The Rise of the Medieval World, 500-1300: A Biographical Dictionary

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FĀRĀBĪ, ABŪ NASIR MUHAMMAD, AL-(C. 870–C. 950). This renowned Muslim philosopher was known among his coreligionists as “the second teacher” (after Aristotle) and as Alfarabius or Abunaser among Latin scholastics. Perhaps one of the most original of the medieval Islamic philosophers, his commentaries on Aristotle exerted a marked influence on the development of European thought.

Very little is known about al-Fārābī’s life, save that he was of Turkish extraction and spent the greater part of his philosophic career at the court of the Shiite Hamdanid prince Sayf al-Dawla (d. 944) in Aleppo. He was born in the village of Wasij in the district of the city of Farab in Transoxiana and eventually settled in Baghdad. Here he studied logic and philosophy under two leading Nestorian Christian Aristotelians, Yūhannā ibn Haylān (d. c. 932) and Abū Bishr Mattā ibn Yūnus (d. 940). In 942, he took up residence at the court of the prince Sayf al-Dawla, where he remained until moving to Damascus shortly before his death in 950.

Al-Fārābī’s literary output was vast, and his biographers list between seventy and one hundred works to his credit. However, few are extant, and many have proven to be spurious. Al-Fārābī’s existing corpus can be divided into two parts, the first concerning Aristotle and the study of logic and the second, ancillary philosophic studies. Belonging to the first category are al-Fārābī’s commentaries and paraphrases of Aristotle’s logical corpus, the Organon, which in its Arabic recension included Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Poetics. He also wrote commentaries on some of Aristotle’s other works including his Nicomachean Ethics, Physics, and Metaphysics as well as Plato’s Laws and Porphyry’s Isagoge. The second category includes works on metaphysics, ethics, mathematics, music, and politics. He also penned a number of important original tracts; the most important are the Reconciliation of Plato and Aristotle, the Great Book of Music, the Virtuous City, and the Survey of the Sciences. The

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