Friday, May 14, 2021

The Renaissance Humanists Versus The Arabic Scholars

The European Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries led to a large-scale rejection of Arabic scholarship. The humanist scholars of the Renaissance quested for the original texts of Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and other ancient masters. Most of these manuscripts were available to the European scholars of this period in texts translated into Latin from the previous Arabic translations. The Renaissance humanists rejected the translations which were based on Arabic texts—they claimed that the Arabic translations were missing the real essence of the ancient masters. 

To make their case against Arabic scholarship, the humanists cited the views of the thirteenth and fourteenth century scholars like Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon, and Francesco Petrarch. For his work on Aristotle, Aquinas had gone beyond the Latin translations of the Arabic translations of Aristotle and relied upon William of Moerbeke's Latin translation from original Greek resources. Bacon had complained about the European hacks who lower the quality of scholarship by translating the old texts from Arabic to Latin. Petrarch, a strong critic of Arab culture, complained that the Arabic translations were clumsy and inaccurate, and he often targeted Averroes for propagating a weak version of Aristotle in Europe.

With more original texts becoming available to the Renaissance humanists, they were able to establish that there were significant style-related and philosophy-related deviations between the teachings of the ancient masters and the Arabic translations.

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