The Non-Existent Muslim Roots of Europe
Several French websites are talking about a book by historian Sylvain Gouguenheim entitled Aristote au Mont Saint-Michel: Les Racines Grecques de l'Europe (Aristotle at Mont Saint-Michel: The Greek Roots of Europe), published by Univers Historique. French readers might enjoy the book review published by Le Monde. I am presenting the version of the review posted at Le Salon Beige:
The Muslim roots of Europe are as real as its lunar roots. Sylvain Gouguenheim throws a monkey wrench into the pseudo cultural link between the Western world and the Muslim world. This professor of medieval history at the Advanced Normal School of Lyons refutes the preconceived idea that ancient Greek learning (philosophy, medicine, mathematics, astronomy), having completely disappeared from Europe, found refuge in the Muslim world, where it was translated into Arabic, appreciated and extended, before finally being retransmitted back to the West, thus permitting its renaissance and then the sudden expansion of European culture.
This vulgate is nothing but a tissue of lies. Even though they had become tense and rare, the ties with Byzantium were never broken: Greek manuscripts still circulated. During the so-called "dark ages", Greek scholars were never absent, especially in Sicily and Rome. From 685 to 752 there reigned a succession of Popes of Greek and Syriac origin! In 758-763 Pippin the Short had Pope Paul I send him Greek texts, notably Aristotle's Rhetoric. Numerous Church Fathers, who quote Plato, saved entire sections of works of pagan writers. Europe, therefore, always remained conscious of its ties to ancient Greece, and continually exhibited a desire to locate the texts.
It was not the Muslims that did the bulk of the translations of Greek works into Arabic. Even those great admirers of the Greeks - Al-Farabi, Avicenna, and Averroës - did not read one word of the original texts, but only translations into Arabic made by Christian Aramaens! Among these Syriac Christians, who mastered Greek and Arabic, Hunayn Ibn Ishaq (809-873) forged the essential Arabic medical and scientific vocabulary by transposing 200 works. A speaker of Arabic, he was in no way a Muslim, nor were the vast majority of the first translators of Greek into Arabic. A deformed vision of history causes us to erase the decisive role of Christian Arabs in the transmission of works of Greek Antiquity first into Syriac, then into the language of the Koran.
The adoption of Greek thought by Muslims was selective, limited, and without any major impact on the realities of Islam. Even though it possessed the philosophical works of the Greeks, Islam never became truly Hellenized. The translators of Mont Saint-Michel transmitted almost the complete works of Aristotle directly from Greek into Latin several decades before the same works, in Toledo, were translated from their Arabic version. Instead of dreaming that the Islamic world of the Middle Ages was open and generous, and offered to languishing, ignorant Europe the means of its expansion, it would be better to remember that the West did not receive these works in the form of a gift. It went searching for them, in order to complete the texts it already possessed. And Europe alone made scientific and political use of them, as we all know.
In summary, contrary to politically correct prejudices, European culture owes nothing to Islam.
This is not the first article on this topic to appear at French websites, and I'm glad to have at last posted something about it. The new book by Gouguenheim sounds worth reading. Lack of time prevented me from doing any real research, but those interested in Avicenna (pictured above), who was a Persian, not an Arab, can check out Wikipedia (where the description of his accomplishments would seem to rank him as equal or superior to Leonardo da Vinci), or the Catholic Encyclopedia.
Update: July 6, 2008 - The spelling of Gouguenheim's name has been corrected. Originally, the second "u" was omitted.