September 23, 2009

Aristotle at Mont Saint-Michel

A fairly good review in English:

The West’s Cultural Continuity: Aristotle at Mont Saint-Michel (reviewed by Thomas F. Bertonneau):
Long before the late Eduard Said invented “Orientalism” to exalt Arab culture and Islamic society at the expense of the West, bien-pensants like Voltaire inclined to express their rebellion against the dwindling vestiges of Christendom by representing Europeans as bigots or clowns and raising up exotic foreigners – Voltaire himself wrote about Turks and Persians of the Muslim fold – to be the fonts of wisdom and models of refined life in their tracts and stories. The sultan and dervish look with amused tolerance on the gaucheries of the European rubes. The rubes swing their elbows and knock over the pottery. It was the Eighteenth-Century philosophes and illuminati who coined the pejorative term Dark Ages to refer to the centuries immediately following the collapse of the Roman imperial administration in the West under pressure of the Gothic assertions of the Fifth Century. Liberal discourse often casually extends the same term to apply it to all of medieval European civilization up to the Renaissance. Specialist historians have, however, long since demonstrated that no such absolute discontinuity as the term Dark Ages insinuates ever existed, which means that the Enlightenment version of history is at least partly wrong. And yet the usual story retains its currency, as an item in a kind of liberal folklore.

...

In Aristote au Mont Saint-Michel, Gouguenheim points out that a Greek demographic presence linked the culminating period of Late Antiquity with the incipient phase of the Middle Ages in the West; and that presence persisted for centuries. “In the Europe of the High Middle Ages, many regions sheltered knots of ethnic Hellenes: Sicily, Southern Italy, and again Rome.” These communities supported literate elites, who contributed actively to the Latinate majorities among whom they lived, giving rise to such notable figures as Gregory of Agrigento (born 559), who became bishop in his native city later in life; George, Bishop of Syracuse, killed by the Arabs while on a mission to them in 724; Saint Gilsenus (mid-Seventh Century), a Greek-born monk living in a Roman monastery who evangelized in Hainault with Saint Armand; and Simeon of Reichenau, known as “The Achaean,” who belongs to the Tenth Century. In men like Simeon this Byzantine Diaspora reached well beyond Mediterranean Europe into the Rhine and Danube regions. Not only Greek but also Syriac Christians became additional mediators of the classical heritage at this time, driven from their homeland by the Jihad. “Paradoxically,” writes Gouguenheim, “Islam from its beginning transmitted Greek culture to the Occident by provoking the exile of those who refused its domination.”
...

More aggressively, “Muslim rejection – or indifference – to Greek knowledge manifested itself again through the destruction of the cultural centers that were the monasteries, the Muslims not acting in this way any differently from the Vikings.” One could remark here, however, that the Vikings at least had the decency after two centuries to cease their predatory behavior and settle down as members of Christendom.

...

Aristote au Mont Saint-Michel celebrates a central figure, Jacques de Venise (Twelfth Century), who, not only metaphorically, brought Aristotle to Mont Saint-Michel. Jacques was a cleric of Venetian origin, as his name tells, who studied in Constantinople before reestablishing himself in France. Jacques, as Gouguenheim phrases it, through his Herculean labor of scholarship and translation, supplies “the missing link in the history of the passage of Aristotelian philosophy from the Greek world to the Latinate world.” It is a matter of colossal importance that Jacques, as Gouguenheim reports, “translated a considerable number of Aristotle’s works directly from Greek to Latin, making him a pioneering figure.” (Emphasis added) According to the story prevalent today, Aristotle in his fullness returned to the ken of Christendom through a complicated chain of transactions, beginning with supposed Arabic translations out of Greek, and then, by way of Moorish generosity, from Arabic back into Latin and over the Pyrenees. But the story does not wash. It is plagued by linguistic problems, which Gouguenheim duly rehearses, but it is flatly demolished by what Gouguenheim has discovered concerning Jacques’ work. Jacques’ manuscripts, which are in almost every case the earliest attested for a given Aristotelian opus, swiftly gained a reputation, well founded, for being the most accurate and idiomatic. Jacques’ translations gained wide currency and formed the basis for an Aristotelian revival all across Western Europe.

As Gouguenheim writes, “The two great names of theological and philosophical reflection in the Thirteenth Century, Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, utilized [Jacques’] Greco-Latin translations.” In a manner, Jacques brought his project to too fine a point of perfection, reestablishing the Aristotelian tradition so effectively that his own pioneering status lapsed into oblivion, exactly in proportion as knowledge of The Metaphysics and the Analytics came to be taken for granted. Many of his original manuscripts lay unrecognized in the archives at Mont Saint-Michel until recent decades.
From a NY Times review:
When Sylvain Gouguenheim looks at today's historical vision of the history of the West and Islam, he sees a notion, accepted as fact, that the Muslim world was at the source of the Christian Europe's reawakening from the Middle Ages.

He sees a portrayal of an enlightened Islam, transmitting westward the knowledge of the ancient Greeks through Arab translators and opening the path in Europe to mathematics, medicine, astronomy and philosophy - a gift the West regards with insufficient esteem.

"This thesis has basically nothing scandalous about it, if it were true," Gouguenheim writes. "In spite of the appearances, it has more to do with taking ideological sides than scientific analysis."

...

In a new book, he is basically canceling, or largely writing off, a debt to "the Arabo-Muslim world" dating from the year 750 - a concept built up by other historians over the past 50 years - that has Europe owing Islam for an essential part of its identity.

"Aristote au Mont Saint-Michel" (Editions du Seuil), while not contending there is an ongoing clash of civilizations, makes the case that Islam was impermeable to much of Greek thought, that the Arab world's initial translations of it to Latin were not so much the work of "Islam" but of Aramaeans and Christian Arabs, and that a wave of translations of Aristotle began at the Mont Saint-Michel monastery in France 50 years before Arab versions of the same texts appeared in Moorish Spain.

...
Le Monde was even more receptive: "All in all, and contrary to what's been repeated in a crescendo since the 1960s, European culture in its history and development shouldn't be owing a whole lot to Islam. In any case, nothing essential.

...

Gouguenheim attacks the "thesis of the West's debt" as advanced by the historians Edward Said, Alain de Libera and Mohammed Arkoun. He says it replaces formerly dominant notions of cultural superiority advanced by Western orientalists, with "a new ethnocentrism, oriental this time" that sets off an "enlightened, refined and spiritual Islam" against a brutal West.

Nuggets: Gouguenheim argues that Bayt al-Hikma, or the House of Wisdom, said to be created by the Abassids in the ninth century, was limited to the study of Koranic science, rather than philosophy, physics or mathematics, as understood in the speculative context of Greek thought.

He says that Aristotle's works on ethics, metaphysics and politics were disregarded or unknown to the Muslim world, being basically incompatible with the Koran. Europe, he said, "became aware of the Greek texts because it went hunting for them, not because they were brought to them."

Gouguenheim calls the Mont Saint-Michel monastery, where the texts were translated into Latin, "the missing link in the passage from the Greek to the Latin world of Aristotelian philosophy." Outside of a few thinkers - he lists Al-Farabi, Avicenne, Abu Ma'shar and Averroes - Gougenheim considers that the "masters of the Middle East" retained from Greek teaching only what didn't contradict Koranic doctrine.

...

Hunke describes a pioneering, civilizing Islam to which "the West owes everything." Gouguenheim replies that, in deforming reality, her work from the 1960s continues as a reference point that unfortunately still "shapes the spirit of the moment."
The publisher's description:

Aristote au mont Saint-Michel : Les racines grecques de l'Europe chrétienne
On considère généralement que l'Occident a découvert le savoir grec au Moyen Âge, grâce aux traductions arabes. Sylvain Gouguenheim bat en brèche une telle idée en montrant que l'Europe a toujours maintenu ses contacts avec le monde grec. Le Mont-Saint-Michel, notamment, constitue le centre d'un actif travail de traduction des textes d'Aristote en particulier, dès le XIIe siècle. On découvre dans le même temps que, de l'autre côté de la Méditerranée, l'hellénisation du monde islamique, plus limitée que ce que l'on croit, fut surtout le fait des Arabes chrétiens. Même le domaine de la philosophie islamique (Avicenne, Averroès) resta en partie étranger à l'esprit grec. Ainsi, il apparaît que l'hellénisation de l'Europe chrétienne fut avant tout le fruit de la volonté des Européens eux-mêmes. Si le terme de "racines" a un sens pour les civilisations, les racines du monde européen sont donc grecques, celles du monde islamique ne le sont pas.

39 comments:

Kepler said...

It is all very interesting. Now: isn't Greece's past a little bit of a burden for the present? I mean: it is better to have a brilliant past than no brilliant past at all, but: what now?
I have often wondered: do Greeks now ask themselves why their land is lagging behind in science still now?
The Ottoman occupation was very damaging, the communist-royalist war as well, but: is there some discussion about the role of the Orthodox religion?

Andrew Lancaster said...

There has possibly been exageration of the Muslim role in transmitting the Greek philosophers to the West, and if that were the only point being made here then fine. However it clearly is not, and there is significant exaggeration happening in the other direction. Anyone who would claim that Aristotle's texts came to the West only indirectly would of course be spouting nonsense but who claims that? This is a straw man. What is being ignored here though is that Plato was virtually unknown, and that Europeans themselves, both those for and against Greek learning, clearly associated it with Averroes and Avicenna and the like. Their influence triggered an enormous change in the way in which Aristotle was studied in Europe. Previously Aristotle was known, but in a very filtered understanding. To try to imply that the revolutionary Aristotelianism of Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus is not something which was heavily based upon Moslem interpretations would be nonsense. You just have to read the works themselves. The fact that there were translations around which were not indirect ones is not all that interesting or important. The points being made about the care Moslem philosophers had to take in writing is also rather silly. Was it different in Christian lands? There were short periods and powerful protectors whenever anyone managed to get a bit more open, and such short periods happened under both religions.

Dienekes said...

All the problems of modern Greece can be summarized in two words: unchecked ideological leftism. The Orthodox religion has absolutely nothing to do with it.

Gioiello said...

I think that between the two horns of the problem (Greeks and Arabs) we must insert the third and decisive: Jews. They probably created the fable of a multicultural Spain where Jews, Muslims and Christians were passing their time translating the great Greek philosophers and now a Gougenheim says it wasn’t true. Of course I think that Muslims have nothing to do with the Greek (European) thought and perhaps if this are going to think also Jews, Europe has yet some hope.

Alcinous said...

Europeans have a complex, namely, the 'muslim complex'. This political complex tints the European mind to perpetually deny and escape the Muslim influence on its modern present. Arguments focusing singularly on the Ottomans as the apolocolyptic adversity befalling Greeks is nothing short of hysteria and modern myth soaked in racist bigotry, since the Greeks though not muslim, were Ottoman. They played their role in the successes and faillures of Ottoman state, the mothers of some of the head of this state were Greek.
The Greeks were household names to the Arabs long before all things European became Greek in origin. The early Arabs in there new found self confidence took on Greek knowledge of old to which Greeks of the time themselves were indiiferrent, and made it a thing of importance and discussion. They loved it, challenged it, improved it. U see the 'Arabs' in the political sense had 'sought' and not merely inherited knowledge from Persia, Indus and China. They rationalized the tarditions of one against the other, forming new conclusions and expanding the body of knowlwdge, while Europe suffered from it's insularity. The Greeks were middleeastern long before they became household Europeans, Alexander's world was not European but the middle east and beyond. Lets not pretend that anybody has a monopoly on knowledge or control over its flow.

Maju said...

Muslims burned monasteries? Maybe there was some case... but they were rare and circunscribed. Muslim regimes have been horribly tolerant and protective of Jewish and Christian religions that they consider precursors of their own. They persecuted religions indeed but not often Judaic or Christian ones, they were intolerant towards Zoroastrism, various paganisms, Hinduism, etc.

Muslims took a lot of their cultural (and specially religious) background from the Eastern Roman Empire. The fashion, almost dogma now, of getting women covered from head to toe is Greek, not Arabic, for example. They also fed on Persian culture though and maybe that makes them somewhat different from Europeans, as well as their more strict adherence to certain Judaic fetishes such as symbolic castration (circumcission) or the taboo of pork.

As for the "myth" of multiconfessional tolerance in Medieval Iberia, there were periods of obscurantism, notably the much hated Almohads and Almoravids ("Talibans" of their age) but there were also periods that could be compared to Italian Renaissance, notably the first Taifa period, when the different emirates competed with each other in culture and magnificence while showing to be often weak in the military field. Whatever the case, before the 1492/93 decrees there was much religious tolerance in all the Iberian realms and in the special case of Navarre this lasted till the Castilian invasion of 1512-21 and, in the North, form much longer.

The real intolerance, barring Almohads and Almoravids, began with Modernity and Counter-Reformation. Intolerance that was very much harmful for culture and science and human progress in general, most historians would agree.

Ponto said...

Maybe I as a European have a Muslim complex but put it this way: Europeans tried to get back the lands which belonged to Christians: Palestine, Greater Syria, Egypt and Turkey. Now what did Muslims and Arabs do: Make just about everyone Muslim and Arabic speaking, made the Arabic dialect or koine of Muhammad a Divine language when it is just a tribal argot of primitive Middle Easterners living in primitive conditions with limited intellect and intelligence. The Semitic languages are intellectually stifling and incapable of making more than mundane achievements. The impositions of taxes on the Christians and Jews saw many Christians especially become Muslim, the Jews just brown nosed the Muslims as they wont to do, or else being rendered penniless and unable to support their families and pay other taxes to the rulers.

I consider the Muslim period in Europe as a blight and something to be ashamed about. Letting those filthy savages rule over them for centuries. As far as their contributions to world knowledge, they made none. Everything they took from others: Indians, Persians, Byzantine Greeks. If stealing was an art form, the Muslim Arabs would be its greatest contributors.

What happened in most of Iberia and Sicily/Malta was loss of culture, loss of language, loss of religion, loss of dignity and the reduction of Europeans to the level of what passes as normal in today's Arabia, Afghanistan, outer Anatolia, Iran and Pakistan. Instead of imparting knowledge to Europeans, they retarded them by hundreds of years of cultural evolution, and it took the Renaissance to reactivate European culture and ingenuity.

For me, the gaudiness of Muslim decoration, the ugliness of Mosques, and the utter hideousness of buildings like the Alhambra and its forests of pillars is evidence of the barbarity of Muslims and Arabians. Now proto Arabians like the Petra people or those buildings of what the Arabians call the perished, pre Muslim Arabs are thousands of times superior to anything the Muslims and Arabians ever built.

Maju said...

So the Alhambra is a symbol of "barbarity". I guess the Sixtine Chapel is a symbol of involution towards the mineral stage then. Things that you have to read!

And why is the Muslim period, during which Christianity and Romance persisted in very good shape worse than the Roman (and Visigothic) period in which Paganism and Iberian and Celtic languages were lost?

Of course, all sects and cultural paradigms have pros and cons but taking aprioristically the side of this sect above that other just because... one was born that way, is plainly stupid. And it's even more stupid to try to rationalize, i.e. paint with a pseudo-rational varnish, such irrational bigotry.

Creative said...

I am not trying to push any ideology here. But rationally speaking out of a historical aspect, Christians gave the old ways a stab in the back and to a certain degree paved the way for Islam. Gaza is a good historical example in how Christians finished off the ancient ways. Gaza had a main city God by the name of Marnas, this divinity was a fusion of the Philistine/Canaanite divinity Dagon. What is not well known is that Gaza was "pagan" until the 400AD. Meaning that Christians and Jews never had a foothold in Gaza.
Infact the happenings in the 5th century also reflect the adoration brought forward to Marnas by the population of Gaza. A Christian missionary of Greek decent the later holy declared Porphyry of Gaza tried to proselytize the people of Gaza. But Gazians refused to convert to Christianity and even drove Porphyry out of the city for trying to proselytize them. Which ultimately lead to the conversion by force in 402 AD. Arcadius the east Roman Emperor ordered the destruction of the temple of Marnas per degree and the burning of "pagan" scripts ,Idols and all Temples of Gaza.
Again I don’t want to generalize on Christian’s but Christian mob rule in the late Antiquity also plaid an essential part in destroying the Classical World. For example Hypatia of Alexandria a Greek female Philosopher, Mathematician and Astronomer was killed by a Christian mob. Jovian (Roman Emperor (331 -364) for instance burnt down the Library of Antioch. The Massacre of Verden „Saxon Wars” are also a prime example of tensions between Christians and the indigenous beliefs .Which lead to the decapitation of 4500 Saxon leaders for practising there indigenous beliefs.

As to the Islam and Monastery’s check out the Charter of Privileges
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_of_Privileges

Dienekes said...

If by "tolerance" we mean an apartheid-like system in which Christians are subject to the whims of the Muslim population and are allowed to live provided they pay their taxes and do as they are told, then, yeah, Islam was (and is) very tolerant.

Christians have three options in a Muslim society:

1. stay, obey the Muslim masters, and face demographic decline because of the great "tolerance".
2. become a refugee in a Christian land.
3. take up arms and live free or die trying.

Kepler said...

Ponto,

"The Semitic languages are intellectually stifling and incapable of making more than mundane achievements."

That statement is intellectually stifling. People speaking Semitic languages had been writing for over 1000 years before Greeks were doing that and much earlier than Britons.

A couple of books you should read: Jared Diamond's Steel, Guns and Germs, Peter Watson's Ideas, from Fire to Freud und perhaps Mithen's After the Ice.

Maju said...

Dienekes: atheists, pagans, etc. have the following options in any classical Christian or Muslim society: convert or die painfully or often be enslaved (and convert anyhow).

So, by comparison, Judaism was much protected under both regimes (Isianism was persecuted instead, for example) and Christianism enjoyed the same rights of Judaism under Islam.

It's all about a theocratic regime, or actually two or three, that decides: these guys worship the same only and jealous god I do even if in an old obsolete way, so they are tolerated, these other guys instead are heretics or mere pagans who only deserve death, preferably painful and ignomimnious, like fire.

The truly tolerant regimes of the past were polytheistic ones: there you could choose which god to worship or venerate with preference and atheists and agnostics were apparently also allowed. But sadly enough fanatic sects can take power, as happened in late Rome, and once they have it... they destroy tolerance, civilization, science...

The Middle Ages are a post-apocalyptic world in the best science fiction style but too real, when ignorance and violence ruled "in the name of god". But the totalitarian regimes grown from Modern systematization of religion are even worse. Only secularism and agnosticism have been able to restore science since religion went dogmatic, monotheistic. In the West, for one or another reason, religious leaders and doctrines were eventually bent to this secularist paradigm, albeit reluctantly, because it was the only one really working.

Most Muslim states (but also some Christian ones) have problems with that: the weight of religious ideology nowadays (not necesarily in the past) is too heavy and hard to manage. But that's not different from the Spanish Inquisitorial system or Cromwell's intolerance. Where such extremist ideological systems persisted, decadence, corruption and authoritarianism ensued for centuries, where progress happened, it was because the totalitarian system was removed and tolerance accepted as social principle.

terryt said...

"The Semitic languages are intellectually stifling and incapable of making more than mundane achievements".

You'll be accused of all sorts of things with that statement. After all Hebrew is a Semitic language, and Jews are very touchy concerning any criticism at all.

"and the utter hideousness of buildings like the Alhambra and its forests of pillars".

Sorry. Although of mainly Irish, and so West European, ancestry I happen to think the Alhambra is one of the most amazing buildings in the world.

eurologist said...

The Greeks were middleeastern long before they became household Europeans

Alcinous,

Of course the classic Greeks learned from the Egyptians, Semites, Persians, Indians, and (indirectly) Chinese. But that does not make them Middle Easterners. They were just at the boundary between the rest of Europe and the Middle East, and as such developed elements from both sources.

In particular, there is longstanding tradition of practicality, rationalism, and egalitarian and democratic ideas that may predate the iron age and that are plainly European, and that survived here and there and later shaped all of Europe and the Western World View.

For example, when much of Europe was under stifling catholic cleric rule, the above set of ideas flourished in the north, created the Hanseatic League, where they were further nourished, were (indirectly) one of the main causes of the Reformation movement, and later impacted such ideas of public schooling and universal health care into Prussia and extended regions in Northern Europe.

Kepler said...

Eurologist,

I agree important concepts appeared firstly in Europe, such as certain democratic values and separation of powers (although the root was there in "give to the caesar what is of the caesar", whether this was mostly part of the Greek influence in Palestine is to be discussed).

Still, I believe that this statement


"For example, when much of Europe was under stifling catholic cleric rule, the above set of ideas flourished in the north, created the Hanseatic League, where they were further nourished, were (indirectly) one of the main causes of the Reformation movement, and later impacted such ideas of public schooling and universal health care into Prussia and extended regions in Northern Europe."

is one of the most provincial ones in this whole thread, after the one about Semitic languages' presumed inferiority.

You seem to pick up only the periods that suit you. The reform started up just some 6 centuries ago. Let's remember where Europe was during a longer period of time before that.
Let's also remember mankind just did not appear on the 6th century Bc.

You won't see anything "intrinsic" in 1000 Bc in Europe.

cyril said...

i have hope for the day that catholics and orthodox will be able to share in the eucharist. together, we will make a much better witness as Jesus prayed that we all be one.

as for muslims, i think i'll quote the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuell II Paleologus "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only bad and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." the new testament is an accurate historical account of the life of Christ. 1st and 2nd century fragments in aramaic, greek, latin.. etc. all agree with one another. for the muslim to say Christ didn't die on the cross is something that the historical record refutes. islam is opposed to reason by its very nature.

eurologist said...

You seem to pick up only the periods that suit you.

Kepler,

I gave a concrete example and clearly marked it as such. And, I don't think that an example that stretches from Holland to the East Baltic, from central Germany to rivers deep in Poland and Russia, and that spans 5 centuries, is "provincial".

And, there is nothing "provincial" about the practical, secular, and egalitarian goals, methods, and achievements of the Hanseatic League, with its large and still ongoing impact on Northern Europe.


The reform started up just some 6 centuries ago.

The start of the Hanseatic league predates, and its quick rise coincides with the time of Albertus Magnus, and that is a crucial time period we are discussing here, aren't we? The continuation of thoughts and ideas in Europe independent of Arab influence is the core of the entire discussion!

Let's remember where Europe was during a longer period of time before that.
Let's also remember mankind just did not appear on the 6th century Bc.

You won't see anything "intrinsic" in 1000 Bc in Europe.


Of course you don't see anything "intrinsic" if you just take written history - that is an oxymoron. And I'd be the first to be very careful about cultural anthropological interpretations of archaeology. But that does not mean we don't know anything about the iron age - which came much later to Italy than to Central Europe. So there, with Hallstadt and La Tene, you have 700 years of central European culture, more advanced than Italy, with Greece wedged between that and the Near/Middle East.

But somehow cultural ideas, values, and concept just traveled from east to west?

Kepler said...

Eurologist,

"And, there is nothing "provincial" about the practical, secular, and egalitarian goals, methods, and achievements of the Hanseatic League, with its large and still ongoing impact on Northern Europe."

Of course that is not provincial.

I am refering rather to this:
"there is longstanding tradition of practicality, rationalism, and egalitarian and democratic ideas that MAY PREDATE THE IRON AGE and that are plainly European, and that survived here and there and later shaped all of Europe and the Western World View"

I am a computer scientist, not an archaeologist or an anthropologist, but as far as I know, up from the Mesolithic period there was a huge increase in the amount of smashed skulls in Europe and it took a long time before it overtook the rest of the world. That goes beyond the discussion of the post but your statement goes beyond that as well and tries to find some special European thing in the Iron Age or before, which would explain the rise of those values we saw appearing in Northern Europe some centuries ago

eurologist said...

Now you are going the other extreme to the Mesolithic... ;)

Listen, this thread is primarily about a "western world view", its origin, and its continuation.

No one doubts parts of its origin lies in ancient Greece. Now it happens that Greece woke form their dark ages exactly when the iron-age Central European Hallstatt culture flourished - and that is how far back I went with my statement. Hallstatt is the beginning of the iron age in that region, and my "may" just pointed to the fact that it, again, did not come out of nowhere (it originated from bronze-age Hallstatt A and B).

So, in the end, all I am arguing is that in a discussion of the origin of the western world view it is as simplistic to ignore Central Europe, as it is to ignore the influence of Egypt, the Levant, and Persia/India onto the Greeks.

Dienekes said...

Greece waking up from her Dark Ages due to influence from the preliterate Hallstatt culture.

Now, I've heard it all.

Which element of classical Greek civilization did the "Hallstatt culture" offer?

eurologist said...

Greece waking up from her Dark Ages due to influence from the preliterate Hallstatt culture.

Are you hearing voices, now? Who said that?

And since when does writing define a culture? Philosophers are great at condensing general sentiment in their surroundings and formed by their environment in words and, more recently, in writing. This has happened successfully in Europe for at least three thousand years.

They are also good at creating constructs that may be useful, insightful, and innovative --- but that more often than not are so remote from the grasp of the general population that they have zero impact.

A more general world view or sentiment has never exclusively relied on philosophers nor the written language, but yet has dominated multiple cultures with a very homogeneous set of ideas and themes in Europe.

formerjerseyboy said...

We are all better served when we avoid replacing one exaggerated historical notion with another. We can deconstruct cliches about early Islamic civilization without resorting to Hellenic chauvinism and Islamophobia.

ashraf said...

Your religions are semite(Judaism,Christianity or Islam)
Your civilisation(music,food..)is semitic.
Your alphabet is semitic(from semitic sinatic alphabet)
Caucasoid first appears in Yemen and all European haplotypes(R1,I,J,E)have for origin the middle-east.
Your languages are from mideast(Anatolia)with many word and grammatical borrowings from semitic.
Finally,you should know that 13 th century Lisan al Arab dictionary contains some 4,5 mln words and if we add modern neologisms and dialectal words this will made 5 mln words which is far much than English 1,5 mln words.
I think you know that from a single Arabic root we can make at least 178 words.
Also Arabic has the pecularity of being melodic,phonetical flexible with many tones,and containing most world language sounds(except V,P sound is present in some words,like sapt=saturday but written B and G sound is very present in dialectal Arabic)
Besides all Arabic is perhaps the most ancient language still in use(nearly 1800 years old)
First written languages (except Sumerian)are Semitic and first laws(Hammurabi),epics(Gelgamesh,Atra hasis..)and wonders(Babylon and babylon gardens)are semitic.
Also music instruments(Santur,Luth,Harp)are semitic.
The Arabs have hot,joyful,naive temperament with beautiful,med hot physics and not european frigid faces and temperaments.
Middle-eastern peoples brought civilisation and agriculture to Europe.
Only Arabs have kept their traditions and cultures,Europe is now a hip-hop american black inculture with all peoples and things looking the same.

By attacking Arabs,Islam and Jews you are in fact attacking and destructing greeks(who are more culturally and physically akin to middleastern arabs than to nordic vikings)and yourselves.

Maju said...

You have some points, Ashraf but I must disagree with the following:

Your religions are semite(Judaism,Christianity or Islam).

Most Westerners today are atheist/agnostic/something else (Buddhist, Pagan, Pantheist or whatever).

Your civilisation(music,food..)is semitic.

Including pork? Sorry but the joke was way too obvious. I don't think my ancestral food, music or dance is "Semitic" in any way.

Caucasoid first appears in Yemen and all European haplotypes(R1,I,J,E)have for origin the middle-east.

The second half of the sentence is partly correct (though R1 probably arose in India/Pakistan, E is Afican and I may be originally European) but I don't think Yemen has to do with any ancestral Caucasoid. in fact I suspect Yemen was thinly populated until recently. Another thing is Palestine, Syria, Turkey, etc. that of course are very much at the origins of Europeans and Caucasoids in general.

Your languages are from mideast(Anatolia)with many word and grammatical borrowings from semitic.

As far as I know my languages (Basque, Indoeuropean) are not from the Middle East but one local and the other from Russia/Khazakstan.

I think you know that from a single Arabic root we can make at least 178 words.

You can do that kind of stuff in german or Basque too. Not any wonder. Agglutinative languages like those of Siberia and Native Americans are even much more synthetic.

Also Arabic has the pecularity of being melodic...

That's something most Westerners won't agree with. When I hear Arabic is like someone coughing all the time (HH sound, you know). Of course it's a matter of likes. Wehn I think of a melodic language I think in something like French or Italian in fact. But you can make a parody of Arabic by just "speaking" something like HHaLaHHaLaLaLaHHaHHaLa (the L sound is also very common).

Besides all Arabic is perhaps the most ancient language still in use(nearly 1800 years old).

Erm, the owner of this blog is Greek. Greek has been in use for quite more than that (at least 2700 years). Basque has also been in use probably for much longer than Arabic. But this is ultimately a question of dialectality and languageevolution anyhow, as no language remains static and is still alive.

First written languages (except Sumerian)are Semitic...

Ancient Egyptian is not Semitic, Chinese is not Semitic.

Only Arabs have kept their traditions and cultures,Europe is now a hip-hop american black inculture with all peoples and things looking the same.

That depends of the viewpoint. One could well argue that Islam and the subsequent Arabization uniformized way too many cultures in a way too similar to the McDonalization of today. Egyptians have not kept their ancestral culture precisely because they became Arabs for example. I don't think Islam is a way of culture preservation except of preservation of Islamic culture, which is not the same as ancestral Arab: where are the gods that ancient Arabs venerated? Where are the customs that Arabs had before Mohammed? All lost in a uniformizing dogma.

But, well, you do have some points anyhow.

Gioiello said...

Maju, don't wonder if Talibans bombed Buddhas!

terryt said...

"don't wonder if Talibans bombed Buddhas".

I was reasonably sympathetic to the Taliban until they committed that barbaric act of vandalism.

ashraf said...

1/Including pork? Sorry but the joke was way too obvious. I don't think my ancestral food, music or dance is "Semitic" in any way.


2/As far as I know my languages (Basque, Indoeuropean) are not from the Middle East but one local and the other from Russia/Khazakstan.


3/You can do that kind of stuff in german or Basque too. Not any wonder. Agglutinative languages like those of Siberia and Native Americans are even much more synthetic.


4/That's something most Westerners won't agree with. When I hear Arabic is like someone coughing all the time (HH sound, you know). Of course it's a matter of likes. Wehn I think of a melodic language I think in something like French or Italian in fact. But you can make a parody of Arabic by just "speaking" something like HHaLaHHaLaLaLaHHaHHaLa (the L sound is also very common).

5/Erm, the owner of this blog is Greek. Greek has been in use for quite more than that (at least 2700 years). Basque has also been in use probably for much longer than Arabic. But this is ultimately a question of dialectality and languageevolution anyhow, as no language remains static and is still alive.


6/That depends of the viewpoint. One could well argue that Islam and the subsequent Arabization uniformized way too many cultures in a way too similar to the McDonalization of today. Egyptians have not kept their ancestral culture precisely because they became Arabs for example. I don't think Islam is a way of culture preservation except of preservation of Islamic culture, which is not the same as ancestral Arab: where are the gods that ancient Arabs venerated? Where are the customs that Arabs had before Mohammed? All lost in a uniformizing dogma.

ashraf said...

First of all thank you for your constructive answers albeit my comment was a little bit harsh because it was direceted to mr ponto though my aim is not a childish "who is best" rhetoric but only exposing some ignored facts.

1/Many music instruments used by Europeans have been invented by ancient semites(santur,harp,tanbur...)
http://www.visualbiblealive.com/image-bin/Public/045/03/045_03_0047_VOT2_prev.jpg

2/Indoeuropeans languages are most likely Originated in Anatolia and first proto-indoeuropeans are most likely J2 haplotype carriying,west nostratic(or lislakh=inflective+apophonic proto afrasian+proto indoeuropean families)speaking peoples.
Example=
Semitic haush(=farmer house)/English house
Semitic ishtar/English star
Semitic thle/English three
Semitic anaku,aku/Greek egho
Semitic shiya/English she
Semitic atta/English thou
Semitic ardh/English earth
Semitic fudh/English foot
Semitic saq/English thigh
Semitic qafa/Latin caput
Semitic ayn/English eye
Semitic odhn/Indoeuropean ous(ear)
Semitic asfur/English sparrow
Semitic gawesh/English cow
Semitic waz/English goose
Semitic baqara/English buck
Semitic zledj/English sleigh
Semitic qata/English cut
etc etc...

For more data you can read my subject here in DNA forums site
http://dna-forums.org/index.php?showtopic=8079

3/If I look at an English dictionnary I can not find so many words derived from the "WRT" root but Arabic do.

4/I recommand you to simply listen this Arabic song and this Arabic religious videos
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eq7noDeKFfI
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyWIa_caH70
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYLmfpOrMeA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sKbXvnImuY
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbA33Gy3pqY
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQj_eewMv-s
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Iu5IcycUd4
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lfcwqb3QFDQ
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlQyw5kpb6k


If you are going to say that songs are different from daily speech so you can listen to this video.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WX8Fi0Q50VM

5/The problem is that modern Greek is not intelligible with ancient Greek whereas modern Arabic is still perfectly intelligible with ancient Arabic.(the 7 poems in Mecca blackstone).

6/Arabs stille have pre-islam customs and folklore
Example:Semitic atra-hasis/indoeuropean ahura-mazda
Semitic and Arab dhu-shara/Greek Zeus/Iranian Zoroasther
Semitic kuribu/Indo-european Griffin
Semitic tanit/Greek Diana
Semitic akitu/Iranian newroz
etc etc...
You could look at my subject here
http://www.algerie-dz.com/forums/bouillon-de-culture/133175-gratte-un-iranien-persan-tu-trouveras-un-semite-babylonien.html

Maju said...

Ashraf:

1. Ok, maybe (or maybe they are just remnants of a common Neolithic pre-Semitic heritage). Did you also invent the flute and the txalaparta?

2.a. I don't agree with the Anatolian origin hypothesis for IE and we have discussed it elsewhere recently in this blog. That IE (which is not the same as English) has some loanwords from the Neolithic peoples of West Asia is no wonder, IMO, but that doesn't prove they are Semitic.

2.b. Are you sure that all your list is valid?

AFAIK Ishtar is an ancient goddess of love among several Semitic peoples of West Asia and hence a common name for planet Venus, aka morning/evening star.

AFAIK your particular version of three in "Semitic" is just one among several. The name ranges from thala/tlata to shalash/sost. Akkadian was shalash for instance, hardly related to PIE *treyes. I'd even dare to say that Basque hiru looks more alike (though not much more).

As for English and its Celtic substrate there is an old, never confirmed, hypothesis that claims that the Atlantic Islands had a Semitic substrate. The main argument however is a grammatic peculiarity not found in IE or Basque but shared with other languages of West Asia like Turkish. It may be somehow connected but not truly Semitic, just that some people don't seem able to look too deep into these issues (for example I have read no one researching the possibility it could be something like Berber instead of Semitic, what would be more logical).

But, in any case, linguists have for some time considered the possibility that IE and Afroasiatic (of which Semitic is just a branch) could be related and the conclusions are highly inconclusive if not negative.

Arbitrary lists of words like the one you use are highly laughed upon by linguists, not just because loanwords do exist but also because sound coincidences are way too common. The somewhat questioned mass-comparison method uses Swadesh lists that are pre-determined in their meanings and not just random lists of accidentally coincident words, that are totally useless and misleading.

Maju said...

(cont.)

3. I said Basque and German, not English.

4. Useless because I do not understand Arabic beyond a handful of very basic words (la, shukran, wahid, hamza, sitta, chai).

5. Dienekes or other people with better knowledge of Greek will answer you better but I understand that Modern and Classic Greek are to a large extent mutually intelligible. Arabic has been artificially fossilized by the hybridation of religious and linguistic conservatism but that is anyhow only a patch and evolution will unavoidably break Arabic in pieces sooner than later (Arab dialects are already in fact nearly different languages, hardly mutually intelligible). Mecca Arabic is only 1300 years old, so the best comparison is a modern Romance with a Medieval Romance if anything (or modern Greek with late Byzantine Greek).

6. Iranians are not Arabs and, sure, they have managed to hold back some of their ancient traditions. I doubt anyone worships Tanit anymore. Your forum thread is nothing but a curious collection of ancient pictures and modern ones representing ancient beliefs.

ashraf said...

3/Basque and German(possible uralic substraum)are agglutinative languages with very long words in contrary of Arabic which allows making hundred of short derivations from a same root.


5/GREEK IS NOT INTELLIGIBLE WITH ANCIENT GREEK(ACCORDING TO 2 GREEK FRIENDS).
Where have you read that Arabic dialects are not itelligible,this is simply NOT TRUE.
Arabic in written form is some 1800years old(Imru' al Qays poems)and not 1400.
There is only one Arabic standard language tought in schools and in medias same as standard French/Greek/Bask/Persian/Turkish/Italian/German with their different dialects
Quran will prevent the formation of non intelligible dialects.

6/Muslim Iranians also dont worship ahura-mazda but Tanit is still a folkloric element in Tunisia-east algeria where it becames a sort of "rain godess"(in periods of drought children make a statue of it and keep dancing)



*/Finally I was speaking of most ancient written forms of languages and not most ancient languages(Khoisanic could well be the most ancient language family still in use)
Afrasian is relatively recent phylum(12-10 ky)along with other nostratic languages(especially indo-european)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_first_written_accounts
Afro-Asiatic: since about the 28th c. BC
28th c. BC: Egyptian
24th c. BC: Semitic (Eblaite, Akkadian)
16th c. BC: West Semitic (Canaanite)

**/I think you know that closest language to Semitic is Egyptian
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/8488/Afro-Asiatic-languages
And that Egyptian copts(Not muslim Egyptians who have a great muslim berber,caucasian.. admixture)have up to 39%(13/33) J1
http://dirkschweitzer.net/E3b-papers/Hassan-Sudan-2008-AJPA.pdf

ashraf said...

Sorry,it seems that Deutsch is not an agglutinative language.

Also modern Arabic is 2100 years' old and not 1800 years.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-Islamic_Arabic_inscriptions#Pre-Islamic_Arabic_inscriptions

"Qaryat Al-Faw [1] Wadi ad-Dawasir, Nejd 1st century BC 10 lines in Arabic Epigraphic South Arabian alphabets A tomb dedicatory and a prayer to Lāh, Kāhil and ʻaṯṯār to protect the tomb "


Imru' al Qays poem dates to 6th century
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imru%27_al-Qais

The ambiguity rises from the fact that the poem of Imru' al Qays is one of the first written in ARABIC ALPHABET whereas older ARABIC inscriptions were in Nabaean,Aramean,old south Arabian alphabets.

ashraf said...

It sould be 1600(instead of 1800) and Nabatean(instead of nabaean).

ashraf said...

"Your forum thread is nothing but a curious collection of ancient pictures and modern ones representing ancient beliefs."


Please look at depiction of Semitic Atra-Hasis(Arabic 'attar-asshama'in)

http://www.indraz.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/sumerian_symbology-ashurs-winged-disc.jpg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atra_Hasis

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabian_mythology

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atarsamain

And then to the one of indo-european Ahuramazda

http://www.uncp.edu/home/rwb/ahura_mazda.jpg


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahuramazda
They are mostly the same(also the ethonyms are very close)

Dienekes said...

What does all this linguistic stuff have to do with the topic of the post?

ashraf said...

It's an answer to mr Ponto statement.

"the Arabic dialect of Muhammad is just a tribal argot of primitive Middle Easterners living in primitive conditions with limited intellect and intelligence. The Semitic languages are intellectually stifling and incapable of making more than mundane achievements"

Maju said...

Sorry,it seems that Deutsch is not an agglutinative language.

Neither is Basque but both languages use agglutinative style when making new words out of others (or their roots). English does too but to a much lesser extent, Romances are generally incapable of doing that.

I suppose this is what you mean happens in Arabic too.

Where have you read that Arabic dialects are not itelligible,this is simply NOT TRUE.

Wikpedia - Arabic language: "Colloquial Arabic is a collective term for the spoken varieties of Arabic used throughout the Arab world, which differ radically from the literary language. The main dialectal division is between the North African dialects and those of the Middle East (...). Speakers of some of these dialects are unable to converse with speakers of another dialect of Arabic. In particular, while Middle Easterners can generally understand one another, they often have trouble understanding North Africans (although the converse is not true, in part due to the popularity of Middle Eastern—especially Egyptian—films and other media).

This is (more or less) like a Spanish speaker can easily understand Italian and Portuguese but have major trouble with Sicilian or Romanian. All are "colloquial Latin" forms.

There is only one Arabic standard language tought in schools and in medias...

Once upon a time there was also only one Latin language taught in monasteries and recited in churches... but that did not impede linguistic evolution or diversification ultimately.

Quran will prevent the formation of non intelligible dialects.

The Vulgata (Latin version of the Bible) did not prevent the formation of Romances. Latin was still used in religious ceremonies some decades ago, even if virtually no one understood anything, within the Catholic Church but eventually the hierarchy realized it was just meaningless and suppressed it, formally accepting the death of Latin, more than 2000 years after it was first written.

Afrasian is relatively recent phylum(12-10 ky)along with other nostratic languages(especially indo-european).

That's what I meant before: Nostratic is a highly conjectural family and Afroasiatic has since long been removed from it anyhow. The only thing that really remains as rather solid of the proposed (and dismissed) Nostratic superfamily is Indo-Uralic, though it might well be just a sprachbund issue, rather than a true family. In either case, it supports the origin of PIE at the Urals and not in Anatolia.

Also modern Arabic is 2100 years' old and not 1800 years.

I take note but is it "modern Arabic" or rather "ancient Arabic"? I can only imagine that even Mohammed himself would have some difficulty understanding that, not to mention a modern dialectal speaker.

It's an answer to mr Ponto statement.

"the Arabic dialect of Muhammad is just a tribal argot of primitive Middle Easterners living in primitive conditions with limited intellect and intelligence. The Semitic languages are intellectually stifling and incapable of making more than mundane achievements"
.

Which I agree is pure ignorant bigotry of the worst class.

ashraf said...

Actually,there is 2 distinct languages called ancient south Arabian and ancient north Arabian which to modern Arabic are somehow as the position of French and Italian to castellan but modern Modern Arabic is (surely) at least 1600 years' old and remains very intelligible(but distinct) with "proto Arabic" early inscriptions of 1st century BC.

It's true that eastern Arabs have much difficulties to understand Moroccan and Algerian Arabic due mainly to French superstratum&Berber substratum so they use standard arabic to understand each other clearly.


Afrasian and Indo-European are both inflective languages which share many common grammatical and lexical elements.
For example:
Nominative Greek is tauros
Nominative Arabic is thawron
Accusative Arabic is thawran
Genetive Arabic is thawrin

Dual ancient Greek=tawrin
Dual Arabic=thawrayn

The word formation of Arabic is inflective and not agglutinative(that's why the derived words are not as long as in deutsch)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inflection#Arabic_.28fusional.29
"Arabic (اللغة العربية الفصحى, "Al-Luġah al-‘Arabiyyah al-Fuṣḥā"), or more precisely "Modern Standard Arabic" (also called "Literary Arabic"), is a highly-inflected language. It uses a complex system of pronouns and their respective prefixes and suffixes for verb, noun, adjective and possessive conjugation. In addition, the system known as al-‘Irāb places vowel suffixes on each verb, noun, adjective, and adverb, according to its function within a sentence and its relation to surrounding words.[4]"

Example:from the root "KTB"
katib=writer
kitaba=writing
maktaba=bibliotheque
maktab=writing desk
katibe=dactylo
kotbiyye=book store
kutayyib=small book
maktub=letter
inkitab=be written
istiktab=the action of making someone write
iktitab=to write to each other mutually
miktab=writing tool
kottab=elementary school
kuwaytib=small novelist(pejorative)
and so on

Maju said...

Ok, I see. Nothing too different from what I could do in Spanish, for example:

escribir: to write
escritor: writer
escribiendo: writing (verb form)
escritura: writing (noun)
escritorio: piece of furniture for writing
escribano: scribe, secretary
escrito (noun): writ, text
escrito (verb): written

However Spanish will use more varied roots for these variants, like Lat. "librus" (book): libro (book), librería (book shop), librero (book shoopkeeper), librajo (despicable book), librazo (great book), etc., or Greek "biblos" (book): biblioteca (library), bibliotecario (librarian), etc., or even Spanish "carta" (letter): cartero (postman), cartón (paperboard), cartilla (book used to learn how to write by children), cartulina (card stock), etc.

The concept is the same anyhow and I'm sure it happens in all languages one way or another.