Talk:Transmission of the Greek Classics

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Talk:Transmission of the Classics)
Jump to: navigation, search
WikiProject Philosophy (Rated C-class, Mid-importance)
WikiProject icon This article is within the scope of WikiProject Philosophy, a collaborative effort to improve the coverage of content related to philosophy on Wikipedia. If you would like to support the project, please visit the project page, where you can get more details on how you can help, and where you can join the general discussion about philosophy content on Wikipedia.
C-Class article C  This article has been rated as C-Class on the project's quality scale.
 Mid  This article has been rated as Mid-importance on the project's importance scale.


A lot of this article is part of an essay I wrote for a history class, and may need wikification. Help will be appreciated. Wrad (talk) 04:10, 8 March 2008 (UTC)

It shows. This is the most prejudiced and ignorant piece of work I ever read in WP. I doubt it can be salvaged.Xenovatis (talk) 14:40, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
Oh. Well, thanks for the kind and generous help :) . I must say I think it would be even more helpful if you pointed out exactly what is so ignorant about it. Everything in it is sourced. Specific criticism is needed. And don't say "The whole thing is just hopeless." That is such pessimistic mish-mash. If you can't point out specifics, then we won't ever fix anything, will we? Wrad (talk) 16:16, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
It seems as though you never got past the lead in you reading. If you really want to help, you should probably read the whole thing. Everything in the lead is cited later in the article. Please see WP:FA and browse through a few FAs and you will find that this is almost universally common in our highest quality articles. Everything in this article is cited. If you see problems, I would apprecciate constructive, rather than destructive, criticism. Seems like that's more than fair since we both want this article to be good and not laden with tone problems like it is now. Wrad (talk) 16:41, 12 April 2008 (UTC)

Xeno, I have determined that you are more bent on proving that this article is beyond hope than on actually fixing it. I have absolutely no desire to waste my time trying to "please" someone so inclined. I've never seen such a war-like ultimatum as the one you recently left in your edit summary. You apparently haven't respected what I've said so far and I don't expect you will in the future. If you want to wipe your feet on this article some more, go ahead, though I don't know what good it will do you or Wikipedia as a whole. I'm going to do something constructive. Wrad (talk) 02:28, 13 April 2008 (UTC)


This article needs a rewrite to accurately represent reality as opposed to idiotic western prejudices about Greeks, Byzantium and the transmission of their philosophy to the West. As it stands it represents a secondary event, the transmission of Greek philosophy to the Arabs as central to its transmission to the westerners. This violates WP:Undue among other things. This is typicall frankish antihellenism and only to be expected of course. I will be rewritting this article thoroughly in the coming weeks. For the moment the POV tag stays as it is severely misleading as it stands. In fact it is a POV fork for transmission of Greek philosophy to the Arabs.Xenovatis (talk) 17:56, 16 April 2008 (UTC)

And I have noticed that some of this crap is repeated in the Greek philosophy article, which apparently ends in the Hellenistic era! Pathetic.Xenovatis (talk) 17:58, 16 April 2008 (UTC)

You are obviously concerned about the representation of classical learning in Byzantium. Well, the article doesn't talk about that (except for one or two sentences). That's the only weakness. Replace "Europe" with "Western Europe" a couple times throughout the text and it comes out making perfect sense. Fut.Perf. 21:00, 16 April 2008 (UTC)
The sources I looked at said the Byzantines weren't much help. Let's see your evidence otherwise. Regardless of what you might think, could you please be polite? Wrad (talk) 20:21, 17 April 2008 (UTC)
Well, it is of course true that the maintenance of the ancient Greek classics never really ceased in Byzantium itself, including manuscript transmission and study for at least linguistic style. But they would probably not have done much to actively spread such knowledge outside, especially not towards the west (before the late Byzantine period when such contacts did of course take on a notable role.) Also, within Byzantium there were notable ups and downs, including a "dark period" where such study would have been at a minimum. Paul Lemerle's Le premier humanisme byzantine would probably be a good place to check; haven't got access to it right now unfortunately. In the mid-11th century Michael Psellus could pride himself of having single-handedly resurrected the study of Plato (and he was apparently looked on with some suspicion for that); even discounting the obvious hyperbole in such a statement one would infer that the level of study previously wasn't too impressive. Fut.Perf. 09:02, 18 April 2008 (UTC)

The problem with this article[edit]

I hope I don't upset anyone about this, but this article needs a lot of work (preferably it needs deleting). There have been some comments about sourcing and so on, but that is not the real problem. The problem is the way it is written. Again, I don't want to be rude, but it really shows the pitfalls that a beginner will encounter in attempting to summarise detailed information set out in academic sources.

The main problem is what I call the 1066-ish effect, i.e. practically every sentence is full of sweeping generalisations that make the article sound comic. E.g.

  • from the first, many Arabs were hostile to the Classics.
  • St. Jerome an important medieval religious figure, was against many Greek ideas.
  • When considering the big picture, it is apparent that Europeans had an easier time accepting Greek philosophy than the Arabs.
  • His juxtaposition of the Greek philosophy with Islamic beliefs met with a lot of opposition, and at one point he was flogged by those opposed to his ideas.
  • Collectively, even if accidentally, the work was completed very rapidly, and before the West knew it, they had been reintroduced to a wealth of Greek ideas lost for centuries, freshly-laden with Arab commentary.

Worse, one sweeping generalisation is combined with another to suggest a cause-and-effect that is also laughable. For example

  • The Byzantines ... were either reluctant or unable to ponder the likes of Plato and Aristotle while warring with Arabs, Turks, and Huns.
  • Arab logicians had inherited Greek ideas after their invasion of southern portions of the Byzantine Empire.
  • The first text to be translated by Syriacs was probably the New Testament, which likely didn't help things for continuing Greek translations.
  • Leaders of the Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire frowned upon rational philosophy, and the Empire had just gone through a period of plague, famine, and war.
  • All of these developments led up to the 12th century, by which time European fear of Islam as a military threat had lessened dramatically.

It is also full of unencyclopedic turns of phrase. E.g.

  • translation work exploded within the House of Wisdom,
  • These linguistic borderlands were hotbeds for translation

Another problem with the article is that the author has not really solved the (generally difficult) problem of scale: treating each part in a way that is proportionate to the whole. To give one example: the author has clearly relied extensively on Lindberg's (excellent) treatment of the subject. But Lindberg has a lot of space to devote to the subject, unlike an article of this scale, and is able to treat Hunain ibn Ishaq in some detail. However the author of this article has quoted Lindberg almost verbatim, meaning that Ishaq is given undue weight in comparison to other translators of the same era. To get a sense of the proportion required, refer to the equivalent section in the article on Medieval philosophy.

There are other difficulties, but I will leave it at that. Again, sorry if this causes any upset. I know, from many years of having work refereed, that nothing makes it palatable to have one's work criticised in this way. With every kind wish. Hinnibilis (talk) 18:16, 29 April 2008 (UTC)

Thanks for being polite. I actually agree with you for the most part. I would suggest that if you see these problems then go ahead and try to fix them. I really don't have much interest in continuing work in this area. Someone on wikipedia said this particular branch of knowledge was lacking on wikipedia. I happened to have done some research on it, so I added what I had. Is it unreasonable to expect others to kindly add what they know? Isn't that what wikipedia is about? Wrad (talk) 18:21, 29 April 2008 (UTC)
That was quick. Yes indeed. I will do some work on it. I must say some of the other comments above were over-harsh. As you say, Wikipedia is about working together, not against each other. Best wishes. Hinnibilis (talk) 18:25, 29 April 2008 (UTC)

What about Boethius and others[edit]

What about other early / late western translators like Boethius? The way the article looks now, there is too much discussion of the arabic translators. Koyos (talk) 01:21, 29 December 2008 (UTC)

Some sources can be found here:
* Medieval Translation Table 1: Early Greek and Latin Sources
* Medieval Translation Table 2: Arabic Sources
* Medieval Translation Table 3: Greek Sources from c. 1100+
Koyos (talk) 01:49, 29 December 2008 (UTC)


The title as it was was seriously misleading as it implied that the Classics survived through the middle ages thanks to Arabs or Westerners, which is ridiculous. It was the Greeks that preserved them, as you would expect.

Harris, William Vernon (1989). Ancient Literacy. Harvard University Press. p. 136. ISBN 0674033817.

"At least three quarters of the ancient Greek classics that survived did so through Byzantine manuscripts."

Norwich, John Julius (1997). A Short History of Byzantium. Vintage Books. p. xxi. ISBN 0679772693.

"Much of what we know of antiquity – especially of Hellenic and Roman literature and of Roman law -would have been lost for ever but for the scholars and scribes and copyists of Constantinople."

Glenn Shillington Visher, Human Values from the Greeks to Modern Times,Nova Publishers, 1997,ISBN 1560724560,p.61-63

The bulk of the classical Greek literature that we have today survives only because it was preserved and copied by Byzantine scribes. Beginning in the eleventh century, Byzantine monks, educators, and scribes commenced the translation and the transfer of this heritage to educational centres in Italy (Padua and Bologna). England (Lincoln and Oxford), Paris. and Spain (Toledo and Cordova).

Elspeth Whitney,Medieval Science and Technology,Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004, ISBN 0313325197

Byzantium’s primary contribution to the history of science, however, was to preserve important texts from classical and Late antiquity. Byzantine physicians and natural philosophers living in Persia, for example, are known to have translated Greek scientific texts into Syriac in the fifth and sixth centuries; in the ninth century these texts were translated into Arabic and helped stimulate and sustain the development of natural philosophy in Islam. In the same century and later, Arabic translators sought out Greek manuscripts directly from Byzantine sources. Byzantine outposts in Italy and possibly North Africa were sources for Greek medical and other texts in the sixth century and again in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The first Latin version of Ptolemy’s A1mcgesr, for example, was made from a manuscript sent by the Byzantine emperor Manuel (1118-76) to the king of Sicily.’ In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, emigrating Byzantine scholars brought Greek manuscripts with them to Italy, stimulating interest in classical Greek science and literature. Overall, we can say that the Byzantine Empire played an essential part in the development of medieval science through its role in the transmission of classical learning.

Robert Henry Robins, The Byzantine Grammarians: Their Place in History,Walter de Gruyter, 1993, ISBN 3110135744, p.24

It would certainly not be argued that Byzantine literature was the equal of the literature of classical Greece. It was derivative in form and content: only the Chnstian, controversial exchanges introduced an element of novehy. Ammonius was not Aristotle, nor was Pletho another Plato. But this does not invalidate the claim that Byzantine literature does deserve recognition and study. It was the literature of an enduring though backward-looking civilization, which played an incomparable part in the preservation and transmission of the culture of Antiquity. Byzantine scholars copied, annotated, and kept in being. so far as their western and eastern antagonists allowed, the texts which form the greatest part of our classical Greek literature and the Greek part of classical syllabuses in modern universities (on Byzantine scholarship as a whole see Wilson 1983, though he makes little direct reference to grammar itself). This work did not take place in a political or cultural vacuum, and these two first chapters are intended to supply a background and a context for the appreciation of the Byzantine grammarians, which is offered in the

Angeliki E. Laiou, Cécile Morrison,The Byzantine Economy,Cambridge University Press, 2007,ISBN 0521849780

Despite their importance, Byzantine science and technical knowledge have been much debated and little studied. The role of Byzantium in the preservation and transmission, even the enrichment, of the Classical and Hellenistic scientific heritage, has long been recognized. 32 Elementary arithmetic and geometry were part of the education of the Byzantines. Many literate clerks, notaries and logariastai (accountants) were able to keep accounts and fiscal or cadastral registers throughout the Byzantine period. Even if officials were ignorant of philosophy and Euclid, as Michael Italikos scolds them for, surveyors of the fiscal services knew enough to measure land with a small margin of erior.33

Guglielmo Cavallo ,The Byzantines, University of Chicago Press, 1997,ISBN 0226097927

Whether the picture that emerges of Romanos’ personality is true, or merely the work of a writer at the service of another dynasty of emperors, it should be noted that Psellos approves, and considers essential to the state, Romanos’ aims: to model his empire on that stretching from Augustus to the Antonines, to repel barbarians, and to study classical culture, Greek and Latin literature. However, it is essential that we understand the nature of this culture. After the reign of Emperor Herakleios (610—641), little remained of the Latin culture that had penetrated the East, especially during the era of Justinian (r,—6), apart from the legal system and fossilized specimens of bureaucratic and military language. It was Greek learning, late antique Hellenism, both pagan and Christian, that provided Byzantine culture with its particular character. The breach that had been opened in the seventh century could not be closed, and even the Latin peoples of the Middle Ages were regarded as barbarians. Niketas Choniates, devoting “laments, vain tears, and inexpressible moans” to a Constantinople offended by barbarians, said that the city “had lost its capacity for speech” and remarked: “Who could bear the sound of the Muses to re-echo in a land that is now deprived of culture and completely barbarous?” The Byzantine people were clearly proud of their inheritance from ancient Rome and of the prestige of their entirely Greek culture.

Ivor Grattan-Guinness ,Companion Encyclopedia of the History and Philosophy of the Mathematical Sciences, JHU Press, 2003, ISBN 0801873967, p.64

With respect to the political and cultural history of the Greek-speaking civilization, the period called Antiquity’ is conventionally said to end either with the founding of Constantinople in AD 324, or with Justinian’s closing of the philosophical schools in AD 529, events that highlight the transition from the pagan Roman Empire with its Mediterranean cultural centres (e.g. Alexandria) to the new Byzantine Empire with its focus in the new capital, Constantinople. But for the history of mathematics, it is more convenient to make an earlier demarcation, about AD 300. Following a long interval for which we have only sparse evidence of mathematical activity, the fourth century brought a significant revival of writing on mathematics.

It has to be admitted that from this time on the Greek-speaking world made only a modest Contribution to the growth of mathematics in terms of new concepts and methods. The final centuries of pagan Antiquity still witnessed a few attempts to add something new to the body of knowledge; but the subsequent history of Byzantine science up to the fall of Constantinople (AD 1453) is a pattern of declines and recoveries, in which the most fruitful interludes are marked by intelligent scholars seeking out, explicating and comparing old or foreign texts. Original work during this period is not so much feeble as non-existent. Byzantium was of crucial importance, however, as a channel for the survival and transmission of the mathematical sciences, passing on the works of Antiquity to its neighbours to the east (e.g. Syria, the Arabs) and to the west, and often absorbing from them new ideas in return (Vogel 1967, Wilson 1983).

The documentation for the later periods of Greek mathematics is in some respects better than it is for the Classical and Hellenistic periods: many works survive in manuscript, often at few removes from the original composition, and in some instances we even possess the autographs.

Noel, William. "Archimedes Palimpsest". Retrieved 2009-01-03. 

Paleography, or the study of ancient texts, can allow us to approximately date when manuscripts were written. The Archimedes manuscript was probably written in the second half of the tenth century. It was almost certainly written at Constantinople, for the simple reason that there is no other place that we know of where ancient mathematics was systematically studied and copied. Constantinople was the one place with a continued tradition of copying and preserving ancient texts from antiquity through the Middle Ages.

Specifically, the study of Archimedes texts can be associated with the work of Leo the Geometer. Leo the Geometer was the cousin of John VII Morocharzianus, who was Patriarch in Constantinople between 837 and 843. In the 820’s, Leo was giving private instruction in Constantinople. Evidently he was successful at inspiring his students: one of them, who had read Euclid under his supervision, was captured by the Arabs in 830. His report of Leo’s learning was sufficient to cause the Caliph to invite Leo to Baghdad. He did not go. Instead he took up the charge of the Byzantine Emperor Theophilus (829-842) to educate the public in the church of the Forty Martyrs in Constantinople.

--Xenovatis (talk) 10:45, 4 January 2009 (UTC)

You were right, of course, to move the article, as it was seriously misleading as it was. However this change caused some other problems. Avicenna, for instance, was not Arab, but Persian. Also, William of Moerbeke is still included. These should perhaps be moved to another article. Koyos (talk) 00:43, 31 January 2009 (UTC)


"The Byzantines, for whom Greek was the dominant language, made use of only parts of their classical Greek heritage, and were more interested in preserving Christian writings."

Is nobody going to bother correcting this?

Is The People's Republic of Wikipedia going to promote blatant falsehood like this?

The Byzantines DID preserve classical Greek texts, pretty damn well in fact.

Of course not. On fact this whole article is a pseudo historical joke. No mention that 90% of the greek writing that western europe lost in the early middle ages, were recovered though byzantium, not Islam. Besides, who preserved the writings in the almost TWO centuries between the fall of the western roman empire and Islam? The Byzantines and the syrian christians, of course!!! The arabs learned what they knew from THEM. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 02:22, 18 December 2011 (UTC)

Solutions, Actions, Please?[edit]

I am glad so many voices point out the absurdity of this article, yet it does not change. Why? This article is so full of disinformation, it needs to be corrected. I am willing to participate in this and hold someone's back and help. But it's in my league only as a hobbyist. Unfortunately there is about no good information to be found anywhere about the history of the Greek texts of the classics. I had to do a little study myself, taking my hard copy of Aristotle's Kategoriai and Peri Hermeneias (Liber de Interpretationem). It is the only book that has a text-critical introduction. And it's written in Latin. If anyone can read Latin well, I can send you a copy of the text. He is saying a lot about the role of the many translations, but I can't understand the details. However, just a glimpse on the list of the text critical sigla of these two text reveals the utter absence of Arabic translation as any relevant source. Its main text is based on the Codex Ambrosianus from the 9th century (n) and the Codex Marcianus from the 10th century. Translations mentioned are: Armenian (Delta), Latin (Lambda), Syra Sergii Resainensis, Syra Iacobi Edesseni, and Syra Georgii Arabum episcopi. To be sure, the latter is the Gerorge the Christian Bishop of the Arabs, who died in 724. Where is the Arabic translation?

OK, people, now to all of you who complained about this article, please respond and lets discuss how we address this. I will add the POV tag. I know it has been done before, but nothing seriously changed. Please any of the above commenters who bemoaned the western ("Frankish") ignorance, step up and help. We need original text critical sources. There may not be one book that is not written with some agenda or the typical western ignorance. But at least this page could be a list of original works and provide the major codices as used by text-critical editions of the Greek text. This should prevent a POV war and would distill the subject matter to what can be known for sure rather than these over-generalizing fairy tales. Gschadow (talk) 01:43, 26 February 2013 (UTC)

Now I took action. The page is reorganized. Most material on the Arabic transmission is preserved but moved into one of several sections. The other sections are shorter and stubs and could use more data and references. I have removed the POV tag, because now the page no longer presents this single POV but has enough hooks for a plurality of transmission streams. Gschadow (talk) 03:59, 26 February 2013 (UTC)

The article still is incoherent and biased. People are afraid to reorganise the article is because they don't want to write something academically sound, only to be reverted, attacked or even banned from Wikipedia. I don't underestimate the huge role the Arabs had in introducing the Greek Classics in Western Europe, but in a general article the Arab role should only take up a part of the space, otherwise it should be titled: "Transmission of the Classics through the Arabs to Western Europe during the Middle Ages". An article that actually covers the transmission of the Classics, should also include a) the reception of Latin authors in the medieval West b) the conservation and study of the Greek Classics in the Byzantine Empire c) interactions between the Byzantine empire and the West during the Middle Ages and specifically d) the role of the Greek-speaking Italian South and e) contacts between Greeks and Latins in the Palaiologan period f) diffusion of Greek texts and scholars after the fall of Constantinople & role of Greek scholars teaching Greek philosophy and literature in Northern Italy troughout the 15th century [[1]]. It should also correct the notion that anything that wasn't known in the Latin or Arab world was "lost" (as exemplified in the phrase: "These universities gathered what little Greek thought had been preserved over the centuries"). Athenianepirote (talk) 12:38, 14 May 2014 (UTC)

At the very least this page should be re-titled "Transmission of the GREEK Classics". If no one else does it within a few days, I will. User:Hawa-Ave

In light of the lack on input on your move request, I suggest that you treat this move as uncontroversial and perform it as you suggested. Dekimasuよ! 23:35, 11 October 2014 (UTC)


Transmission of the Classics? – Please place your rationale for the proposed move here. Hawa-Ave (talk) 17:31, 24 September 2014 (UTC) — Preceding undated comment added 23:03, 13 September 2014 (UTC)