Augustine to Galileo: The History of Science, A.D. 400- 1650

By A. C. Crombie | Go to book overview

II
THE RECEPTION OF GRECO-ARABIC SCIENCE IN WESTERN CHRISTENDOM

THE NEW SCIENCE WHICH began to percolate into Western Christendom in the 12th century was largely Arabic in form, but it was founded on the works of the ancient Greeks. The Arabs preserved and transmitted a large body of Greek learning, and what they added to its content themselves was perhaps less important than the change they made in the conception of the purpose for which science ought to be studied.

The Arabs themselves acquired their knowledge of Greek science from two sources. Most of it they eventually learned directly from the Greeks of the Byzantine Empire, but their first knowledge of it came at second hand from the Syriacspeaking Nestorian Christians of Eastern Persia. During the 6th and 7th centuries Nestorian Christians at their centre of Jundishapur translated most of the important works of Greek science into Syriac, which had replaced Greek as the literary language of Western Asia since the 3rd century. For a time after the Arab conquests Jundishapur continued to be the first scientific and medical centre of Islam, and there Christian, Jewish and other subjects of the Caliphs worked on the translation of texts from Syriac into Arabic. The centre of this work later moved to Damascus and then in the early 9th century to Baghdad, where translations were also made direct from Greek. By the 10th century nearly all the texts of Greek science that were to become known to the Western world were available in Arabic.

Gradually the learning which had been amassed by the Arabs began to penetrate into Western Christendom as trading relations slowly revived between Christendom and

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