Von Grunebaum remarks:
Modern Muslim society as a whole is lamentably ignorant of the origin, development, and achievements of its civilisation. This ignorance is due partly to a defective educational system.”
Which raises two interesting issues:
First, the obvious, Muslim society, as a whole, has little, if any, idea at all of the impact its civilisation has exerted on the modern world and modern science and civilisation. Hardly will it occur to most Muslims that the English speaking world, which dominates our modern civilisation, had at some point acquired its learning and science from the Muslims. Which is a lamentable state, indeed.
Figure 1. Manuscript from the medical treatise of Al-Zahrawi in the General Library in Rabat, Morocco (Source)
Secondly, equally obvious, if the Muslims themselves ignore their contribution, why should others acknowledge it for them. Hence the general great silence from the English speaking world, just as from others, about the Islamic contribution to their scientific revival. In fact, one is wrong to refer to the great silence of the non Muslim world in respect to the impact of Muslim civilisation. Indeed, had it not been for non Muslim scholars and historians, Muslims today would know near to nothing about anything, including their own history and the impact of their civilisation on the modern world.
Whilst these words are harsh, they express a lamentable reality and weakness on the part of Muslim scholarship and other elites and institutions meant to inform or teach, an issue on which this author has no wish to dwell, and also this not being the right venue. One, however, must note the few exceptions such as such great figures of Muslim scholarship in the field: Sezgin, Rashed, Djebbar, Al Hassan, Ihsanoglu, and a few others who achieved a considerable amount in the field, and also some Muslim institutions such as Al Furqan of London, IRCICA of Istanbul, and the web-site muslimheritage. What should be stressed, indeed, is that, if it weren’t for scholars of the calibre of Sarton, Haskins, and many other so called Orientalists (Gibb, Amari, Guillaume, Arnold, Carra de Vaux…) our knowledge of both Islamic history and civilisation would be near nil. If it weren’t for many scholars of today, also, especially those from the Anglo-Saxon world, America and England, primarily, the likes of David King, Donald Hill, Thomas Glick, Andrew Watson (from Canada), Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom, Fairchild Ruggles, D.C. Lindberg, Harley and Woodward, and few others to be named gradually as this essay progresses, poor, indeed, would be our grasp of the vast Islamic contribution to the rise of modern sciences and civilisation. Whilst we are on this Western scholarly contribution, and in relation to our specific subject, i.e the impact of Muslim learning on England, if it weren’t for someone like Charles Burnett, as an instance, our knowledge of such an impact would be utterly incomplete and flawed. Besides Burnett, other scholars, such as Melitzki, Cochrane, Harvey, Sweetman, and a few more, have enlightened us on the vast impact Islamic civilisation and sciences had on the British Isles, and England, most particularly. Some books such as Briffault’s Troubadours, and G.A. Russell’s edition of The Arabick Interest of the Natural Philosophers in Seventeenth Century England, are absolute gems which are necessary for anyone to understand some issues of fundamental importance as far as such an impact went.
Relying on such a Western scholarship, the following essay will outline how Islamic civilisation impacted on the rise of science and learning, and the arts and architecture of England. It will also show other aspects of impact, including the arts of gardening, and how England owes a great deal of its richness in the field thanks to the imports of many plants and flowers from the Muslim world, Turkey, most particularly.
Before this is done, first and foremost, journey must be made to the days when such a transfer began, and explain the conditions of both civilisations, Muslim and British/English, and the sharp contrasts between the two, so as to appreciate fully the scope of the Muslim impact.
Contrasts Between Islamic and English/British Isles Societies:
The glimmering lamp of knowledge was sustained when it was all but ready to die out. By the Arabians it was handed down to us [says Draper.]”
A brief statement, which means everything. Scott, Haskins and Metlitzki help in this respect to highlight the dire state of learning and civilisation in the West, including England, and how it was the Muslims who kept them before they passed on some such light of knowledge.
Tenth century Andalusia [Scott tells us,] was traversed in every direction by magnificent aqueducts; Cordova was a city of fountains; its thoroughfares, for a distance of miles, were brilliantly illuminated, substantially paved, kept in excellent repair, regularly patrolled by guardians of the peace. In London, in contrast, there were no pavements until the fourteenth; at night the city was shrouded in inky darkness; that it was not until the close of the reign of Charles II (17th century), that even a defective system of street lighting was adopted in London. The mortality of the plague is a convincing proof of the unsanitary conditions that everywhere prevailed; the supply of water was derived from the polluted river or from wells reeking- with contamination.
[In Muslim Spain, then, Scott pursues,] the annual receipts of the state from all sources under Abd-al-Rahman III, in the first half of the tenth century exceeded three hundred million dollars (late 19th century value); the revenues of the English Crown at the close of the seventeenth century were fifteen million. The inhabitants of England at the death of Elizabeth were about four million; the population of Muslim Spain six centuries previous to that date could not have been less than thirty million. In 1700, London, the most populous city of Christian Europe, was only half as large as Cordova was in 900, when Almeria and Seville had each as numerous a population as the capital of the British Empire eight hundred years afterwards.”
Medieval Muslim visitors to Christian towns complained-as Christian visitors now to Muslim towns do of the filth and smell of the “infidel cities.” At Cambridge, now so beautiful and clean, sewage and offal ran along open gutters in the streets, and ‘gave out an abominable stench, so… that many masters and scholars fell sick thereof.’ In the thirteenth century some cities had aqueducts, sewers, and public latrines; in most cities rain was relied upon to carry away refuse; the pollution of wells made typhoid cases numerous; and the water used for baking and brewing was usually-north of the Alps-drawn from the same streams that received the sewage of the towns.
At the dawn of the eleventh century, [resumes Scott] the Muslim dominions of Sicily and Spain presented a picture of universal cultivation and consequent prosperity, where industry was promoted and idleness was punished; where an enlightened spirit of humanity had provided asylums within whose walls the infirm and the aged might pass their remaining days in comfort and peace. Six hundred years afterwards what are now the richest and most valuable agricultural districts of Great Britain were unclaimed and uninhabitable bog and coppice, abandoned to game and frequented by robbers; and one-fourth of the inhabitants of England, incapable of the task of self-support, were during the greater part of the year dependent upon public charity, for which purpose a sum equal to one-half of the revenues of the crown was annually disbursed. In the middle of the tenth century there were nine hundred public baths in the capital of Moorish Spain; in the eighteenth century there were not as many in all the countries of Christian Europe.
Figure 2. Some of the Islamic/Arabic dirhams found at Torksey [Torksey is a small village in the West Lindsey district of Lincolnshire, England.] Photograph: © Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (Source)
As for learning, the situation in England, as elsewhere in Western Christendom, was in a lamentable condition. King Alfred had complained of the English ignorance of Latin, the language of literature and moral culture. The chief centres of culture, Haskins tells us, were the monasteries ‘islands in a sea of ignorance and barbarism saving learning from extinction in Western Europe at a time when no other forces worked strongly to that end.’ `When we remember,’ Lane Poole notes, `that the sketch we are about to extract from the records of Arabian writers concerning the glories of Cordova, relate to the tenth century, when our (English) Saxon ancestors dwelt in wooden hovels and trod upon dirty straw, when our language was unformed, and such accomplishments as reading and writing were almost confined to a few monks, we can to some extent realize the extraordinary civilisation of the Moors.’
From what his friends told him of England, Adelard of bath (fl.1106), the first English scientist, on whom plenty more further down, gathered that:
Violence ruled among the nobles, drunkenness among the prelates, corruptibility among the judges, fickleness among the patrons, and hypocrisy among the citizens; mendacious promises were given lightly, friends were invidious, and almost all whom one met courting favours.”
The coming anarchy of the reign of Stephen was on its way. Nothing seemed more distasteful to Adelard than to submit to this `misery’. Being unable to avert `this moral degeneration,’ he decided to ignore it, holding a unique consolation-his enthusiasm for Arabum studia’ (Arab Studies).
Adelard returned to England `in the reign of Henry, son of William,” having left it before 1100 to spend seven years learning in the Muslim East. His Quaestiones Naturales which he composed for the benefit of `his nephew,’ praises Muslim learning, to contrast with his feeling of misery about learning in England. The Quaestiones Naturales, in the form of a dialogue between him and his imaginary nephew, is essentially a report of Adelard’s grand tour and reflects ‘his excitement at the new scientific outlook of the Muslims which had left the Latin schools far behind.’
Nothing contrasts more the discrepancies in learning as the place of books. When Muslim libraries abounded with books, some containing even tens of thousands, and where students, scholars and any curious mind found a place, there was hardly anything of worth in any part of the Christian West, not just the British Isles. Even by the early so-called Renaissance (around the late 15th century) few books existed in Christian Europe excepting those preserved in monasteries; the royal library of France consisted of nine hundred volumes, two-thirds of which were theological works; their subjects were limited to pious homilies, the miracles of saints, the duties of obedience to ecclesiastical superiors,—their sole merit consisted in the elegance of their chirography and the beauty of their illuminations. Even the illustrious Santa Maria de Ripoll, at its height under Abbot Oliva (1008-46), when we have a catalogue of its notable library of two hundred and forty six titles. In England itself, in the highest seat of university learning, Oxford, we are told its ‘library’, before the year 1300, consisted only of a few tracts, chained or kept in chests in the choir of St. Mary’s Church. Warton, in fact enlightens us more on this subject:
Although the invention of paper, at the close of the eleventh century, contributed to multiply manuscripts, and consequently to facilitate knowledge, yet even so late as the reign of our Henry the sixth, I have discovered the following remarkable instance of the inconveniencies and impediments to study, which must have been produced by a scarcity of books. It is in the statutes of St. Mary’s college at Oxford, founded as a seminary to Oseney Abbey in the year 1446. “Let no scholar occupy a book in the library above one hour, or two hours at most; so that others shall be hindered from the use of the same.” The famous library established in the university of Oxford, by that munificent patron of literature Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, contained only six hundred volumes.’ About the commencement of the fourteenth century, there were only four classics in the royal library at Paris. These were one copy of Cicero, Ovid, Lucan, and Boethius. The rest were chiefly books of devotion, which included but few of the fathers: many treatises of astrology, geomancy, chiromancy, and medicine, originally written in Arabic, and translated into Latin or French: pandects, chronicles, and romances. This collection was principally made by Charles the fifth, who began his reign in 1365. This monarch was passionately fond of reading, and it was the fashion to send him presents of books from every part of the kingdom of France. These he ordered to be elegantly transcribed, and richly illuminated; and he placed them in a Tower of the Louvre, from thence called, La Toure de la Librairie. The whole consisted of nine hundred volumes. They were deposited in three chambers which, on this occasion, were wainscotted with Irish oak, and cieled with cypress curiously carved. The windows were of painted glass, fenced with iron bars and copper wire. The English became masters of Paris in the year 1425. On which event the Duke of Bedford, regent of France, sent this whole library, then consisting of only eight hundred and fifty-three volumes, and valued at two thousand two hundred and twenty-three livres, to England, where perhaps they became the ground-work of Duke Humphrey’s library just mentioned. Even so late as the year 1471, when Louis the eleventh of France borrowed the works of the Arabian physician Rhasis from the faculty of medicine at Paris, he not only deposited by way of pledge a quantity of valuable plate, but was obliged to procure a nobleman to join with him as surety in a deed by which he bound himself to return it under a considerable forfeiture.”
Under Muslim rule, it was difficult to encounter even a Muslim peasant who could not read and write; during the same period in Europe many great personages could not boast these accomplishments. And from the 9th to the 13th century, the Spanish Muslims possessed an educational system ‘not inferior to the most improved ones of modern times.’
It was at the peak of such contrasts, when Cordova was the city of light in the midst of darkness, that there descended to that same city European envoys, soon to turn into early European scholars, one man in particular from Lorraine, where the revival of the West, including of Britain, would begin.
Figure 3. Latin translation of Ibn Sina’s Canon of Medicine (Source)
During the period when elements of this composite Arabian culture began to penetrate the Latin West, France was the seat of Latin civilisation, and its schools occupied the leading position in the cultural life of the Latin world. Englishmen were at the heart of this `Gallic’ territory. From the time of Alcuin of York, the first French minister of education, the activity of English teachers and students at the French schools was ever increasing, and in the diffusion of Saracen learning throughout the West, English scholars were the pioneers.
English contacts with Muslim learning began via a third party: Lorraine (then known as Lotharingia), in today’s north-eastern France. Contacts between Lorraine and the Islamic world date from the 9th century. A century after such early links, there took place the famed trip by John of Gorze (Abbot at Gorze (970-74), near Metz, in today’s Lorraine. The trip to Spain was the result of exchanges between Abd al-Rahman III, Caliph of Cordoba, and the German emperor Otto the Great. On his return, John brought back with him the first elements that were going to stir the scientific awakening in Western Christendom in the Lorraine region. John had just spent three years in Cordova. There, he had encountered a Jew, named Hasdeu (Hasdai ibn Shaprut) who understood Latin, and of course, was acquainted with Arabic. A man of intelligence and culture, very deeply interested in mathematics and astronomy, John in all probabilities brought back with him manuscripts of Islamic scientific nature, as he did from his previous trip to Italy. This is all the more certain as Cochrane notes, the original point of contract between Islamic science and the Christian West being the result of Carolingian interest in manuscripts to be found in Cordova. John was certainly helped in his enterprise by acquiring knowledge of the Arabic language from the Spanish Jews who understood Latin (amongst them Hasdai).
Studies by Haskins, Thompson and Welborn, the latter two most particularly, show that mathematical and astronomical learning quickly expanded in Lorraine, a learning that was based on Islamic sources. Thompson and Welborn show this Islamic influence in minute detail in places, needless to dwell upon here. What is important is how did this learning pass on to England. Here, worth returning to Haskins who stresses a crucial point, that is the role of the monasteries as islands of learning. It is through these places that Muslim learning voyaged between the two countries (Lorraine and England), carried by men of religion. Many early Muslim manuscripts in fact were located in monasteries and cathedrals. The reason for this, as it must be reminded, is that at the time, unlike in the Islamic world, where learning was universal, the learned in the West were the men of religion alone. John of Gorze was himself an Abbot.
Mathematicians and astronomers of Lorraine, now well versed in Muslim science, and the first Western Christians, if we do not take into account those of Muslim Spain, began to carry their learning to England mainly thanks to one crucial factor: the preference of King Knut the Great, the English king, for churchmen from Lorraine. From his time, on through many generations, scholars from Lorraine were very popular in England, and were appointed as bishops and masters of the schools. Before the death of Knut, Duduc (from Lorraine) had already become Bishop of Wells, Hermann, another man from Lorraine had become Bishop of Ramsey; and Leofric, who had also been educated in Lorraine was bishop of Exeter (1046-1072). Under Edward the Confessor there was another group of these clerics, all of whom interested in learning and many brought books with them from their own country. Earl Harold, too, encouraged learning from Lorraine. He had travelled extensively and had discovered that the schools of Lorraine and the nearby German cities were not only much better than those of England, but also than those of France and Northern Italy at that time. He appointed Walter as Bishop of Hereford (1060-1079) and Gisa as Bishop of Wells (c.1060). However, his most important appointment was that of Athelard of Liege as the head of the College of Canons, which he established at Waltham. During the times of the first Norman ruler (1066) William the Conqueror, and following him, under William Rufus, more men from Lorraine arrived to England, including Robert of Lorraine, a distinguished mathematician who was finally made Bishop of Hereford (1079). Other figures included Walcher of Malvern, Walcher of Durham, Thomas of York, and Samson of Worcester.
Just named amongst the men from Lorraine was Walcher of Malvern, possibly the greatest figure of learning from Lorraine to reach England about 1091. Walcher, scholar, and monk, of course, was the first native student of Arabic learning in England, and was the first Latin critic of the work of translation from Arabic. He was the first English astronomer; and also the first of his nation (or one of the very first) to translate or adapt a Muslim treatise. Walcher had observed lunar eclipses in Italy in 1091 and 1092, and compiled lunar tables about 1109. The tables of Walcher’s first treatise are worked out by the clumsy methods of Roman fractions, but in the second, written in 1120, he uses degrees, minutes, and seconds, and the more exact observations, which he had learned, evidently in England, from Petrus Alfonsi who was then King Henry I’s physician, and on whom more further down. Walcher had already adopted the Arabic methods of astronomical calculation and has transposed them to the meridian of England, the country in which he lived. Walcher’s tables call to mind others compiled a little later, about 1140, by Raymond of Marseilles. These were simply an adaptation of al-Zarqali’s tables.
Walcher had come into possession of the astrolabe, and for the first time, in Latin Europe, on 18 October 1092, he used such instrument to determine the time of lunar eclipse that he had observed in Italy. This clear bit of evidence is of some importance as confirming specifically, what we know in general from treatises on the astrolabe commonly ascribed to Gerbert and Hermanus Contractus (who both preceded Walcher (Gerbert died Pope Silvester II, in the year 1003) and containing numerous Arabic words, that an acquaintance with this instrument had in some unknown way passed into Latin Europe in the course of the 11th century, thus preceding considerably the arrival of Muslim astronomy as a whole. Walcher had become interested in astronomical observations after experiencing the darkness of an eclipse in Italy and then discovering on his return to Malvern that the selfsame eclipse had been observed in his own monastery at a different time of the day. Whatever knowledge of Arabic or Arabic terminology Walcher had it transmitted to him by Petrus Alfonsi. Petrus shared Walcher’s respect for real experience, dismissing the mere book learning of those who presumed that they could learn astronomy by reading Macrobius and other Classical sources. Which leads to Petrus and other Spanish links.
The Spanish Connections:
Petrus Alphonsi was a Spanish Jew convert to Christianity. He was born in Huesca, Aragon, Spain, in 1062 or 1063, and lived in the learned court circle in the Muslim ruled cities of Huesca and Zaragoza, where he received a good scholarly education. When the Christians took Huesca in 1097 and Zaragoza in 1118, Petrus converted to Christianity. Educated in Hebrew and Arabic, his writings show familiarity with the Talmud, with texts of Arabic astronomy, medicine and philosophy, and with ‘the Arabic wisdom traditions.’ In 1110 Petrus Alfonsi appended a nearly accurate description of the tenets of Islam to his Dialogi contra Judeos, which gained a wide readership across Latin Europe in cultivated circles. Alfonsi, Tolan correctly notes
Could provide the fairer assessment because he relied not on the Church’s teachings, rather on his own Arabic education and personal experience in Andalusia, where adherents of all three monotheistic faiths regularly interacted.”
Petrus himself held that:
The ignorant have to be educated in Islamic science, and that he (Petrus) has labored hard-`magno labore…. et summo studio’ to translate Islamic works `for the benefit of the Latin.”
He even expressed a `sense of mission’ in spreading Islamic astronomy among `the Latin in the land of the Franks.’ Like Daniel of Morley, nearly a century after him, sometime in the 1120s, it seems, he was in France, as he wrote an Epistola ad petrus alfonsi peripateticos in Francia (‘Letter to the peripatetics in France’), in which he complains of his lack of students, professes his expertise in the art of astronomy, and lambastes Latin intellectuals for preferring the study of grammar and logic to the ‘hard science’ of astronomy.
His admonition addressed to Latin scholars (to acquire Islamic science) became part of the Western heritage, and was now being handed down to a young Englishman of royal blood. He was one of King Henry’s physicians in England from 1112 to 1120. Thanks to this privileged position, Petrus introduced to the West knowledge completely unknown then, including astronomy, cosmology, cosmogony, elemental theory, meteorology, psychology, and medicine. Most significantly, though, Metlitzki notes, are the twelve dialogues (Dialogus) between Peter and `one Moses,’ which reflect the Islamic astronomical learning, which Petrus was first to carry to the attention of the Western Christians on their own ground. It was Petrus who introduced Islamic astronomy to England, and translated texts from Arabic for the first English scientists. Two of his students in England are known by name: Walcher of Malvern and Adelard of Bath. Walcher composed a text on how to predict eclipses, based on the teachings of Alfonsi, and Adelard revised and improved Alfonsi’s Latin version of al-Khwarazmi’s text. Evidence of his astronomical contributions is contained in a treatise preserved in Oxford where he put a set of chronological tables based upon Islamic ones, including a concordance of eras for the year 1115; also a series of tables for the various planets and an explanation of the use of the chronological tables.
The Muslim Spanish connection was very much diverse. In Muslim Spain, Scott notes, there was not a village where `the blessings of education’ could not be enjoyed by the children of the most indigent peasant, and in Cordova, there were eight hundred public schools frequented alike by Moslems, Christians, and Jews, and where instruction was imparted by lectures. The Spanish Muslim received knowledge at the same time and under the same conditions, Scott points out, as the literary pilgrims from Asia Minor and Egypt, from Germany, France, and Britain.
Besides these students/pilgrims, other agents of dissemination of Muslim science were the Mozarabs, i.e Christians living under Islamic rule.
Bad as it was from the point of view of Christianity [Metlitzki remarks], the cultural assimilation of the `would be Arabs’ the Mozarabs played a vital part in the transmission of Arabic learning to the West and may well have left traces in early England which still elude us.”
More importantly, many manifestations of Islamic civilisation travelled through the courts, or more properly via the ruling families, who married members of the ruling monarchies of Spain (Aragon and Castile principally). Eleanor, King Henry II’s wife, is a good case. She and her entourage, `much like her grandfather and his crowd, were familiar visitors to their relatives in courts where, since knowledge of Arabic was often de rigeur, translations from the Arabic were not as important as they were in London.’A daughter of Eleanor and Henry II had married into the royal family of Castile, and as the wife of Alfonso VIII of Castile and an eminent figure in Toledo, this other Eleanor (she had been named after her mother) `welcomed visitors from throughout Europe who came to Toledo to drink from its fountains of knowledge-and to take much of that knowledge back to England, France, and Germany.’ The ruling family members spread many of the symbols of Islamic civilisation, then a mark of sophistication, aped by the higher echelons, at court and amongst society at large.
Muslim scientific influence also travelled through clerks belonging to royal households who moved to and fro on diplomatic missions. Some served both in England and in Spain, like Godfrey of Everseley who was in the employ of Edward I and also Edward’s brother in law, Alfonso of Castile in 1276-82, at the very time when the learned king was producing the scientific treatises and the Alfonsine astronomical tables which have ‘immortalised his name.’
The Spanish connection was even stronger as a result of the translation effort from Arabic into Latin, done in large measure in the 12th century. It must be reminded, that after they took Toledo, in 1085, the Christians came across the abundance of Muslim scientific treatises left there. The beginning of the disintegration of Muslim rule in Spain, Metlitzki observes, had finally brought the Latin and Islamic worlds into intimate contact.  The scientific activities that developed after the fall of Toledo were described by Valentin Rose in 1874 as “nursery (Pflanzstätte) of the ‘doctrina Arabum’” for all Europe. A vast translation effort was undertaken as the flower of Western scholarship descended onto the town and were organised under the patronage of the local religious authorities. Amongst these scholars/translators were Englishmen. The transmission of Arabic science to England is ‘in full swing’ with Robert of Ketton, Daniel of Morley, Roger of Hereford, Alfred of sarechel, and Michael Scot who continued Adelard’s aim of `Arabum studia scrutari’. Most of these Englishmen went to Spain in search of astronomical and mathematical treatises and took an active part in the systematic work of translation in which Latin, Mozarab, and Jewish scholars collaborated at Toledo and other seats of learning in the valley of the Ebro and the region of the Pyrenees.
This vast translation effort, through the 12th century explains the decisive changes that took place in 12th century in Western Christendom, the so called 12th century Renaissance, and the rise of university learning in the Christian West. It must be reminded, here, that the crusaders were also in contact with the Muslim East exactly in the 12th century; and with Sicily in the same century, which indeed, explains why things changed in Western Christendom in this crucial century.
Focus here is on Robert of Chester, also known as Robertus Castrensis, Cestrensis, Retinensis, Ketenensis, Ostiensis, Astensis, Anglicus; Robert the Englishman, Robert de Retines. He was an English mathematician, astronomer, chemist, and translator from Arabic into Latin. He lived in Spain about 1141-1147; was archdeacon of Pamplona, Navarre, in 1143; and lived in London about 1147-1150. He translated a number of treatises; notably one on alchemy (1144), one of the earliest works of its kind to be imported from Islam into Christendom. However, he is chiefly remembered because of his versions of the Qur’an (1143), and of al-Khwarizmi’s algebra (1145). In regard to the translation of the Qur’an, it was the leading Christian figure, Peter the Venerable, the Abbot of Cluny, in France, who commissioned both he, Robert, and Herman the Dalmatian, to translate the Qur’an into Latin. With its publication in 1143, ‘serious students of Islam no longer had to rely on Scripture or myth.’ This was the first translation ever, but it was far from perfect, and not for good intentions, either, Peter’s aims being to study the text so as to make a more sustained attack on Islam. The abbot of Cluny could not have made better choice for his purpose, for both Robert of Chester and Herman the Dalmatian were well versed in Arabic, and they also had access to Muslim `chests’-armaria (libraries joined with mosques) and had gathered an abundance of material. We know from Robert himself that he was deeply engrossed in astronomical and geometrical study when he was interrupted by Peter. Robert was a man of higher intellect, and was attracted by the more scientific side; witness his translation of a treatise on the astrolabe, his compilation of tables for the longitude of London (1149) derived from those of al-Battani and al-Zarqali, and his revision of the tables translated by Adelard of Bath. ‘His main claim to our esteem,’ Sarton says, however, was his translation of the algebra of al-Khwarizmi (1145). Like his translation of the Qur’an, this latter one ‘broke completely new ground Western Christendom.’ The Book of Algebra and Al-Mucabola (of `making whole’ and `balancing’) introduced the name and function of a new branch of mathematics-algebra, from Arabic jabara, to restore. The name of the author, al-Khwarizmi, was itself becoming a new concept from the opening sentence (`Dixit algoritmi’) of another of his works, the Arithmetic. The concept is algorism.  It was ‘a fundamental landmark in the history of that subject, as it may be considered the beginning of European algebra,’ Sarton notes. In his translation, Robert copied even Al-Khwarizmi’s introduction:
Praise be to God, beside whom there is no other. Here ends the book of restoration and opposition of number which in the year 1183 (Spanish era) Robert of Chester in the city of Segovia translated into Latin from Arabic.”
Two years later, in 1147, Robert is back in London, writing, like Adelard, a treatise on the astrolabe, which by now is the standard trademark of every English ‘Arabist.’
The French Connection:
One of the links between France and England, other than Lorraine, already mentioned, was through Aquitaine. Aquitaine, in the French south-west, was a part of the English crown in France. Richard the Lionheart, as a boy, had been brought up in Aquitaine, where, as Glubb shows to great length, the influence of Muslim culture had been strong.
The ease of Richard’s relationships with Salah Eddin was doubtless largely due to the growing extension of Arab manners in Western Europe. In the same manner today, a Syrian or Iraqi diplomat would mingle easily with Americans in the United States, if he had been educated in the American University of Beirut [adds Glubb.]”
Further down, this essay will look at the great role the South West of France region played in the dissemination of Muslim culture, poetry and other aspects of literature in particular, and the same Richard, just as his mother, playing a central role in this.
Figure 4. Notre-Dame de Paris (Source)
There were three great schools in Paris at the beginning of the 12th century, Sarton tells us. That of the cathedral of Notre Dame, that of the canons regular of St Victor, and that of the Abbey of St Genevieve across the river. All contributed to making Paris the leading intellectual centre of Christendom, ` a city of teachers,’ but it is chiefly from the cathedral school that the university sprang; gradual and imperceptible transformation. By 1170 the university was taking shape. University learning, as already noted, was fundamentally based on the translated material from Arabic. In Paris, the earliest college was established about 1180 by an Englishman, Josce of London. Little by little, masters and students grouped themselves in four faculties: arts, theology, law medicine.The connections between Paris and the foundation of the English universities have been studied by a variety of sources. We note how Paris gave birth to Oxford University, which itself gave birth to Cambridge; Oxford and Cambridge being the first two English Universities. It can be noted how the Muslim very system and structures of higher learning were passed on. That is where the influence of Paris ends, for as we shall see further on, learning in Paris was stale and moribund, and Daniel (of Morley) one the earliest English scientists, could hardly wait to leave the place for the more exciting Toledo where Muslim learning ruled. Daniel eventually taught at Oxford, and certainly supplied it with books of science, which, of course, he had imported from Toledo.
The French city of Montpellier stood as a major centre for the study of Muslim medicine, but also Muslim astronomy. This was due to its vicinity to Muslim Spain, and also the large presence of learned Muslim, and above all Jews educated in the land of Islam. Montpellier, moreover, was an offshoot of the first university of Western Christendom: Salerno. Salerno had burst into life in the late 11th century following the arrival of Constantine the African who had brought with him a whole cargo of medical books from Qayrawan in Tunisia, which he translated from Arabic into Latin, and which triggered the beginning of medical higher learning in Western Christendom. Montpellier attracted students from other parts to the study of the subject as early as 1137. One such student was Robert the Englishman, who flourished in Montpellier (c. 1271;) and who wrote a treatise on the astrolabe (De Astrolabio canones), and a treatise on the quadrant. Both astrolabe and quadrant were Muslim instruments par excellence. But it was in medicine that the influence of Montpellier was the strongest. Prominent members of the Arabist school of Montpellier included the leading representative of Anglo-Norman medicine, Bernard de Gordon, Richard of Wendover, Gilbert the Englishman, and John of Gaddesden, as well as the leading exponents of Arabo-scholastic surgery, Guy de Chauliac `the restorer of surgery’ and Henry de Mondeville (or Hermondeville). Bernard de Gordon (a Scottish professor) taught at Montpellier from 1285 to 1297, and wrote the Lilium medicinae which he began in 1305 and is said to have completed in 1307; this was a characteristic Arabist textbook on the practice of medicine. Gilbert the Englishman (Gilbertus Anglicus (c.1290), who though not the first English writer on practical medicine, certainly was among the earliest whose writings have been preserved to us. He was the author of many medical writings, by far the most important being the compendium (or Lilium medicinae) (according to Sarton) Medicinae of Laura Anglica, a work very like Bernard’s Lily, says the much earlier source, Friend as quoted by Campbell. The work, all agree, is a very comprehensive outline including good pathological descriptions and two chapters on the hygiene of travel very much inspired from Muslim works. Giles Compendium is divided into seven books:
1) Fevers; 2) diseases of the head, the hair, and nerves; 3) of the eyes and face; 4) of the external members; 5) and 6) internal diseases; 7) genito-urinary diseases, gout, cancer, skin diseases, poisons… The surgical part (fifty chapters) of the compendium follows closely the Chirurgia of Roger of Salerno, which is itself derived from al-Zahrawi’s surgery. Gilbert emphasised the importance of the surgical treatment of cancer (as described by al-Zahrawi).
He was ‘a decided Arabist,’ and had a leaning for the works of Constantine, Ibn Sina, and Isaac Judaeus. Gilbert also quotes Ibn Rushd, and takes the bulk of his writings from Muslim scholars, often transcribing whole chapters of Al Razi.
The earliest manuscript in England of one of Constantine’s Arabic translations can be found at Bury St Edmunds. This manuscript is now Wellcome 801A, a manuscript of the medical collection known later as the Articella, which included Constantine’s translation of the ‘Questions on Medicine’ by Hunain ibn Ishaq (The Isagoge of Johannitius). The manuscript is written in the Beneventan script of Southern Italy in the early to mid 12th century. Bury St Edmunds also possessed at least two manuscripts of Constantine’s Pantegni, one of which survives in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge. One English doctor, Herbert, is also known to have given Durham Cathedral Library in the third quarter of the 12th century works translated by Constantine: Liber Febrium and Liber Urinarum (both of which were written by the Al-Qayrawan doctor Ishaq al-Israeli), Kitab al-Malaki by Al-Madjusi, and by another doctor from Al-Qayrawan: Ishaq Ibn Imran’s work on melancholy.
It is in architecture that French regions acted as a powerful link between Islam and England. It is worth noting, how Sir Banister Fletcher praises the Muslim style, that has `reached peaks of accomplishment that rank high among man’s achievements.’ Equally, in his book Architecture William Richard Lethaby (1857-1931) summarises the qualities that the `Arab’ style represents for him: `elasticity, intricacy and glitter, a suggestion of fountain spray and singing birds’. More remarkable to Briggs, ‘is the incontrovertible fact about Muslim architecture, that in all countries, and in all centuries it retained an unmistakable individuality of its own.’ Cochrane remarks that the building of purely Gothic churches had been preceded in the 11th century by the occasional use of pointed arches, which happened in Monte Casino, before the idea was pursued at Cluny (France). From Chartres and the Ile de France, Durant explains, the Gothic style swept into the French provinces, and crossed frontiers into England, Sweden, Germany, Spain, at last into Italy. French architects and craftsmen accepted foreign commissions. England welcomed such architecture because she was in the 12th century half French; `the Channel but a river between the two sides of a British realm.’ The transition from Romanesque to Gothic, Durant pursues, was almost simultaneous in England and France; about the same time that the pointed arch was being used at St. Denis (1140) it was appearing in Durham and Gloucester cathedrals, at Fountains Abbey and Malmesbury. Henry III (1216-72) admired everything French, envied the architectural glory of St Louis’s reign, and taxed his people into poverty to rebuild Westminster Abbey. Cochrane also touches upon the Islamic linkage of geometry and construction, and its resulting impact on the West, observing how careful study of pre Norman churches in England, so many of which have skew chancels, shows that builders found it difficult to achieve true rectangles. She notes how the transition in England was rapid following the First Crusade in particular (the other route of influence other than France directly.)
France and England were brought together much closer by the Norman factor, whether via the Norman arrival in England in 1066, and in respect to the role of Islam through the Norman conquest of Sicily from the Muslims between 1060 and 1090.
Sicily and the Norman Route:
Sicily was taken from Muslims by the Normans between the years 1060-1090. It was a slow protracted affair, and the Norman conquest was helped by Muslim infighting, for the Normans were but a few adventurers, mainly. So on the conquest of the Island, they had neither the numbers, and definitely not the learned skills to run one of the most sophistically administered places in Western Europe. Scott remarks how Muslims stood high in the confidence and favour of the conquering Norman princes (Roger I principally); Muslim councillors stood in the shadow of the throne; they collected taxes and administered the public revenues. They conducted important negotiations with foreign powers, ‘whilst their impress on the customs of social and domestic life was deep and permanent. The prevailing language of court and city and city alike was Arabic.’ The Cadi, retaining the insignia and authority of his original official employment, was an important member of the Sicilian judiciary, and was frequently the trusted adviser of the monarch. Muslim institutions remained very influential throughout the provinces of the Norman kingdom. Even in Apulia and Calabria, the original seat of the new dynasty, the same conditions prevailed. Hence a very strong Islam influence permeating administration and institutions, and at all levels.
In Norman England, scholars with Islamic learning held some of the highest positions of influence. The role of Petrus Alphonsi in the court of Henry I has already been seen. After Henry II acceded to the kingdom in 1154, scholars continued to be attached to his court, and these included Roger of Hereford and Daniel of Morley, both Justices of King Henry.
It must be reminded, the Normans ruled Sicily, but also parts of France, and above all England, which they had taken in 1066. The intercourse between Norman Sicily and Norman England was very strong. The influences that were transmitted from `the tripartite culture of Sicily,’ Metlitzki remarks, flourished in England and were encouraged by royal patronage as is clear from the many learned and scientific works dedicated to Henry II, including Adelard of Bath’s treatise on the astrolabe. There was a constant to and fro between Norman England and Norman Sicily. Royal policy encouraged the presence of Englishmen at the Sicilian court and there was continuous interchange in administrators, clerks and scholars among whom Peter of Blois as the common teacher of both William II and Henry II held a special place.
Your king is a good scholar, but ours is better [writes Peter of Blois to Walter Ophamil, archbishop of Palermo, another ecclesiastic from England.] I am well acquainted with the abilities and the performance of both. With the English king there is daily study, constant conversation with the best scholars and eager discussion of all questions. [No wonder that the English court under Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine reflected a new cosmopolitan aspect.]”
Movements of people between the Normans north and south, quite dense, involved trade, family ties, pilgrims; inter-marriage, and `no list can be attempted of Norman and English students at Salerno,’ and `Salerno was not alone,’ notes Haskins. The chroniclers of Mont St Michel and Bec were likewise well informed concerning events in the south, as were English historians of the close of the century.  An Englishman, Robert of Salesby, stood as the head of King Roger’s (Roger II (1111-1154) Chancery. He was not a great scholar himself, as we know from John of Salisbury. But his lavish hospitality to visiting Englishmen, ‘which delighted John of Salisbury when he was his guest in the summer of 1150, must have surely helped those who had literary and scientific interests like John of Salisbury himself.’ Under William the Good (1166-1189) four prelates of English origin are known. Menocal highlights such links and their disseminating Muslim learning:
The expansion of Norman political power in the late eleventh century and its consolidation in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries played an important role in the dissemination of learned Arabic texts in translation. The blood ties, as well as the political and cultural interactions among courts scattered from Sicily to England, with France in between, meant that there was a considerable amount of free exchange of intellectual and artistic activity, much of which, in any case, tended to be carried out by peripatetic scholars and artists.”
One area of impact is again architecture. Henry Gally Knight in his Normans in Sicily (1838) had affirmed the stylistic richness in his illustrations of Siculo-Norman-a style that was Muslim in its arches, and that, the Muslims, through the Crusades, were responsible for the pointed arch style of the Continental Europe.
The Crusades were one route for the introduction of this arch, symbol of Gothic into Europe. The Gothic style had found its way into Europe, mainly in the 12th century, via a diversity of routes, Sicily was one such route. To explain the journey of the pointed arch from Sicily to England, no better than Harvey, who reminds us of the Islamic origins of such arches as outlined here. Pointed arches had been known in the Muslim world for several centuries, and by the “Arabs” had been introduced to Sicily. Following their conquests (1066 in England); (1060 and 1090 in Sicily); (Bohemund and his nephew Tancred in the East). By the year 1100 Norman dynasties were firmly settled at the centre and both ends of the world of western Christianity. And it is important to note, Harvey insists, that before this date there had been no occurrence of the pointed arch in the West. Yet within a generation it had begun its triumphal course, and in two it was established at the core of a new art: the Norman realm of Sicily; the earliest combination of pointed arch and ribbed vault in Normandy and in England; the earliest flying buttresses, albeit hidden, again in Norman England; ‘in fact, that the whole cultural movement that we know as Gothic should have followed immediately upon the great expansion of Norman power.’
Haskins notes how we must bear in mind the possibility of a connexion between the Norman Domesday Book, which made an inventory of all the wealth of England in the 11th century, the first of the sort, for purposes of taxation; this and the fiscal registers which the south, i.e Sicily, had inherited from its Byzantine and Muslim rulers.
Writing in the English Historical Review, early in the 20th century, Haskins reflected:
This article is concerned primarily with an examination of those elements of the Sicilian government which are significant for comparison with Anglo Norman institutions…
It is plain [Haskins pursues] that both William the Good and Henry II had ample opportunity of keeping themselves informed regarding contemporary conditions in each other’s kingdom, while with respect to the administrative system of King Roger’s time, Henry had an ever ready source of information in a Sicilian official whom he had called to his side, his almoner and confidential advisor, Master Thomas Brown.”
Haskins enlightens us on the English career of this Thomas Brown in the English Exchequer. Thomas Brown (Qaid Brun) was a Muslim refugees from Sicily, who had to leave Sicily on the accession of William the Bad (1154-1166). He probably reached England by 1158, when he is mentioned in the Pipe Roll. As an official of both King Roger and Henry II, he was as a connecting link between the fiscal systems of the two kingdoms Contacts between the two kingdoms, both Norman, very important `as to affect matters of trade and culture, ‘ notes Haskins. ‘ A restless experimenter like Henry II was not the man to despise a useful bit of administrative mechanism because of its foreign origin.’ As an official of both King Roger and Henry II, Thomas Brown has a special interest for the student of international relations in the twelfth, and the influence which has been ascribed to him as a connecting link between the fiscal systems of the two kingdoms. Prior to reaching England, In December 1149 we find him, as Kaid Brun, in still another branch of the government, the Diwan, where, with the secretary Othman, he attaches his alama to a transcript from the record of the bureau, and his title of Master probably indicates that he was one of the high officials of this department. Following his arrival in England, the duties which Master Thomas performed in the service of Henry II (of England) are only partially known, although the substantial wages which he received in 1160 indicate that from the outset his position was one of importance. It may have been in this year that he received the office of king’s almoner which had been vacant in December 1159, but not until 1165 does he bear the title in the Pipe Rolls, in which he continues to be so styled until after 1175. Thomas Brown sat at the exchequer table, and with the assistance of two clerks kept a watch on all proceedings in the upper and lower exchequers. A third roll is kept by him as a check on the rolls of the treasurer and chancellor, and this role, doubtless intended for the private information of the king, Thomas carries about him wherever he goes.’ In his concluding remarks, Haskins refutes the claims as made by Niese, that it was England which influenced Sicilian legislation.
Now, of course, there are scholars who deny this Muslim impact, just as many other Muslim forms of impact are gradually taken away from them (the Gothic, the influence on Provencal and Western poetry and literature come to mind). Of course this denial would mean that Haskins lacks in erudition compared to this modern scholarship (which to any intelligent mind would be nearly blasphemous). Things are what they are, nonetheless. This website not being the right venue for controversies amongst scholars, let’s not get bogged down in the argument, which incidentally is addressed by this author elsewhere. Let’s just use a little historical common sense to confirm Haskins in his genius and modern scholars who disagree with him in their error. It makes indeed utter historical sense that Thomas Brown was no other than Qaid Brun, and Muslim, because:
Everyone (one or two intransigent persons aside) agrees at least that the Sicilian system of administration was much more sophisticated than anything England ever had before the arrival of Master Thomas Brown.
Any study also shows that the Sicilian system was borrowed from Muslim antecedents (proof of this the so many words in Arabic attached to this system.) As Bresc pertinently reminds, the shortage of well read personnel explains why, still, as late as 1240, functions of the Duana Secretis in Sicily were still filled with Muslim scribes.
We are left with the issue why did Thomas Brown leave Sicily for England in 1158? Here, a little knowledge of history helps. William the Bad came to the throne following Roger in 1154 (William would rule until 1166). Setting aside the cruel way Philip of Mehdia was put to death by Roger for reasons of High Treason (his secret adherence to Islam when he was supposed to have become or was a good Catholic,) still on the whole, Muslims were fairly treated under the same Roger, especially those within the ruling quarters, including at the court and in high administration. However, when William arrived to power, things got horrendously wrong for Muslims, and their massacres became widespread, especially amongst the courtiers, and those in the various offices close to power. Hence, it makes absolute historical sense for someone in the position of Master Thomas, if a Muslim, under threat, and whose skills were very much needed, to sail north to the welcoming English shores. That’s what everyone has always done.
Figure 5. A modern translation and copy of al-Idrisi’s Nuzhat al-mushtāq fi’khtirāq al-āfāq (Source)
The Early Precursors: Adelard of Bath and Daniel of Morley:
When in the 12th century, the Muslim and Christian worlds came into firm contact via the Spanish/Christian advance in al Andalus, the Crusaders progress into Syria and Palestine, and the Normans asserting their power over Muslim Sicily, the two cultures, ironically in this time of extremely bloody conflict, came closer, and at last Europeans discovered the foes’ richness in all its shapes and forms. Often in the midst of battle, frequently during interludes, or some distance away from the scene of killing, Westerners grasped and grabbed all they could or deemed of worth. There won’t be anything said here about any form of grabbing except that of learning. The following lines from O’Brien capture the scene of how early Western scholars felt; amongst them our English men:
Lettered Europeans scrambled to absorb this torrent of new knowledge pouring in from their rivals. Those who could, journeyed to loci of Islamic erudition. “Since at present the instruction of the Arabs…is made available to all in Toledo,” explained Daniel of Morley, “I hastened there to attend the lectures of the most learned philosophers in the world.” Adelard of Bath travelled to the Levant to learn Arabic, study Arab texts and carry the newly acquired knowledge back to Europe. Daniel chastised his culture as “infantile.” Adelard was livid with disgust for his own people: “violence ruled among the nobles, drunkenness among the prelates, corruptibility among the judges, fickleness among the patrons, and hypocrisy among the citizens.” He looked forward to but one thing in this sorry place: “Arabum studia.” “Philosophy is the special province of the unbelievers: we have it all from them,” declared Bacon.”
Adelard of Bath and Daniel of Morley are the two most influential early English scientists, not just because they were amongst the very first, but also because they brought in some fundamental elements into English and Western intellectual life.
Adelard of Bath (active 1116–1142,) could be said to have championed Islamic learning more than any other early scientist, the most `Arabist’ of all scientists. He, Robert Grosseteste (d. 1253) and Roger Bacon (d. 1292), may be regarded as the three foremost English scholars of the period. He was born in Bath, studied at Tours (France) and taught at Laon (France). After leaving Laon he spent seven years in study and travel, and can be traced in Cicilia and Syria. He might have visited Spain and Sicily before 1116 and probably before 1109; and was by 1115 in Palestine. As summed up by Mercier, after long sojourns in Laon, Tours, Salerno and perhaps Syracuse as well as Tarsus and Antioch, he returned to England in 1120.
It is to Burnett and Cochrane that we owe more information on Adelard’s so important travels, which shaped/formed his science. Adelard’s travels had begun soon after his formal training in the Latin schools. He embarked on a journey, which took him to Magna Graecia and the principality of Antioch. It is this seven year journey which he describes, famously, as his quest for the studia Arabum (the studies of the Arabs), which he contrasts to the Gallica studia (French studies). `Arab’ studies based on reason rather than authority. Cochrane notes that it is probable that Adelard made his way to Syria via southern Italy, Sicily and Greece. In De eodem, which he dedicated to the Bishop of Syracuse, he mentions both Greece and Salerno; whilst in his famed Questiones he describes being shaken by an earthquake as he crosses a bridge at Mamistra (modern Misis) near Adana on the way to Antioch. He speaks of the bridge itself and of the whole region as shaking violently with the movement of the earth. Adelard’s mentioning of the earthquake, Cochrane notes, is very useful in establishing a date for his journey. The earthquake took place in 1114, affected Anatolia, and caused great damage to Antioch, which is one hundred miles from Misis, and as far away as Edessa. It was the time of the first crusade, when the Franks were under serious threat from forces being raised against them by the Seljuk Sultan Mohammed. Roger of Salerno was Prince of Antioch and personally supervised repairs to the fortifications. Cochrane, then, highlights some very interesting points, on how Adelard witnessed the Seljuk fixing bridges damaged by the earthquake, and how their techniques were soon after to be seen in England.
Once back from his journey, Adelard busied himself making the mathematics and astronomy of the Muslims available to the Western Christian world. Adelard’s most important contributions were in the field of mathematics. Early in life, before he travelled to Syria and Palestine, he wrote a treatise on the abacus (Regule abaci). Two further contributions of great importance for mathematics were the translations of al-Khwarizmi’s Arithmetic and of Euclid’s Elements from the Arabic. Adelard, Sarton tells us, was an abacist at the beginning of his career, and later became an algorist, the earliest (or one of the earliest) of them.
Just like Petrus (Alphonsi) he became associated with the court of Henry I. Both men were important in the transmission of Islamic science in both court and kingdom as well as much of the West. Both worked on the Zij of al Khawarizmi, although whether this was separately done, or in cooperation, cannot be proved; but it might have happened after Adelard returned from his travels. With the translation of the Zij of Al Khwarizmi in the revision by Al Majriti (d. 398/1007), he acquainted his contemporaries with a handbook of Arabic astronomy which had already developed distinctive traits. The trigonometry and the trigonometric tables transmitted by the book, Sezgin remarks, prepared the grounds for a future expansion of mathematical, astronomical and geodetic knowledge in Europe. Raymond Mercier, Sezgin judiciously remarks,
May be right in his comment that the Latin world was still not at all ready for such a work, resulting in the very slow pace of the process of assimilation, yet we should consider how long it would have taken the Europeans to create the knowledge of mathematics and astronomy, which they had acquired through translations from the Arabic, on their own.”
Adelard’s masterpiece is a collection of Natural Questions, which gave him opportunity for publishing Islamic knowledge on a variety of subjects. It is the result of his travel amongst the Muslims in the East, mentioned, above. When Adelard left Laon he advised his `nephew’ and his other pupils to remain there and learn all they could of philosophy as it was taught in northern France. He would travel and study with the `Arabs’ and on his return they would compare notes. Quaestiones naturales is the resulting essay. The Quaestiones naturales is in 76 chapters, each dealing with a scientific question, to explain the new knowledge which he had acquired from `his Arabs.’ Quaestiones Naturales is in the form of a dialogue between the author, who has just returned from his Journeys and is still full of the new impressions of Muslim science thus gained, and his fictional nephew, who has had a scholastic education in France. Adelard could no longer endure the prejudice against modern science which in his time was synonymous with Islamic scholarship, especially after he had spent those seven years in study and travel in order `to investigate the learning of the Arabs as best as he could.’ Looking at Adelard’s brief outline in Haskins, and his dealing with matters of plants, natural life, geological questions, one is struck by the close resemblance they have with the works of Muslim botanists, geographers, and geologists.
Adelard also brought back a unique enthusiasm for Arabum studia. He declared that from his Muslim teachers he had learned to put reason above authority in the matter of natural knowledge, since in fact the Ancients, who now possessed the authority, had gained it only by using their own reason.
From the Arab masters I have learned one thing, led by reason, while you are caught by the image of authority, and led by another halter. For what is an authority to be called, but a halter? As the brute beasts, indeed, are led anywhere by the halter, and have no idea by what they are led or why, but only follow the rope that holds them, so the authority of writers leads not a few of you into danger, tied and bound by brutish credulity.”
Thus, Adelard had triggered a completely new approach unknown then, the use of reason rather than authority, his line the every foundation of modern scientific thinking. His work marking ‘a significant stage in the history of ideas.’
Such eagerness and faith in human reason he declared:
`If reason be not the universal arbiter, it is given to each of us in vain.’
Let no one be shocked,” warned Daniel of Morley, “if while dealing with the creation of the world I invoke the teachings not of the Fathers of the Church, but of the pagan philosophers, for, although the latter are not from among the faithful, some of their words… should be incorporated into our instruction.”
It seems English based scholars (i.e the older generations), as a rule, acknowledged openly the place and influence of Islamic science. The same eagerness to declare this is found in Daniel of Morley as in Adelard of Bath. Daniel of Morley proceeded to Spain to learn mathematics and astronomy, and published the fruits of his studies and lectured at Oxford. His passion for Islamic learning is well caught in his dedication of his Philosophia to John of Oxford (Bishop of Norwich from 1175 to 1200); of which lengthy extracts are taken from Burnett:
When, some time ago, I went away to study, I stopped a while in Paris. There, I saw asses rather than men occupying the chairs and pretending to be very important. They had desks in front of them heaving under the weight of two or three immovable tomes, painting Roman Law in golden letters. With leaden styluses in their hands they inserted asterisks and obeluses here and there with a grave and reverent air. But because they did not know anything, they were no better than marble statues: by their silence alone they wished to seem wise, and as soon as they tried to say anything, I found them completely unable to express a word. When I discovered things were like this, I did not want to get infected by similar petrification…. But when I heard that the doctrine of the Arabs, which is devoted entirely to the quadrivium, was all the fashion in Toledo in those days, I hurried there as quickly as I could…”
Daniel pursues that he was begged to return to England from Spain by his friends, but was `disappointed’ with what he found. Asked by his friend the bishop about `the wonderful things in Toledo,’ the teaching there, and the movements of the celestial bodies, Daniel submitted a treatise for his scrutiny. Its first book was about the lower part of the universe, its second about the higher. He then begs the reader that `he should not despise the simple and clear opinions of the Arabs, but should note that Latin philosophers make heavy weather of these subjects quite unnecessarily, and, through their ignorance, have put figments of their imagination veiled in obscure language, so that their unsteady floundering in this subject might be covered by a blanket of unintelligibility.’
Already, in 1180 Daniel of Morley had returned to England convinced, with Abu Al Ma’ashar (Albumasar), that he who condemns astronomy destroys science. Like Adelard, he emphatically relies on the Muslims against the antiquated authority of ancient Christian authors. Abu Ma’ashar, who was as in the words of Alain de Lille, the undisputed master of stellar science.
As Metlitzki remarks;
The transmission of Arabic science to England is in full swing with Robert of Ketton, Daniel of Morley, Roger of Hereford, Alfred of Sarechel, and Michael Scot who continued Adelard’s aim of `Arabum studia scrutari’. Most of these Englishmen went to Spain in search of astronomical and mathematical treatises and took an active part in the systematic work of translation in which Latin, Mozarab, and Jewish scholars collaborated at Toledo and other seats of learning in the valley of the Ebro and the region of the Pyrenees. For by the middle of the 12th century the beginning disintegration of Muslim rule in Spain had finally brought the Latin and Islamic worlds into intimate contact.”
The Great 13th Century Scholars of British and European Renaissance:
Figure 6. The frontispiece of an Adelard of Bath Latin translation of Euclid’s Elements, c. 1309–1316 (Source)
The first wave of Western Christian scholars included Adelard of Bath, Gerbert, Petrus Alphonsi, Walcher of Malvern, Daniel of Morley, Constantine the African, and a few others. They played a crucial role in the awakening of Western Christendom. Only a brief note is made here on how daunting their task was in triggering the scientific revolution in the West in the midst of utter darkness and when, as Haskins put it above, no force worked in favour of learning, and worse, when such learning came from the land of the foe, Islam. When Gerbert (d.1003), reproached the Romans for their ignorance, he was told by the papal legate that
God had always chosen, not orators and philosophers, but peasants and illiterates.”
Gerbert himself suffered for his eager borrowing of the foe’s science, and so would others, Bacon most of all, as would be seen under this heading. The point is whilst slow steps could be taken, it was always at a cost should the said steps be too fast, and lead to perceived threats. Nonetheless, thanks to the labours of the early men of science profound and widespread changes had taken place by the 13th century. These changes were built upon by a new wave of scholars on whom emphasis is placed in the following, and who are part of a larger group of Western minds. This vast group of scholars includes Roger Bacon (1220-1294), Robert Grosseteste (1175-1253), Albertus Magnus (1206-1280), Thomas Aquinas (d.1274), Arnold of Villanova (d.1311), and others. They were the first to adapt Islamic learning to Western ground, by Latinising such learning, not just in form (as those before them did), but also in the manner it was diffused, besides, of course, building upon it. These scholars were active in the 13th century in the wake of the translations from Arabic already discussed. All of them had links, in one form or another, with institutions or regions where Islamic learning was dominant: Southern Italy, Spain, Montpellier, and similar places. All knew some Arabic or had access to it; and evidently, all their works bear Islamic influences.
Briefly here to show the Islamic impact on Western scholarship as a whole, Albertus Magnus (a non Englishman) was the first of the Schoolmen who reproduced the Aristotelian philosophy on a systematic basis, and so shaped it as to meet the requirements of the Church in reference to dogma. He belonged to the noble family of the Counts of Bollstadt, and was born at Lauingen, in Swabia, educated in Paris and Padua, Bologna, and teacher in Cologne, and Paris. In anatomy and medicine, Albert must have used the Anatomia vivorum or the translation of Ibn Sina’s Qanun by Gerard of Cremona. In meteorology and climatology his views are mainly a clear summary of those transmitted by the Muslims. In geology and mineralogy, it was Ibn Sina’s De Congelatione et conglutionatione lapidum. Ibn Sina’s influence is also found in Albert’s Zoology.
Another non Englishman, Vincent of Beauvais’s Speculum Naturale’s astronomy is a reproduction of al-Bitruji’s theory (On The Sphere) as distorted by Albert (Magnus). His geological ideas, just as those of Albert the Great (Magnus), were essentially derived from Muslim sources, including Ibn Sina’s Avicennae Mineralia translated by Alfred of Sareshel (the latter an Englishman). When they explain the movements of the sea, erosion, the generation of mountains, they are simply repeating the words of Ibn Sina or of the unknown author of the De Elementis.
Al-Biruni’s Tahdid nihayat al-amakin (The Identification of the End of Places), written in 1025, speaks of the alternations of dry land and sea, and in another text he remarks that the Indus valley should be considered an ancient sea basin filled with alluvium. Similar views appeared in Albert the Great and Ristoro d’Arezzo (13th century); the latter even referred to fossil fishes. So did Joinville in his life of St. Louis.
Enough on non Englishmen here, the point of impact of Islamic learning on the whole array of Western scholarship of the period now made.
Back to English scholars, briefly on a couple of them before focus is placed on the two most influential ones: Bacon and Grosseteste. Beginning with John Peckham (Pecham) (fl. second half of 13th century;) he was a Franciscan theologian, mathematician, and physicist. He spent his life in Paris, Oxford, Rome, and as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1279 to his death. His optics is largely derived from Al-Kindi and Ibn al-Haytham; he also refers to the camera obscura, just as found in the works of Bacon and Witelo. A Vatican manuscript of the Perspectiva Communis of John Peckham contains four propositions added by Bradwardine, which show that the latter was familiar with cotangent and tangent and their reciprocal relations. He was also one of the earliest Western writers on trigonometry, but these notions can be found in Islamic writings of a much earlier date, e.g. those of Abu-l-Wafa.
In the field of medicine, John of Gaddesden (c.1280-1361) was a fellow of Merton College, Oxford. He compiled the famous treatise Rosa Anglica, which was mainly based on the works of both ‘Arabists’ Bernard de Gordon and Henry de Mondeville.
John of Adern (c.1350), a British physician and surgeon who practised the healing art in London during the middle of the 14th century, wrote on both medicine and surgery, and was the first to revive the art of surgery in England. John largely transcribed from Muslim scholars.
Robert Grosthead or (Greathead) Robert of Lincoln, better known as Robert Grosseteste (1175-1253), was born of humble parentage at Stradbrook, Suffolk, and was educated in Oxford and Paris (?). He was first chancellor of the University of Oxford; first lecturer to the Oxford Franciscans, 1224; Bishop of Lincoln from 1235 to his death in 1253. His scientific works are indebted to the texts brought to England in the earlier stages of Islamic influence, records speaking of him as a Master at Hereford, where, Burnett reminds us, Muslim mathematics and sciences flourished. Grosseteste’s serious study of Islamic astronomy began, indeed, when he arrived in Hereford, for the intellectual atmosphere he encountered there was permeated by this science. One of the leading figures in the Hereford scientific movement was Daniel of Morley who himself was strongly influenced by Muslim learning, astronomy in particular. Grosseteste astronomical ideas were partly derived from Al-Bitruji after the latter was translated by Michael Scot. A Muslim author who had a great influence on Grosseteste was Abu Ma’shar, and his work Kitab al-Madkhal al-Kabir (Great Introduction) (Introductorium maius in Latin) translated into Latin by both John of Seville in 1133 and Hermann of Carinthia in 1140. Abu Ma’shar’s third chapter deals with tides, Grosseteste’s Questio de fluxu et refluxu maris (De Fluxu) borrows nearly everything from it. Briefly, as Laird sums up, De fluxu takes its account of tides almost entirely from those chapters: it is divided into three parts, each corresponding to a chapter in Abu Ma’shar’s Introductorium. De fluxu 1 is an account of the causes of tides, and its gist comes from Introductorium 3.4. De fluxu 2 is an account of eight causes of increase and decrease of tides; they are the same eight causes, and in the same order, as those that make up Introductorium 3.6, De fluxu 3 is a reworking of Introductorium 3.8, on the three kinds of sea and the varying effects of the moon upon them. Near the end of Introductorium 3.5, Abu Ma’shar describes a method for calculating the times of daily tides, and in De fluxu I Grosseteste too describes such a method. Although the two descriptions differ on details, they both depend on the assumption that the two rising tides begin with the rising and the setting of the moon and the two ebbings begin with the moon’s passing the meridians. Occasionally, especially in De fluxu 1, Grosseteste imports material from other chapters in Abu Ma’shar, and he introduces here and there throughout the work small but highly interesting additions and modifications of his own.
In optics, Grosseteste was an early defender of Al Kindi’s combined emission-intromission theory, and was very certainly familiar with Al-Kindi’s De aspectibus, when he wrote:
However, mathematicians and physicists [by contrast with natural philosophers], whose concern is with those things that are above nature, maintain that vision is produced by extramission.”
Robert Grosseteste, and after him his more famous pupil Roger Bacon, like Peter Alphonsi, took over from the Muslims much geographical (and astronomical) lore which they interpreted and freely criticized. Al-Battani, for instance, saw no reason why winters and summers should not be temperate in countries along the equator and believed that these latitudes must have, in fact, a climate not greatly unlike that of Aden and Yemen. The unknown districts of the world, Al-Battani went on to explain, comprise eleven-twelfths of the whole. Though no man had ever reached them, he thought it not irrational to suppose that they were like the known parts, for the sun and stars must pass across them and produce in the same way winter and summer, the tides of the sea, and animal and vegetable life.
Grosseteste was also one of the earliest English authors to be acquainted with the writings of the Salernitan school. He introduced Salernitan medicine, with all its Islamic garb, in England which later on a number of his students disseminated. In this way he was clearly the forerunner of his most famous pupil, Roger Bacon, and he may have influenced the whole of Western Christendom, partly through his own writings and partly through Bacon and others.
Roger Bacon (1220-1294) who lectured in both Paris and Oxford used Muslim philosophers in order to make polemic points against Islam but seems genuinely to have liked what he quoted. He argued that:
Our apprehension of the future life is like that of a deaf man’s of music.”
He supported this from Ibn Sina. Bacon was fond of this passage:
A man shall not be freed of this world and of its deceptions until, wholly taken up with that other heavenly world… the love of the things there draws him altogether away from thinking of anything lower.”
Bacon was a pupil of Adam Marsh (d.1259), who derived a great deal from Arabist sources and indirectly from Grosseteste in particular. Bacon, Sezgin remarks, established relationships to Arab “models without reaching up to them when he made his general observations concerning the experiment as the basis for research in the natural sciences. However,
He did not invent this method, but only presented it systematically, although in a somewhat different interpretation than the Arabs did. He is not the creator of the experimental method just as Bacon of Verulam [1561-1626] is not the creator of the inductive method, even though the English would like to ascribe both to their compatriots.’ Towards the end of the 19th century P. Mandonnet remarked that Roger Bacon had taken all his scientific ideas from the Arabs.
“Despite his critical attitude, Roger Bacon was decisively influenced by the Arab thinkers, particularly by Averroes and Avencebrol. He was unfairly made the forerunner of the modern scientific methods; Roger’s indecision may have influenced this assessment rather than an independent intellectual attitude” wrote H. Schipperges in 1961.”
Bacon’s indebtedness to Islamic scholars is indeed immense. His commentary on the Secretum secretorum (a book of miscellaneous precepts for the guidance of human affairs which was many times translated from Arabic during the Middle Ages, altered, augmented and edited by Bacon) shows good material on astronomy, on the size and sphericity of the earth, and on the relative extent of land and sea.
In his medical work Epistola de accidentibus senectutis Bacon also drew heavily from Islamic sources that include the writings of Ibn Sina, Al-Razi, and Isaac Judaeus. In mathematics his inspiration was al-Farabi, in astronomy it was Ibn al-Haytham and al-Kharaqi, but in optics, it was mainly al-Kindi. Bacon argued:
Now it must be considered whether the species of vision is required for the act of sight. And it is manifest that a species issues from sight just as from other things; for since accidents and substances inferior to sight can produce their powers, how much better able is sight.”
The designation of Bacon as the founder of the application of mathematics to problems of natural sciences is stated at the cost of his Arab predecessors, among them Ibn al-Haytham.
Hackett in his article on Adelard’s influence on Roger Bacon explains, amongst others, how in the Geometria speculative, Bacon uses Adelard as his authority to account for the historical origins of Geometry as an art in the measurement of the land to recover fields from the flooding of the Nile. The borrowing from Adelard is constant and extensive. In the Opus maius, the influence of Adelard’s research program is apparent in each part, whether ‘in the polemic on useless custom and authority, the importance of Hebrew, Greek and Arabic for Latin wisdom,’ the applications of mathematics, the study of optics and experimental science, the varied concerns of Adelard’s works are apparent in Bacon’s formal presentation of these matters. 
In a remarkable analysis, Sezgin takes on the matter of impact of Islamic geographers on Bacon as follows. In the 13th century, translations or adaptations of Arabic geographical tables and compilations based upon them, including descriptions of methods for taking coordinates, were so many as to encourage attempts to determine latitudes or longitudes in Europe outside Spain. Ristoro d’Arezzo (d. after 1282) was the first Italian who calculated the latitude of a place astronomically: the latitude of his hometown of Arezzo at 42°15′, i.e. with an error of merely 1°13′. It was Bacon, however, who achieved ‘the highest stage of assimilation of Arab–Islamic’ mathematical geography in Europe at that time. His is the only known early attempt made in his area to design a map based on latitudes and longitudes. It is interesting to read his complaint that with regard to the Latin world there was still no knowledge of latitudes and longitudes; this, he adds,
Could not be attained, even by competent scholars, unless there was support from the Pope, king or emperor.”
He did not claim that he had worked out the required latitudes and longitudes himself, but instead, cites as his sources the Qanun of astronomy (apparently az-Zarqali’s book in Latin translation) and the “Tables of Latitudes and Longitudes” (presumably the Toledan tables and their emulations). Apart from the fact that the coordinates of the sources at his disposal were not sufficient to compile a world map or even a regional map, they also diverged substantially from each other because they were based on different prime meridians. In addition to the prime meridian 11° west of Toledo, Roger Bacon also knew the one located 28°30′ west of Toledo, which he calls verum occidens, the “true west”; he preferred this alternative to the one at 29° used by other Andalusian astronomers. Yet the reason he gives for this preference shows that he did not know that this shift of the zero meridian to 17°30′ west of the Canary Islands was the consequence of a substantial correction of longitudes between Toledo and Baghdad that Muslim astronomers and geographers had achieved in the early 5th/11th century, and by which the representation of the Mediterranean was reduced to almost its true length.
Figure 7. Anatomical drawing in Ibn al-Nafis’ Kitab Sharh Tashrih al-Qanun (Cairo, 1988) (Source)
Despite the insufficient number of available coordinates, Roger Bacon allegedly designed a map and presented a copy of it to the then Pope. Some scholars take the view that this map, now lost, was confined to the northern hemisphere of the Earth in globular projection. The question, of course, Sezgin asks, is ‘on what basis Bacon should have worked if he lacked longitudes and latitudes of the Latin world, as he complained?’
Could the limited number of heterogeneous coordinates known to him have sufficed, without knowledge of the coastlines, for the cartographic delineation even of the non-Latin world? [asks Sezgin, again] Are we not much rather required to assume that he had recourse to a map from the Arab–Islamic world, perhaps even the world map of the Ma’mun geographers, which did in fact use globular projection? In this connection we should not forget the primitive map by Bacon’s contemporary Albertus Magnus, which depicts only a few places in a crudely simplified, schematic form at odds with reality. We should also consider that a circular depiction of the surface of the Earth would have been in stark contrast to Roger Bacon’s concept of the shape of the Earth. For he believed, on the one hand—probably misunderstanding Ibn Rushd’s theory of the habitability of the southern hemisphere—that greater masses of water were present at both poles than in the centre of the Earth, where the waters extended from India in the east to Spain in the west; on the other hand, he leans on the notion of the existence of two places called Syene, one of which was said to be located in the Tropic of Cancer and the other on the Equator. Thus he arrived at the image of an Earth with two domes as depicted in his Opus maius.”
Bacon did step out of the Church boundaries in his too close borrowings from Islamic sources. Bonaventura (b.1221) (appointed Principal of the Franciscan Order in 1256), one of the Church’s enforcers, ‘did not close his eyes to all that was going on in the outward world; he was aroused by rumours then becoming current of the magical arts and heretical tendencies of Roger Bacon, who was a monk of the Order;’ he obtained an interdict against his lecturing at Oxford, and an order that he should repair to Paris so as to be ‘under careful supervision.’ Bacon submitted to this, and for ten years resided in Paris, abstaining from public demonstration, ‘enduring such constraint that his life during that period was little else than a painful imprisonment, and fretting his noble heart against the shameful and unnatural yoke laid upon him.’
Bacon irritated many in the Church establishment, and for a diversity of reasons. As Graham puts it:
His fanatical attempt to reform medieval society by insisting on the use of experimentation and acidly condemning deduction in an age that thrilled at the prospects of dealing with metaphysical problems.
He, also, complained of certain procedures in education; he held that mental diseases were natural and not supernatural disorders.
He had to meet another charge, the charge of Satanic intervention in science; hence he faced
That goodly missile which with the epithets ‘infidel’ and ‘atheist’ has settled the fate of so many battles. . . .”
In defence, Bacon adopted ‘a most unfortunate weapon,’ a weapon which ‘hurt him more than the enemy,’ for he argued against the idea of compacts with Satan, and showed that much ascribed to demons results from natural means. Such comments
Only added oil to the fire, for limiting the power of Satan was hardly less impious than limiting the power of God.”
Even his friend, Guy of Foulques, who became Pope Clement IV in 1265, could protect him but a short time before the mounting fury of his enemies. As Bacon prepared to perform a few experiments to demonstrate his theories to a small group, all Oxford rose against him. It seemed that hell was about to break loose. Priests, monks, fellows and students rushed about, their garments streaming in the wind, and everywhere rose the cry, ‘Down with the magician!’ and this cry, ‘Down with the magician!’ resounded from cell to cell and hall to hall.’
Unrelenting, with Opus maius (1266-68) Roger Bacon sought to convince Pope Clement IV to relinquish the Crusades on grounds that they were unwinnable. He audaciously cautioned the Pontiff ‘not to trust Scripture as a reliable guide to understanding the Saracens. “Three [sects],” he maintained, “are very rational: the sects of the Jews, the Saracens, and the Christians.” If Christians were to have any chance of converting Muslims – since conquering them was out of the question – it would have to be in a language they understood, namely the voice of reason. Humbert de Romans, Grand Master of the Dominican Order, filed a report that concluded that Bacon’s ideas were widely held. William of Tripoli, for one, kept this more secular approach alive after Bacon landed in prison for reproaching the Catholic clergy. Indeed, after Stephen Tempier’s condemnation of Ibn Rushd’s theories in 1277, the Franciscan censorship struck harder, and in the following year Bacon was condemned for teaching ‘suspected novelties.’ According to a Franciscan chronicle (Chronica viginti quattuor generalium, to 1374) he was imprisoned from 1278 to 1292. In his third letter to Pope Clement, Bacon lamented:
It is on account of the ignorance of those with whom I have had to deal that I have not been able to accomplish more.”
Still, Bacon’s legacy was considerable. He was an important link in the chain of scientific development, an authority at Oxford for centuries, an influence traceable through Pierre d’Ailly and the Imago Mundi to Columbus and through Paul of Middleburg (1445-1534) and the reform of the Gregorian calendar to Copernicus. It was also he, Bacon, who first insisted that Latin science of the Middle Ages came for the best part from other civilisations and that it was useful to have a direct knowledge of original texts upon which that science was based. He never wearied of declaring that:
Knowledge of Arabic and Arabian science was for his contemporaries the only way to true knowledge.”
Forster also says:
Bacon drank deeply of the Arabian learning at the fountain head and provided the undoubted origin of the true astronomy as afterwards unfolded in the Copernican system.”
To put the idea most simply, the structure of the Canterbury Tales can be most appropriately compared not with the cathedral but with the mosque.”
The Canterbury Tales of Chaucer bear an unmistakable relation in form and metre to the medieval compositions of Southern France. Nor was this powerful and all pervading influence confined to poetry but also affected tales and story telling. A large number of miscellaneous Arabic or Oriental analogues have been traced in the Canterbury tales, especially in the Knight’s tale, the Franklyn’s, the Merchant’s, the Man of Law’s, the Pardoner’s, the Manciple’s and others.
Warton’s History of English Poetry, like many works centuries old, remains unequalled. Its quality, the depth of research and erudition, the intelligence of its structure, and much else, makes it a necessary tool for any serious student seeking to make a trully interesting study of the subject. It is not the purpose here to use or rely on Warton in respect to his highliting the indebtedness of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to Islamic culture, for this would be much beyond the scope of this work, but any researcher seeking to do this is advised to dig into that great source, most particularly the final third of the First Volume.
Here, instead, in regard to this specific issue, reliance is placed on the essay by Katharine Slater Gittes, which remains unequalled to this moment in its analytical strength and vast grasp of the subject. We briefly sum up aspects of her work and conclusions.
The frame narrative, of which the Canterbury Tales, is the culmination, ‘incorporates a tradition that originated and developed in Arabia. The development of the frame narrative has Arabic roots and character, and many organizing principles and features of the Canterbury Tales derive from this tradition.’
‘And even though many Western medieval characteristics are present in the Canterbury Tales, so too are most of the Arabic organizing features: the open-endedness, the grouping and balancing of tales and topics, the wisdom theme, the eyewitness narration. Chaucer develops these features, however, in ways never previously attempted.’ The most striking Arabic feature is the work’s open-endedness: the pilgrims never reach Canterbury, and another is the wisdom theme.
Chaucer uses the travel-pilgrimage theme as an external organizing device in much the same way that earlier medieval writers of framed literature used similar devices, but other themes help organize his work as well. ‘Chaucer’s role as pilgrim and eye-witness in the Canterbury Tales, like the role of narrator in Arabic literature, acts as a unifying force to some extent, authenticating the framing story and making the pilgrimage appear actual.’
Chaucer’s characterization of each pilgrim, instead of making a unified drama of the work, heightens the importance of the part, the individual tale. In his focus on the unit, Chaucer, Slater Gittes states, Chaucer follows Arabic principles of organization. She concludes:
The Arabs invented and developed the frame narrative, but it remained for Chaucer to bring the genre to its fullest flowering. The consideration of the Canterbury Tales within the context of an Arabic tradition is not meant to deny Chaucer’s debt to Western culture of to downplay his peculiar English talent. But the fact remains that the genre in which he was working played a part in the form and design of the Canterbury Tales qualities of form and design that are alien to its tradition, a tradition that originated not in a European village but at a distant Bedouin campsite.”
Chaucer’s treatise on the astrolabe, written in 1390, appears to be a re-statement of an Islamic work of the 8th-9th century.
Figure 8. The Treatise on the Astrolabe By Geofrey Chaucer; edited with notes by A.E. Brae; John Russel Smith, London; 1870; at p. 10.
W.W. Skeat, in yet another work centuries old, on the earliest mss on the subject, as he says himself in his title, shows that Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe was based on the Latin translation of the work by Masha Allah, a Jew convert to Islam.
Skeat, in his preface, tells us many remarkable things, of which these:
MS. Bodley 619. This MS., like B., has the title— ” Brede and Milke for children.” like other good MSS., it ends sect. 40 with ” houre after houre.” But after this, there occurs an additional section, which is probably not genuine, but which I have printed here (for the sake of completeness) as section 46 ; which see.
There are some Latin notes in this MS. which are worth notice. The first is a note on Chaucer’s words in Part i, sect. 10, 1. 14, that ” the Sonne dwelleth ther-for neuere the more ne lesse in on signe than in another,” which declares this to be a mistake, for the sun dwells longer in Cancer than in Capricorn; an observation which is perfectly correct.
Again, at the end of sect. 3 in Part ii, we have a Latin paragraph, beginning — ” Nota, quod si quot miliaria sunt inter duas regiones” — and ending — “dando 100. miliaria. Idem facies de longitudinibus, si fuerint diuerse, & latitudines eedem.” This is a quotation from Messahala (see p. 97), and is very interesting, because it directly connects Chaucer’s translation with the Latin text of Messahala.
At fol. 53, back, we find another Latin note, having reference to Part ii, sect. 39, as follows: —
“Nota; si vis scire per quot gradus currit Almicantatium, computa almicantarath, incipiendo ab orisonte vsque ad Cenith, et per numerum illorum diuide 90, et numerus quociens ostendet tibi per quot currat.
“Longitudines autem quarundam regionum, idem elongaciones circulorum earum meridianoruni a meridiano vltime regionis habita- bilis in occidente. Et earum latitudines, idem distancias ab equi- noxiali circulo, notabimus in quadam tabula.”
This is of some interest, as shewing that the ancients took for their first meridian of longitude the meridian of the last habitable spot which could be reached in proceeding westward. The principle is clear, but the locality vague. Observe that the latter part of this note is also from Messahala ; see p. 97.
At fol. 15, there is a note on Part i, sect. 21, 1. 12, where Chaucer instances the stars Aldebaran and Algomeysa. To these are here added the stars ” Menkar,” ” Algevze,” and ” cor leonis,” that is to say, a Ceti, a Orionis, and a Leonis; with the remark — “nota etc… de Merton.” Merton College, it thus appears, possessed an Astrolabe on which the five above-named stars were represented.
At fol. 21 is an additional section, not found elsewhere, which is printed in the Additional Notes; see p. 81. This conclusion has some claims to our notice, because, whether genuine or not, it is translated from Messahala.
Then, we move on with Skeat to page xxiv of his preface, and we read the following:
But it is clear, from his own words, that Chaucer followed the Latin, and I can point out one of the Latin treatises to which he was very considerably indebted. This is the “Compositio et Operatio Astrolabie,” by Messahala, of which copies are, I have no doubt, sufficiently numerous. The Cambridge library has four, viz. Hh. 6. 8, Ii. 1. 13, Ii. 3. 3, and Kk. 1. 1, and there is another copy in St John’s College Library, Cambridge, marked F. 25. The title should be particularly observed; for the treatise is distinctly divisible into two separate parts, viz. the “Compositio Astrolabii” and the “Operatio Astrolabii.” The former begins with the words — “Scito quod astrolabium sit nomen Grsecum,” and explains how to make an astrolabe, and how to inscribe on it the various necessary lines and circles with sufficient exactness. It is much the longer portion of the treatise, and (in MS. li. 3. 3) is illustrated by numerous diagrams, whilst the second part has no such illustrations. But it does not appear that Chaucer made any use of this former part, as his astrolabe had been procured ready-made. The second part of the treatise, or “Operatio Astrolabii,” begins with the words “Nomina instrumentorum sunt hec.” This is evidently one of the sources from which Chaucer drew largely, and I have therefore printed it at length in this volume, from MS. li 3. 3, with a few corrections from the other copies. Chaucer’s Part i is almost wholly taken from this, but he has expanded it in several places, with the evident intention of making it more easy to understand. In Part ii, he has taken from it, with more or less exactness, sections 1 — 3, 6 — 8, 10, 11, 13—18, 20, 21, 24, 25, 27—31, 33—37, 41, and 42; whilst sections 4, 9, 12, 19, 22, 23, 26, 32, 38—40, and 43 do not appear in it. In other words, Messahala’s treatise accounts for thirty-one conclusions out of forty-three, or about two-thirds of the whole. In some places, Chaucer has translated almost word for word, so as to leave no doubt as to his authority. Besides which, I have already remarked that Chaucer’s version is directly connected with Messahala by the quotations from the latter which appear in MS. E.; see description of this MS. above. If it be inquired, whence did Chaucer derive the remaining third of his Second Part, I think it very likely that some of it may be found amongst the varied and voluminous contents of such a MS. as li. 3. 3, which is a sort of general compendium of astronomical and astrological knowledge. The complete solution of this question I leave to some one with more leisure than myself, being satisfied that to have discovered the original of Part i and two-thirds of Part ii is to have made a good start. It must not be omitted that the MSS. of Messahala are not all alike, that some copies have propositions which are not in others ; and that the order of the conclusions is not invariable. The chief noteworthy difference between Chaucer’s version and the Latin original is in the order of the conclusions ; it is clear that Chaucer not only took what he liked, but rearranged his materials after his own fashion.”
Chaucer’s use of the ‘contemporary sciences’ in presenting the physical and spiritual condition of man, medieval and universal, reflects the observations, ideas, and methodology of Muslim scientists who occur throughout his works as he names them: ‘Alkabucious (Al-Kabisi), Alocen (Ibn al-Haytam), Arsechiel (Al-Zarqali), Averrois (Ibn Rushd), Avycen (Ibn Sina), Haly (Al-Majusi), Razis (Al-Razi).’ Chaucer equally refers to Constantyn (the African) and Piers Alfonce (Petrus Alfonsi), the pioneer of Islamic studies on English soil.
In the “General Prologue” of The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer identifies the authorities used by his “Doctour of Physic” in the… lines quoted above. The list includes four Arab physicians: Jesu Haly (Ibn’Isa), Razi (Al-Razi, or Rhazes), Avycen (Ibn Sina, or Avicenna) and Averrois (Ibn Rushd, or Averroes). These four, Tschanz remarks ‘did not make Chaucer’s list only to add an exotic flavour to his late-14th-century poetry. Chaucer cited them because they were regarded as among the great medical authorities of the ancient world and the European Middle Ages, physicians whose textbooks were used in European medical schools, and would be for centuries to come.’
Impact on Architecture: The Medieval Phase:
Further down, we will once more look at the Islamic impact on later (or more modern) English architecture. Here, we briefly survey such an impact in the medieval period, briefly one insists, for the subject is too large, and much beyond the scope of this essay and the competence of this author, the aim remaining to only make a general survey of the Muslim impact on the British Isles, England, especially.
We have already looked at the Sicilian route and the impact on introduction of the Gothic style in England. Here we look at the impact during the crusades (1095-1291), and also pilgrimage to the East.
The English participation in the crusades occurred at various stages, most particularly in the so-called Third Crusade, following Salah Eddin’s recapture of Jerusalem in 1187. It was then that the famed crusade of Richard the Lion-Heart took place, and, of course, it is needless to go through it here except in its impact on architecture. The other most notable English intervention was that of 1270 under Edward I. It also led to the import of many architectural influences into England.
At this point, and without lingering on it too long, necessity requires us to remind that so many changes took place in the 12th century in Europe. In order to explain these tens, if not hundreds, of sudden changes out of darkness/barbarism, hordes of scholars, each of them in their field, and in an effort to avoid referring to an Islamic influence, explain to us that they were the result of a sudden recovery or lost learning, or a spontaneous outburst of Western genius, long dormant. Of course, and as said many times, this is not the venue to engage in controversy and deal with these ridiculous views. So, let’s just remind that in the specific subject here, and once more note with Harvey, how prior to the late 11th –early 12th century, even the largest buildings of Carolingian times, such as the Palace and Chapel of Charlemagne at Aachen (792-805) had roofs of relatively small span. No outstanding competence in the designing of centring or scaffolding was called for, the details of architectural design were either closely copied from Roman or Byzantine work or were extremely crude. Churches, together with imperial palaces were the other major buildings standing, and churches in the early Middle Ages were roofed with wood, with the ever present risk of fire. Problems of roof construction dominated the development of architecture. It is unlikely that before the year 1000 there was a single stone building in the whole duchy of Normandy, for instance, beyond a few unimpressive fortresses. Defences and castles were wooden structures, and patched with rudimentary mortars; no castle prior to the 12th century is preserved to our day.
Figure 9. Santiago de Compostela (Source)
Suddenly, fairly dramatic changes in Western construction took place from the late 11th century, and most particularly throughout the 12th century. The beginning of a new competence in design on a much larger scale can be seen, most particularly with Santiago de Compostela (northern (Christian) Spain) begun about 1075, and the new church of the monastery of Cluny started 1088 and finished in 1121. But it was under Norman rule in England where there was a sudden and astounding flurry of construction. It would seem that by some miracle, the Normans, in whose duchy of Normandy (in France), there was not a single stone building before, suddenly discovered the art of large scale construction. ‘Some echo of the scope of Norman building comes down to us,’ says Durant, when we note that St. Alban’s Abbey was begun in 1075, Ely Cathedral in 1081, Rochester in 1083, Worcester in 1084, Old St. Paul’s in 1087, Gloucester in 1089, Durham in 1093, Norwich in 1096, Chichester in 1100, Tewkesbury in 1103, Exeter in 1112, Peterborough in 1116, Romsey Abbey in 1120, Fountains Abbey in 1140, St. David’s, in Wales, in 1176. ‘These are not names, they are masterpieces,’ Durant insists. In secular buildings the capacity to build on a notable scale is most particularly obvious with the great hall of William Rufus at Westminster, built in 1097-99 and measuring 238 by 68 feet the largest room in Europe for well over a century.
It is unquestionable that in the year 1100 there were in England both greater buildings, and more of them, in progress than anywhere else. To build on such a vast scale, in a country which had previously known no large-scale structures, implied a technical revolution, Harvey points out. We can still see the importance of the change at such buildings as Winchester Cathedral, where early and later Norman works stand side by side. The Palatine Abbey of Durham, Winchester new cathedral of St Sivithum, and the gigantic church and monastery as that of Bury St Edmunds well exemplify the new ability to think and build big. Fifteen years before the end of the 11th century all masonry is of the crude, wide-jointed variety, incapable of refinements. Fifteen years after 1100, and the contemporary chronicler, William of Malmesbury was amazed to see “stone being so correctly laid that the joint deceives the eye, and leads it to imagine that the whole wall is composed of a single block.’ The first stone-built bridge in England, at Stratford-le-Bow, commissioned by Queen Matilda before 1117, was of a type never before seen in England. Within a few years of 1100, fine masonry had, indeed, reached England. Not only were the stones better cut, but they were of larger size, implying the existence of improved cranes and hoists.
This of course drives us to ask many questions, how is it, that suddenly, from point zero, we have an outburst of construction on a scale never seen before, and most of all benefiting of an expertise that was missing before. Where did it all come from?
We set aside other sources of influence here, and focus on the crusade route.
It is a very strange coincidence if indeed if it be a coincidence at all [Harvey observes] that the first known ribbed vault in the West (1104) should have been built within the five years that succeeded the taking of Jerusalem (1099).
Schnyder also points out that as we are able to trace the decisive renewal in brick architecture, for instance, to the period shortly after the first great crusades to the East, it would appear correct to assume that the impulse which led to the rapid development of brick architecture in Europe came from the East. ‘Coincidentally,’ with this development, improvements in forming and firing were also introduced.
Briggs notes how contact of East and West during the Crusades (and during the later Middle Ages) contributed influences on castle architecture. On arrival, the Crusaders found excellent military architecture at Aleppo, Baalbek, and elsewhere in the Islamic East. Briggs insists that in respect to defence structures, the Muslims were, indeed, far ahead of Western Christendom, and therefore, it is clear that the crusaders borrowed from the Muslims and not vice versa. In the East, they learnt to build much stronger and more elaborate castles. And, indeed, decisive changes in castle construction in the West coincided precisely with the return of the first crusaders. Philip of Alsace, Count of Flanders, completed the castle of Ghent on his return from an expedition to Palestine (1176-8), and modelled it on the fortress of Toron (between Tyre and Acre). Richard Coeur de Lion, when he built the Chateau Gaillard after the Third Crusade (1189 ff), took his inspiration from the Krak des Chevaliers. Prutz notes how Chateau Gaillard built by Richard in the Vexin shows indisputable traces of Oriental influences.
The crusaders learned the uses of machicolated walls, which allowed the delivery of missiles from a height. These were found in Qasr al-Khair near Rusafa in Syria, which dates from 729, and other instances in Egypt. They antedate similar European examples in Chateau Gaillard (late 12th century) Chatillon (1186), Norwich (1187), Winchester (1193). Prutz suggests that Islamic influence may be traced in the disposition of the different parts of the greater fortresses, in the addition of parts unknown to the older military architecture of the West, and in a new number of methods of defence made necessary by the technique of siege tactics developed in the East. He attributes, accordingly to Muslim sources the use of double line of walls (the essence of the concentric castle) and the erection of an additional tower or keep between the two lines. An advanced tower of this sort, especially when it is erected over the gate at the entrance, is known as a barbican; and it has been suggested that the word may be derived from Arabic, meaning House on the Wall or Gate-House. The main fortifications, enclosed by a series of circular walls, were all set with turrets, rounded to prevent mining at the angles and arranged with lines of fire that allowed each of them to protect others from enemy assault.
King Edward I went on the crusade in the year 1270-1. Having seen the castle at Acre (where he resided) on his return to England, he ordered the construction of similar castles at Harlech, Conwy and Caernarfon to subject the conquered Welsh. The similarity between the defences of Acre and these Welsh castles is in fact striking for those who are knowledgeable about them.
Pilgrimage also accounted for later medieval developments of Western architecture, most particularly with regard to the development of the so-called Perpendicular style. The Perpendicular style must be regarded as a specifically new creation, produced about 1330 by William Ramsey, who was a master mason from a Norwich family who was in time to be the king’s chief mason south of Trent, from 1336 until he died in London during the Black Death of 1349. The Perpendicular made its first appearance in or very soon after 1330, a new style attributed by Western historians to the lack of skills subsequent to the Black Death of 1348-49, when so many of the older generation of artists died. This is historically untenable, for this style had appeared fifteen years before the pestilence even began, signs of such style were seen first in works with which William Ramsey was associated, the south cloister of Norwich Cathedral designed about 1324, and the new cloister and chapter-house for St Paul’s Cathedral in London begun by him in 1332. Inspiration comes not from the Black Death as some historians generally claim (as if the Black Death ever inspires anything), but from the Islamic East. Something very closely akin to the earliest ‘squeezed hexagons’ of Perpendicular tracery, Harvey says, is found in Muslim buildings in Egypt dating from the early 13th to the early 14th century. Associated with other features of Perpendicular character, such as vertical members running up to cut the curve of an arch, these forms are found in Cairo in the Mausoleum of Mustafa Pasha (1269-73).
This style arrived in England via the pilgrim route. That Western pilgrims, including artists, were visiting Egypt within the relevant period is shown by the itinerary of Simon Simeon and Hugh the Illuminator, Franciscans from Ireland who went to the Holy Land in 1323. They went through Egypt; in Alexandria, for instance, Simon noted that ‘Saracens, Christians, Greeks, Schismatic (Copts) and ‘perfidious Jews’ dress all much alike. It is not without interest, that the unique manuscript of this narrative first belonged to Simon Bozoun, Prior of Norwich in 1344-1352, and though such a travel-book could not itself have influenced the course of art, as Harvey insists, it may be significant that documents of this kind were collected at major cathedral monasteries like Norwich. The English Perpendicular style was only adopted in few buildings designed by English architects in Scotland, Ireland and Calais, which proves that the influence was external, and did not originate from within Western Christendom. Had the latter been the case, independent, unrelated manifestations of such style (as of others,) could have been seen in other centuries, in other places, and without any link to Islamic sources.
Impact on Literature
It is not over-rash to suggest that the Arabian Nights supplied the clues for which the popular writers were searching, and that but for the Nights there would have been no Robinson Crusoe, and perhaps no Gulliver’s Travels. (Gibb)
Our literatures [Briffault insists] have not been shaped by adaptation and modification of the classical heritage, but by drawing from entirely distinct sources, having no sort of connection or cognateness with that heritage. There was no going back on the effects of those accessions. For better or worse, they had entered the blood and fiber of European culture, and no opinion, no debate, no pronouncement could eradicate or purge them. Despite every effort to follow in the steps of the ‘ancients,” whom their would-be disciples were incapable of comprehending, whom they grossly and grotesquely travestied until the rousing of the critical historical sense of archaeology, comparative anthropology, and comparative religion in the nineteenth century, despite the pathetic misconceptions of pseudo-classicism, the development of our literatures has been paramountly determined by the nurture which they sucked during the impressionable period of their infancy. As regards lyrical expression and the attitude towards amatory emotions, both categories of far wider reach and scope than narrow definitions imply, the spring at which those literatures drank was not situated in Greece or in Rome, but in Provence.
Literary, philosophical, and military adventurers were perpetually passing; and thus the luxury, the taste, and above all, the chivalrous gallantry and elegant courtesies of Muslim society found their way from Granada and Cordova to Provence and Languedoc, [Draper notes.]”
In his work on the impact of Islamic literature, Gibb explains in great detail how the land of Islam in Europe, al Andalus, first and foremost, and also Sicily, played a major role in the impact on Western Christendom in the field. Arab influence on troubadour poetry was quite strong. The French met the Arab world, its poetry and· its songs while going through Spain to the crusade during the second half of the eleventh century. So much evidence is available in every single form and substance, even a miniature which shows “un jongleur arabe a cote de l’autre (An Arab jongleur by the side of the other). According to Lazar, as a result of the crusades, many new influences entered the lives of Frenchmen. Their lives no longer evolved necessarily around the Church, and an exposure to oriental civilization caused people to be interested in earthly ‘luxuries’ too. The Church’s control over the aristocracy diminished in the twelfth century, and eventually ‘the concept of love which became popular in French troubadour poetry was not a Christian ideal but one with Arabic overtones.’ Rowbotham points out that one finds similarities in the poetic forms of Arabic writers and of troubadours. For example, ‘in their compositions for solo singers, the Arabians were in the habit of employing dual verses, each matching with the other.’ The troubadours wrote in the “same poetical form, the verse so constructed being called coblas or ‘couplets’.” The Arabs also used the casida, a long poem built on only one rhyme. The troubadours wrote similar poems of as much as one hundred lines with the same rhyme throughout. These poets, however, did make unique contributions to literature. They wrote the first lyric poetry in any modern European language [from approximately 1095 to 1295, and all other lyric poetry in Europe either descends from it or was at one time tremendously influenced by it.
Figure 10. The troubadour Perdigon playing his fiddle (Source)
To southern France spread the manners and ways of Islamic Spain, such as poetic disputations, carried to perfection among the Troubadours; the Provencal also learning to employ jongleurs. “The name ‘Provencal,’ says Raymond d’Agyles, “was given to the peoples of Burgundy, Auvergne, Gascony, Gothia and Provence.” Those were the native lands of the Provencal troubadours. The emergence in the 12th century of a new lyrical art in Provence, Briffault says, was among the privileges conferred upon those lands by their favourable situation. While Christendom as a whole ‘still lay palled in the darkness of barbarism, Provence was the mart where the rich products of Moorish industry came for distribution to northern countries. It was the intermediary through which Islamic culture at its height filtered through the darkest Europe.’
We still need to know who were the agents of such transfer, and there were quite a few, but all more or less reflecting the same patterns of passage as the others forms of Muslim impact. We find as an instance the same ruling elites who carried many aspects of Muslim learning and high civilisation behind this transfer.
Alienor of Aquitaine was one of the first and most active patrons of Provencal poetry. This Queen of France, along with her children, spread a love of poetry and music to many provinces in France. Alienor left her mark in literature written in the langue d’oil. When she moved to Paris as Queen of France and later to London as Queen of England, she helped to spread the themes of Southern lyric poetry. French poets followed her across the English Channel and introduced their art to the English Court.
The oldest English lyrical poetry, whence derives in unbroken succession the great poetic heritage of England, obtained its original models, both directly and through French versions, from the Provencal songs.”
John of Salisbury and others complained about the exotic entertainment introduced by Alienor into the English court. He called it an ancient Babylon because of the new music, mimes, histriones, fabliaux, dancers, buffoons, acrobats, and other spectacles supported by Alienor. She thus initiated the English court to the artistic wonders she had discovered during the so-called Second Crusade with her husband, Louis (which took place following Zangi’s capture of Edessa in 1144, and which culminated in the failed siege of Damascus in 1148).
During the reign of Richard the First (begun 1189), there was remarkable intercommunication and mutual exchange of compositions which had already taken place earlier between the French and English minstrels. Richard invited to his court many minstrels or troubadours from France, whom he loaded with honours and rewards. These poets imported into England a great multitude of their tales and songs which before or about the reign of Edward the second became familiar and popular among sections who were sufficiently acquainted with the French language. Again, Warton is an excellent source for this movement of influences, and any curious mind is advised to have recourse to that first class source.
The effect that Provence had on Western literature was vast and diverse, and led to a great number of studies, raising pertinent matters, which deserve lengthier attention but are only briefly summed up here.
The second half of the 12th century may have fixed the type of literary romantic sentiment, from the Canzionere of Petrarch to The Angel in the House. The moment, Chambers insists, is fundamental for the understanding of all subsequent literature in England as well as in France. All of the pre 16th century schools of courtly lyric derive, directly or indirectly, from that brief flowering of that art which appeared in Languedoc. Pope placed the ‘Provencal School,’ first in the lineage of English poetry. And Dryden writes:
Chaucer first adorned and amplified our barren tongue from the Provencal, which was then the most polished of all modern languages.”
It is evident that English lyric poetry is greatly indebted to the troubadours. Every study of English stanza forms, Chaytor insists, must take the Provencal lyric art as its point of departure.” The influence of the troubadours on the English poets has been as real as their influence on any other European literature. The idiom of the troubadours, Briffault points out, was on the point of becoming the universal language of poetry. In Italy and Spain, up to the 14th century the poets knew no other.
All literary genres, including poetry, fiction, romance, and chivalry, had been cultivated by the Muslims, according to Le Bon. Until recently, Gibb notes, an Oriental origin was claimed and accepted for the popular tales which flourished in Europe, in the various forms of fabliaux, contes (Tales), examples, during the 13th century. The oral dissemination of Arabic tales was reinforced in the 14th century by many translations of Arabic collections of stories made for the entertainment of the new reading classes. These Oriental tales, Gibb points out, ‘were preferred to the popular medieval stock, not only because of their variety and polished literary presentation, but above all because they displayed a richer imagination and a more edifying aim.’ Here the Christian and Islamic Middle Ages ‘met on common ground, both in literary preferences and literary methods. The people told stories because they liked them.’ In general their stories were intended to serve no moral purpose, but ‘the story as a literary art takes its place in a moral framework.’ The general purpose of the writer ‘is to define the art of government, or the duty of good living, or the profession of the virtues.’
Ibn Tufayl (c. 1110-85), of Spain, wrote Hayy ibn Yaqzam (The Living son of the awake), the story of Hayy, who was brought up in isolation by a gazelle… then he receives a visitor, Asal, from an inhabited island etc…The work was translated in the 17th century by E. Pococke, and is said to have been among the influences which led to Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.
Reflecting on the wider Islamic impact. Gibb writes:
On looking back over the field of European literature, the influence of the literature of the Muslim East seems at first confined to a narrow and unproductive strip. Only when it is realised that the East has acted like a leaven on the spirit is it seen to possess a far wider importance. At three different periods, if our view is correct, it has reacted on Western literature with results identical in nature, though not in degree. On each occasion its function has been to liberate the imagination from a narrow and oppressive discipline, to make the first breach in the wall of convention. It is in its power of calling into action creative impulses hitherto dormant or impotent that Eastern literature has laid the West under its debt.”
Gibb also explains how for many centuries the Islamic impact in the field was accepted by all, until some recent times then arose a rebellion, quite violent, against the claim that Islam was behind it all. It somehow replicates the instance of the Gothic and others, when what was deemed Muslim for centuries, somehow became not the case anymore. He writes:
What could be more natural than to suppose that the first Provencal poets were influenced by Arabic models? For several centuries this view met with almost unquestioned acceptance. It was never more confidently or sweepingly asserted than by Giammeria Barbieri in the full tide of the classical revival. On the revival of medieval studies at the end of the eighteenth century, when public imagination was still obsessed with oriental romance, the general opinion, led by Sismondi and Fauriel, maintained the close association of Provencal with Arabic poetry. It was only in mid-nineteenth century that there appeared a revulsion, among both orientalists and students of Romance philology… If one may without malice attribute some share in the reaction to the overheated nationalism which animated all the western nations, it must be conceded that no self-respecting Romance scholar was likely to defend the theory of Arabic influences.
In her book dating from 1987 on this subject, Maria Rosa Menocal devoted great space to the unfortunate Western scholars who suffered the wrath of their colleagues on stating the Muslim influence in the field. She herself did not escape; the violence and bitterness of the attacks seeming to have distressed her considerably.
The Muslim Role in the Rise of New Ideas, and the British/Western Renaissance:
It is difficult for me to discuss the nature of animals with you, because I learnt from my masters, the Arabs, to follow the light of reason, while you are led by the bridle of authority; for what other word than ‘bridle’ can I use to describe authority?” (Adelard of Bath)
What happened in England was common to what happened throughout Europe. The Introduction of Muslim learning transformed completely the way Europeans taught, or did not, and here, we have the two most crucial elements:
-The use of reason against authority.
-How to reconcile faith and raison.
These two concepts played a defining role in the Western, including English, renaissance of the medieval period. Should anyone try to deal with these central elements to the length they deserve, a whole voluminous book is necessary. Here, whilst there are some excellent works as in this endnote, one advises one work of exceptional quality that will help any reader better than anything else (including the following outline by this author):
Butterworth, C.E., and B.A. Kessel, eds. The Introduction of Arabic Philosophy into Europe. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1994.
Here we set aside the concept relating to the use of reason, this having been abundantly seen above with Adelard of Bath. Let’s focus on the other point. The 12th century translations from Arabic played a decisive role in that. One of their major effects, Dawson notes, was in producing a mass of new learning, which on the Western mind could have nothing, but startling effects. It raised the whole question of the relations between religion and science, and between reason and faith, in a very sharp and accentuated way. One of the leading churchmen who understood this was Domingo Gundisalvo, Archdeacon of Segovia. Other than his translations of Muslim works, of Al-Farabi, most particularly, Gundisalvo (c 1120-1180) was also the author of five works that drew heavily on his translations of Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina. These books include De Anima (On the Soul), in whose prologue he addresses the need for new knowledge and noted the faith-reason dilemma which might accompany it:
I have carefully collected all the rational propositions about the soul that I have found in the works of the philosophers… hitherto unknown to Latin readers… now, by the grace of God and at the cost of immense labour, been made available to the Latin world so that the faithful, who toil assiduously for the good of their souls, may know what to think about it, no longer through faith alone but also through reason.”
The clear understanding, Weber remarks, is that understanding and reason are good for the soul of the believer.
The second text which indicates Gundisalvo’s understanding of this problem was his translation of Al-Farabi’s Kitab al-Tanbih ‘ala Sabil al-Sa’adah (Book of the Reminder of the Way to Happiness.) In this work Al-Farabi presentes the thesis that the final goal of human life is happiness, and the only sure way to accomplish this is by the acquisition of knowledge of the sciences.
Knowlegde leading to happiness was one way or fine, but what sort of knowledge that did not threaten the faith, and what knowledge when it came from the Muslim foe?
Now, what some of the 13th century Western scholars did was a streak of genius: they introduced Islamic learning, mixed/disguised/covered/diluted with Greek in order to make it pass, a bit like a bitter medicine served to a reluctant child with some sweet sherbet. The reason, of course, when this was done, battle raged with streams of blood in Iberia, on the shores of North Africa, in Asia Minor, Syria, and Palestine, a most violent conflict involving both faiths. You could not of course fight to the death a foe and then take his culture just like that, even today, let alone in medieval times.
The ideas of these moderni, as the innovators referred to themselves, seeped into the universities, O’Brien explains. As they became wellsprings of the new knowledge, the universities first rivaled and then, in the thirteenth century, surpassed monasteries as centers of learning. At Oxford, Paris or Bologna, for example, it became as common to study Ibn Sina or Ibn Rushd as it was to study Augustine. Indeed, entire schools of ‘Latin Avicennism and Averoism’ took root at different universities during the thirteenth century and ‘became an integral part of the incipient tendency of questioning Church authority.’
Albertus Magnus, a leading figure in the Western revival was called “the ape of Aristotle,” an epithet he by no means merited, as he refuted the interpretations of Aristotle by Ibn Rushd, and expanded those of Ibn Sina. He discoursed on ‘all the Arabian experts who had exercised their dialectic skill on the Greek master and showed the utmost familiarity with their writings.’ He, Townsend insists:
Laboured even with painful desire to reconcile the conflicting tenets of Plato and Aristotle with the doctrines of the Christian Church. He showed such perfect intimacy with the secrets of natural history and science that the ignorant babbled about him as being guilty of magical arts. He speculated so boldly in astronomy, chemistry, and mathematics that he paved the way to the greater triumph, and more cordial recognition, of the ardent scientific spirits of a future age.”
Following on the same route, in seeking to reconcile faith and reason, Islamic learning and Church ideology, the role played by Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1274) was possibly one of the greatest in human history. His whole aim, it would seem, was to ride through the tempest created by the new thinking permeating Europe in his days (which sunk Bacon as seen above), and in trying to reproduce the arguments, formulae, and methods of Ibn Sina and his predecessors, in seeking to reconcile reason with religion. Aquinas greatest achievement was his adoption of the medium line as far as the situation in the Christian West was concerned. He fought both Muslim rationalism and Christian irrationalism, following a line between the ‘Averroists’ of the left and the Scotists and Augustinians of the right, a conciliatory attitude, which made his prestige. It did not just do that, it solved the conundrum cited above (what sort of knowledge, etc) that afflicted the Christian West and opened the way forward.
Of course, the story is incomplete, and one recommends the excellent paper by Hasse available on the internet for further light.
Figure 11. A 19th-century engraving of Bacon observing the stars at Oxford (Source)
The progress of learning had other aspects. Here follow some lines on how Oxford University came to play the leading role in learning in England. First, obviously through its scholars, and the task is cut by both Burnett today, and Gerard Langbaine a couple of centuries back. Gerard Langbaine (1609-1658) who was the keeper of the archives of the university during the commonwealth had charge of the university’s Arabic type. He compiled material from the Bodleian and other libraries in Oxford to illustrate the history of the study of Arabic in England, from the beginnings up to his own time, material which is contained in a notebook. He starts with Adelard’s transcribing the opening of his Natural Questions, underlining Adelard’s mention of Saraceni and Studia Arabum, then refers to three translations from Arabic made by him; then Plato of Tivoli’s translation of al-Battani’s astronomical tables, then quotes portions of the dossier that Roger Bacon sent to Pope Clement IV that are relevant to the learning of Arabic, and he goes on to transcribe the introduction of Daniel of Morley’s Philosophia, in which Daniel describes his visit to Toledo. There is a powerful link between Islamic works and Oxford University, via Alfred of Sareshel’s translations, which helped shape the teaching of later masters, such as Adam of Buckfield, Roger Bacon, and Henry of Renham, and also the ‘Avicennist,’ John Blund. John Blund was teaching at the faculty of arts from around 1200 to 1209, before having to leave as the university was closed down because of riots. John Blund migrated to the marshy fens to lay down the foundations of Cambridge. Although he seemingly praises Aristotle, and the fact that the ‘Arabs’ had recently handed his (Aristotle) science back to the Latin, Blund in his surviving work, De Anima, relies mainly on Al-Kindi, Ibn Sina, Al-Farabi, Al-Ghazali and Qusta Ibn Luqa. In 1200, at the time Blund, and possibly Alfred of Sareshel were teaching at Oxford, Grosseteste was also teaching the arts there, before he was appointed the first chancellor, his personality and scholarship eventually making Oxford a rival to Paris. John Mauduith (fl 1310) was an English mathematician and astronomer, a fellow of Merton College (Oxford) and the real initiator of Western trigonometry, preceding both Levi ben Gerson and Wallingford. His Parvus Tractatus, which was deeply influenced by al-Zarqali, was especially important, as it was a source of Wallingford’s qadripartitum. Richard Wallingford (c.1292-1335) was the greatest English mathematician of his time, and amongst those who introduced trigonometry into Christian Western Europe.
Thanks to Makdisi, many institutional and structural developments of the university, and the Islamic impact on them, become clear. In going back to the origins, Makdisi points out, as it first appeared in Paris, Oxford and elsewhere, the college was a previous product of Islam; and that, in Merton College in Oxford, ‘we have a watershed in the history of the college.’ Merton stands as ‘a dividing point between the college of Islam on the one hand, and that of the United States on the other.’
Books of science and other aspects of learning, in those days most of all, played a central role in the development of the human mind. Their scarcity in England, as in the rest of Europe, during the medieval period, and even after, has been noted in the opening heading of this essay, most notably by Warton. Here, there follows the lines of Islamic book transmission to England at two different stages in time. Burnett points to translator/scholars such as Petrus Alfonsi, Robert of Ketton and Ibn Ezra, who as examples of scholar-translators, travelled between Spain and England and may have brought not just translations from Arabic, but also manuscripts. Burnett also points to at least one English doctor, called Herbert, whose library included Constantine’s translations of the Tunisian doctors, also later translations (12th century) by John of Seville, and works by Qusta Ibn Luqa, proving how quickly works travelled from Spain to England.
A few centuries down, the 17th, and there is noted an English eagerness for Muslim books of sciences, history, and even religion, little seen anywhere at any other time. This story is exceptionally well dealt with up by Colin Wakefield. The following is a brief outline of Wakefield’s extremely detailed and informative article/essay. A landmark was reached in the year 1692 when the Bodleian purchased for the sum of £800 the major collection of Edward Pococke who had died the year before. The collection comprises over four hundred volumes, of which Arabic accounts for some two hundred and seventy. Pococke, the first incumbent of the Laudian Chair of Arabic, had spent five years (1630-1635) as chaplain to the Levant Company at Aleppo. Pococke procured himself of the services of a certain al-Darwish Ahmad who acted not only as an agent in obtaining manuscripts but also undertook to copy those that were not available for purchase. Pococke returned from Aleppo in 1635 and gave his inaugural lecture on 10 August 1636, but within a year, encouraged by Laud, he had set off again for the Near East, this time to Istanbul, where he stayed for three years, still collecting manuscripts, not just in Turkey but also in Syria. The Pococke collection is particularly strong, in history, in particular, and includes authors such as Ibn al-Jawzi, Ibn al Athir, Ibn Abi Ussaybia, Ibn Khalikan, Abu’l Fida, of course, Al Maqrizi, Ibn Sina’s al-Shifa’, and, of course, Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy b. Yaqdan.
It was during the librarianship of Thomas Hyde that another major collection of Arabic manuscripts was received, that of Robert Huntington, in 1692. The whole collection amounted to over six hundred volumes and was purchased for a record sum of just over £ l,000. In 1670, following Pococke’s example, he (Hyde) took up the post of chaplain to the Levant Company in Aleppo and remained in the Near East for over ten years. During this time he visited Palestine, Egypt and Cyprus, assiduously collecting manuscripts not only for himself but also for Thomas Marshall, Narcissus Marsh, and Edward Pococke. Other than historical manuscripts, his collection included works by Ibn al Jazzar, al Zahrawi, Ibn Sina, Ibn Zuhr, Ibn al Baytar, Al Khwarizmi, and even books on cookery and the arts of warfare.
In 1698, a year after his death, the Library bought for £200 the manuscript collection of Edward Bernard, Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford, 1673-91. The Arabic manuscripts in the collection amount to fewer than twenty, mostly astronomical, including a copy of al-Biruni’s Qanun al Masu’di.
Narcissus Marsh matriculated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, and went on to become a fellow of Exeter college in 1658. He died in 1713 and all his oriental manuscripts, together with a few Greek and other volumes, were bequeathed to the Bodleian, where they arrived in 1714. Unlike Pococke and Huntington, Marsh spent no time in the Near East. The sources of his collection are various. The Marsh collection contains well over five hundred Arabic manuscripts, and its addition to the Bodleian’s holdings consolidated and further enriched the Library’s already considerable resources. Areas of strength are medicine, history, poetry, law, grammar, astronomy and mathematics. Marsh’s main interest was mathematics. Authors and works not previously found in the Bodleian include Galen’s Anatomy in fifteen books, historical works by Ibn Miskawayh, Abu Shamah, and Ibn Shaddad. 
The Great Urge to Learn Arabic
Arabic is elegant, both for the ‘plentie’ of words and the ‘sweetnesse’ of its phraseology. It is profitable both for travellers and for students of mathematics, algebra and medicine, and it is an easy language to learn, without distinctive dialects or inflections and anomalies in grammatical forms.” The Greek and Hebrew scholar Edward Leigh (1602-71).
Reflecting on the role Arabic had on the rise of modern sciences and civilisation, Sarton, following his encyclopaedic study of the subject, could only comment this:
We can only express our wonder and ‘say mashallah’ (God willed it). How it so happened (and this the Prophet could not foresee unless he had some divine insight) that the only language he knew was one of the most beautiful languages in existence.”
In their ground breaking work on the influence of Arabic on the English language, Salloum and Peters remind us how from the 8th to the 12th centuries, Arabic was the intellectual and scientific language of the entire scholastic world. The men of letters and science in both the eastern and western lands had to know Arabic if they wanted to produce works of art or science. During these centuries, Andalusia by itself produced more works in Arabic than were produced in all the languages of Europe. So, no mystery here why Arabic dominated the scientific scene for a few centuries, at least.
At the peak of Muslim civilisation, when the early scholars/translators descended on Spain to grab the lore available in Arabic, they came across the fundamental issue: how to transfer such a lore? Despite the help of Jewish intermediaries, and others, the task remained extremely challenging. Burnett explains to us, how Arabic, because it is not an Indo-European language, is less amenable than Greek to a word-for-word translation into Latin. Hugo of Santalla gives a good picture of the difficulties facing Arabic-Latin translators, ‘Often the translator gasps under the strain of the difficulties.’ Hugo sees some strange word that:
Resists being translated correctly because of either the variety of diacritical marks on the letters, or the lack of marks-often, too, because of the incompatible differences of languages in all of which the significance of the roots is different.”
In these situations, he simply guesses what the word means.
John of Seville in the preface to his translation of Pseudo-Aristotle’s Regimen sanitatis apologises for not completely following the letter, but, in certain cases, following the sense instead, whilst Hermann of Carinthia complains about the prolixity of the Arabic language and abbreviates his original texts considerably. Various techniques were used to resolve such problems, such as by Gerard of Cremona who ‘Latinised’ the text whilst the intermediary was ‘interpreting it.’ The interpreter translated the Arabic text into a vernacular Romance language, which was then ‘Latinized;’ or the intermediary pronounced (proferente) the Arabic words one at a time as they were spoken by the people (vulgariter), while the Christian archdeacon, Dominicus Gundissalinus, who presumably spoke Arabic but did not read the language, wrote down the Latin equivalent to each of these words as he heard them.
Because of the realization that Christendom lagged behind Islam in the sciences as well as in medicine and natural history, it was proposed to found chairs of Arabic at the five great universities of Latin Christendom: Rome, Paris, Oxford, Bologna, and Salamanca, a proposal urged by Roger Bacon on Pope Clement IV in 1265. In the next century Richard of Bury, Bishop of Durham, was active in the same sense between 1312 and the end of his life in 1345.
That was no sole reason, though. Robert Wakefield (d. 1537), a scholar who at various times taught Hebrew at Oxford, Cambridge and Louvain as well as publishing, wrote in 1524 ‘a eulogy on the virtues and usefulness of the three Semitic languages,’ Arabic, Aramaic and Hebrew, entitled Oratio de laudibus et utilitate triti linguarum. John Eliot at the end of the sixteenth century, in 1593, describes Arabic as ‘a goodly speech, rich, fluent, and which hath more scope than any other that is spoken in the world.’ There are many manuscripts, he remarks, but few printed texts available, in spite of attempts made (when Eliot himself was in Rome) to set up a press. Pope Gregory XIII ‘caused very faire Caracters to be cut at his charges, and sent all abroad to get workemen in that mysterie.’ Eliot doubts his success, because no printed texts had come to hand yet in England. Eliot was particularly concerned with the value of Arabic for commercial purposes; not only was it valuable in the Levant, it was
The best tongue in the world to travaile (to work with) over all the great Turks kingdoms, over greatest part of Asia, through all the countries of the Japanians, through China, through the Empire of Prester John, and through all Affrike … by it, [he says] a man… passc (because) well over the third part of the world [uses it.] It is a singular fine tongue.”
The same commercial purposes are also raised by Ravis, who poured scorn on those who did not think it worth acquainting themselves with the vernacular.
‘What’, he exclaims, ‘a tongue to be the only Country tongue in whole Africa, and the third part of Asia… and all this tongue without use?”
He points out that a merchant who can speak the language will be much more successful in his transactions than one who has to rely on an interpreter; such advice would have been useful outside the major Arabic-speaking countries too. Arabic was often an important component of the Creole languages which developed along the great trade routes. In Madagascar, for example, the local dialect was ‘a mixture of Arabique.’ In Mohelia, an island to the south-east, the language was ‘a mish-mash of Arabick and Portuguise’
William Bedwell’s preface to his Johannine Epistles, published in 1612, stresses the wide extent of the lands inhabited by Muslims, ‘from the furthest shores of the extreme West, that is from the Fortunate Islands, even to the islands of the Moluccas in the extreme East.’ He goes on to say that in almost all these places,
The privileges and diplomas of kings and princes, the instruments and contracts of merchants and nobles, finally the familiar letters of all, are expressed and written almost solely in this Arabic language.
He assures his reader that:
No language (Greek and Latin excepted) contains more records of solid and scientific erudition.’ A knowledge of Arabic is valuable to students of theology, medicine, philosophy and mathematics; while ancient writers, whose works are lost in their originals, ‘overwhelmed by darkness, lie in obscurity.’
Finally he speaks of Arabic as ancillary to Hebrew and Old Testament studies.’ Matthias Pasor’s Oratio pro lingut Arabice professione, delivered at Oxford in 1626, and published in the following year, speaks like Bedwell of the wide diffusion of Arabic:
In Turkey, Persia, India and Tartary, where the superstition of Mahomet rages, even though other languages may be in common use, yet in almost every house there will be at least one who understands Arabic.”
Figure 12. A page from the Latin translation of Euclid’s Elements done from Arabic by Adelard of Bath (Source)
Pasor places first among the uses of Arabic to Christians its utility in Hebrew and biblical scholarship. A Protestant refugee, he has already said that oriental and Greek studies are needed to ‘purge the Augean stable of papistical superstitions, and to wash away the filth of the Schoolmen’s sophistry.’
A knowledge of Arabic, he continues, enables Western Christendom to bring consolation to ‘the distressed Christians under Muslim rule,’ and to attempt the conversion of the Muslims themselves, or at least in the conversion of Oriental Christians to Anglicanism. Quite early, indeed, the leading figures of the Christian West had understood the necessity to understand both Arabic and the Qur’an in order to fight the foe on its own ground, and to convert the ‘lost’ flock. It remained a major preoccupation as we shall see for centuries.
However, the central role of Arabic in the acquisition of scientific learning remained central throughout, and for a multiplicity of reasons. Amatus Lusitanus (1511-68), a ‘Marrano’ (of Jewish background) physician, who gained refuge in the Ottoman city of Salonica explains this. His Curationurn medicinaliurn cenluriac (written c. 1549) went through twenty-three editions as late as 1620. Amatus exposed the weaknesses of the Latin translation of Ibn Sina’s Canon, with actual examples of mis-readings in Arabic and the disastrous consequences of such mistranslations for medical practice. By demonstrating the importance of reading medical and scientific texts in the original for textual accuracy, such analyses underscored the essential relevance of Arabic to scholarship, and the need for Arabic glossaries and dictionaries. These criticisms inspired physicians to learn Arabic. For example, Peter Kirsten (1575-1640) printed a part of the Canon in Arabic with an accompanying glossary to facilitate the study of the text. Also related to medicine, understanding of the drugs used in the Islamic world remained quite important an issue. There are many references in the various Queries to the London Royal Society and their answers to the use of herbal and mineral substances, for medical and also for cosmetic purposes—like the interest in the Turkish ‘rusma’, a depilatory made from quicklime and auripigmentum (or orphnent, arsenic trisulphide) as the physician Thomas Harpur reliably informed the Society. From 1671 to 1674 the Hamburg physician Martin Vogel (1634-1675), already a correspondent, asked many questions relevant to his own work on narcotics. He had heard rumours of Pococke’s little work (largely a translation from Arabic) The Nature of the Drink Kauhi or Coffee (1659), of which Wallis, with some difficulty, procured a copy to be sent to him.
Figure 13. A Page from In Dioscorides Enarationes (Source)
It was the same in regard to other scientific subjects, and here we focus on the efforts of 17th century English Arabists. By investigating the extensive manuscript sources, which were used by the mathematicians and astronomers at Oxford and Cambridge, R. Mercier shows that the Savilian Professors of Astronomy were not only interested in gleaning information out of the Arabic astronomical texts; they wanted to check the data in those manuscripts against their own observations by ‘actually going to the lands where the readings were originally taken, and with similar instruments especially made for that purpose.’ Their use and study of the available Islamic manuscripts— geographical tables, star catalogues, and calendars (as in the exemplary study of Ulugh Beg’s calendars by John Greaves)—were aimed at dealing with specific problems. In publishing star co-ordinates, for example, they brought together a considerable number of sources—which required linguistic skills beyond that of Arabic to include Greek, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish)—in order ‘to determine the constancy and variability of solar properties,’ and also, they were looking for specific manuscripts in their attempts ‘to restore corrupt Latin texts according to Greek sources that were extant only in Arabic.’
Pasor speaks particularly of Muslim writers on medicine and chemistry. Many names both of diseases and remedies, he says, are Arabic. Al-Razi’s work, al Hawi, comprises the work ‘of over three hundred Arabian physicians.’ He, too notes, that in the translations of Ibn Sina’s canon, there are so many discrepancies and obscurities that a knowledge of Arabic is necessary to understand their meaning. Philosophy, physics, mathematics, history and poetry can all be better studied with a knowledge of Arabic and he even asserts that ‘the books of Livy, the loss of which Latin bewails, are extant in Arabic’.
Likewise, it was also argued that;
At a time when alchemy was being practiced by no less an illustrious figure than Newton, that a Latinised Arabic Geber would serve as a title for forgeries, corroborates the strength of interest in Arabic and the aura of its prestige as a language in which ‘knowledge was lock’t.”
In respect to this subject, W. Newman deals with four versions of a medieval forgery, Summa perfectionis, based on the Latin translation of an eighth-century Arabic work Kitab al-mulk from the classic Jabirian collection. He argues that the popularity of this pseudo-Jabirian medieval work was engineered by giving it a royal pedigree of Arabic origin. It was translated into English by Richard Russell (1678) and appeared in three other versions, one of which in 1650 by William Starkey, a member of Samuel Hartlib’ s scientific circle, who was associated also with Boyle and Boyle’s chemical experiments. He was even known to Newton, who owned a copy of Starkey’s Secrets Reveal’d. Each of the versions reflects the particular interests of their seventeenth-century authors.
All in all, against this background, Russell notes, the role of Arabic becomes of major significance in the evolution of the English university as a secular academic institution for both instruction and research.
The religious factor, as noted already, was central in the quest for, or eagerness for the knowledge of Arabic. As Vivian Salmon explains so well, translation to and from Arabic was important for missionary activity; but a second religious motivation which led to the study of Arabic was ‘the desire to provide a more accurate English text of the Bible than those which had been available in the sixteenth century.’ Under King James I, a company of theologian-linguists was established to translate ‘out of the Original Sacred Tongues, together with comparing of the labours, both in our own, and other foreign Languages, of many worthy men who went before us’ (Epistle Dedicatory to the Authorised Version, 1611). They set to work in 1604, examining and comparing a large number of early sources which required the services of oriental specialists. The importance of comparing the ‘Arabicke Translation of the Scripture’ was pointed out by a teacher of oriental languages in early seventeenth-century London, one Edmund Rive. He argued that the Arabic translation was ‘set foorth neere into the dayes of the first Disciples of our Lord… As Thomas Hayne remarked in 1639, Bedwell ‘judged that many Hebrew sounds occurring only rarely in the Old Testament, could derive some light from a knowledge of the Arabic language’ a value for which Bedwell himself recommended the study of Arabic in the preface to his translation of St John’s epistles.
And so, soon, enough, the case for Arabic formed the basis of apologies in lectures and orations for the purpose of establishing its study in English universities. The arrival of Jewish scholars from war-torn Central Europe further promoted the study of Arabic. Already by the 1620s, there was sufficient interest not only at Cambridge, where the ground was laid by Bedwell, but also at Oxford where Matthias Pasor, Professor of mathematics and theology from Heidelberg, found a highly receptive environment to his proposal of introducing Arabic lectures. Those who gave support were not only theologians and physicians, but also mathematicians (such as Henry Briggs and John Bainbridge) because of their interest in reading Arabic mathematical texts.
The 17th-18th Century Renewed Interest in Muslim Sciences: Astronomy and Geography:
Needless to dwell on all the sciences, some aspects having already been outlined. Focus here is on these two sciences Astronomy and Geography. Also, in relation to geography, much of the 17th century craze was about the great Muslim geographer Abu’l Fida. So much space has been devoted to him in another entry on this webs-site (Hama), and so, here, only limited scope will be given to him.
It was in the 10th century that the acquisition of Islamic astronomical knowledge by Western Christendom began. This took place in Catalonia, Spain, and through Lorraine, before it spread to the Christian West. Muslim astronomy kept exerting a strong influence for many centuries. By investigating the extensive manuscript sources, which were used by late 16th and 17th century mathematicians and astronomers at Oxford and Cambridge universities, Mercier shows that the Savilian Professors of Astronomy were not only interested in gleaning information out of astronomical texts available in Arabic, they also wanted to check the data in those manuscripts against their own observations by actually going to the lands where the readings were originally taken, and with similar instruments especially made for that purpose. Their use and study of the available Islamic manuscripts-geographical tables, star catalogues and calendars were also directed to specific problems. Joseph Scaliger (1540-1609), for instance, made use of Al-Kabitii (Al-Qabisi): Liber introductorius ad magisterium judiciorum astrorum (Venice 1485). J. Greaves (1602-1652), famed for his astronomical observations, and who held a chair at Oxford University, used Abu’l Fida and Uluh Beg’s calendars. Greaves also carried out studies of Ibn al-Shatir and al-Hashimi (the author of The Book of the Reason Behind Astronomical Tables). The research which led to the establishing of the secular acceleration of the moon began with an attempt by Edmund Halley (1656-1742) to restore the correct readings in al-Battani’s account of eclipses which he had observed at al-Raqqa, Syria, in the late ninth century. Halley begins his account by remarking that al-Battani’s observations fall midway between those of Ptolemy and his own time, and that he was the first to dare to correct Ptolemy. He realized the need to emend the two printed editions of al-Battani’s work, that is, those of Nuremberg (1573) and Bologna (1645). These were printed from some manuscripts of Plato of Tivoli’s twelfth century translation, and naturally contained many errors, compounding those of the original Latin version with those of the manuscript tradition. It must be pointed out that this work included only the text of al-Battani’s Zij, and not the tables. The tables have not come down to us in any Latin version, but we do know about them through Nallino’s edition of the unique Arabic MS of the Escorial Library. Halley ‘is led to admire the accuracy of al Battani’s work through his determination of the Autumn Equinox.’
Figure 14. A page from the Latin translation of Ibn Rushd’s commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima and a page from the transcription in Hebrew letters of Ibn Rusd’s Talkhīs kitāb al-nafs li-Aristū (Source)
Other than Al Battani’s Tables, those of Al Sufi, as prepared ‘by the exertions of our famous and very diligent Mr. Wallis,’ were also prized.
The Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, in 1673, when working on his great star catalogue found it necessary to compare his observation with the more recent observations of other astronomers to set beside those of Hipparchus, Al-Battani and Tycho.
Speaking of observation, greater interest was placed on the works of the Samarkand observatory, and especially on the Uluh Beg Tables, especially a manuscript at Oxford (this had probably been used by John Greaves in his partial Latin translation, published in 1648 in John Bainbridge’s Canicularia). Wallis promptly took up the task, first consulting Hyde (referred to above) who had, he said, ‘already translated the part concerning the fixed stars and was willing to see the whole through the press.’
In terms of geographical and cartographic knowledge, first a brief reference to Abu’l Fida, who was particularly sought by 17th century and even earlier Western scholars. We form an idea for his quest through the correspondences of the Royal Society as edited by both A. Rupert Hall and Marie Boas Hall. His Taqwim al-Buldan had been partially published by John Greaves in 1650; Wallis could report that Samuel Clarke ‘will be for some time engaged in preparing a further volume of the Polyglot Bible and in revising the text of Abulfeda’s Arabic and Persian geography from various manuscripts which we have here,’ Oldenburg, the Secretary for the Royal Society, asked Wallis to look into the location of the manuscripts used by Greaves and Clarke. Wallis in turn consulted Pococke, who reported that Clarke had used Greaves’ manuscript (now probably in the hands of his brother Thomas), but that this was an inferior copy, and he had also used a manuscript now at Cambridge, copied by the Dutch orientalist Thomas Erpenius (van Erpe, 1584-1624).
James Rennell (1742–1830) was, with little doubt, if any, the greatest geographer of his time, at least amongst the English. Thanks to Sezgin, in very large measure, and also thanks to Rennell’s Journals, we can form an idea on both the importance of Rennell’s work, and also how Islamic learning impacted on geographical knowledge until quite fairly recent times. It is crucial, though, to bring attention to some very important points before looking at the Islamic impact itself, and these concern principally the motivations for geographical research/exploration, and how crucially important Rennell’s work was. This information is included in the Journals of Rennell (charting his surveys of the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers between 1764 and 1767). Sezgin deals with another later work by Renell, focusing on the Islamic impact on him.
First are examined the other central elements. The first observation to make is that Rennell was the First Surveyor General of India, whose mission is well detailed in his Journals.
He was thus instructed in 1764:
JOURNAL of the first Expedition for the discovery of the nearest Passage from the Ganges to Calcutta in the dry Season.
Figure 15. Portrait, oil on canvas, of Henry Vansittart (1732–1770) by Sir Joshua Reynolds (Source)
Copy of Orders from the Hon’ble Henry VanSittart: Esq. Governor of Fort William.
Fort William, 6th. May, 1764
The first Service on which you are to be employed is the Survey of the great River (Ganges) to the Eastward of Jelenghee; & upon this Survey your Particular Object must be to find out the shortest & safest Channel leading from the great River to Channel Creek or Rangafulla.
For this purpose you will coast along the South side of the great River & examine every Creek or Nulla which runs out of it to the Southwd -tracing them as far as you find them Navigable for Boats of Three hundred Maunds Burthen & informing yourself by Enquiry from the Countrey People whether they are like Navigable all the Year; of which Circumstance you may yourself form a tolerable Judgment by the Appearance and steepness of the Banks.
You will keep a very particular Journal of your Proceedings, noting the Appearance and Produce of the Countries thro’ which you pass; the name of every Village, & whatever else may seem remarkable, of which Journal you will give me a Copy along with the Drafts you are to make of the Rivers and Creeks.
I am Sir Your most Obedient Servant.
Rennell completed his work for the attention of the Governors of Bengal. This was done between the years 1764-1767. His survey was, indeed, a decisive task for the whole history of Imperial Britain, perhaps the most decisive of all. So, it was not just the Islamic impact that was important in regard to his work, but the whole history of Britain (at least imperial history) that was shaped by it. For this we need the briefest outline on the history at the time to understand this. The first British military gain in then Muslim India was in Bengal, following their victory at Plassey (in 1757). It was from Bengal, indeed, that the British expanded gradually into India, still relying on the cover of the East India Company, which, by 1765, had changed its character from that of a chartered trading organisation to that of a military and bureaucratic arm of the British government. Clive who had played the leading role in the victory at Plassey understood very well that the whole of India was at the British reach. When he returned as Lord Clive, as Governor of Bengal in 1765, he grasped the situation better than anyone:
We have at last arrived at that critical period which I have long foreseen; I mean that period which renders it necessary for us to determine whether we can or shall take the whole to ourselves. Jaffier Ali Khan is dead. His natural son is a minor; but I know not whether he is yet declared successor. Sujah Dowla is beat from his dominions. We are in possession of it; and it is scarcely hyperbole to say-tomorrow the whole Mogul empire is in our power. The inhabitants of the country, we know by long experience, have no attachment to any obligation. Their forces are neither disciplined, commanded, nor paid like ours. Can it then be doubtful that a large army of Europeans will effectually preserve us sovereigns?”
And, thus, we understand the role of Rennell who undertook his surveys precisely at that juncture (1764-1767). It is no surprise to see how subsequently Rennell was feted in England. He retired from the service in 1776, shortly after being promoted to the rank of Major in the Bengal Engineers, with a pension granted to him by Warren Hastings. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1781 and took up his residence in London, where his house became a meeting-place for travellers from all the world. His works in the service of geography and Britain are listed in the Introduction referred to here (Journals.) However, crucially, what is of interest to us, in the same Introduction, written much later after his death, on the publication of the book (1910), we interestingly read this:
A few words may be added on the methods employed by Major Rennell in carrying out his surveys. The construction of scientific instruments had made very little progress when he was at work in India: indeed it was not until 1761, the year after Rennell went out, that the chronometer was first used for the determination of longitudes; and his surveys were made with a compass and chain, supplemented by a Hadley’s Quadrant for the determination of latitudes. So badly equipped was the Government of those days in the matter of instruments that even in 1787 it was necessary to borrow a sextant, a watch, and a quadrant from different officers in Calcutta who happened to possess them, in order to fit out a Government Survey expedition for determining the positions of the principal places in Bengal. Among the notes at the end of the Journal (p. 125) will be found measurements of the chain used by Rennell, from which it will be seen how inaccurate was even so simple an instrument.”
Here we leave the matter to Sezgin to enlighten us on a later work by Rennell, and the Islamic influence on such a work, and how Rennell proceeded. The details provided by Sezgin, especially Rennell in his own words and observations, are extremely essential as will be seen.
Rennell, in his capacity as Surveyor General of the British East India Company from 1763 to 1777, sought to verify the cartographic depiction of the Indian subcontinent as known in Europe in the 1780s, aiming to improve it as far as possible on the basis of his own work. During the work on his project and especially in the course of the preparation of the accompanying text to the second edition of his map of India under the title Memoir of a map of Hindoostan or the Mogul Empire (London 1793) between 1783 and 1792, he came to realise the importance of local sources. A great number of Arabic, Persian and Turkish sources impacted on his knowledge, most particularly Ain i Akbari (The Fountain of Information) by the historian and geographer of the Mogul Empire, Abu’l Fadl al Allami (d. 1011/1602). This work was crucial to his attempt at depicting India as realistically as possible. It provided the most reliable means of verifying information pertaining to the eleven provinces above the Dekkan, because it not only provided extensive geographical descriptions and distances of routes, but also, and in particular, longitudes and latitudes.
Moreover, Rennell—like his predecessor d’Anville—also had the modern values for the longitudes of a small number of landmarks in India at his disposal. When working on the map of India, he made the capital Delhi (not Greenwich) the starting point for further calculations of distance. Besides the Ain-i Akbari, he also relied on the tables of Nassir Eddin al Tusi and Uluh Beg, but he too erroneously believed that the longitudes in those tables had been calculated on the basis of a prime meridian which passed through the Canary islands, resulting in values that were more than 20° too great. Yet, since he calculated the longitudes backwards from Delhi, he became convinced that they were sufficient for his purposes. For the evaluation of those longitudes from west to east, he found a way to reckon them by their differences from cities in the west rather than from a prime meridian. The manner in which Rennell based his design of the graticules for maps he revised on Arab–Islamic coordinate tables can be illustrated with an example: “Samarcand, according to the tables of Ulug Beig, is 99°16′ east of the Fortunate Islands [the Canaries; as mentioned above, the shifted prime meridian 28°30′ west of Toledo escaped him]; and Aleppo, in the same tables, is 72°10′: that is, Samarcand is 27°6′ E of Aleppo; and this last, being 37°09′ E of Greenwich (by the latest determination of the French Academy, 34°49′ E of Paris), Samarcand should be in 64°15′ east of Greenwich. If we reckon it from Casbin (Qazwin), which, according to M. Beauchamp’s [Joseph Beauchamp, the astronomer 1752–1801] observation, is 49°33′ E of Greenwich; and by Ulug Beig, 14°16′ west of Samarcand; the latter, by this calculation, will be in 63°49′: or 26 minutes farther west, than if reckoned from Aleppo. But having with much labour investigated the particulars of the distance between Casbin and Samarcand, and having compared them with the intermediate longitudes and latitudes recorded in the Oriental tables I am inclined to adopt 64°15′, for the longitude of Samarcand. Its latitude, taken with the famous quadrant of Ulug Beig, is 39°37′ and some odd seconds.”
Rennell first tries to establish the longitude of Samarqand (99°16′ in Uluh Beg’s table) as reckoned from Greenwich. Since he does not know the real prime meridian, he takes the longitude of Aleppo after Uluh Beg (72°10′) and 37°09′, as taken with the latest method of observing the Jupiter satellites. By adding the longitudinal difference of both cities after Uluh Beg to the longitude of Aleppo after the modern method, he obtains the longitude of Samarqand (99°16′ – 72°10′ + 37°09′ = 64°15′). In a second approximation he proceeds likewise, using the longitudinal difference between Qazwin and Samarqand. If Rennell had known that the prime meridian on his Arabic–Persian tables was 28°30′ west of Toledo (and thus 32°30′ west of Greenwich) he could have calculated the longitude of Samarqand easily by the subtraction 99°16′ – 32°30′ = 66°46′.
Numerous other examples could be cited to show how Rennell, in revising the map of India and the territories to the north of it, in order to obtain as accurate coordinates as possible relied on the tables of Arab–Islamic astronomers and geographers, on the few bearings established by his European contemporaries and on distances given in parasangs or qoss (1 qoss = ca. 3 km) which he found in his sources.
Rennel himself acknowledge his indebtedness to his Muslim predecessors:
Had Ptolemy lived in the present times, he might have expressed his wonder, that, considering the advantages we possess, our maps of Asia should be so incorrect; when the tables of Abulfeda, Nasereddin, and Ulug Beig, and the History of Timur, by Sherefeddin, have been so long amongst us, in an European language.”
D’Anville and Rennell, the two most illustrious geographers and cartographers of the 18th century, Sezgin concludes, showed
Great respect and due appreciation for the achievements of their Arab–Islamic predecessors. Not only did they rely in their descriptive accounts regarding the maps of Asia and Africa to be revised with confidence on descriptions, geographical coordinates and other data concerning distances of their Arab–Islamic sources, they also consulted maps which had originated in the Arab–Islamic world and which they had become aware of in the course of their work. To quote sources and name models was not an established tradition, least of all in cartography.”
The English passion for plants and flowers from the Muslim World, Turkey Essentially:
English passion for Turkish figs today has a long tradition of English passion for Turkish natural delights, amongst them plants and flowers. We have seen with the quote above from Harvey how a vast list of plants were imported from Turkey. Without a doubt today, and from one’s personal observations, the visitor is more likely to find Turkish plants an flowers in great abundance in England than in Turey. It is extremely rare to see a Turkish flower, possibly the most beautiful of all, the carnation, in Turkey. Today, very few Turks nurture this delighteful flower, as for the authorities or whoever still plants flowers, everything is grown but the carnation is absent. Yet, carnations can be seen in about every single good English household garden south of Birmingham.
Here, one will never tire enough to mention the name of John Harvey, possibly one of the best scholars on the Islamic impact on England in a variety of fields, and definitely the best scholar on the islamic impact on England regarding plants, gardens and gardening, and flowers. Any piece of writing by Harvey is a true goldmine of information unmatched by anyone else to this day. Here, in extremely large measure thanks to him, and the sources he quotes, is a summary of the travel of plants and flowers from the Muslim East, Turkey principally, to England.
The English interest in plants of what might be called exotic nature, like similar interests, goes back to the other Eleanor (of Castile) first queen of Edward I from 1255 to her death in 1290. She was sister of Alfonso X (the Sabio), famed for his Latin translations of scientific works from Arabic via Hebrew. At least one English clerk, Geoffrey of Eversley, is known to have been in the service of both the royal brothers-in-law, in 1276. It is perhaps no coincidence that several highly decorative plants are first reported in England in the century between 1250-1350: the Hollyhock, also known as the Rose of Spain (but ultimately from China); Lavender; a cultivated Pink or Carnation; and the Wallflower or Great Violet, specified as being called keyrus or keyri by Muslims; thanks to the conservatism of William Turner and of Linnaeus, it retains the name cheiri to this day. Queen Eleanor sent abroad for grafts of choice fruit-trees, and employed gardeners from Aragon at King’s Langley? Edward III’s queen, Philippa of Hainault, was responsible for the introduction of Rosemary about 1340 as is documented. It was from her herbers that a scented Pink was brought to the Stepney botanical garden of the Dominican Henry Daniel. Friar Daniel not only translated important medical works, but also produced the earliest strictly horticultural treatise on the cultivation of Rosemary, and also a substantial body of original observation to collections from earlier authorities. He frequently quotes Muslim authors: Al Razi, Ibn Sina, and others. Daniel knew some ‘Saracen’ names of plants and recorded plant-lore which he received from recent converts—presumably the Jewish physicians from Spain who were received into the Donus Conversorurn in Chancery Lane, and who cultivated the gardens there from 1368 to 1405. Daniel was also a notable ecologist, recording the many kinds of aspect and types of soil favoured by particular species. He was also keenly interested in the beauty of flowering plants, and the perfumes of aromatic herbs. Such aesthetic interests were typical Andalusian Muslims. Ibn Bassal, botanist and gardener to the Muslim princes of Toledo before its fall (1085) and Seville (where he fled to), had devoted a section of his pioneering work on horticulture (c. 1080) to flowering and aromatic plants: the Rose, Wallflower and Stock, Violet, Lily, Narcissus, Hollyhock, Camomile; Basil, Marjoram, Balm, Rue and Wormwood.
Al Andalus left way to Ottoman Turkey in many respects, most of all in the arts of gardening, and in the love for plants and flowers, passions little equalled since. Following the capture of Constantinople by Mohammed II in 1453, great developments were put underway in all respects, not just in enriching the city’s structures with scientific and other institutions, but also vast engineering works. Mohammed II (the Conqueror) (reigned 1444-46, then 1451-81) was the first to embark on construction of a water supply to transport Halkali water to the city, by initiating the construction of the first (Fatih) Halkali Aqueducts. Within a generation splendid new gardens and parks had been laid out along the Bosphorus and Golden Horn, and the cult of Florists’ Flowers developed. Within the first century of Ottoman rule Abu‘l-Su’ud (Ebussuud Efendi), Grand Mufti under Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent for twenty-two years, became the first recorded collector and connoisseur of flowers, notably of narcissi in many forms. Suleyman’s successor Selim II, himself a collector of tulips and hyacinths, greatly increased the financial grants of his religious and presumably floricultural adviser. By the death of Abu’l-Su’ud in 1574 Istanbul had become the greatest plant-centre west of China.
Admiration for Turkish gardens, as well as the arrival of a rich stock of plants and flowers began to arrive from Ottoman Turkey after the Imperial Austrian embassy of Ghiselin de Busbecq in 1554-62. Amongst what he saw in Turkey, one aspect fascinated him most:
We stayed one day in Adrianople and then set out on the last stage of our journey to Constantinople, which was now close at hand. As we passed through this district we everywhere came across quantities of flowers-narcissi, hyacinths, and tulipans, as the Turks call them. We were surprised to find them flowering in mid-winter, scarcely a favourable season…. The tulip has little or no scent, but it is admired for its beauty and the variety of its colours.”
He was not alone to be fascinated by Turkish gardening skills and passion for plants and flowers. Another traveller, a Frenchman, Petit de la Croix, could not contain his admiration for flowers, usually planted in square beds, mainly around the kiosks. He calls them “squares of flowers.” They were surrounded by red wooden railings, and often featured wooden pergolas. The roses, carnations, hyacinths, tulips and fruit blossom which were reproduced on tiles, carvings, fountains and fabrics were cultivated with devotion, and the summer kiosks of the noble families were set among perfectly kept formal arrangements of blossoming plants that glowed like carpets. Scarcely less famous than the tulip gardens were the rose gardens and hyacinth gardens followed, and there was also a Boxwood Garden.
Although there was no Anglo-Turkish alliance, the trade mission of William Harborne in 1578-82 led to the founding of the Levant Company and to closer relations with the Muslim East. Harborne built on earlier foundations laid by Anthony Jenkinson (c. 1530- 1611), who in 1553 had reached Aleppo and obtained trading privileges from Sultan Suleiman before going on to Bokhara in 1558, the first Englishman to reach Central Asia.
Englishmen who followed Jenkinson and Harborne left detailed accounts of their journeys which also included descriptions of native plants, flowers and gardens. For example, Thomas Dallam, whose work of setting up the organ presented by Queen Elizabeth to Mohammed III, gave him access to the Grand Seraglio every day for a month, records in his Diary concerning the palace orchards and vineyards that
Every by-corner hath some excellent fruit tree or trees growing in them; also there is great abundance of sweet grapes, and of divers sorts; that a man may gather grapes every day in the year . . . most certain it is that grapes do grow there continually.”
George Sandys (1578-1644) went to Turkey, Egypt and Palestine in 1610-15, producing his Relation of a Journey on his return. He, like many was fascinated by Turkish gardens and kiosqs, including one of the earliest structures to be built next to the Privy Chamber of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, a transparent crystal pavilion. He writes:
Goodly groves of cypresses intermixed with plain, delicate gardens, artificial fountains, all varieties of fruit- trees, and what not rare? Luxury being the steward, and the treasure un-exhaustible.”
Writing from Adrianople in 1717, Lady Montague, the English ambassador’s wife, said:
I am at this present writing in a house situated on the banks of the Hebrus, which runs under my chamber window. My garden is full of tall cypress trees, upon the branches of which several couple of true turtles are saying soft things to one another from morning till night. How naturally do boughs and vows come into my head at this minute! And must not you confess to my praise that this more than an ordinary discretion that can resist the wicked suggestions of poetry in a place where truth for once furnishes all the ideas of pastoral?…
For some miles around Adrianople [Edirne], the whole ground is laid out in gardens, and… fruit trees, under which all the most considerable Turks divert themselves every evening…”
By the time of Lady Montague, the English had already transferred quite a lot from Turkey. It was, in fact, the Austrian ambassador, Busbecq, who had led the way before them. He relates that when he was travelling from Adrianople to Constantinople in the midwinter of 1554, he was presented by the peasants with large nosegays of bulbous plants, the narcissus, the hyacinth, and the tulipan. On his return to his native Flanders he carried some tulip bulbs with him, a plant which was almost unknown in Central or Western Europe at this date; and he continued after his return to receive packages of tulips and other rare plants from Constantinople.
Amongst the travellers, many contributed to enriching the English stock of plants and flowers. Sir Peter Wyche (d. 1643) English ambassador in Constantinople (1627-39), in 1630 sent bulbs to John Tradescant, including an eastern cyclamen.’ It is noteworthy that when Edward Pococke, chaplain to the Turkey Merchants at Aleppo in 1630-36, returned to become the first Laudian professor of Arabic, he brought back plants: his plane-tree and fig-tree still survive at Christ Church (at least at the time Harvey was writing). He also introduced the Cedar of Lebanon.
In 1657 Sir Thomas Browne, who in the following year was to publish The Garden of cyrus, had composed for John Evelyn a remarkable list of ‘Coronary or Garland – Plants not yet translated from foreign Regions or little known’. This was a compilation from books in print, largely concerned with the Americas or the Far East, but including also plants listed by Prosper Alpinus in his book of 1592 on the plants of Egypt: notably the Sweet Sultan (Cenlaurea nroschata) which he calls ‘Amberboi Turcarum.’ Evelyn’s own list of ‘Coronarie Flowres for the parterr & Bordures’, consists of fifty species, of which more than half came from or through Turkey.
John Covel (1638-1722) was chaplain to the embassy in 1670-77, had an intimate knowledge of botany and drugs, and described and drew in any plants which he observed in Thrace, Greece and Asia Minor. Another clergyman, George Wheler (1650-1724) was in the Levant in 1675-6, bringing home with him the well-known shrubby St John’s Wort miscalled ‘Rose of Sharon’. He visited Bursa and there saw the Weeping Willow, apparently the first Englishman to comment upon it. It was introduced into England in 1692. In the 1680s, the tulip was among the flowers of the Serail in Istanbul when it caught the attention of Sir George Wheeler who, with other amateur botanists, brought home specimen. Harvey provides the background which led to the founding of the Sherardian Chair of Botany at Oxford by William Sherard, who made use of his botanical training in his position first as consul, then as ambassador to the Porte in Constantinople. William Sherard (1659-1728), a pupil of the great French botanist and traveller Tournefort, and founder of the Sherardian Chair of Botany at Oxford. Sherard was British Consul at Smyrna from 1703 to 1716, travelled in the country, and planted a notable garden there. His stay in Turkey corresponded with the famous ‘Lale Devri’ or Tulip Period, when Sultan Ahmed III (reigned 1703-1730) initiated the second Ottoman tulipomania, growing immense numbers of tulips in the hills near Manisa, some twenty miles from Smyrna. The sultan’s tulip fields are still remembered, and William Sherard was British Consul at Smyrna (only some twenty-five miles from Manisa). Sherard’s garden at his country home in Seydikoy (‘Sedekio’), a few miles south of Smyrna near the Ephesus road, must have played a part in the transmission of plants to his brother James in England and to other botanists.
Several surgeons who practised in Turkey at the end of the century sent home plants or dried specimens: Alexander Sympson, from Gallipoli; Samuel Daniel, from Iskenderun; and William Clerk, from Smyrna. James Brayisford, a Turkey merchant, in 1700 gave James Petiver four books of plants which he had gathered in Palestine, Syria and on the banks of the Euphrates. The Revd Robert Huntington (1637-1701), at Aleppo in 1671-81, who sent back plants to Jacob Bobart at the Oxford Botanic Garden.
The Revd Richard Pococke travelled extensively in the East in 1737-40, and his book of 1743 printed lists of plants? Finally the two Russells, half-brothers, must be mentioned: Alexander (c. 1715-1768), physician at Aleppo in 1740-53, sent seeds to Peter Collinson in England, and wrote the Natural History of Aleppo and Parts adjacent, published in 1756. Patrick Russell (1727-1805), an outstanding botanist, succeeded his brother at Aleppo in 1753, and revised the Natural History for a second edition in 1794. Dried plants and drawings by him are in the Natural History Museum in London, along with plants collected by Alexander.’
Harvey sums up for us the plants imported into England from Turkey for the most parts:
What then were the plants derived from or through the Ottoman Empire in the course of two centuries of diplomacy, trade and exploration? To consider first a few trees and shrubs: the Horse Chestnut, in England by 1616; the Turkey Oak, not until 1735; the Lilac; ‘Syringa’ or Philadeiphus coronarius: Oleaster; and the Storax tree; besides two important Roses, the Double Yellow, and the Musk Rose—the latter ultimately from Shiraz in Persia but which may have reached England via North Africa. Then there are the Coronary Flowers in a stricter sense: Anemone coronaria; Crown Imperial; Cyclamen; the Day Lilies; Oriental Hyacinth; several Iris; the Constantinople variety of the Madonna Lily and the Scarlet Turk’s Cap; Muscari moscha turn, the Musk Hyacinth; Narcissus tazeua; the Oriental Ranuticulus. All these, which had arrived by the 1590s, were mostly bulbous or tuberous. Between 1600 and 1640 came varieties of Crocus; the Constantinople Snowdrop; Gladiolus byzantinus; and several annual or herbaceous plants such as the Sweet Sultan; cultivated forms of Dianthus; and Tradescant’s Turkey Purple Primrose. Much later, in 1714, came the splendid vermilion perennial Poppy. Though overshadowed in quantity by the later introductions from other quarters of the globe, the quality of these plants is unsurpassable. It was this quality that had been recognised by eastern gardeners: Persians, Arabs and Turks, when they began to cultivate gardens of delight. Thanks to the long English tradition of the ‘Arabick’ interest, we were able to acquire these treasures and to make them our own.”
The Islamic Impact on Later British/English Art and Architecture 17th-19th Centuries
In England, one of the earliest proponents of the Islamic origin of many Western architectural innovations was, of course, Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723). Wren was himself influenced by the Islamic style. The Royal Society for Natural Philosophy of London, formed in 1661, came to include amongst its members (from 1682) the eminent traveller and expert on Islamic matters, Sir John Chardin, and Sir Christopher Wren:
Possessor of one of the most gifted and questioning minds of the age, who had interesting ideas on the subject, which is evident in his writing.”
Evelyn records (30 August 1680) that he and Wren met John Chardin, the French traveller, and questioned him about the East. Wren was also in touch with Dudley North, a Turkey merchant and an authority on Turkish life, about a technical point of Turkish dome construction. George Sandys’s Relation, published over 60 years earlier but reaching its seventh edition in 1673, had possibly contributed to Wren’s interest in Islamic buildings. The book had described the mosques of Constantinople as:
Magnificent… all of white marble, being finished on the top with gilded spires that reflect the beams they receive with marvellous splendour’ and had proceeded to a detailed account of Hagia Sophia.”
Amongst Wren influences are Islamic minarets, especially those of ‘the graceful type’ found, in Cairo buildings, which may have influenced the design of the later Renaissance campanili of Italy, and hence some of Wren’s fine city steeples. And just as Muslim architects had begun to realise the possibility of using dome and minaret in contrast, Wren also did use some domes and towers so effectively in contrast at St. Paul’s.
The imitation of Islamic arts and collection of Islamic objects, began in the Middle Ages, and continued for centuries. We can only briefly state a few instances here. In England, under the later Stuarts, as under the Tudors (before them), ‘the brilliance of Islamic textiles and the captivating intricacy of the arabesque found a happy correspondence with existing tastes and also made notable contributions to them.’ By the 19th century, European colonialism increased interest in the arts of the Islamic-and formerly Islamic-lands, and ‘many great museum collections of Islamic objects were formed in this period, from Edinburgh to Tblisi.’ The British Museum and British Library, for example, amassed ‘a superb and encyclopedic collection of Islamic art.’ By the time it opened to the public in 1759, the British Museum already owned a few Islamic items, and as British power began to expand in Islamic lands, first in India (1760s onwards), Islamic artifacts began to accumulate. Today, the collection is one of the world’s most comprehensive, with particular emphasis on manuscripts and manuscript illustrations, metalwork, and ceramics. Amongst these collections are the six hundred ceramics amassed by the collector Frederick Ducane Godman (1834-1919) and the three hundred manuscripts and printed books acquired by Sidney Churchill (1862-1921).
The site: https://www.islamicart.com/main/architecture/impact.html gives a good idea, of how diverse parts of the Muslim world, and their masterpieces impacted upon Western artists and architects, most particularly English and Americans.
In 1750, Frederick, the Prince of Wales, commissioned the English architect William Chambers (1723-1796) to design an “Alhambra” for the gardens at Kew. Chambers followed his design with an octagonal pavilion in the form of a mosque, which according to Blair and Bloom, was based on `a free improvisation on the domed Ottoman mosques flanked by minarets illustrated by Fischer Von Erlach.”
From Turkey, the Westerners, including the English, imported the kiosks in public gardens where coffee and other beverages were served. The new kiosks did not just serve their original function as garden pavilions but also developed into band-stands and news-stands.
From Muslim India, one of the first British artists to visit Agra, William Hodges (1746-1797), sought inspiration from the Taj Mahal. The landscape painter Thomas Daniell (1749-1840) the author of Oriental Scenery (six folio-sized parts, each with 24 hand-colored aquatint plates) was hired as a consultant to help design a British residence with such features as a bulbous dome with corner chatris and overhanging eaves, cusped arches and pinnacles. Daniell was further to inspire the architect John Nash (1752-1835) who was commissioned by George IV to remodel an unfinished structure at the Royal Pavilion. The Prince Regent, at the time, George IV, commissioned the Royal Pavilion in Brighton (1815-1823), as a palace that blended both Hindu and Islamic forms.
The Alhambra also continued to inspire many such as the British architect Owen Jones, who after many visits designed two palatial houses in Kensington Palace Gardens in the Muslim style. In 1854, he created an Alhambra Court, following the Court of the Lions, for the reconstructed Crystal Palace in Sydenham.
In 1878 there appeared the influential book Art Decoration applied to Furniture by Mrs Harriet P. Spofford (1835-1921), which included a chapter on Oriental styles, amongst which the Muslim element was prominent. It was not a style, Mrs Spofford conceded, for those `with restricted incomes:’ but she thought that even in small houses one room at least might be devoted to it. She recommended `sumptuous gold threaded material’ for upholstery: fringes should reach the floor concealing all woodwork in `true Moorish style.’ Preoccupation with accumulating eastern ornament was to endure after 1900: in the 1890s the `cosy corner’ with sofa, cushions and tent like canopy was to become a minor rage’.
Islamic carpets clearly provided thoughtful observers, in surprisingly various ways, with artistic lifelines, which they grasped wholeheartedly. The rugs could convey a visual rightness, which `contained’ irregularity: `a primitive force which embraced sophistication.’ The same might be said of oriental ceramic switch their ancient traditions of simple shape and investing glaze, and, in the case of so many Islamic types, surface qualities of pattern and metallic reflection. Morris’s friend William de Morgan also frequented the South Kensington Museum, which was enriched, along with the British Museum, with Near Eastern and ‘Hispano-Moresque’ wares and Italian maiolica.
Three figures, Owen Jones, Mathew Digby Wyatt, and William Morris, stand out most particularly as advocates of Islamic design and ornament. A brief outline is made here on the role and influence of Jones and Wyatt in promoting Islamic design. Jones was the author of The Grammar of Ornament. Grammar is prefaced by the 37 propositions so derived by him from his ‘Moorish’ studies, which form for him the essential grammar of ornamental design. In the first of his chapters on Muslim decoration, the multifarious origins of Islamic art are set against the speed of development of a style ‘complete in itself.’ Jones also devotes subsequent chapters to the various national types of Muslim ornaments (Turkish, Persian, Moresque, and so on). Every ornament, he notes, arises quietly and naturally from the surface decorated; there is a balanced distribution of straight, inclined and curved elements; all lines flow from a parent stem; natural forms are never directly copied, but conventionalised into two dimensional elements. Colours are used so as to be ‘best seen in themselves, and add most to the general effect.’
Jones is full of praise for the Alhambra:
Every principle which we can derive from the study of the ornamental art of any other people, is not only ever present here, but was by the Moors more universally and truly obeyed.”
Figure 16. The Alhambra (Source)
In ‘Moorish’ design, he holds, the equilibrium is such, that the tendency of the eye to run in any one direction is countered by lines going in another, so that ‘Wherever the eye strikes…. It is inclined to dwell.’
Jones’ analysis of the way in which ‘apparent movement in a pattern can convey an overall effect of repose-for him a cardinal quality of good ornament-,’ Sweetman notes, makes his book relevant reading today. It has taken the late 20th century to recognise his awareness of what we now call the ‘psychology of perception,’ ‘the link between the tracking motions of the eye as it moves across a pattern and our consequent sense of repose or agitation.’
The beauty and near encyclopaedic scope of the Grammar were immediately obvious. It was in its ninth edition by 1910, and has remained in print as an indispensable source book. As a collection of motifs, the Grammar has also proved the source of innumerable other books on historic ornament, and also opened many windows, in America or in Britain, where some teacher-designers were stimulated to press enquiries in the Near East for themselves. It was widely read by the design reformers of the late 19th century, including William Morris. Morris’s original setting out for his design ‘Bird and Vine,’ was adapted from medieval Spanish Islamic and Sicilian woven textiles. Christopher Dresser, a designer later celebrated for the silverware he designed in Art Nouveau style, had a special interest in botany. Dresser had contributed a plate to the Grammar showing the geometrical arrangement of natural flowers. There is, Danby notes, ‘a continuous link from the discovery of the Alhambra at the end of the 18th century via the Arts and Crafts Movement to the Art Nouveau style at the beginning of the 20th century.’ Dresser acknowledged the great influence of Jones and advocated the study of Islamic design.
In 1864, the celebrated architect, Wyatt (famed for his overall planning of the various architectural courts at the Crystal Palace), travelled for the first time to Spain, visiting the Alhambra. He completed his Architect’s notebook in 1872 as a result of that visit. Wyatt was a staunch upholder of Islamic ornament that Owen Jones had already expounded and applied to designs for many purposes from wallpapers to books. Throughout the 1850s Wyatt worked tirelessly alongside Jones in advocating reforms in design standards and in particular the lessons of Alhambraic pattern and of Islamic textiles and metalwork. In the 1860s both Jones and Wyatt pressed their advocacy of Islamic design as a source of learnable principle which could be used by manufacturers. In 1870, Wyatt welcomed the growth of appreciation of Eastern influence in almost all departments of production, including carpets and tiles.