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A Greek and Arabic Lexicon: Materials for a Dictionary of the Medieval Translations from Greek into Arabic.

Edited by Gerhard Endress and Dimitri Gutas. Handbuch der Orientalistik, 1. Abteilung: Der Nahe und der Mittlere Osten, Bd. 11. Leiden: E. J. BRILL, 1992. Pp. 96 + 20 (Parts B-F). HF1. 40, $23.

Specialists in the field of Graeco-Arabic studies will not have to be convinced of the need for a dictionary such as the one now embarked on by Endress and Gutas. Scholars who have edited texts, and who know by experience the difficulties in this particular area, will welcome this new tool with enthusiasm. For their particular purposes the information provided in the existing dictionaries is insufficient; thus their usual practice is to supply this information by drawing upon glossaries included in other editions--a tedious and time-consuming job. Moreover, regrettably few editions are provided with Arabic-Greek glossaries, and not all of those available can be used for this particular purpose. To be absolutely sure of a particular Greek/Arabic correspondence one needs to check the context; glossaries that fail to include details such as page and line reference are thus of little avail.

Let me refer to personal experience. The team of scholars in my own department, which is at present working on the critical edition of the medieval Arabic and Latin translations of Aristotle's zoological works, are already making frequent use of the fascicle now published, and hope for a speedy progression of the Lexicon. But it is not only to the needs of this highly specialized class of users that the Lexicon intends to cater. To get an idea of the issues on which this dictionary has information to offer, one only has to read Endress' article on the development of the Arabic philosophical and scientific terminology and idiom in the Grundriss der arabischen Philologie, vol. 3, suppl. (Wiesbaden, 1992), 3-23. To name but two of the issues: tricky questions such as the authorship of translations (which were frequently simply attributed by copyists/booksellers to the most famous, i.e., most salable, translator) can be answered only when sufficient lexicological material is available for comparison; for exact knowledge of the technical vocabulary and idiom of the sciences that developed from the Graeco-Arabic translations one frequently needs to go back to the medieval translations, since in fields other than the exact sciences this vocabulary was seldom consistent.

Intended to benefit by the Lexicon are Greek scholars as well as Arabists, those who focus on the contents of the texts concerned and those who are interested in the linguistic and lexicological information the translations have to offer, either with regard to the classical language or with regard to Middle Arabic or Greek.

One may wonder how it is possible to embark on a project such as this while such a large number of the texts still await critical editions, and while so few glossaries are available. The authors' attitude to this problem has been entirely practical. They have collected such critical editions as are available now, and have excerpted the glossaries occasionally included in those editions. Since this resulted in a certain lack of proportion between different fields--logic and mathematics were seriously underrepresented, as opposed to, for instance, medicine and related sciences; the list of sources bears evidence to this--they have supplemented their material by making word-for-word indexes to some basic works in the underrepresented fields. Only scholars who have themselves done this kind of job will realize the staggering amount of work that is involved here, due to the very nature of the translations, which are frequently paraphrases rather than word-for-word translations. As the Lexicon progresses, newly published material will be included in the references.

Material has been gleaned from other sources as well, among them, the glossaries (sometimes full-scale ones) which editors of texts had prepared in the course of their editorial work but could not possibly include in their editions.

It is evident from all this that the Lexicon starts from a more-or-less accidental supply of data. But since, as I mentioned earlier, one of the problems in preparing critical editions in the Graeco-Arabic tradition is the lack of adequate tools, and the problem of making a lexicon covering this field is that not enough editions are available, it is a good thing that the authors have decided to cut through this vicious circle and to start producing this tool from the material that is at present available--the project being, as they say, by its very nature open-ended.

Since the purpose is to provide insight into the Graeco-Arabic transmission process, they have included only Arabic translations for which the Greek original is still extant. The authors' method has been to then check each single Greek-Arabic correspondence on their data cards with the original text in order to provide their lemmata with a context. This close scrutiny of the text has occasionally led to proposed emendations of either the Arabic or the Greek text, a circumstance which, among other things, makes the Lexicon a valuable reference work for Classical and Arabic scholars more specifically interested in the textual contents of the works transmitted.

We should not underestimate the range of linguistic material on which the Lexicon provides information. The vocabulary of the texts that are dealt with occasionally goes beyond the strictly philosophical and scientific. The nature of some of the texts guarantees the inclusion of passages of a more general nature; texts on the interpretation of dreams, which frequently deal with everyday occurrences, are a case in point.

The lemmata of the Lexicon are arranged as follows: under the main heading of an Arabic term a subdivision in paragraphs gives the different Greek terms which underlie the Arabic translation, followed by an English translation; attestations (up to three) of the way in which these Greek terms are rendered into Arabic are given, including citations of the Greek and Arabic context. A Greek-Arabic glossary gives access to these subdivisions, and a number of other useful indices are added as well: Greek proper names and transliterated words, variant Greek passages, variant Arabic passages, Greek quotations.

A major problem in dealing with this material are the many words especially transliterations) that are unpointed in the Arabic MSS, whose pointing is highly uncertain, and, if it is attempted, frequently obscures the origin of the manifold pointed versions of the word that may crop up elsewhere in the tradition (my own present favorite is the octopus, basfayij, which turned into a sponge, sfanj, in the modem Egyptian edition of Avicenna's Shifa). The present authors have solved this problem by introducing transliteration symbols especially for unpointed skeletal letters, a practice which again bears witness to their meticulous way of dealing with the material.

So, nothing but praise can be uttered, and we only hope that the authors will find sufficient time (and funds) to continue the project as fast as possible. And if we may suggest a related project involving Latinists: an Arabic/Latin lexicon covering the Arabo-Latin transmission would also be highly appreciated by specialists in this field.
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Author:Kruk, Remke
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1994
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