Arabic in post-Renaissance Europe

In one of his lectures, Dr. George Saliba mentions Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Zakareya Al Razi (Rhazes) and his treatise on Measles and Smallpox (being the first one to distiguish between them. That work was published in Arabic and Latin in London 1766, as "Ar-Razi, Muhammad Ibn-Zakariya: Rhazes De Variolis Et Morbilis / cura et impensis Iohannis Channing. - Londini : Bowyer, 1766. - XVI, 276 S."My interest was piqued, and I did some searching for myself. Among what I found was that Jacobus Golius did publish other Arabic works in both Arabic and a Latin translation, for example, The Elements of Abu Al Abbas Ahmed Ibn Mohammad Ibn Kathir Al Ferghani, a work on Astronomy.I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that Golius was a successor to, and a pupil of the famous orientalist Thomas Van Erpe (Erpenius). Van Erpe in turn, learned Arabic in Paris on Joseph Barbatus (Abudacnus), an Egyptian Copt living and teaching there.Van Erp first came to my attention when reading a book by one Ahmad Ibn Qasim Al Hajari, a post-Reconquista crypto-Muslim from Spain, who fled Spain to Morocco, and after the expulsion of the nuevo cristianos in 1610, he was sent in an embassy to France to recover assets looted by French seamen during the passage. During this trip, he visited Holland, meeting with Erpenius and the Dutch Prince Moritz as well.Note: Some day I will summarize Ibn Qasim's book in a separate article.Ibn Qasim wrote about his journey in a book called Nasser Al Din 'alaAl Qawm Al Kafirin.Ahmad was helping Van Erpe practice Arabic, and Van Erpe was treating him as a guest as well.Europe's thirst for knowledge of Arabic was instatiable for centuries.A century earlier, one Hassan Ibn Muhammad Al Wazzan Al Fasi, better known as Leo Africanus, travelled in Africa and the Middle East extensively. He was later captured by pirates in the Mediterranean island of Jerba, and was presented to Pope Leo X, who was impressed with his capabilities. He converted to Christianity, and started teaching Arabic, and writing his travels, as well as writing a Latin-Arabic-Hebrew vocabulary.In the 12th century, we find Al Idrisi, a man of noble descent, educated in Cordova, who found refuge in the court of the tolerant Norman King Roger of Sicily. Al Idrisi writes his famous geography book: Nuzhat Al Mushtaq, fi Ikhtiraq Al Afaaq, and names it Al Kitab Al Rujari (The Book of Roger).All this shows a solid line of transmission of Arabic knowledge in Europe. Often by the use of native Arabic speakers, or by obtaining Arabic books, or by travel to Arab countries.So, not only did the European scholars made use of Arabic books, nor only did they receive it from universities, but also made trips to Muslim lands, or conversed with Muslim travellers.There are lots of questions raised by all this:

  • Why was Arabic taught in post-Renaissance Europe with most universities there having a chair for the language?
  • Why was post-Renaissance Europe so intent on publishing Arabic works in Arabic?
  • Why were Arabic scientific reference books being printed in post-Renaissance Europe?
  • Who were the intended market for scientific reference works in Arab?

Moreover, European trade with Muslim countries (at least the Arabic speaking Middle Eastern one) was not as well developed like prior to the discovery of the New World, nor the later colonial period in the 18th and 19th centuries. So the need for Arabic for trade, or administration was not that much.An easy and simplistic answer was that Arabic knowledge was needed as part of a greater effort to convert the Muslims to Christianity via missionary work.While this is paritally true, it cannot be the full answer:How would publishing scientific reference works in Medicine, Astronomy, Physics help in converting Muslims?So, there must have been a significant Arabic readership among the academics, intellectuals, and the learned classes in Europe. Without that, editing, translating and publishing these books would be a waste of time, effort and money.

Contents: