A tenth-century arabic interpretation of Plato's cosmology

Journal of the History of Philosophy 6 (1):15 (1968)
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Abstract

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:A Tenth-Century Arabic Interpretation of Plato's Cosmology MAJID FAKIIRY OF PLATO'STHIRTY-SIXDIALOG~Y~Sonly the Timaeus is devoted entirely to cosmological questions. The influence of this dialogue on the development of cosmological ideas in antiquity and the Middle Ages was very great. At a time when the knowledge of Greek philosophy and science in Western Europe had almost vanished, the Timaeus was the only Greek cosmological work to circulate freely in learned circles. The translation and commentary of Chalcidius (c. 350) made the Timaeus available to Latin scholars, at least up to c. 53. But interest in the Timae~s was sustained for a long time before that. The lost commentary of Posidonius of Apamea (d. 51 B.C.), the De animae procreatione in Timeo of Plutarch (d. A.D. 125), the commentary of Proclus (d. 485), extant up to 44d,1 are the most important links in this continuous chain of Platonic cosmological exegesis in antiquity. In the Arabic tradition, the Timaeus had a decisive impact on the development of cosmological ideas also. Plutarch and Proclus were familiar names in the history of Platonic and post-Platonic thought, but I am not aware that the Stoic Posidonius, whom Zeller has described as ".the most universal mind that Greece had seen since the time of Aristotle," 2 was known to the Arabs, or that any mention of his commentary on the Timaeus is to be found in the Arabic sources. General interest in Platonism was an early feature of the philosophical wave which swept the Islamic learned world in the 8th century, and Zeller may be right in saying that it was the Platonic School of Athens which gave Muslim Neoplatonism its peculiar stamp. 3 One of the earliest translators of philosophical texts into Arabic, Yah.ia (b. al-Bit.riq) who flourished in the 2rid half of the 8th century, is credited with the translation of the Timaeus, later retranslated or revised by Hunain (b. Ish~q; d. 873) and Yahia (b. 'Adi and not, as Sarton has it, b. 'Ali; d. 974).~ In addition, the following Platonic dialogues appear to have been translated into Arabic: The Sophistes, the Parmenides, the Cratylus, the Euthydemus, the Republic, the Statesman, the Laws and the Crito. The determination of the actual translator of each work poses serious difficulties. In an autobiographical tract, Hunain simply reports that either he or his disciple Is~ (b. Yahia) translated these works for his patron Muhammad (b. Cf. A. E. Taylor, A Commentary on Plata's Timaeu~ (Oxford, 1928),pp. 34f., and George Sarton, History o] Science (Cambridge, Mass., 1959),I, 428f. Cf. E. Zeller,OutEnesof the History oSGreek Philosophy (N.Y., 1955),p. 268. sIbid., p. 329. ' Cf. al-Fihrist (Cairo, N~D.),p. 358. [15] 16 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY Musa), the astrologer.~ Other writers corroborate or supplement this account. Thus Ibn al-Nadim (d. 997), ascribes to Hunain the interpretation (tarsi'r) of the Republic, to him and to Ibn 'Adi the translation of the Laws, and to his son Ish.iq the translation of the Sophistes, together with the commentary of Olympiodorus2 The Crito appears to have been translated also by Yahia (b. Adi), and extensive excerpts from it and the Phaedo are often quoted in the Arabic sources in connection with the trial and execution of Socrates. Another difficulty is raised by the fact that none of the Arabic versions of these dialogues which have come down to us, either as separate works or parts of general commentaries such as the Laws, the Timaeus and the Republic, are complete, so that the inference is inescapable that, as borne out by Hunain's own testimony, it was Galen's paraphrases or compendia of these works, or at any rate those which were translated into Arabic within the School of Hunain, that are actually referred to in our sources.7 It is not, however, with the general diffusion of Platonism in the Muslim world that I am primarily concerned here, but rather with the impact of Platonic cosmological theory as illustrated in the writings of Abu Bakr Muhammad (b. Zakariya al-Razi; d., c. 932), the Rhases of Latin authors, the greatest...

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