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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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8. Spain and the Arabism of the High Middle Ages- Dionysius the Areopagite in the West

The myth of the Dark Ages no longer determines the consideration of the epoch with which we are here concerned, the period between 1100 and 1150. It has, on the contrary, become the custom to speak of a "Renaissance of the twelfth century": the darkness has receded to more remote periods. Ιn due course of time, however, it will appear that the attribute of darkness refers rather to the modern historian's lack of knowledge than to any lack of thought in those centuries.

Klibansky, "The School of Chartres," p. 3  

Die Quelle für Ordnungs- und Schöheitsdenken des Mittelalters ist Ps.-Dionysius. [The source of the concepts of order and beauty in the Middle Ages is Pseudo-Dionysius. ]

P. Wilpert, Nikolaus con Knes: Die belehrte Unwissenheit (Hamburg 1967), ΙΙ, 134

From the early eighth century on, Spain was in large part under Arabic rule. Latin literature declined sharply, but did not disappear.115 It is quite remarkable how Latin literature in Spain at first remained scrupulously untouched by all things Arabic,116 while it maintained the openness to Greek that was characteristic of the "golden" age of Visigothic culture. Paulus Albarus of Còrdoba (d.ca. 860) once wrote the following sentence, in the style of the Hisperica famina: "Engloge emperie vestrae sumentes eufrasia, imo energiae percurrentes epitoma, iucunda facta est anima ...,"which translates approximately as "We were quite delighted to have received your lovely letter, which conveys to us a notion of your present state; and as we read the summary of your activity... ."117 Ιn the tenth century, parallel to the development in central Europe, "ornamental" Greek makes its appearance in Spanish manuscripts: Ω ΒΩΝΗ ΛΗΚΤΩΡ ΚΑΡΙCCΙΜΗ ...  (O bone lector karissime ...),118 ΦΥΝΥΤ ΑΩ ΓΡΑΤΙΑΣ  CΗЭЄΠΗΡ  (Finit· ΑΩ· (Gratias semper).119 Not until the Latins had turned back the wheel of history and faced the Arabs more independently did the process of the assimilation of Arabic culture begin. The relation of Arabic to Latin literature in Spain developed essentially in the same way as did that of Greek to Latin literature in Italy. Direct rule by a foreign culture was not conducive to intellectual exchange; only from a certain distance were the Latins willing and able to assimilate the foreign. Ιn the twelfth century, Spain was fully oriented toward Arabic science.120 Ιn the Arabic medium the West again encountered much material from the ancient Greeks, which had often wandered along remarkable paths through diverse languages, countries, and peoples.  

Alphonse VI of Castile conquered Moorish Toledo in 1085 and again made it the capital of Spain. According to a scholarly legend created by Amable Jourdain and expanded by Moritz Steinschneider, by the time of Archbishop Raimund of Toledo (1125-52) the reconquered capital was supposed to have been a great intellectual center, in which baptized Jews executed translations from Arabic. Modern scholarship sets the accents differently:121 the early translators from the Arabic in Spain -John of Seville (Hispalensis), Dominicus Gundissalinus, Hugo of Santalla, Plato "Tiburtinus," Robert of Chester, Herman "Sclavus"- worked in various regions of Spain; the concentration in Toledo did not come about until later. The Jewish element is traceable (for example, with Dominicus Gundissalinus, who collaborated with an enigmatic Jewish scholar, "Avendauth"), but it is not as significant as was earlier assumed: that John of Seville was a baptized Jew has been shown to be a false conjecture.122 The Spanish translator class was international from the very beginning: Plato "Tiburtinus" probably came from Italy, Robert of Chester from England, Herman "Sclavus" from Carinthia (Herman de Carinthia, Herman Dalmata; not to be confused with Herman Alemannus, the German, who worked in Toledo a century later). The first high point of the school was reached with Gerard of Cremona;123 Gerard delivered a wealth of Arabo-Latin translations to Scholastic philosophy, theology, and medicine, primarily works  of Aristotle. An excerpt from  Proclus' CTOIXΕΙΩCIC ΘΕΟΛΟΓΙΚΗ  came into circulation among the  Scholastics through Gerard of Cremona in Aristotelian guise under the title De essentia puritatis or Liber de causis. The work was thought to be a part of Aristotle's Metaphysics until William of Moerbeke translated it anew from Greek. After Gerard of Cremona, Michael Scot was the great translator from Arabic;124 it was due to him that the West became acquainted with the Arabic commentator on Aristotle Averroes (d. 1196). 

The early translators from Arabic in Spain were interested exclusively in the natural sciences; mathematics and astronomy (astrology) dominated. For many of the Latins, overfed on the science of revelation and opinion, Spain, the agent of Arabic science, was an important discovery. Around 1170 an English scholar described ebulliently his flight from the barren jurisprudence in Paris to the Arabic sciences in Toledo:125

Cum dudum ab Anglia me causa studii excepissem et Parisiis aliquamdiu moram fecissem, videbam quosdam bestiales in scolis gravi auctoritate sedes occupare, habentes coram se scamna duo vel tria et desuper codices inportabiles, aureis litteris Ulpiani traditiones representantes, necnon et tenentes stilos plumbeos in manibus, cum quibus asteriscos et obelos in libris suis quadam reverentia depingebant. Qui, dum propter inscitiam suam locum statue tenerent, tamen volebant sola taciturnitate videri sapientes; sed tales, cum aliquid dicere conabantur, infantissimos reperiebam.  

Cum hoc, inquam, in hunc modum se habere deprehenderem, ne et ego simile damnum incurrerem, artes, que scripturas illuminant, non in transitu salutandas vel sub compendio pretereundas mecum sollicita deliberatione tractabam. Sed quoniam doctrina Arabum, que in quadruvio fere tota existit, maxime his diebus apud Tholetum celebratur, illuc, ut sapientiores mundi philosophos audirem, festinanter properavi. Vocatus vero tandem ab amicis et invitatus, ut ab Hyspania redirem, cum pretiosa multitudine librorum in Angliam veni.  

[Ιn the time since Ι left England a while ago to pursue my studies, and have been in Paris, Ι have seen certain bestial creatures with great authority who occupy chairs in the schools and have two or three benches before them, on which rest immovable codices that represent the Ulpian legal tradition in golden letters; into their books these creatures reverently mark asterisks and obelisks with the lead styli that they hold in their hands. While they are reduced to the position of statues by their ignorance, they nevertheless wish to appear wise in their very taciturnity; but whenever they tried to say anything, Ι found them quite inarticulate and infantile. 

When, as Ι say, Ι found the situation to be such, and lest Ι too meet a similar fate, Ι began studying the arts that elucidate the Scriptures, not superficially or haphazardly, but carefully and systematically. But since Arabic science, which is for the most part contained in the quadrivium, was at this time greatly celebrated in Toledo, Ι quickly hurried there so that Ι could hear the wiser among the world's philosophers. But when Ι was entreated and summoned by friends to return from Spain, Ι came to England with a multitude of quite valuable books.]

Now a multitude of material entered the West in the form of translations from Greek and Arabic: the Sicilian "Almagest translator" made a Greco-Latin version of Ptolemy's ΜΕΓΙCΤΗ CΥ'NTAΞIC, the Toledan translator Gerard of Cremona an Arabo-Latin version. Then in the course of the twelfth century, Aristotle became the center of translators' attention. For more than a hundred years, from the second quarter of the twelfth century through the middle of the thirteenth century, the reception of Aristotelian science occupied Western schools and the emerging universities. The reception of Aristotle reached the critical point in 1210, when a group of bishops met in Paris and simply prohibited instruction in Aristotle's works of natural philosophy.126 The bishops also took the opportunity to set deterrent examples. For literary history the most interesting of these examples was the burning of David of Dinant's notebooks (quaternuli).127 Thus the first creative phase of medieval Aristotelianism immediately had its "martyr," from whom the mistrusting authorities demanded the sacrificium mentis.128  

The advance of Aristotelianism was not to be halted in that manner, however. After the scholarly reception, Aristotle even found an audience, in the later Middle Ages, among those who knew no Latin, especially in France, where Nicholas of Oresme translated Aristotle's Ethics and Politics and the Pseudo-Aristotelian Economics for King Charles V (1364-80), all practically applicable texts.129 During this period of reception, many translations of Aristotle's works from Arabic came into circulation: the "Arabism" of the high Middle Ages frequently goes hand in hand with Aristotelianism; Aristotle became "the Philosopher" and Averroes his "Commentator." There was no great need for Greek studies at the schools of logical and scientific orientation. Peter Abelard (d.1142), the great dialectician and, as it were, a new Jerome, recommended the study of the "three sacred languages" to the nuns of the community of Paraclete (which he had founded) and held the Abbess Heloise up to them as a shining example: in her time Heloise alone acquired a knowledge of the three languages, as he praises his former beloved.130 We do not know whether Abelard also spoke in this manner from the podium. Robert of Melun (d. 1167), one of Abelard's successors in Paris, considered a knowledge of Greek superfluous and dangerous; the use of Greek theological expressions by Latins disturbed him as a "confusa greci sermonis et latini mixtura" ("confused mixture of the Greek and Latin languages").131That became a characteristic attitude of Scholasticism.  

This was not the opinion at all French schools. Gilbert Porretanus (bishop of Poitiers, 1142-54,) and his German students were even interested in Greek theology, since one could find a confirmation of Gilbert's theology there. At the end of the twelfth century, in a Latin dialogue on Gilbert's theology, it is, significantly, a Greek who leads the defense of this controversial teacher.132 Ιn a broader sense, Gilbert belonged to the School of Chartres, the citadel of Platonism in the twelfth century,133 where William of Conches (d. 1154) explained the major works of Western philosophy: the Latin Timaeus,134 Boethius' De Consolatione Philosophiae, and Macrobius' commentary on the Somnium Scipionis. Texts were studied which were saturated with Greek concepts and in which some Greek words were also used; but even at the school of Chartres there were no exceptional efforts in the area of Greek studies.135 

But some author who was closely associated with this school must have become conscious of the fact that a knowledge of Greek was lacking in the magnificently developed Latin cultural world in the West, and that this deficiency was of some significance. Our principal witness for this state of affairs is the Englishman John of Salisbury, the student of Abelard, Gilbert of Poitiers, and William of Conches; he was the great Humanist of his time and died as bishop of Chartres (1176-80). As many theologians of his time, he acquired some basic knowledge of Greek from Latin works, such as Isidore of Seville's Etymologiae.136 The titles of his works indicate that he was drawn to Greek studies: Metalogicon, Policraticus, Entheticus. Ιn the Policraticus and Metalogicon, he readily used Greek expressions. Ιn the years 1155-56, he undertook a journey to Italy; he traveled from Rome to Benevento with Pope Hadrian IV, the Englishman, and stayed there some three months. While there he had Greek lessons from a Greek of southern Italy -in this respect, he was a consummate precursor of the Humanists of the fourteenth century. As a forerunner of the early Humanists, he also discovered even at this time that lessons from an interpreter were of little proflt to the person who was interested in the intellectual world of the Greeks. Thus John of Salisbury's thanks to his southern Italian language teacher sounds somewhat forced: he wished at least to thank him for his good will.137 

John of Salisbury never progressed so far that he could read an unfamiliar Greek text or decide on a controversial interpretation. His own ignorance of Greek, and the wish to be able to read and understand Dionysius the Areopagite (who must have been intolerable to someone like John of Salisbury in the barbaric and bizarre form which the Carolingian translator had given him) made him become the patron of a new translation- the Dionysian translation of John Sarracenus. 

Very little is known of John, the most important translator north of the Alps in the twelfth century. The testimony to John Sarracenus' life consists of two brief letters to the chancellor of the bishop of Poitiers and four dedicatory epistles, one each for the translation of the Celestial Hierarchy (to John of Salisbury, 1166), the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy (to John of Salisbury, 1167), the Divine Names (to Abbot Odo of St. Denis, 1167 or later), and the Mystical Theology (to Abbot Odo, 1167 or later). Ιn addition, there is a letter from John of Salisbury to John Sarracenus.138  

At the summit of John Sarracenus' Dionysian studies is, according to Théry, a commentary on the Hierarchia caelestis or angelica, as John Sarracenus says. Ιn the prologue to this commentary,139 John writes that Dionysius' sentences are "so difficult that they are scarcely read by anyone, due to enormous problems in understanding them. The translator, who in my opinion was not as well educated as he should have been, also added not a few obscurities. Ι would have preferred to listen silently to more knowledgeable scholars explain these texts, if that had been possible. But since there is no explicator and no student among us who can explain these texts, their most fruitful wisdom is as a hidden treasure from which one's study profits nothing." John here unmistakably takes up Anastasius Bibliothecarius' criticism of John Scottus, where the latter is described as "interpres minus quam oportuisset ... eruditus." The import of the commentary is in its elucidation of the Carolingian translation. It was from this annotated revision of John Scottus' work that the plan for a comprehensive new translation of the Celestial Hierarchy developed (still according to Théry). Ιn 1166, he dedicated the work to John of Salisbury,140 who immediately pressed him also to make a new translation of the residuum hierarchiae, that is, the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy. For this reason, John of Salisbury also addressed the chancellor and magister scholarum of Poitiers, under whom John Sarracenus was obviously working at the time, and he attained his goal.141 Abbot Odo ΙΙ of St.Denis (1151-69) thereafter brought about the remaining new translations: De divinis nominibus, De mystica theologia, and the ten letters of Dionysius.  

The distinctive characteristic of Sarracenus' translations is the almost complete lack of Greek expressions in the Latin context. He took great pains to render Dionysius entirely into Latin; from translation to translation he consistently eliminated more and more of John Scottus' Grecisms that had now become incomprehensible. His reference works were John Scottus' translation, a Greek text, and probably also Anastasius Bibliothecarius' supplements.142 He was well acquainted with the Greek language and the Greek territories:  

Ιn Greek one finds certain compounds by which things are designated elegantly and pertinently; the Latins must inelegantly, less precisely, and occasionally quite unsatisfactorily paraphrase the one word with two or more expressions. Ιn order to designate a person or object, they repeat the articles in the proper positions, and by means of the same article many statements are joined smoothly. Ι do not wish to speak of the excellent construction of the participle and the articular infinitive: such linguistic elegance cannot be found in Latin.143

The Symbolic Theology should have been translated before the Mystical Theology. For it is made known in the words of the blessed Dionysius that he wrote this work after the book On the Divine Names. But in the Greek lands, where Ι was for some time, Ι carefully sought the work and did not find it. If you should obtain this book or others (of which Ι spoke with Brother William) from this monk of ours who is said to be proficient in Greek, Ι beg of you to report it to me, your cleric. Ιn the meantime, receive the translation of the Mystical Theology, which Ι have translated. It is surely called 'mystical' in the sense of 'hidden' and 'closed', for when one ascends to a knowledge of God according to this work, by subtraction, then [the question] of what God is remains closed and hidden [quia cum iuxta eam per ablationem ad dei cognicionem ascenditur, tandem quid sit deus clausum et occultum relinquitur]. It can, however, also be called 'mystical' because one finds out so much about divine doctrine. For myo, from which it is called 'mystical', is translated as 'Ι close', 'I learn', or 'Ι teach'.144

John Sarracenus was a prodigy in the twelfth century; most aspects of his life lie in total obscurity. Is his surname the key, or perhaps the place he worked, Poitiers?145 his connection to John of Salisbury (who learned Greek in southern Italy) or to the Abbot of St. Denis? With respect to literary history, the close ties to St. Denis, as they surface in the dedication of the Mystical Theology quoted above, are of especial importance. St. Denis is also the only place in France during the high Middle Ages where active relations to the literature of the Greek East can be identified with certainty.146 The royal abbey had at least two Greek authorities during the second half of the twelfth century; both were named William. William Medicus (Guillaume de Gap,147 William of Gap, abbot of St. Denis, 1173-86) translated Greek texts on the Pauline epistles for the English theologian Herbert of Bosham.148 He had brought back libros grecos a Constantinopoli in 1167, among them "The Life and Maxims of Secundus the Silent," which he himself translated from Greek into Latin.149 This translation attained a wide circulation and was itself in turn translated into many vernacular languages. Furthermore, William Medicus brought a Greek Corpus Dionysiacum to St. Denis, which contained Michael Syncellus' encomium of the Areopagite and the Greek panegyric to the city of Paris as the burial place of the saint.150 As is made clear in the preface, the other William of St. Denis translated this work and dedicated it to Abbot Ιvo (1169-72) as his first work.151 The translation of the thirty-seven "laudes ieromartiris Ariopagitae Dionysii ... de graeco in latinum translatae, quas Graeci graece decantant" certainly also stems from this second William.152  

The Abbey of St. Victor in Paris produced two great commentators on Dionysius, Hugh of St. Victor (d. 1141), who interpreted the Celestial Hierarchy,153 and Thomas Gallus (d. 1246), who prepared an Extractio from Dionysius' works and gave commentary on the individual works.154 Hugh of St. Victor still worked with John Scottus' translation, which he, however, criticized sharply.155 His mistrust of the Carolingian translator contributed to the twelfth-century demand for a new translator. John Sarracenus' translation was then added to the older one and, with the Western commentaries on Dionysius, was collected into a new Corpus Areopagiticum of the high Middle Ages.156 Albert the Great did not need to be a Greek authority in order to interpret Dionysius; the twelfth century had already prepared everything that he needed for this task, in Latin.