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Public Lecture

On the occasion of the opening of the 11th Annual Conference of the International Society for Neoplatonic Studies (ISNS)

The Neoplatonic Aristotle Between Alexandria and Baghdad

Speaker: Dr. John Watt, Cardiff University

Venue: Conference Centre, St. Michael's College, Llandaff

Time: Wednesday, 12 June 2013, 6.10pm


Neoplatonic philosophy was alive and well in late antiquity, during its final phase particularly in Alexandria.  Two to three centuries later there was a spectacular burst of philosophical activity in Baghdad.  The one was in Greek, the other in Arabic, but the family relationship, albeit not the identity, between the two is quite clear.  What happened in the interval, temporal and spatial?  Was philosophy as good as dead in that interval?  Or was there a continuous thread of engagement with philosophical questions linking the two?

That problem, neatly encapsulated in the phrase ‘Alexandria to Baghdad’, is one of the more intriguing problems in the history of philosophy. Celebrated attempts at a solution are those offered by Max Meyerhof (to whom the phrase is due, from the title of his 1930 paper to the Prussian Academy Von Alexandrien nach Bagdad) and more recently by Michel Tardieu.  The solution offered here starts from the recognition that in late antiquity philosophy in the East was written not only in Greek but also in Syriac, and in Abbasid Baghdad not only in Arabic but also in Syriac.  Bilingual Syrians were among the students of philosophy in Alexandria, bilingual or trilingual Syrians among the teachers of philosophy in Baghdad.  Less well known are the Syrians of the intervening period, but they may have been the key to the common features of philosophy between Alexandria and Baghdad.

A note on the speaker:

Dr. John Watt is a Syriac scholar specializing in the reception of Aristotle in Syriac. Recent works include Aristotelian Rhetoric in Syriac (Leiden, 2005), Al-Farabi and the History of the Syriac Organon (Piscataway, N.J., 2009), Rhetoric and Philosophy from Greek into Syriac (Farnham, 2010), and Interpreting the Bible and Aristotle in Late Antiquity (co-edited with Josef Lössl; Farnham, 2011).

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