Friday, 14 May 2021

The Renaissance Humanists Versus The Arabic Scholars

One less noticed aspect of the European Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is that it 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. Many of these manuscripts were available to the European scholars of this period but in texts which had been 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 not offering the true essence of the teaching 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 trenchant 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 throughout 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. Thus, the Renaissance led to a considerable decline in Arabic scholarship in Europe.

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