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Aladdin's Lamp: How Greek Science Came to…
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Aladdin's Lamp: How Greek Science Came to Europe Through the Islamic World (2009)

by John Freely

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The flow of science

Aladdin’s Lamp catalogues the flow of scientific knowledge from Ancient Greece and Rome, through the world of early Islam, and then back to Europe. The book spends the first 65 pages describing the development of Greek and Roman science from the early days onward, dedicating a paragraph to many a theory or speculation in mainly mathematics and astronomy. Astronomy is a key element in all transfers described in the book (the author lectures physics, astronomy and the history of science in Istanbul).

The book gets more to the point of answering "how Greek science came to Europe through the Islamic world" from the fall of the Western Roman Empire onwards. A body of classic knowledge remained in Italy and Spain or was even expanded upon by the English monk Bede. In the 7th century pope Vitalianus sent two Greek monks to England, who instituted the study of Greek in Western Europe.

The centre of gravity of Greek knowledge remained in the east. Constantine the Great had founded a university in Constantinople and the heretic Nestorians taught Greek philosophy, medicine, and science in Syriac translations in Jundishapur in Western Persia. Their school became a centre of translation, involving Greek, Syriac, Sanskrit, Pahlavi, and subsequently Arabic. The most distinguished scholar was Severus Sebokht, who was the first to use the Hindu-Arabic number system, although still without the zero. At this time the Byzantine Empire had outlawed pagan teaching, and the ancient Platonic Academy in Athens had been closed. By the 6th century Byzantine citizens felt "Christian" rather than "Hellenic".

The Abbasid caliph al-Mansur was the first caliph to have books translated from foreign languages into Arabic. Al-Mansur favoured astrology and acted upon astrological prognostications. The Christian scholar al-Bitriq translated Ptolemy from Greek to Arabic in the late 8th century. The early Abbasids were also interested in alchemy and administration. Greek works were translated to educate secretaries, who were required to study arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, surveying, metrology, and civil engineering. The Nestorian Buhtisus became leading practitioners of medicine in Baghdad after curing al-Mansur of dyspepsia. Many Greek works were translated and the medical centre of Jundishapur was eventually transferred to Baghdad, where it became a hospital and an Islamic school. The Abbasids also imported Greek books directly from the Byzantine Empire. In the Bayt al-Hikma Pahlavi manuscripts were kept and translated. It was a research institute as well as a library. Here al-Khwarizmi wrote his famous algebra book and a work on Indian numbers. Aristotle's Topics was translated, because it taught the art of systematic argumentation, considered vital for the discourse between Muslim scholars and those of other faiths, and to support the state policy of converting non-believers. Al-Kindi, or Alkindes in Latin, benefited from all the translations that had been done and developed himself as the polymath "Philosopher of the Arabs", who valued rational thought. He was the first noted Islamic philosopher attacked by fundamentalist Muslim clerics, just like the earlier the scientists and philosophers in Alexandria had been attacked by the church. Translators were paid a salary that put them on par with the highest officials in the government bureaucracy.

All the translations gave rise to works in all of the branches of science known tot the ancient Greeks. Muslim and Christian scientists expanded knowledge in geography, astronomy, astrology, medicine and alchemy. Al-Majusi developed psychotherapy and wrote on drug addiction and chemotherapy. The golden days of Baghdad, that also gave us Omar Khayyam, al-Ghazali, and al-Khazini, ended with the sacking by the Mongols that included the burning of piles of manuscripts.

A rival centre of learning was Fatimid Cairo with its Islamic university at al-Azhar and its Dar al-'Ilm, House of Science, a research centre and institute of higher learning with a library of 40 rooms. Again there were contributions in physics and mathematics. Cairo's leading position was continued under Saladin's Ayyubid dynasty, among others by the doctor, astronomer and Talmud-scholar Maimonides, who merged rationalism with Judaism. Born in Spain and educated in Morocco he was an expert in treating psychosomatic problems. At the time Damascus was a lesser centre of learning, where al-Shatir predated Copernicus' model by about 100 years.

Then there was Moorish Spain, where the Ummayads managed to survive and where they built 27 schools and a library rivalling Baghdad and Cairo. The Islamic schools employed scores of women copyists, as did the city's book markets. More highly educated women worked as teachers and librarians, and a few even practiced medicine and law. Ibn-Rushd (Averroes) was the first writer "in any language" to complain about discrimination against women. Al-Andalus' leading lights were again polymaths, combining philosophy with astronomy and medicine. After the fall of Cordoba science continued at a much smaller scale only, in Granada and in the Maghreb. Emperor Charles V founded the University of Granada as the successor of Granada's madrasa.

Christian scholars had come to study in al-Andalus, translating Arabic sources into Latin. The later pope Sylvester II and his students spread the knowledge he had obtained from Arabic sources to cathedral schools in northern Europe. Constantine the African from Carthage converted to Christianity and became a monk at Monte Cassino, translating works from Arabic. The crusader states and re-conquered Toledo were also sources of Arab knowledge. Others like Adelard of Bath roamed around the Mediterranean to obtain knowledge and Norman Palermo was a major centre of translation. Its Muslim population had become serfs, but the most talented among them worked at the Norman court. The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II had a harem and spoke Arabic and promoted science from the island. He corresponded with Fibonacci, who had lived in Algeria and had also travelled through the eastern Mediterranean.

Aristotelian philosophy was not always easily accepted in Europe, because it conflicted with concepts of the almighty God. The issue was solved and the number of universities rose, leading to progress in the field of physics, mathematics and astronomy. By the beginning of the 14th century Europe had reached a level comparable to that of Arabic research.

European science continued to develop, mostly based upon Greek theories and at times in conflict with the church. The claim of the book of Joshua that God had stopped the movement of the sun caused lots of trouble to Copernicus and his followers. Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo would finally falsify the Ptolemaic view of the universe (although not for the Catholic church). They represent the first stage of the scientific revolution. Newton made no mention anymore of Arab "giants" on whose shoulders he stood.

The Ottoman sultanate had cut itself off of Western science. Still, recent research has shown that Islamic science continued in Persia and reached a new peak under the Mongols in the 15th century Samarqand where it continued for another century. The Ottomans lagged, still thinking that the earth was the centre of the universe in at least 1806.

Aladdin’s lamp is rich on antique theories and factual information on scientists and the works they wrote (the "what" question)>. It is less so on the argumentation (the "why" question) of their theories. The era of Islamic leadership covers only some 50 of the 257 pages of the core text (which contains another 10 pages on the twilight of Islamic science in places like Samarkand). Some 30 pages are dedicated to Copernicus' theory and their reception. What does become clear is the important role of the Arab world in the development of Western science. Clearly, speculation became a smaller element of theories as time progressed. However, beyond a few paragraphs on geography, there is little info on the humanities, and law is suspiciously absent. Medicine is also not covered as extensively as physics and astronomy, and there is no attention for any exchange of knowledge with Islam's Eastern neighbours in China. All the author's sources are works in English. ( )
1 vote mercure | Dec 7, 2011 |
when I frist get this story ,I felt amazing sence the author's imagination .Although this book is a fantistic story ,but some throughts and theories are really real and close to our daily life.this book tells a story about a youngboy and his relatives.Aladdin is a poor young ne'er do in a Chinese city, who was recruited from the Maghreb, shamans, through their own late father Qaseem as Aladdin's brother, apparently convincing A good Latin and his mother to arrange, set up as a wealthy young man. The shaman's real motive is to convince young Aladdin to retrieve the magic cave from a trap is no wonder a wonderful lamp. After the sorcerer attempts to double cross him, Aladdin finds himself trapped in a cave. Fortunately, Aladdin a magic ring lent to retain his shaman. When he was grinding his hands in despair, he inadvertently grinding ring, Jinni, or "devil", it seems, who takes him home to his mother. Aladdin is still carrying the lamp, when his mother tried to clean it, and the second, more powerful wizard appears, is bound to make light of people's bidding. Light Wizard's help, Aladdin becomes rich and powerful Badroulbadour marry the princess, the emperor's daughter. Wizard to create a wonderful Aladdin's palace - far more than the great emperor himself.

Wizards return to the exchange offer and deception "new for old lamps" Aladdin's wife, who does not know the importance of light, can get his hands lights. He ordered the light of the wizard's palace in the Maghreb, to his home. Fortunately, Aladdin's magic ring to retain, and can summon elf. Although the ring can not directly undo any of the wizard the wizard's magic lamp, he is able to transport Aladdin Maghreb, and help him recover his wife and the lamp and defeat witches.

More powerful and evil magic brothers tried to kill his brother to destroy Aladdin, disguised himself as a woman known for her ability to heal itself. Badroulbadour fell on his disguise, and ordered "women" and stay in her palace in the case of any disease. Aladdin was his hazard warning lights of the wizard, and killed the imposter. Everyone lived happily ever after, Aladdin eventually succeed his father in law's throne.Author : John Freely ( )
  michael1990 | Nov 22, 2011 |
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In Aladdin's Lamp, John Freely, a seasoned academic and historian, writes a captivating account of the transfer of scientific ideas between these civilizations. Interlacing historical events with finesse, his story has a nostalgic quality that makes for escapism but falls short of convincing. At first glance, we assume that Freely will offer us an exposé of the central part the Islamic world played in the pursuit of science, and the key contributions it made. Instead, it quickly transpires that Freely's handling of Islamic discoveries could be construed as damning with faint praise in comparison with his treatment of Greek knowledge.
added by jlelliott | editNature, Yasmin Khan (pay site) (Mar 12, 2009)
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 030726534X, Hardcover)

Aladdin’s Lamp is the fascinating story of how ancient Greek philosophy and science began in the sixth century B.C. and, during the next millennium, spread across the Greco-Roman world, producing the remarkable discoveries and theories of Thales, Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, Galen, Ptolemy, and many others. John Freely explains how, as the Dark Ages shrouded Europe, scholars in medieval Baghdad translated the works of these Greek thinkers into Arabic, spreading their ideas throughout the Islamic world from Central Asia to Spain, with many Muslim scientists, most notably Avicenna, Alhazen, and Averroës, adding their own interpretations to the philosophy and science they had inherited. Freely goes on to show how, beginning in the twelfth century, these texts by Islamic scholars were then translated from Arabic into Latin, sparking the emergence of modern science at the dawn of the Renaissance, which climaxed in the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century.

Here is early science in all its glory, from Pythagorean “celestial harmony” to the sun-centered planetary theory of Copernicus, who, in 1543, aided by the mathematical methods of medieval Arabic astronomers, revived a concept proposed by the Greek astronomer Aristarchus some eighteen centuries before. When Newton laid the foundations of modern science, building on the work of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, and others, he said that he was “standing on the sholders [sic] of Giants,” referring to his predecessors in ancient Greece and in the Arabic and Latin worlds from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance.

Caliph Harun al-Rashid was one of the Muslim rulers who first promoted translating Greek texts into Arabic. His Baghdad is the setting for The Thousand and One Nights, in which Scheherazades’s “Tale of Aladdin and His Magic Lamp” reflects the marvels of the new science and the amazing inventions it was said to produce. John Freely’s Aladdin’s Lamp returns us to that time and brings to light an essential and long-overlooked chapter in the history of science.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:22:10 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"Aladdin's Lamp is the fascinating story of how ancient Greek philosophy and science began in the sixth century B.C. and, during the next millennium, spread across the Greco-Roman world, producing the remarkable discoveries and theories of Thales, Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, Galen, Ptolemy, and many others. John Freely explains how, as the Dark Ages shrouded Europe, scholars in medieval Baghdad translated the works of these Greek thinkers into Arabic, spreading their ideas throughout the Islamic world from Central Asia to Spain, with many Muslim scientists, most notably Avicenna, Alhazen, and Averroes, adding their own interpretations to the philosophy and science they had inherited. Freely goes on to show how, beginning in the twelfth century, these texts by Islamic scholars were then translated from Arabic into Latin, sparking the emergence of modern science at the dawn of the Renaissance, which climaxed in the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century." "Here is early science in all its glory, from Pythagorean "celestial harmony" to the sun-centered planetary theory of Copernicus, who, in 1543, aided by the mathematical methods of medieval Arabic astronomers, revived a concept proposed by the Greek astronomer Aristarchus some eighteen centuries before. When Newton laid the foundations of modern science, building on the work of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, and others, he said that he was "standing on the sholders [sic] of Giants," referring to his predecessors in ancient Greece and in the Arabic and Latin worlds from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance." "Caliph Harun al-Rashid was one of the Muslim rulers who first promoted translating Greek texts into Arabic. His Baghdad is the setting for The Thousand and One Nights, in which Scheherazades's "Tale of Aladdin and His Magic Lamp" reflects the marvels of the new science and the amazing inventions it was said to produce. John Freely's Aladdin's Lamp returns us to that time and brings to light an essential and long-overlooked chapter in the history of science."--Jacket.… (more)

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