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The Map of Knowledge: How Classical Ideas…
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The Map of Knowledge: How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found: A History… (original 2019; edition 2020)

by Violet Moller (Author)

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235886,857 (4)8
"The foundations of modern knowledge--philosophy, math, astronomy, geography--were laid by the Greeks, whose ideas were written on scrolls and stored in libraries across the Mediterranean and beyond. But as the vast Roman Empire disintegrated, so did appreciation of these precious texts. Christianity cast a shadow over so-called pagan thought, books were burned, and the library of Alexandria, the greatest repository of classical knowledge, was destroyed. Yet some texts did survive and The Map of Knowledge explores the role played by seven cities around the Mediterranean--rare centers of knowledge in a dark world, where scholars supported by enlightened heads of state collected, translated and shared manuscripts. In 8th century Baghdad, Arab discoveries augmented Greek learning. Exchange within the thriving Muslim world brought that knowledge to Cordoba, Spain. Toledo became a famous center of translation from Arabic into Latin, a portal through which Greek and Arab ideas reached Western Europe. Salerno, on the Italian coast, was the great center of medical studies, and Sicily, ancient colony of the Greeks, was one of the few places in the West to retain contact with Greek culture and language. Scholars in these cities helped classical ideas make their way to Venice in the 15th century, where printers thrived and the Renaissance took root. The Map of Knowledge follows three key texts--Euclid's Elements, Ptolemy's The Almagest, and Galen's writings on medicine--on a perilous journey driven by insatiable curiosity about the world"--… (more)
Member:TedQ
Title:The Map of Knowledge: How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found: A History in Seven Cities
Authors:Violet Moller (Author)
Info:Picador (2020), Edition: Main Market, 352 pages
Collections:Non-Fiction
Rating:*****
Tags:Wetenschapsgeschiedenis

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The Map of Knowledge: A Thousand-Year History of How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found by Violet Moller (2019)

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English (4)  Spanish (2)  Italian (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (8)
Showing 4 of 4
Finished: 9/1/2021 ( )
  untraveller | Feb 16, 2021 |
A great read covering a large amount of information in an accessible manner. There are many books out there that will cover individual sections of Moller's work in more depth, but for such breadth, she really nails it. The framing device of the three texts (Euclid's Elements, Ptolemy's Almagest, and Galen's medical oeuvre) was almost not necessary for me as I was loving moving about the world following the development, preservation and creation of new knowledge. She moves from Alexandria to Baghdad, Córdoba, Toledo, Salerno, Palermo, and Venice, knitting together a great history. To me, the key statement of this book comes near the end of the last chapter: "Each of the cities we have visited in this book had its own particular topography and character, but they all shared the conditions that allowed scholarship to flourish: political stability, a regular supply of funding and of texts, a pool of talented, interested individuals and, most striking of all, an atmosphere of tolerance and inclusivity towards different nationalities and religions" (ch. 9).

Whenever I read statistics like this, I feel I have to quote them and mourn a little: "In the late fifth century, a man called Stobaeus compiled a huge anthology of 1,430 poetry and prose quotations. Just 315 of them are from works that still exist—the rest are lost. Science fared a little better, but, still, important works like Galen’s On Demonstration, Theophrastus’ On Mines and Aristarchus’ treatise on heliocentric theory (which might have changed the course of astronomy dramatically if it had survived) all slipped through the cracks of time" (preface).

And, as a collector, I put my head in my hands when reading the following from Córdoba in the 8th century: 'However, this wasn’t good news for scholars—one complained that, when a book he had been seeking for months finally turned up in an auction, he found himself caught in a bidding war. The price went so high that he had to give up and lost the book; his disappointment turned to anger when the man who outbid him admitted that he had no idea what it was about, he was simply, “anxious to complete a library which I am forming, which will give me repute amongst the chiefs of the city.” The age-old squabble between wealthy dilettantes and penniless scholars had reached al-Ándalus.' (ch. 4).

The problem of organized religion reared its heads many times in this book. One that particularly struck hard was: 'In 1492, the last Muslim stronghold, the beautiful city of Granada, fell to the Christians. The terms agreed were generous and enlightened: Spanish Muslims would be allowed to live in peace, practise their religion and follow their own customs. But these hopeful beginnings were soon buried under a wave of intolerance and persecution. There was no place for alien cultures or religions in the Spain of Ferdinand and Isabella; they expelled thousands of Jews, they oppressed and exiled Muslims, and began the process of destroying 700 years of Muslim civilization. The culmination came in 1499, when the fanatical cleric Cardinal Ximénez de Cisneros arrived in Granada intent on converting the population and removing any vestiges of Islamic culture. He took the contents of the city’s libraries and built an enormous bonfire in the main square of the city, burning somewhere in the region of two million books—a “cultural holocaust” based on the principle that, “to destroy the written word is to deprive a culture of its soul, and eventually of its identity.” Proclamations followed which banned writing in Arabic and prohibited the ownership of Arabic books. Ximénez de Cisneros was so successful that, by 1609, only a tiny number of Arabic manuscripts existed in Spain. The Catholic victory was complete, “only the empty palaces and converted mosques remained as mute witnesses to the tragedy that had befallen the once flourishing Islamic civilization of Al Andalus' (ch. 4).

Moller notes the fall of scholarship in the Muslim world during the Renaissance era, partly due to the fracturing of the Arab world into separate political entities which diluted funds for research and opportunities to collaborate, partly due to loss of funds when the Age of Exploration opened up new routes to the East that didn't include the old Silk Road, partly due to the slow adoption of the printing press for the Arabic language, and also partly due to the increasing religious conservatism in the Muslim world. However, she writes 'But it is less easy to understand why the legacy of Islamic science has been largely forgotten in Europe. Given the remarkable contribution they made, scholars like al-Khwarizmi and al-Razi should be household names, like Leonardo da Vinci and Newton, but, even today, few people in the Western world have heard of them. How did this happen? Part of the blame must lie with the humanists, whose idolization of Greek science led them to disregard many scientists of the intervening period. Medieval translators were also guilty of “Latinizing” the books they translated and failing to credit the original Muslim authors. And, as Europe grew in wealth and power, and began to build empires, it gained the cultural upper hand, too. As a result, a narrative developed that marginalized Arabic learning and pushed it back into the past' (ch. 9). ( )
  drew_asson | Dec 3, 2020 |
A readable book but from a different perspective. The main characters are not human, but books of ancient learning in science, math and medicine. While the development of the story is historical, it is presented as a map, a two dimensional representation of multi-dimensional ideas. From the vanishing of knowledge during the Dark Ages, to the light of Alexandria, the House of Wisdom in Iraq, the libraries of Cordoba and Toledo in Spain, and the schools of Salerno, Palermo and Venice in Sicily and Italy. It is a wonder that any knowledge survived the centuries of first patronage, then warfare and intolerance, but they did.

At the end of our own second millennium, we have also seen the Nazi and Communist destruction of books and censorship in Western and Eastern Europe, the destruction of Aztec literature in the Americas, the destruction of Chinese literature by Japanese forces in Asia and religious destruction in the Middle East.

While in America we are blessed with history of some tolerance, such as Thomas Jefferson's quote: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man" we also have seen the destruction of books as Nazi Germany strove to wipe out European Jewish culture with the systematic destruction of books and manuscripts. Yet the humanist idea of the "Increase and Diffusion of Knowledge" is still a powerful force, although often unreckoned.

So the survival of books from ancient times to the present is still a modern ideal, but is also an uphill struggle. It is always easier to destroy than to build, and the Map of Knowledge shows the multi-century attempts to preserve and maintain intellectual ideas. Such basic ideas such as the zero, was saved through the years to abruptly change the mathematics of the world.

A good book and I liked it, although it covers a lot of geography and many new names and places from different cultures and languages. Recommended for private collections of the history of science, as well as for larger public and college libraries. ( )
  hadden | Apr 7, 2020 |
In this book, Moller asks what happened to all the knowledge of the Ancients (Euclid! Galen! Ptolemy!) during Europe's 'Dark Ages'? There were centuries until it all took off again in the Renaissance.
She looks at the different civilizations which eagerly took up the work, even while barbarian tribes were invading the Roman empire...Baghdad and the Moorish colonists of Spain were major collectors of ancient texts. Meanwhile European scholars travelled to distant outposts in search of knowledge...
I read about 2/3 and it's readably written, but there's just SO MANY facts that I found myself forgetting what I'd learned a few chapters back. As a topic that many readers will know little about, the plethora of alien names, centuries of history just felt TOO MUCH! ( )
  starbox | Sep 14, 2019 |
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Violet Mollerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Vanni, LucaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Woodbine, AnnaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Fissate nella pagina scritta, le idee scientifiche hanno attraversato il mondo mediterraneo, illuminando diversi luoghi in momenti diversi della storia. Osservando il passato dal XXI secolo vediamo il flusso di quel sapere andare e venire, ne scorgiamo i momenti di accelerazione e quelli di stagnazione, le idee che furono respinte e andarono perdute, per poi essere riscoperte e riabilitate secoli dopo. Non è stato un percorso lineare, ma un procedere tortuoso, con momenti di ripiegamento in cui la conoscenza scompariva, per poi, al giro successivo, ricomparire e riprendere la sua avanzata.
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"The foundations of modern knowledge--philosophy, math, astronomy, geography--were laid by the Greeks, whose ideas were written on scrolls and stored in libraries across the Mediterranean and beyond. But as the vast Roman Empire disintegrated, so did appreciation of these precious texts. Christianity cast a shadow over so-called pagan thought, books were burned, and the library of Alexandria, the greatest repository of classical knowledge, was destroyed. Yet some texts did survive and The Map of Knowledge explores the role played by seven cities around the Mediterranean--rare centers of knowledge in a dark world, where scholars supported by enlightened heads of state collected, translated and shared manuscripts. In 8th century Baghdad, Arab discoveries augmented Greek learning. Exchange within the thriving Muslim world brought that knowledge to Cordoba, Spain. Toledo became a famous center of translation from Arabic into Latin, a portal through which Greek and Arab ideas reached Western Europe. Salerno, on the Italian coast, was the great center of medical studies, and Sicily, ancient colony of the Greeks, was one of the few places in the West to retain contact with Greek culture and language. Scholars in these cities helped classical ideas make their way to Venice in the 15th century, where printers thrived and the Renaissance took root. The Map of Knowledge follows three key texts--Euclid's Elements, Ptolemy's The Almagest, and Galen's writings on medicine--on a perilous journey driven by insatiable curiosity about the world"--

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In The Map of Knowledge Violet Moller traces the journey taken by the ideas of three of the greatest scientists of antiquity – Euclid, Galen and Ptolemy – through seven cities and over a thousand years. In it, we follow them from sixth-century Alexandria to ninth-century Baghdad, from Muslim Cordoba to Catholic Toledo, from Salerno’s medieval medical school to Palermo, capital of Sicily’s vibrant mix of cultures, and – finally – to Venice, where that great merchant city’s printing presses would enable Euclid’s geometry, Ptolemy’s system of the stars and Galen’s vast body of writings on medicine to spread even more widely.

In tracing these fragile strands of knowledge from century to century, from east to west and north to south, Moller also reveals the web of connections between the Islamic world and Christendom, connections that would both preserve and transform astronomy, mathematics and medicine from the early Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

Vividly told and with a dazzling cast of characters, The Map of Knowledge is an evocative, nuanced and vibrant account of our common intellectual heritage.
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