The Muslims of Medieval Italy

By Alex Metcalfe | Go to book overview

13
The science of power

The Sicilian translation movement and transfer of knowledge

Between the eighth and tenth centuries, many works of ancient Greek and Hellenistic thinkers reached new and appreciative audiences via their eventual translation into Arabic in Abbasid Iraq. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the kingdom of Sicily was second only to centres in the Iberian peninsula, particularly Toledo, as a site for a return wave of translations when Latin versions of Greek and Arabic literary and scientific texts came to be made and diffused in Europe. Sicily did not rival Spain in the quantity of its outputs, but it had an important advantage with its pool of educated, bilingual Arabic– Greek and Greek–Latin translators, as well as a greater access to texts in Greek and/or classical Greek authors whose works existed in Arabic. Patronage in Norman Sicily also provided a forum for scholarship which played an important role in the ‘twelfth-century Renaissance’ prefiguring the promotion of science and the arts in the later medieval and early modern periods.1 Indeed, the key ingredients allowing knowledge transfer were present in Spain and Sicily in ways in which they were not in other Mediterranean frontier regions, such as the crusader states. Active participation was encouraged at the highest levels while patronage and a secular environment of the royal palace in Palermo stimulated scholarly co-operation that, in turn, enabled the recovery, transmission, development and application of intellectual ideas which were neither based in theology nor reliant on monastic scholarship for their execution. Works composed in Arabic, or translated from Arabic, featured prominently among the intellectual achievements of the Norman kingdom and, indeed, they are linked to issues of socio-religious toleration, cultural mélange and kingship.

The first half of the twelfth century had witnessed the resurgence of Byzantine monasticism, the patronage of art from Byzantine models, the commissioning of new homilies and histories in Greek and the participation of Greek administrators in power. The period thereafter saw the translation of classical Greek works into Latin. However, the two sets of activities should not be mistaken as being closely interrelated. The Byzantine revival in Sicily was a politico- religious one, of which Norman sponsorship was limited to the Rogerian periods. The

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