First Published: 2010-08-17

 

Influence of Arabic science on earliest Italian scientific academies

 

Renowned researcher: Italy's Galileo and Della Porta heavely indepted to earlier Islamic scientists.

 

Middle East Online

George Saliba

By Mamoon Alabbasi - LONDON

The influence of Islamic science on the scientific Renaissance in Europe has been unfairly played down by many western observers, said a renowned researcher of Arabic science during a talk in London.

In a lecture entitled "Arabic Science in the Earliest Italian Scientific Academies", Professor George Saliba cited a number of examples of the significant influence of Muslim scientists on the works of Italy's Galileo and his less famous - but equally important - contemporary Della Porta.

Both Galileo and Della Porta were members of the "Accademia dei Lincei", an invaluable academy in Italy, the country that is credited with giving the first spark to the flame of the European Renaissance, according to Saliba, who is Professor of Arabic and Islamic Science in the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University, New York.

Saliba said that Galileo in his early works had restored to using the arguments of many Arabic and Islamic scientists to make his case.

Many modern western observers wrongly limit the scope of Islamic scientists to merely passing on ancient Greek knowledge, where in truth they had built on it with their own original and pioneering additions that were vital to the development of science in Europe, stressed Saliba, who has authored a number of books on Arabic Science, including his most recent "Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance".

Saliba also noted that Muslim and Arabic commentators on Greek philosophers were wrongly thought to be mere carriers of the ancient thought, whereas in reality these commentaries contained the most original of ideas and on many occasions refuted some of the Greek reasoning.

One example cited by Saliba was Galileo's bid to disprove one theory of Aristotle, where the Italian scientist resorted to the writings and arguments of Muslim scholars - especially Averroes - to carry out the task.

Ironically, to many westerners today, Averroes is closely associated with representing the thought of Aristotle, where as the European scholars that led the way to the Renaissance were fully aware of the original contributions of Averroes and were heavily indebted to the works of many other Islamic scientists.

Even when Galileo used arguments from Copernicus to counter Aristotle, Saliba adds, these ideas themselves originated from Islamic scientists, notably Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, who wrote them some 200 years before Copernicus.

By looking at the indexes of two of Galileo's early books, Saliba points out the heavy reliance on Islamic scientific sources. Many names pop up, like Thabit and al-Battani, but perhaps most ironically is the inclusion of al-Ghazali, who is a critic of Averroes and is often presented as undermining the Greek mode of philosophy.

The indexes show that even Copernicus is a minor figure in comparison to earlier Islamic scientists. They also show that Galileo was very familiar with Avicenna's "Kitab al-Shifa" (The Book of Healing).

During the second part of his talk, Saliba drew attention to an important (though less known) Italian scientist, Della Porta, whose book on the secrets of nature was written in 1559, and translated into English in 1585 under the title "Natural Magic".

Saliba noted Della Porta, who made many references to Avicenna and Averroes, was keen to have his book translated into Arabic, which he considered the language of science at the time.

In another book of Della Porta written in 1610, Saliba added, the Italian scientist sought the help of a friend to write a short praise for the book in Arabic. The praise was put on page two to hint that the book is worthy of reading since the Arabs are praising it, noted Saliba.

The lecture was part of an international conference held at London's Science Museum, organised by the Foundation of Science, Technology and Civilisation (FSTC) to mark the international lunch of the exhibition "1001 Inventions: Discover the Muslim Heritage in our World".

Mamoon Alabbasi can be reached via: alabbasi@middle-east-online.com.

 

US denies everything agreed on Iran nuclear deal

Iraqi forces liberate Tikrit after month-long battle

Palestine officially joins ICC

Arab coalition bombards rebels in Yemen's Aden

Ancient Libyan treasures now in ISIS' sights

Money over power for Turkey and Iran

Yemen FM calls for coalition to send ground troops

ISIS captures Yarmuk refugee camp in Damascus

Israel to African migrants: Leave or face jail

Turkish authorities detain leftists

Gazans hope ICC will get justice for Israel’s 'war crimes'

Egypt president urges Huthi rebels to 'back off'

Armed group takes prosecutor hostage in Istanbul

Palestine must wait for its day in court

UN rights chief expresses alarm on Yemen situation

Suicide blast in Iraq on bus carrying Iranian pilgrims

Arab coalition pounds Yemeni capital

Iraq forces ‘retake’ government HQ in Tikrit

Massive power cut causes chaos across Turkey

Kuwait emir pledges $500 million at Syria donors conference

Iran nuclear talks enter their final day

Assad does not see Russia, Iran interests in Syria

Confidence in Tunisia ability to rebound as museum reopens to public

Iran claims US drone killed two military advisers in Iraq

Court finds ex-Israel Premier Olmert guilty in corruption retrial

Deadly air strike hits camp for displaced people in northwest Yemen

Erdogan insists on visit to Iran despite war-of-words

UN chief in Iraq for talks with top officials

UN warns of horrifying Syria 'catastrophe'

Iran asks for explanation on Erdogan comments

One day to Iran nuclear talks deadline

Yemen ex-president's son sacked as ambassador to UAE

At time of war, cigar business launched in Syria

Yemen Huthi rebels bombed for fifth night

Saudi police officers wounded in Riyadh drive-by shooting

World leaders show solidarity with Tunisia in march against extremism

Guarded optimism as Iran nuclear talks close in on deal

Dialogue remains distant as Arabs vow to defeat Iran 'puppet' in Yemen

Egypt renews calls for creation of joint military force at Arab summit

Saudi ambassador to return to Sweden after diplomatic spat

Libya forces ‘withdraw’ from frontline bases near oil ports

Qaeda seizes 'majority' of Syria northwestern city of Idlib

Torturous Iran talks move into top gear in battle of wills

UN Security Council keeps Libya arms embargo in place

Saudi-led airstrikes target arms depots in Yemen capital