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.

 

Netanyahu flies to Washington to press case against Iran nuclear deal

Court ruling may force delay of Egypt parliamentary elections

Yemen separatists suspend participation in UN-sponsored talks

Jailed Kurdish leader calls on followers to lay down arms

Iraq reopens national museum more than 10 years after looting

Scores dead as car bombs target crowded market in Iraq capital

Iran shrugs off Netanyahu bid to abort nuclear deal

Egypt lists Hamas as terrorist organisation

Dozens dead as Qaeda takes strategic rebel base in Syria

UAE reopens Yemen embassy in Aden

Libya PM threatens new air strikes with Egypt against IS

Qatar takes full ownership of Porta Nuova

Roadmap finally agreed to end brutal Syria conflict

Turkey not placing high priority on fighting IS

IS militants destroy priceless ancient artefacts in Iraq’s Mosul

Aden becomes Yemen de facto ‘political capital’

Qatar emir committed to 'stability' in Egypt despite row

Rouhani adviser blames ‘extremists’ for rights violations

US-led coalition raids IS targets in northeastern Syria

IS executioner identity revealed

3 sentenced to death over Bahrain police killings

Hollande condemns French MPs for meeting Assad

HRW: Kurds preventing return of Arabs to disputed Iraq areas

One dead in series of Cairo bombings

UN Security Council calls for stepping up Yemen talks

Kerry: US, Iran have 'mutual interest' in defeating IS

Australian FM warns women against 'romantic adventure' with IS

Lebanese synagogue gets second life

Netanyahu speech to test resilience of US-Israeli ties

Austria adopts 'Islam of European character'

Tuareg chief issues plea for Mali unity

UN: Saleh amassed between $32-60 billion

Libyan FM warns country could be next Syria

Iran rejects US claims of role in Yemen crisis

French planes on Gulf-based carrier make first strikes

Top US official warns against Netanyahu speech to congress

Four French MPs meet Assad in Syria

FIFA cites 'problems' in worker conditions for Qatar World Cup

Mosque torched near Bethlehem

Egypt TV host faces trial for false bathhouse accusations

Turkey drives hard bargain over crucial missile deal

Obama nominates first US ambassador to Somalia since 1991

Obama praises Qatar as 'strong partner' in fighting IS

Saudi goes hi-tech against IS threat

Sisi grants Egypt authorities sweeping anti-terror powers