failure to recognize that, in the Middle Ages, the East/West distinction affected the ‘Arabs’ just as much as the Christians lays the foundations of a potentially racist view of history, which once embarked on is difficult to escape. The failure to see how Arabs and Jews belong to the history of the West is the result of a definition of the West as building itself upon the ruins of the Middle Ages, and stems directly from what one could call ‘the spirit of 1492’, that of ‘their Catholic Majesties’, who made the expulsion of the Jews the final achievement of the Reconquista

Secondly, it is not true to say that ‘the West and Europe, and they alone, are originally, in the very innermost core of their progress through history, “philosophical”’. For a while – and a long while, too – the East was just as philosophically inclined as the West: Abbasid Baghdad is sufficient evidence of that – of which more shortly. What is more, this privilege of origin, especially as Heidegger uses the idea, is no more than a linguistic conjuring trick. It is precisely because Philosophy was torn away (with violence, on occasion) from some Muslim cultures, ‘in the very innermost core of their progress through history’, because, all in all, their philosophical destiny was interrupted by their religious one, that on the one hand Heidegger’s ‘West’ has managed to forget its Arab legacy as Heidegger himself forgot it, and on the other the Muslim cultures themselves have repressed their philosophical past. It is not, as the author of What Is Philosophy? maintains, because ‘Philosophy is hê philosophia’ that ‘this Greek word connects [us] with a unique historical tradition’.[ix] The Arabic word falsafa is just as Greek – indeed perhaps more so, in one sense – as the English ‘philosophy’; and it connects us with several historical traditions at once – the ‘oriental’ and ‘occidental’ traditions of each of the three monotheistic religions. 

This, therefore, is what we need to make an effort to forget, or to ‘deconstruct’: the idea of one sole ‘historical’ tradition of Philosophy. It is this, in fact, which leads almost automatically to the idea of a ‘West’ that is, and has been since its origin, the bearer of the telos of humanity. The same type of analysis must be applied to philosophy as M. Olender used to describe the ‘genealogical contest for the languages of paradise’; indeed, the two go hand in hand during some of the darkest episodes in the setting up of ‘national’ philosophical paradigms – such as the search for the ‘language of the North’ which in post-Kantian Germany accompanied that ‘autonomous, polar, inaccessible’ invention, German Idealism. On this point may I refer you to Pierre Pénisson’s fine works on the Reden an die deutsche Nation [Addresses to the German Nation] of J. G. Fichte[x] or those of J.-F. Courtine on the ‘metaphysical people’ (the expression is Mme de Staël’s, and used by Heidegger in a celebrated page of his Introduction to Metaphysics).[xi] What the Middle Ages teaches us is to regard as irrelevant certain scholastic assertions such that ‘Greece is the well-spring’ (M. Conche) but the flow is German; that Philosophy, because it is Greek, ‘is a daughter of Germany’, on the pretext that, as J. d’Ormesson has written, ‘Western philosophy has known two Golden Ages, two and a half thousand years apart: Greek philosophy, and German philosophy’ (Le Figaro, 5 February 1993). 

What the Middle Ages teaches us is that, because it is ‘Greek’, Philosophy is ‘foreign’ everywhere, and fundamentally so. I am not talking about the fact that Western philosophy or ‘reason’ may, for example, have appeared ‘foreign’ to the Japanese at the time of their opening up to the West. I mean the fact that hê philosophia has since its origins been consistently regarded as ‘the knowledge from without’ or ‘the foreign science’ by the three monotheistic religions. Whatever the political regime, whatever the religious situation of the areas that belong to the ‘spiritual geography’ of these three religions of the Book, in Byzantium, in the Muslim world, in the various medieval Jewish worlds, or in Western Christendom of the High Middle Ages, there is one predominant fact, which must on no account be lost sight of here, even now that politicians are striving to replace the ‘clash of civilizations’ with the ‘dialogue of cultures’, and it is this: Philosophy, whether we consider the Mediterranean of two shores, or that of four, is always defined as a ‘foreign’ science, as ‘the knowledge from without’. Indeed, Arabic calls it more literally still ‘the intruder’. And why ‘foreign’? Simple: because it is foreign to revelation and to the form of community life organized around it. We have an excellent instance of this ‘foreign’ status in the ‘Baghdad controversy’, the discussion, held in 937–8 and presided over by ibn al-Furât ibn Hinzâba, vizier of al-Râdî, between the Christian logician Abû Bishr Mattâ ibn Yûnis (d. 940) and the Muslim grammarian Abû Sa’îd al-Sîrâfî (d. 979). This controversy was one between cultures as well as between religions, and hinged on a contest between logic and grammar, between ‘knowledge from without’, ‘Greek’ or Aristotelian logic, and ‘traditional knowledge’ (in this case grammar), which served the Koran by facilitating its exegesis, unlike this knowledge ‘from without’ which was of no use to it at all. The special link between Arabic grammar and the Koran, indeed the privileged status within Islam of the Arabic language (the language of the Koran) created a real rift between grammar and logic: for logic is not the logic of Arabic, nor has it any specific connection with the language of the Koran. It is therefore no accident that in the ‘Baghdad controversy’ the champion of logic is Christian and therefore itself, in a sense, ‘from without’. We have here the embryo of an ethnocultural and geopolitical analysis of ‘philosophy’ (and hence of the secular studies) which feeds the hostility to rationalism as ‘Western’ (or imperialist, or neocolonial, or ‘American’, etc.) found among certain fundamentalists today. 

‘But this is Islam’, you will say. Indeed, but that is not the point. What has to be remembered for our present purpose is, precisely, that the term ‘knowledge from without’ was itself an import. It was in fact Byzantium which first referred to ‘philosophy from without’. From the ninth to the mid-fifteenth century, philosophy was regarded by the Byzantines as ‘Hellenic’, that is to say, foreign –- a religious foreignness, which utterly overshadowed the ethnic or cultural factor of its Greekness. It was the Byzantines who first called hê philosophia ‘knowledge from without’ (exôthen) or ‘philosophy from the outside’ (thurathen), as opposed to Christian theology, the true philosophy, referred to as the ‘philosophy within’.

Philosophy’s place in medieval societies was always fragile in practice, and in theory always in need of justification; it was fairly generally threatened by the authorities, and constantly under attack. The history of ‘modern’ philosophy (if we dare call it that) begins with the closing of the Neoplatonist school at Athens in 529 by the Christian Emperor of the East, Justinian. Here begin the travels from East to West of what I have called the ‘foreigner’. I have no time, of course, to trace every stage of these travels: the long distances, the time spent in different places, the high points, the complex networks. The term ‘Middle Ages’ covers many histories, many areas, the properties of which we have to learn to distinguish and which we need to be able to describe in detail, each according to its own time. All that I wish to note here is what is essential to our present purpose. I shall put it like this: Islam played a crucial role, not so much in what is called ‘the transmission of Greek thought to the Christian West’ but in what would more accurately be described as a ‘cultural conditioning of the West to philosophy’. It all started in Baghdad, through a political requirement (or order) for translations. As early as the eighth century a.d. (or the second century a.h.), under the caliphate of al-Mahdî (775–85), third of the Abbasid caliphs, the Maronite Theophilus (d. 785), who was court astrologer, translated Aristotle’s On Sophistical Refutations into Syriac; a few years later, it was the catholicos (patriarch) Timothy I (d. 823) who translated the Topics, with the help of Sheikh Abû Nûh, secretary to the governor of Mossûl, and at the request of al-Mahdî or, according to other sources, of the great Hârûn al-Rashîd (786–809), fifth Abbasid caliph. The ninth century, which saw the birth of real Arabic philosophy, was also the one in which Syriac and Arabic versions of Greek philosophical texts proliferated: it was the start of the great period of translation in Islamic lands, and the high tide of translation into Syriac; later, often with the same Christian translators, Arabic inexorably took over. Not that it matters: the point lies in the will to assimilate culture, the policy of ‘cultural transfer’. From the 830s onwards, an original institution like no other in history was operating at full stretch in Baghdad: the Bayt al-hikmah (‘House of Wisdom’), which brought together all the translators of the age paid by the Abbasid regime for the purpose of making Greek knowledge the property of Islam. We need to appreciate what a policy of translation involves. The Middle Ages was the age of translation par excellence. The Latins have a term for this, reproducing for culture the measure known in politics as the ‘transfer of power’ (or of ‘imperium’): translatio studiorum.[xii] The history of medieval thought is just one long cultural transfer. Persecuted in the Byzantine Empire, many Nestorian Christians (from Edessa) or Jacobites (from Antioch) took a considerable part in this translatio studii from Greek to Arabic by way of Syriac. The Latins of the thirteenth century, who were, in time as in space, at the end of a chain of transmission that stretched from the eastern to the western Mediterranean, knew nothing of the contribution made by the Christian Arabs to the story of this philosophy, inextricably Greek and Arabic, which was to flood over them from the 1230s onwards. In the same way the complex network of relationships which in the East had combined Hellenes, Christianized Greeks, Syrians, Christian Arabs and Muslim Arabs remained inaccessible to them, if we exclude the page in The Guide of the Perplexed (I, 71), where Maimonides – the ‘Rabbi Moses’ of thirteenth-century scholars – relates the formation of the ‘ash‘arite and mo‘tazilite kalam’ to the polemics of a pre-Islamic kalam, that of Christian theologians, Greek (John Philopon) and Syrian (Ibn ‘Adî), against the pagan philosophers. Otherwise, it is thanks to Islam – in this case, western Islam: Muslim Spain, or al-Andalus – that the Latins made contact with falsafa, and in a sense took ownership of their supposed ‘Greek source’. Wordplay apart, it was unmistakably through others’ eyes that medieval Christendom originally read what it subsequently regarded as the foundation of its own philosophical culture and identity. Some, like Adelard of Bath, recognized this from the outset: he distinguished ‘what I learned from Arab masters, led by reason’ from the ‘halter’ of authority that held the Latins captive like yoked cattle.[xiii] The phenomenon grew clearer as time went on: in the thirteenth century the word philosophi is most often used to refer, by antonomasia, to Arab thinkers.

Medieval civilization was basically a matter of cultural adoption: voluntary, sometimes disputed or repressed, always renascent – hence the many ‘Renaissances’ which punctuate the various ‘Middle Ages’. Translation is the favourite instrument for these agglutinate cultures, as proven by the fact that civilizations decline the moment they stop making translations. This will be my conclusion: the first great voyages were those of texts; the first explorers those who made, commissioned and used translations. The Latins spent two centuries translating. In the 1150s, they welcomed into their language not only certain theological texts of Greek-speaking Eastern Christians but also Greek and Arab philosophical texts. A certain Burgundio of Pisa (c. 1110–93), who had stayed in Constantinople with other Italian graecizantes such as Jacobus Veneticus Grecus (the first medieval translator of Aristotle) or Moses of Bergamo, translated St John Damascene’s De fide orthodoxa and made another version of the De natura hominis of Nemesius of Emesa (c. 400), which had already been translated a century earlier by St Alfano (Archbishop of Salerno 1058–85). An archdeacon of Segovia, Domingo Gundisalvo (Gundissalinus), working in Toledo between 1130 and 1180 with the ex-Jewish John of Spain (Juan Ben David), was translating al-Fârâbî (Liber de scientiis, Fontes quaestionum, De intellectu, Liber exercitationis ad viam felicitatis), Alexander of Aphrodisias (De intellectu), Ishâq al-Isra’ilî, al-Ghazâlî (Maqâsid al-falâsifa) and Avicenna. To list the next wave – of translators, translations, schools of translation – would take a full hour. The Byzantines themselves translated: in the stir of the Hesychast controversy during the second half of the fourteenth century Demetrios Kydonis, a ‘Greek’ Thomist (c. 1324–97/98), secretary to Emperor John VI Cantacuzene (1347–54), who had learned Latin at the Dominican convent of Pera, translated St Thomas Aquinas’ Summa contra gentiles (1360), and this translation allowed Callistos Angelikoudes (c. 1340–1420) to produce a book Against Thomas Aquinas in 1380. Translation implies confrontation, criticism, progress, philosophy that lives ‘in the present’. This applied to Byzantium; it also applied to Judaism. In 1291, one Hillel ben Samuel of Verona produced at Forli his Book of the Rewards of the Soul, where he juxtaposes a translation of Gundissalinus’ De anima and an anthology of Averroës’ texts on Conjunction including the De animae beatitudine, with a translation of Aquinas’ De unitate intellectus contra Averroistas barely twenty years after its appearance; this allows him to defend, with Aquinas and against Averroës, the personal immortality of the soul, and therefore the notion of reward for merit in the hereafter. Later, a certain Juda ben Moses ben Daniel of Rome, working at the court of Robert the Wise, Angevin king of Naples, also translated – from Latin – Gundissalinus’ De unitate et uno, Aquinas’ De ente et essentia, Giles of Rome’s Theoremata de ente et essentia and commentary on the De anima, not to mention various fragments of Alexander of Hales and Albertus Magnus (De causis et processu universitatis). Through others’ eyes; the enrichment of perspectives; the encounter of viewpoints: Latins, Byzantines, Jews all passed this way, in varying degrees and encouraged to a greater or lesser extent by institutions of learning, including the universities (a Latin speciality). The Muslims alone failed to heed the call: the originators of the process of translatio studiorum left the scene just as the process reached northern Europe and continued – though did not thrive – in Constantinople.

It is with this singular phenomenon that I should like to end my contribution to the theme, ‘Journeys, texts and translations’. As a medievalist, I find that the question I am most often asked is why Philosophy, this gorgeous traveller from overseas, who made the Mediterranean of the Middle Ages into a veritable ‘centre of excellence’, vanished from Western Islam. Now obviously I cannot claim to give a complete explanation of so difficult a matter, whose delayed effects are causing so much anguish today. I know, and am quite willing to argue – however one does or does not explain it – that this disappearance is not to be mistaken for an end to thinking. Not all thought is ‘philosophical’ as falsafa was – kalam also is thought, and so is Sufism, and both survived the collapse of the Almohade world which had made it possible, politically, for a thinker such as Averroës to exist. But the fact remains that once the Middle Ages were past, Muslims appear to have stopped claiming for themselves, as their own property or as their rightful part of an inheritance, their share of the West, of Hellenism, of the knowledge ‘from without’. And thus, by a sort of double misfortune, the Muslim cultures more or less disappeared from the history of Philosophy and Philosophy more or less disappeared from the history of the Muslim world. When was this, you will want to know. An underlying trend cannot be dated as precisely as a farewell dinner. I shall be even more indeterminate and simply observe that this double exclusion became probable when scholars ceased to make foreign science (knowledge from without) ‘speak Arabic’; when, in other words, they stopped making translations. The secret of the Western Renaissance of the fifteenth century is the same as that of the ‘twelfth-century Renaissance’. It is the secret of all renaissances: translation. The great ‘Italian Renaissance’ of the Quattrocento did not signal the end of the Latin Middle Ages: it did not abolish it, but fulfilled it, by completing the translation activity that had begun in Toledo.[xiv] Thanks to Marsilio Ficino (1433–99), and to his protectors the Medicis, Europe discovered ‘new’ Ancients, the Orphic Hymns, the Poimandres supposedly by Hermes Trismegistus, the Dialogues of Plato, Plotinus’ Enneads, Iamblichus’ and Porphyry’s treatises, as it had discovered its earlier Moderns – Avicenna, Averroës and the others – in twelfth-century Toledo and thirteenth-century Naples. But during the same period the Muslim world stopped translating the Ancients and had no Moderns of its own; or, more precisely, it neither had, nor wanted, nor sought, contemporaries. Ceasing to transfer the objects of study, it consequently stopped transferring the centres of study. Having no contact through translation with their Christian contemporaries, the cultures of Islam ended by breaking the connection with their own philosophers, who had become as foreign to them as any Albertus Magnus or Thomas Aquinas. As for the ‘exchanges’ of my title: I wonder whether they actually ever took place. Does a continuous transition constitute an exchange? This is the whole issue. The series of cultural accommodations I have been trying to describe was not always symmetric and reflexive, as the logicians say. Asymmetry, non-reciprocity, is the ghost that haunts the romance of ‘convivance’ or living together. In practice, the end product is not at all a romantic outcome; it is a turning inwards towards one’s own community. We can see this happening before our eyes. We may be shocked by the version of the translatio studiorum given by G. W. F. Hegel in his Lesson on the Philosophy of History: ‘Universal history goes from East to West, for Europe is truly the end of History, of which Asia is the beginning’; but it is not, unfortunately, entirely without descriptive value so far as the Mediterranean is concerned. The remedy is known, however: to take exchange to its natural conclusion, to bring off a reciprocal appropriation. Europe is not the end of history. But it is not enough to say this: we must go on, and establish firmly within ourselves two principles, which I offer for discussion: first, that in the history of culture there is no such thing as ‘idle curiosity’; and, second, that a culture of forgetting, even if it is shared, is no culture at all.


[i]. See E. Husserl, La crise des sciences européennes et la phénoménologie transcendantale, Paris, Gallimard, 1976, quoted in Y. Hersant and F. Durand-Bogaert, Europes, de l’Antiquité au xxsiècle, p. 455, Paris, Robert Laffont (coll. Bouquins), 2000. [The Vienna Lecture itself was entitled Die Philosophy in der Krisis der europäischen Menscheit, and an English translation is in Husserl, Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy, Translated with Notes and an Introduction by Quentin Lauer, pp. 149–92, New York, Harper Torchbooks, 1965. Direct quotations by the present author from this lecture are here translated according to Lauer’s version, though the reader is referred to Lauer’s notes, e.g. on unendliche Ausgabe, rendered as ‘infinite task’.].
[ii]
.
See H. Pirenne, Mahomet et Charlemagne, Paris, PUF (coll. Quadrige), 1992. [The work, most of which had appeared piecemeal in articles from 1922 until Pirenne’s death in 1935, was actually published as a book in Belgium in 1937, with an English translation by Bernard Miall in 1939. References here are to pages in the 1992 French edition, and the quotations are not from that translation.]

[iii]
. Pirenne, op. cit., p. 215.

[iv]
. Ibid., p. 120.  
[v]
. Ibid., p. 122.  

[vi]
.
E. Renan, Averroès et l’averroïsme, Preface, p. 17, edition cited in the text.
[vii]
.
Renan, Souvenirs d’enfance et de jeunesse, in Œuvres complètes, Vol. II, pp. 756–7, Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1948.

[viii]
. See M. Heidegger, Was ist das – die Philosophie?, Pfullingen, 1992. French translation Qu’est-ce que la philosophie? by K. Axelos and J. Beaufret, pp. 15–16, Paris, Gallimard, 1957. English translation What Is Philosophy? by Jean T. Wilde and William Kluback, Oxford, New College & University Press, 1956.  
[ix]
. Heidegger, op. cit. [French translation], pp. 16–17.  

[x]
.
See P. Pénisson, ‘Philosophie allemande et langue du Nord’ [German philosophy and Northern language], Rue Descartes, 14, 1995, pp. 125–37.
[xi]
.
See J.-F. Courtine, ‘Un peuple métaphysique’, Revue de métaphysique et de morale, 3, 2001, pp. 39–61.
[xii]. On this notion, see A. G. Jongkees, ‘Translatio studii: les avatars d’un thème médiéval’ [Translatio studii: the various guises of a medieval theme], in Miscellanea Mediaevalia in memoriam Jan Frederik Niermeyer, pp. 41–51, Groningen, 1967; S. Lusignan, ‘La topique de la translatio studii et les traductions françaises de textes savants au xive siècle’ [The topic of translatio studii and French translations of learned texts in the fourteenth century’, in G. Contamine (ed.), Traduction et traducteurs au Moyen Age. Actes du colloque international du CNRS organisé à Paris, Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes, les 26–28 mai 1986 [Translation and Translators in the Middle Ages. Proceedings of the CNRS International Colloquium organized at the Paris Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes, 26–28 May 1986], published in ‘Documents, études et répertoires publiés par l’Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes’, pp. 303–15, 1989; F. J. Worstbrock, ‘Translatio artium. Über die Herkunft und Entwicklung einer kulturhistorischen Theorie’, Archiv für Kulturgeschichte, 47, 1965, pp. 1–22.  
[xiii]
. Adelard of Bath, Quest. Nat., 23–24: ‘Ego enim aliud a magistris Arabicis ratione duce didici, tu vero aliud auctoritatis pictura captus capistrum sequeris’.  
[xiv]
. On this point, see L. Bianchi, ‘Renaissance und ‘Ende’ des Mittelalters: Betrachtungen zu einem historiographischen Pseudoproblem’, in E. Rudolph (ed.), Die Renaissance und ihre Antike. Die Renaissance als erste Aufklärung, I, pp. 117–30, Tübingen, Mohr Siebeck, 1998. (Religion und Aufklärung, 1.)

 

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