Mobilizing Knowledge in Translation

Technische Universität Berlin, Wintersemester 2019

Session 6

Manuscripts in Translation
around the Classical and Medieval Mediterranean

20 May 2019

The sixth session of the course will be focused on the translations of philosophical and scientific texts made in the Mediterranean Basin from Livius Andronicus to Andrea Alpago. These processes of translations among four main languages (Greek, Latin, Arabic, Hebrew) substantively shaped the formation of a shared culture in the Mediterranean Basin through a constant intertwining of theoretical and practical problems those translated texts were aimed at resolving. Often, though, texts in translations created new problems rather than helping resolve them (and this will be the main theme of session 9: Appropriating Doctrines). Session 6 is specifically focused on the historical dimension of the Mediterranean translations. Throughout the session, main problems concerning reasons, modalities, characters, and sponsors of the translations will be discussed examining six meaningful contexts of translations:

  • Greek into Latin I: The Foundation of Roman Literature and Philosophy
  • Greek into Latin II: Greek Inheritances in Translation in the Early Middle Ages
  • Greek and Persian into Arabic: The House of Wisdom in Baghdad
  • Arabic and Greek into Latin I: New Sciences and Old Problems in Latin Europe
  • Latin into Greek: The Strange Case of Maximus Planudes
  • Greek and Arabic into Latin II: Getting Rid of Aristotle?

Essential reading:

M.-Th. D’Alverny, “Translations and Translators.” In R. Benson and G. Constable (eds.), Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century, Cambridge 1982, pp. 426-433.

Please, answer the following questions concerning D’Alverny’s article:

  1. What kind of texts were translated and for what reasons?
  2. Why were medieval translations mainly made in Southern Italy and Spain?
  3. Why analyses of medieval translations of alchemical texts are particularly difficult?

Further reading:

D. Gutas, “Al-Manṣūr: Early ʿAbbāsid Imperial Ideology and the Translation Movement.” In D. Gutas, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture: The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement in Baghdad and Early ʿAbbāsid Society (2nd-4th/5th-10th centuries), London 1998, pp. 28-60.

S. McElduff, “Language, Interpreters, and Official Translations in the Roman World.” In S. McElduff, Roman Theories of Translation: Surpassing the Source, New York 2013, pp. 17-38.

C. Burnett, “The Coherence of the Arabic-Latin Translation Programme in Toledo in the Twelfth Century.” Science in Context 14 (2001): 249-288.


Session 10

Appropriating Doctrines:
The Strange Case of Matter and Atoms

24 June 2019

The tenth session of the course will be focused on the intertwining of translation and speculation (philosophy and science). As it has been stressed throughout the course, a purely objective rendering from source to target domains is impossible: a translation always implies an interpretation and a position into a new horizon of meaning. This fact entails a most pivotal question: how did textual modifications and conceptual alterations within the processes of translation shape scientific and philosophical reflection through premodern and modern times? The class will focus on two terms we commonly use on our everyday lives: “matter” and “atom”. Departing from the Greek terms ὕλη and ἄτομος, the gradual extension and specialisation of the meaning of these two terms into modern English “matter” and “atom” will be explored examining their semantic archaeology and transitional nature. During the session, main problems concerning reasons, modalities, problems, and implications of the processes of textual translation and semantic transition will be thoroughly discussed.

Essential reading:

R. Pasnau, “Form and Matter.” In R. Pasnau (ed.), The Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy, vol. 2, Cambridge 2009, pp. 635-646.

Please, answer the following questions concerning Pasnau’s contribution:

  1. What is prime matter and what features characterise this entity?
  2. What is “universal hylomorphism”?
  3. Why is the medieval notion of matter so different from ours?

Further reading:

D. Bostock, “Aristotle’s Theory of Matter.” In D. Bostock, Space, Time, Matter, and Form: Essays on Aristotle’s Physics, Oxford 2006, pp. 30-47.

A, Clericuzio, 1990, “A Redefinition of Boyle’s Chemistry and Corpuscular Philosophy.” Annals of Science 47 (1990): 561-589.

G. Rees, “Matter Theory: A Unifying Factor in Bacon’s Natural Philosophy?” Ambix 24/2 (1977): 110-125.