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The Latin and Syriac Commentary Project


This major new research project is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and is part of a wider programme of research initiatives.

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Aims of Project

This project explores the roots of modern western and Islamic attitudes to religion, science, and learning. In classical antiquity the main form of scientific writing was the commentary. Its main language was Greek. From the third century CE Greek texts were translated and new commentaries were written in 'new' languages, in particular Latin and Syriac. There was also a new lead religion, Christianity. The new authors were influenced by it, but also wanted the achievements of ancient science maintained and further developed. They became common precursors to the medieval Latin/Christian and the Arabic/Islamic scholars and scientists. To understand them is key to understanding the common roots of modern western and Islamic attitudes to science and religion. This project is the first ever to study the emergence and early history of the Syriac and Latin commentary traditions jointly, comprehensively and comparatively in this way. The research group is made up of two teams of specialists in the Latin and Syriac traditions. Both will study the lives and works of the most important authors involved in the process outlined, including Victorinus of Pettau, Marius Victorinus, Jerome, and Chalcidius on the Latin, and Sergius of Reshaina, Probus, and Paul the Persian on the Syriac side; and they will also work together in analysing and comparing the mutual similarities and differences of the two traditions, how they both differ from their precursors, and how they both are precursors to their own respective successors.

The motto of this project could thus be summarised with words used by Sergius of Reshaina in the conclusion to his commentary of Aristotle's Categories: 'Without Aristotle's logic medical writings are incomprehensible, the doctrines of the philosophers are impenetrable, and indeed the whole true thought of divine scripture ... There is no path through the sciences except by the permission of logic. 'The overarching aim of this project is to understand better this kind of attitude in a Syrian writer of the sixth century CE and how it compares with the attitudes of his contemporaries in the Latin west and in the Greek world, and how it anticipates an attitude that will lead up to the great cultural renaissances of world history, the rise of the Arabic commentary tradition.

Project Value