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Walter Berschin  

From the Middle of the Eleven Century to the Latin Conquest of Constantinople

From: Greek Letters and the Latin Middle Ages.
From Jerome to Nicholas of Cusa.
Translated by Jerold C. Frakes.
Revised and expanded edition.
The Catholic University of America Press,  http://cuapress.cua.edu/


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7. Norman Sicily

The Sicily which the Normans had snatched from the Arabs in the eleventh century became an island of trilingual culture (Latin, Greek, Arabic) in the twelfth century. King Roger ΙΙ (1130-54) had a new work on geography written by the Arab Edrisi (Ibn Idris) -"entertainment for him who would like to roam through the world"; the book was known to the Arabs simply as "King Roger's book." The Greek Nilus Doxapatres wrote a "History of the Five Patriarchates" for the Normans, with a sarcastic barb against Rome and the Western Imperium: "Since the time when Rome ceased to be an imperial capital, because it fell into slavery to foreign peoples, the barbarians and Goths, and is still in their power, it has fallen from the imperial dignity and thus also from its ecclesiastical preeminence."95 The court in Palermo accepted this already historic trilingualism and identified with it: the trias of a Latin, Greek, and Arabic notary's office at the court and, for instance, also a Greco-Latino-Arabic Psalter demonstrate that the situation was in fact so.96 But the cultural exchange did not function very well, especially in the early period of the Norman monarchy: neither Edrisi nor Nilus Doxopatres was translated into Latin.97  

The Normans did not just tolerate the Greek element in their southern Kingdom, but even encouraged it; Greek monasticism,98 which had been forced to retreat again and again to Calabria during the Arab domination of Sicily in the ninth through eleventh centuries, now gained a new foca1 point in 1131 when Roger ΙΙ donated the Salvator monastery on the land spit near Messina (in lingua fari); the first archimandrite of the Salvator monastery came from the monastery founded in 1105 by Bartholomew of Simeri, the monastery of the "new, guiding" Virgin (Η ΝΕΑΗΓΗΤΡΙΑ) in Rossano (later S. Maria del Patire or Patirion).99 Ιn his royal court at Palermo, the Norman had himself depicted in a mosaic as a monarch being crowned by Christ. The inscription at the head reads ΡΟΓΕΡΙΟΣ ΡΗΞ. 

Under Roger's successor, King William Ι ("the Bad," 1154-66), the court in Palermo became a focus of Greek studies of philosophico-scientific bent, which then, through translations, had an influence in the northern regions of Western Europe. A letter from Archdeacon Henricus Aristippus to an Englishman who was determined to return home from the Sicilian Kingdom is especially important in providing information about this Sicilian Hellenism in the middle of the twelfth century:100

Ιn Sicily you have the Syracusan and Argolian [Greek?] libraries; there is no lack of Latin philosophy. Theoridus of Brindisi, the great authority on Greek literature, is available; your Aristippus is here, whom you can use as a whetstone, if not as the cutting edge. You have the mechanica of Hero the philosopher ... Euclid's optica ... Aristotle's apodictice ... at hand; the philosophica of Anaxagoras, Aristotle, Themistius, Plutarch, and the other famous philosophers are in your hands ..., and Ι offer you theological, mathematical, and meteorological theoreumata. ...  

Of course, you can find texts in England which are comparable to all of these ...; but do you have a King William ..., whose court is a school, whose retinue is a gymnasium, whose individual words are philosophical apophthegmata, whose questions are unanswerable, whose solutions leave nothing undiscussed and whose zeal leaves nothing untried [cuius curia scola, comitatus cuius gignasium, cuius singula verba philosophica apofthegmata, cuius questiones inextricabiles, cuius soluciones nιchil indicussum,cuius studium nil relinquit intemptatum] ... ? If these exhortations of your Aristippus do not make an impression on you, and you do not renounce this intended journey, then go and farewell! Take heed that you do not cheat yourself. As a comfort on the long journey, you shall have as many provisions as Ι can provide: Plato's Phaedo, on the immortality of the soul, translated from Greek into Latin. Ι began this in camp as the aforementioned king besieged the Samnite city of Benevento [1156], and flnished it in Palermo.

Out of this panorama of translation literature current at that time, one might call special attention to the translation of Aristotle's Meteora, the fourth book of which Aristippus himself probably translated.101 The most astonishing of the translations mentioned in the letter is the one which is to accompany the letter -Plato's Phaedo. The Sicilian archdeacon and head of the chancery of Palermo (ca. 1160-62) also translated Plato's Meno. He is the first medieval translator of Plato, and strangely enough he translated precisely those two Platonic dialogues in which a speaker with Henricus Aristippus' surname ("Aristippos") appears. According to his preface, he was requested to translate the Meno; he gave priority to this task above all others.102 "Ι do not wish to conceal from you which great tasks Ι have put aside for your sake; for by the order of my Lord William, the glorious king of the Two Sicilies, Ι was working on a translation of the opuscula of Gregory of Nazianzus ... and in addition Ι was preparing to translate into Latin, at the request of Maius, admiral of the Sicilian fleet, and Hugh, archbishop of Palermo [d. 1161], Diogenes' book on the lives, habits, and doctrines of the philosophers." 

Both of Aristippus' translations of Plato are extant. "Even if they, along with the Timaeus, were not accepted into Scholastic studies and the doctrinal system of the magistri -at the threshold of the Arabism and Aristotelianism which stifled all other points of departure, they had no time to be so accepted- they did not go unmentioned in the moral books, the collections of aphorisms, and exempla of the late Middle Ages."103 The Latin Diogenes Laertius seems to have been lost, although Walter Burley (d. 1337) still used it in composing his De vita et moribus philosophorum; the translation certainly came from the Sicilian school of translators. The Sicilian translation was replaced in the fifteenth century by a new one by Ambrogio of Traversari (for Cosimo de' Medici).  

Aristippus had direct relations with the Eastern imperial city. He brought Ptolemy's ΜΕΓΙCΤΗ CΥΝΤΑΞΙC (called Almagest in the high and late Middle Ages, after the Arabic) from there to Sicily. That was an important step for the medieval conception of the world, for the geographical knowledge of antiquity was regained via Ptolemy. The Greek codex containing this knowledge came to William Ι in Sicily via Aristippus as the gift of Emperor Manuel ΙΙ. The codex has survived; along with many other splendid manuscripts of Greek natural science, it belonged to the Normano-Staufen library, fell booty to Charles of Anjou, and thence came to the popes, who, to be sure, could not keep it among their holdings.104  

Aristippus did not translate his Ptolemy himself but entrusted the job, nolens volens, to someone else, the so-called Almagest translator. This anonymous translator describes in his preface how, during his medical studies in Salerno, he had heard that Aristippus had brought Ptolemy's great geocentric-astronomical work along with him from Constantinople; how he followed him and found him at Etna, engaging in the dangerous act of observing the volcano; how he trained himself with translations of Euclid and Proclus; how Admiral Eugenius of Palermo, "virum tam grece quam arabice linguae peritissimum, latine quoque non ignarum" ("a man who was as expert in the Greek as in the Arabic language, and not unacquainted with Latin"), explained the work to him and finally translated the ΜΕΓΙCΤΗ CYNTAΞIC, "contra viri discoli voluntatem" ("against the will of surly men").105 Boese has proven that this translator of Ptolemy also translated Proclus' Elementatio physica; this was the first translation of Proclus of the Latin Middle Ages, which up until that time had only an indirect access to the thought of Proclus, through the Areopagitica.106  

Following a hypothesis by Björnbo,107 Busard has identified "certain traits that are characteristic of the translation of the Almagest produced in Sicily around 1160"108 in the brief tractate De isoperimetris ("On Figures of the Same Size"); he also determined that there were relations between this text and the translation of De curvis superficiebus,109 one of the most popular Archimedian tractates of the late Middle Ages in the West. Finally, Murdoch brought to light a Euclid translated from Greek and attributed it to the Almagest translator as well,110 who, if all of these attributions are correct, was one of the greatest and most productive translators of the twelfth century.  

Admiral Eugenius of Palermo (d.ca.1202) is the most impressive representative of the trilingual culture of the "three-horned" Trinacria.111 His native language was Greek, the language in which he wrote poetry.112 He is supposed to have translated the Prophecy of the Erythraean sibyl, "drawn from the treasure of Emperor Manuel," from Greek into Latin;113 he translated Ptolemy's Optics from Arabic into Latin, and the text is preserved only in this form.114 Finally, he had a Greek edition prepared of the CTΕΦANITHC ΚAΙ ΙΧΝΗΛΑΤΗC,  a Fürstenspiegel translated from Arabic.

This collection of narratives, which goes back to the Sanskrit Pañcatantra and from which princes and rulers were to learn practical wisdom, came via Arabic ("Kalilah and Dimnah") into Byzantine literature through Symeon Seth, who translated the work at the request of Emperor Alexius Comnenus (probably the First, 1081-1118). On the basis of the following verses, Eugenius of Palermo is probably to be viewed only as the donator of a copy of the text:

Τούτο δέδωκε, πpoς ημάς το βιβλίον
p δώρnμα, διδασκαλίας πλέον
Ευγενής Ευγένιος,
o της Πανόρμου.

[The noble-born Eugenius of Palermo gave us this book, full of instruction, as a gift.]

Recently his share in the Sicilian edition of the Fürstenspiegel has been estimated to have been rather modest; see L.-O. Sjöberg, Stephanites und Ichnelates (Stockholm 1962),esp. pp. 105 ff. The collection reached the Latin West by two routes: first, through a translation from Greek, probably from the late Middle Ages (ed. A Hilka, "Eine lateinische Übersetzung der griechischen Version des Kalila-Buchs," Abh. Göttingen, n.s., 21/3 [1928], 59-166; see also Sjöberg, pp. 114 ff.); further, through the converted Jew Johannes of Capua, who (between 1263 and 1278) translated it from Hebrew (see Steinschneider, Die hebräischen Übersetzungen des Mittelalters und die Juden als Dolmetscher [Berlin 1893], p. 981). Ιn the prefaces which precede the Latin edition of John of Capua, there is, among other things, a description of the peculiar path travelled by this book through cultures and languages: Indian-Persian-Arabi~Hebrew-Latin (cf Hertel, Das Pañcatantra. Seine Geschichte und seine Verbreitung [Leipzig/ Berlin 1914]; F. Geissler, "Das Pañcatantra, ein altindisches 'Fabelbuch,'" Wissenschaftliche Annalen zur Verbreitung neuer Forschungsergebnisse 3 [1954], 657-68): "Hic est liber parabolarum antiquorum sapientum nationum mundi. Et vocatur Liber Kelile et Dimne, et prius quidem in lingua fuerat Indorum translatus, inde in linguam translatus Persarum. Postea vero reduxerunt illum Arabes in linguam suam; ultimo ex inde ad linguam fuit redactus hebraicam. Nunc autem nostri propositi est ipsum in linguam fund(e)re latinam" ("This is the book of para- bles, ancient customs, and wisdom of the peoples of the world. The book is called 'Kalilah and Dimnah,' and indeed it was earlier extant in translation in the language of the Indians; thence it was translated into Persian. Afterwards the Arabs turned it into their own language; finally, it was rendered from that language into Hebrew. Now it is our plan to cast the work in the Latin language"); ed. L. Hervieux, Les fabulistes latins, V (Paris 1899), p. 80; based on that ed., F.Geissler, Beispiele der alten Weisen. Des Johann von Capua Übersetzung der hebräischen Bearbeitung des indischen Pañcatantra ins Lateinische (Berlin 1960), p. 4. This Fürstenspiegel never become a popular book in the Latin West as it had been in the Indian-Arabic-Greek East.