Latest METI book— “Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq on His Galen Translations”

08.18.2016 | Morgan Davis

Hunayn CoverI’m very pleased to announce the appearance of an important new title in our Eastern Christian Texts series. Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq on His Galen Translations is the first Arabic work to appear in this series since our inaugural volume in 2002 (other titles have appeared in Syriac and Armenian). Edited and translated with consummate erudition by John C. Lamoreaux, an associate professor in the department of Religious Studies at Southern Methodist University, this title offers crucial information about a pivotal period in Arabic-Islamic civilization. Galen of Pergamon (129–216 CE) was one of the most prolific and important medical writers of the Greco-Roman world. Regarded as the most authoritative physician of his day, his work found new interest centuries later among the newly ascendant Arab empire, even as Greek Byzantium slid into decline. As Lamoreaux puts it in his introduction to this volume:
During the ninth and tenth centuries, scholars in the lands of Islam fell under the thrall of the philosophy and science of Greece. Their fascination with the works of the ancients led to the translation into Arabic of hundreds upon hundreds of texts: works by Aristotle and his commentators, Hippocrates and Galen, Euclid and Ptolemy, and many others. So comprehensive was the translation movement that it has been compared both in scope and consequence to the European Renaissance. Very nearly all of the surviving nonliterary works of Greece found themselves rendered into Arabic over the course of these centuries. Many works, now lost in their original, were thus preserved in Arabic.”
Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq was a leading figure in this translation movement, and his greatest contribution might be his translations of Galen, because for the next several centuries Galen’s stature only grew as his works continued to circulate—now in the Arabic and Syriac versions of Ḥunayn. Not only did these translations extend the life of Galen’s work into the eleventh century when they were translated yet again, this time into Latin, but they formed a foundation of knowledge upon which other medical practitioners built in the Arabic tradition. One such successor to Galen was Moses Maimonides, the Jewish rabbi and physician at the court of Saladdin during the twelfth century. He drew critically upon the Arabic versions of Galen in all of his own medical writings, which are also being collated and translated into English by Gerrit Bos and published in full in a separate series within the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative here at the Maxwell Institute. This treatise by Ḥunayn’s presents his own accounting of the works of Galen that he translated or supervised the translation of, and furnishes historians of science and culture much valuable information about how these translations were produced, what they contained, and who sponsored them.

Pergamon, Galen’s place of origin. Photographed by Morgan Davis.

The story of this treatise is also a nice example of how members of all three of the great monotheistic traditions participated in the intellectual life of the Middle Ages: Ḥunayn was a Christian from the Church of the East who both translated and oversaw the work of other Christian and Jewish translators, all funded by Christian and Muslim Arabs, and their translations in turn came to form the basis of the work of later Jewish, Christian, and Muslim physicians. It is sometimes surprising in our highly divisive political environment to find these ancient examples of cooperation across sectarian and religious divides. But such was the case, as is well attested by this volume. Everybody bleeds; everyone needs healing and relief from suffering, no matter their creed, no matter their kin. But Galen and Ḥunayn his translator dealt with more than medicine. The latter part of this catalog mentions works of philosophy—including commentaries on Plato and Aristotle—as well as linguistics and grammar. In all, some 129 works of Galen are mentioned, as detailed by Lamoreaux in one of several appendices to this volume. Another appendix contains a summary of what is known about each of the patrons that Ḥunayn mentions, providing scholars with an invaluable resource for understanding the social context for this remarkable period in the intellectual history of the Islamicate world. A further appendix by Grigory Kessel details all known extant Syriac translations of Galen. Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq on His Galen Translations ($49.95) is published under the Brigham Young University Press imprint and is distributed world-wide by the University of Chicago Press. It is also available through major on-line retailers like Amazon.