Date of Award

12-2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

History

Major Professor

Thomas E. Burman

Committee Members

Robert J. Bast, Maura K. Lafferty, Jay Rubenstein

Abstract

This dissertation examines how Arabic works found an audience in medieval Europe and became a part of the Latin canon of philosophy. It focuses on a Latin translation of an Arabic philosophical work, Maqasid al-falasifa, by the Muslim theologian al-Ghazali, known as Algazel in Latin. This work became popular because it served as a primer for Arab philosophy and helped Latins understand a tradition that had built upon Greek scholarship for centuries. To find the translation’s audience, this project looks at two sets of evidence. It studies the works of Latin scholars who drew from Algazel’s arguments and illustrates that the translation’s influence was more extensive than historians have previously thought. It also examines copies of the translation in forty manuscripts and broadens the Latin audience of Arab philosophy beyond what historians typically study—the university—to include the anonymous scribes and readers who comprise the often-voiceless majority of medieval literate society. These codices yield details about Algazel’s readers, their interests and concerns, which cannot be gathered from other sources. Scholars spared little expense with these manuscripts since several are quite ornate or contain gold leaf. Many copies possess wide margins where scholars interacted with the text by writing notes, diagrams, pointing hands, warnings, and the occasional doodle. Scribes integrated the work into the established canon by placing Algazel in manuscripts with Christian philosophers from Augustine to Aquinas. The manuscripts also contain marginalia left by generations of readers, which give insight into how scholars read the text and what passages grabbed their attention. The notes indicate that a few readers agreed with ecclesiastical authorities who condemned Algazel’s work since some scholars wrote warnings in the margins alongside passages that they considered dangerous. Thus, Latins paradoxically expended great effort to understand Arab philosophers while simultaneously condemning ideas in the translations as errors. This study expands our understanding of the European interaction with the Arab tradition by examining reading practices with evidence drawn from the readers themselves. It demonstrates that Europeans read translated Arabic works alongside long-standing authorities and treated Arab authors as valuable members of the Latin canon.

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