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On the Problem of Syriac “Influence” in the Transmission of Greek Science to the Arabs: The Cases of Astronomy, Philosophy, and Medicine

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image of Intellectual History of the Islamicate World

The answer to the question of why the role of Syriac in transmitting Greek science into Arabic is negligible in astronomy but important in philosophy and medicine lies in the history of Syriac science. There was little imperative to transmit Greek astronomy into Syriac because Babylonian astronomy was dominant and received in Syriac. Conversely, there was an imperative to transmit Greek philosophy, due to the lack of anything comparable in Syriac and a need that arose in the late fifth century. Medicine is an in-between case—there was a well-established Mesopotamian medical system, yet Greek sources were translated and integrated with it. This integration was rejected by Arab translators, the effects of which impacted modern scholarship. This analysis explains why influence varies by field and highlights how the modern study of the Syriac sciences has neglected their Mesopotamian background and focussed on how they received and transmitted Greek sources.

Affiliations: 1: University of Exeter


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