This article challenges a series of common assumptions regarding the Syriac translations of Galen: first, about the quality of the sixth-century Syriac translations; second, about the status and role of Syriac as a scientific language; and, third, about economic forces and the motivation for excellence in translation. Finally, the circumstances that produced so many incorrect assumptions, and permitted them to persist for so long, are briefly discussed.
See E.A.W. BudgeSyrian Anatomy Pathology and Therapeutics or ‘the Book of Medicines’ (London: Oxford University Press1913); S. Bhayro ‘The Reception of Galen’s Art of Medicine in the Syriac Book of Medicines’ in B. Zipser (ed.) Medical Books in the Byzantine World (Bologna: Eikasmós 2013) pp. 123–144. This article is important because it demonstrates how the earlier prejudices were ill founded and yet remain very influential.
Text according to E.A.W. BudgeThe Chronography of Gregory Abûʾl Faraj the son of Aaron the Hebrew Physician commonly known as Bar Hebraeus (London: Oxford University Press1932) vol. 2 p. 53v; see Bhayro ‘Syriac Medical Terminology’ p. 154. It is likely that Bar Hebraeus’s account was based on that of Ibn al-Qiftī.
McCollum‘Greek Literature in the Christian East’ p. 23; see also McCollum’s discussion of the dichotomy of free versus literal translation on pp. 30–31. It is also worth keeping in mind that Ḥunayn himself also employed two different translation styles one more literary and less literal and the other more precise but not overly literal. His choice of style was determined by the preferences of his clients who themselves would sometimes revise his translations—see Lamoreaux Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq pp. xvi–xvii.
See for example A.H. BeckerFear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom: The School of Nisibis and the Development of Scholastic Culture in Late Antique Mesopotamia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press2006); more recently see H. Takahashi ‘Syriac as the Intermediary in Scientific Graeco-Arabica: Some Historical and Philological Observations’ Intellectual History of the Islamicate World 3 (2015) pp. 66–97 (83–84).