Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq’s Galen Translations and Greco-Arabic Philology: Some Observations from the Crises (De crisibus) and the Critical Days (De diebus decretoriis)

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The author shows, from Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq’s translations of Galen’s Crises and Critical Days, and borrowing a scheme from Sebastian Brock, that Ḥunayn’s translation style was “reader-oriented,” in which he added whatever he thought necessary to help his readers understand the text and its complex subject matter, rather than “text-oriented,” which adhered closely to the original. Using several examples classified in a working typology, the author shows how caution must be used when deriving Greek textual variants from Arabic. Moreover, the author considers how the Arabic translations creatively distorted certain scientifically significant concepts.




Discussed in: Glen M. Cooper, Galen, De diebus decretoriis, from Greek into Arabic: A Critical Edition, with Translation and Commentary, and Historical Introduction of Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq, Kitāb ayyām al-buḥrān (London: Ashgate, 2011), 85 and 504. (Hereafter, references to this work will be as follows: Galen (ed. Cooper), Critical Days, 85 and 504). See also discussion in: Overwien, “The Art of the Translator,” 153.


Elaheh Kheirandish, “The Arabic ‘Version’ of Euclidean Optics: Transformations as Linguistic Problems in Transmission,” in Tradition, Transmission, Transformation: Proceedings of Two Conferences on Pre-modern Science Held at the University of Oklahoma, ed. F. Jamil Ragep and Sally P. Ragep with Steven Livesey (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 227–45.


Gotthelf Bergsträsser, Hunain ibn Ishaq, Über die syrischen und arabischen Galen-übersetzungen (Leipzig: Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, 1925), 15, line 9 (Arabic). cited hereafter as Ḥunayn (ed. Bergsträsser), Risāla. Discussed in Overwien, “The Art of the Translator,” 152.


See, for example, William Cullen, First Lines of the Practice of Physic (Worcester, Mass.: Isaiah Thomas, 1790). Sudhoff gave an historical survey that showed the persistence of the critical days doctrine that is still useful: Karl Sudhoff, “Zur Geschichte der Lehre von den kritischen Tagen im Krankheitsverlaufe,” Sudhoffs Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin 21, no. 1–4 (1929): 1–22.


See, e.g.: Glen M. Cooper, “Rational and Empirical Medicine in Ninth-Century Baghdad: Qusṭā ibn Lūqā’s ‘Questions on the Critical Days in Acute Illnesses’,” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 24 (2014): 69–102; and Idem, “Approaches to the Critical Days in Late Medieval and Renaissance Thinkers,” Early Science and Medicine 18, no. 6 (2013): 536–65.


Sebastian Brock, “Towards a History of Syriac Translation Technique,” Orientalia Christiana Analecta 221 (1983): 1–14; here, 4 ff. See also the discussion in: Uwe Vagelpohl, “The ʿAbbasid Translation Movement in Context: Contemporary Voices on Translation,” in ʿAbbasid Studies III: Occasional Papers of the School of ʿAbbasid Studies Leuven, 28 June–1 July 2004, ed. J. Nawas, (Leuven: Peeters, 2010): 245–6.


Gutas, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture, 142–3.


Galen (ed. Cooper), Critical Days, 202–3.


Galen (ed. Cooper), Critical Days, 226–7.


Galen (ed. Cooper), Critical Days, 230–3.


Galen (ed. Cooper), Critical Days, 282–3.


Galen (ed. Cooper), Critical Days, 340–1.


Galen (ed. Cooper), Critical Days, 378–9.


Galen (ed. Cooper), Critical Days, 370–3.


See, e.g., Derek Collins, “Mapping the Entrails: The Practice of Greek Hepatoscopy,” American Journal of Philology 129 (2008): 319–45.


Galen (ed. Bengt Alexanderson), Galenos Peri Kriseon: Überlieferung und Text (Göteborg: Elanders Boktryckeri Aktiebolag, 1967): 169, line 20–171, line 17 (9,706,14–709,14 K). The sigla key for his apparatus criticus is found in the Appendix to the present article.


Michael Dols, Majnūn: The Madman in Medieval Islamic Society (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), 57–8.


Manfred Ullmann, Islamic Medicine (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1978), 29–30.


Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, 1044. The word derives from λήθη “forgetting.” The form that Ḥunayn has transliterated is the adjective ληθάργος “forgetful.” The verb ληθαργέω means “to forget.” The same explanation appears in Ḥunayn’s translation of a passage on 171 A / 9,709 K.


Edward W. Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 1984), 187.


Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, 1944.


See Jon Moline, “Aristotle, Eubulides, and the Sorites,” Mind 78 (1969), 393–407. The sorites continues to be of interest to modern philosophers, e.g. Delia Graff, “Phenomenal Continua and the Sorites,” Mind 110, no. 440 (2001): 905–35.


Glen M. Cooper, “Hagar Banished: Anti-Arabism and the Aldine Edition of Galen’s Critical Days,” Early Science and Medicine 17, no. 6 (2012): 604–42; here, 612–3.


Galen (ed. Cooper), Critical Days, 116–7.


Jonathan Barnes, “Medicine, Experience, and Logic,” in Science and Speculation: Studies in Hellenistic Theory and Practice, ed. J. Barnes, J. Brunschwig, M. Burnyeat and M. Schofield, 24–68 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 32 n. 16. Several contexts are listed.


Galen (ed. Cooper), Critical Days, 312–3. Note that this is a corrected version of this passage. In my edition I mistranslated the passage slightly, due to my having transcribed part of the Arabic incorrectly.


Galen (ed. Cooper), Critical Days, 104–5.


Gotthard Strohmaier, “Ḥunayn Ibn Isḥāq et le Serment hippocratique,” Arabica 21, no. 3 (1974): 318–23, especially 321.


Gotthard Strohmaier, “Die griechischen Götter in einer christlich-arabischen Übersetzung. Zum Traumbuch des Artemidor in der Version des Hunain ibn Ishak,” in Die Araber in der alten Welt, ed. F. Altheim and R. Stiehl (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1967), 127–62; Idem, “Galen in Arabic: Prospects and Projects,” in Galen: Problems and Prospects, ed. Vivian Nutton (London: Wellcome Trust, 1981), 187–96.


Galen (ed. Cooper), Critical Days, 85.


George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).


Glare, Oxford Latin Dictionary, 406–7.


Joosse and Pormann, “Archery, Mathematics, and Conceptualising Inaccuracies,” 426.


Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, 1418–419. Literally, it is formed of πλην (“except”) and μελος (“limb”). “Limb” is a metaphor for an articulated part of a harmony, namely a “melody”, and means “out of tune; out of harmony.”


Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, 77. Source: Glossarium Græco-Arabicum (online: http://telota.bbaw.de/glossga/), which lists works mostly by Aristotle and commentators. (Consulted 10/21/2014).


Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, 595.


Cf. Overwien, “The Art of the Translator,” 169. On page 155, he eloquently states: “The text of the Greek original was not sacrosanct to Ḥunayn.”


Paul Maas, Textual Criticism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958), 2–9.


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