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6-10-2015, 10:21

Translation Movement

Important translators such as Hunayn b. Ishaq (d. 873) and Yahya b. ‘Adi (d. 974) coordinated translations firstly of the Aristotelian organon to establish rules of disputation and standards of rational discourse, and later the metaphysical, natural philosophical, and psychological works of the Stagirite. Aristotle was the philosopher par excellence, and the Neoplatonic curriculum that Islam inherited began the study of philosophy with Aristotle. What they also inherited was the desire to harmonize the work of Plato and Aristotle. Yahya is supposed to have translated Plato’s Timaeus, the key cosmological text of the Neoplatonic curriculum, and Porphyry’s Iso-goge or introduction to Aristotelian logic was incorporated into the study of logic. Harmonization led to the proliferation of pseudo-Aristotelian works attributed to the Stagirite that were actually of Neoplatonic provenance. Foremost among them were the Theology of Aristotle, a paraphrastic epitome of Plotinus’ Enneads IV-VI and Kitab fi Mahd al-Khayr (Liber de Causis), a work that draws upon Proclus’ Stoikeiosis Theologike (Elements of Theology). Both works were at the forefront of the second translation movement beginning in twelfth-century Spain, when Arabic philosophical works were translated into Latin and influenced the development of the scholastic philosophy of the universities.

The Theology of Aristotle was produced by the Nestorian translator ‘Abd al-Masih b. ‘Abdallah b. Na‘ima al-Himsi (d. 835) for the circle of al-Kindi (d. 870) in Baghdad. The Theology is also part of a larger corpus of Plotiniana Arabica, drawing upon the Enneads that includes fragmentary sayings attributed to the ‘‘Greek Sage’’ (al-Shaykh al-Yunani) and an Epistle on Divine Science (Risala fi-l-‘Ilm al-Ilahi). The text purports to be a translation of a theological text of Aristotle, with the commentary of Porphyry (d. 270), and certainly is a valuable expression of the Neoplatonic heritage of classical Islamic philosophy. The misattribution appealed to the taste of early Islamic philosophy that perpetuated the late antique Neoplatonic reconciliation of the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle and filled a perceived lacuna in the system of Aristotle that the Arabs inherited, providing doctrines about the nature of God and eschatology. Nevertheless, the text was adapted to suit the needs of its audience and was always more than a translation, incorporating material akin to Aristotelianism and even drawing upon pseudoDionysian doctrines on the ‘‘profession of ignorance.’’ The Theology is divided into ten mayamir (sing., mimar), the Syriac Christian word for a chapter of a theological treatise. It is prefaced by a prologue that mentions the author, the translator, the editor (al-Kindi), and the patron (Ahmad, the son of the caliph al-Mu‘tasim). It may have been modeled on a text of Porphyry that sets out some of the key issues to be tackled in the text concerning the nature of the soul, its descent into the world of matter, and its reversion to its principle. The Theology became the impetus for philosophical speculation and established some of the key features of Islamic Neoplatonism. Commentaries and glosses upon the text were written by Christian, Jewish, and Muslim philosophers, including Ibn Sina and ‘Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi (d. 1231) in the classical period and Qadi Sa‘id Qummi (d. 1696) in the later Safavid period.

The doctrines of the Theology mainly concern the nature of the soul. The soul descends, like all other beings, from a causal chain of emanation that is produced by a purely good and loving principle, the One or the Creator (al-Bari’). It descends from a higher intelligible world to reside within a material body that is part of the sensible world. The cosmos is thus a natural and logical consequence of the One and not a volitional result of a theistic creator. Unlike the Aristotelian doctrine, the soul is not a perfection or entelechy of the body (although in at least one instance this view is approved) but is independent of the body as an eternal, immaterial substance capable of separating itself and ascending momentarily to experience the beatitude of its intelligible origin. This possibility is expressed in the famous ‘‘doffing metaphor’’ of Theology mimar I (see Enneads IV.8.1). The soul alienated in this world desires to taste the freedom of its origins, transcending the material cage of this world, and wishes to revert to its principle. Philosophers such as Suhrawardi and Sufis such as Ibn ‘Arabi later cited this metaphor. Other doctrines and issues broached include time and creation, the nature of God and His agency, the nature of knowledge, and the end of the soul. Because of the coverage of central issues and its ascription to Aristotle, the Theology became the seminal text in the classical period of Islamic philosophy.