Europe was in the long slumber of the Middle Ages, the Roman Empire was in tatters, and the Greek language was all but forgotten, until a group of twelfth-century scholars rediscovered and translated the works of Aristotle. His ideas spread like wildfire across Europe, offering the scientific view that the natural world, including the soul of man, was a proper subject of study. The rediscovery of these ancient ideas sparked riots and heresy trials, caused major upheavals in the Catholic Church, and also set the stage for today's rift between reason and religion. In Aristotle's Children, Richard Rubenstein transports us back in history, rendering the controversies of the Middle Ages lively and accessible-and allowing us to understand the philosophical ideas that are fundamental to modern thought.
Richard E. Rubenstein, a professor of conflict resolution and public affairs at George Mason University, is the author of When Jesus Became God. He lives in Fairfax, Virginia.
"The Master of Those Who Know"ARISTOTLE REDISCOVEREDIT IS HARD NOT TO think of twelfth-century Spain as a scholar's paradise. The picture that comes to mind is that of a broad table, well lit by candles, on which are spread out dozens of manuscripts written in Syriac, Aramaic, Arabic, Hebrew, and Greek. Around the table, poring over the manuscripts, taking notes, or conversing animatedly, are bearded Jews, tonsured Christian monks, turbaned Muslims, and dark-haired Greeks. The setting is Toledo, a Spanish city long ruled by Islamic authorities but now under Christian control. The table occupies the center of a hall in the city's cathedral, whose archbishop, Raymund I, stands to one side, benevolently watching the polyglot scholars at their work. In his own hands, he holds a book written in Latin-apparently a Catholic missal or one of Saint Augustine's works. But close examination reveals its distinctly non-Christian authorship. The book that the archbishop holds so carefully, as if he were afraid it might once again disappear, is a new translation of De Anima-Aristotle's lost book on the soul.How was this famous work-along with the rest of the Aristotelian corpus-rediscovered? The story really begins in the tenth century, when Christian knights launched the Reconquista (Reconquest)-a lengthy, on-again, off-again struggle to reclaim the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslims who had ruled it for more than three hundred years. The Christians would not drive the Muslims out of Spain altogether until the fall of Grenada in 1492, but by 1100, great centers of Islamic culture like Toledo and Lisbon were already under their control. The very length of this campaign, and the fact that the cities and peoples conquered were among the most civilized on earth, made it more "a work of co-penetration and synthesis" than a simple military crusade. One commentator justly calls it "a long-term, sensible, humane, even liberal process of fusion between different faiths and races, which does great honour to the people of medieval Spain and Portugal."1In a way, the Reconquest resembled the "barbarian" takeover of Rome centuries earlier, for the society that the conquerors acquired was far more developed than their own. While Europe was just emerging from centuries of poverty and social strife, Muslim Spain-al Andalus, as the Arabs called it-was a land long enriched by international trade, brilliant artisanship, and a highly productive agriculture. The kingdom's rulers were literate men, heirs of the Roman tradition of rational-legal bureaucracy, and generous patrons of scholarship and the arts. Its world-famous poets anticipated and probably inspired the love songs of the troubadours. Its intellectuals were admired for their achievements in law, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, and the natural sciences, as well as chemistry, metallurgy, and the practical arts. At a time when learning in Europe was confined to a few monasteries and church schools, the scholars
Excerpted from Aristotle's Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Dark Ages by Richard E. Rubenstein
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.