ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

Third Section. Oriental Philosophies.{1}

214. Philosophy among the Armenians, Persians and Syrians. -- The history of philosophical theories among the Armenians, Persians, Syrians, Arabians and Jews, is more eventful and complicated than that of the Byzantine philosophy.

Little is known about the history of philosophy in Armenia. The name of one famous translator of Aristotle at least we do know: DAVID THE ARMENIAN (about 500 A.D.), a disciple of Olympiodorus (91).

In Persia, the hospitable court of Chozroës Nuschirwan extended a welcome to the last representatives of Grecian philosophy, DAMASCIUS THE SYRIAN, SIMPLICIUS, and a crowd of Neo-Platonists, on their banishment from Athens in 529 (90). The advent of the refugees led to the initiation of a philosophical movement in the schools of Nisibis and Gandisapora. At the court of Chozroes, URANIUS translated Aristotle and Plato into Persian. But this current of ideas was soon arrested and there is no evidence that it ever touched or influenced Arabian philosophy.

It was the Syrians who took up the tradition of Grecian philosophy and transmitted it directly to the Arabians, and through them to the Jews. The expeditions of Alexander the Great had rooted Grecian traditions so deeply in Syria that for long ages the language of their former conquerors held undisputed sway in the religious and profane literature of the Syrians: In the fifth century, THEODORE OF MOPSUESTIA, THEODERET OF CYR, IBAS, CUMAS and PROBUS, all of the famous Nestorian school of Edessa, translated Aristotle from Greek to Syriac, accompanying their versions with original commentaries. This school was suppressed by Zeno in 489; but in the sixth century the Monophysites of Resaïna and Chalcis continued the work of translation. At Resaïna, SERGIUS translated the Categories of Aristotle, the Isagoge of Porphyry, the works of Pseudo-Denis and portions of Galen. He also composed various original treatises imbued with Neo-Platonic tendencies. JACOB OF EDESSA in the seventh century, and various Nestorians of the seventh and eighth, completed other translations. The Syrian philosophers in general knew only the Organon among Aristotle's works; and they always gave a marked preference to the Neo-Platonists, especially to Porphyry: which was only natural, seeing that he and lamblichus were themselves Syrians by origin. This too accounts for the extraordinary popularity of Porphyry's Isagoge in Arabian philosophy, and for the numerous translations of this treatise from Syriac to Arabic. The older Greek-Syriac versions, especially those of the Resaïna school, were very defective: they were too literal, often failing to render intelligibly the sense of the original.{2}

{1} See pp. 119, 125.

{2} POLLAK, Entwickl. d. arab. u. jüdischen Philos. im Mittelalter, p. 206.

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