Paul Lettinck, Aristotle's Meteorology and its Reception in the Arab World with an Edition and Translation of Ibn Suwar's Treatise on Meteorological Phenomena and Ibn Bajja's Commentary on the Meteorology.
For a desert people winds, rain, thunder, lightening, hurricanes, thunderbolts, whirlwinds, and other meteorological phenomena held tremendous fascination. This interest in meteorology is reflected in diverse forms and manners in Arabic poetry, lexicography, and grammar. In addition, there existed a theoretical aspect of meteorology which constructed a theoretical framework for a scientific inquiry of various meteorological phenomena.
When Greek texts were translated into Arabic, the science of meteorology was one of the first to evolve as a distinct discipline and was known as 'ilm al-athar al-'ulwiyya, the science of the upper phenomena. Al-Farabi (d. 950) lists it under this name in his Ihsa' al-'ulum, al-Khwarizmi (fl. 980) mentions it in his Mafatih al-culum and it is found in the Rasa'il of Ikhwan al-Safa' (end of 10th century). A vast body of literature grew around Aristotle's Meteorology, either by way of comment or works inspired by him. Numerous philosophers wrote on one or the other aspect of meteorology. Thus, we have works by al-Kindi (d. ca. 873), Ibn Sina (d. 1037), Ibn Bajja (d. 1138) and Ibn Rushd (d. 1198). The subject also attracted numerous cosmographers, geographers, encyclopedists and writers of belle letters (adab). It also found its way into the heresiographies and works on medicine.
When Paul Lettinck published his Aristotle's Physics and its Reception in the Arabic World with an Edition of the Unpublished Parts of Ibn Bajja's Commentary on the Physics in 1994, his carefully documented work opened a new window for understanding the complexities of the reception of the Aristotelian corpus in the Islamic scientific tradition; with this companion volume, he widens that window. (1) The two works share the general format of presentation of material: both have detailed bibliographies, an Index Locorum, an Index of Names and Subjects, bi-lingual texts of the supplements, but the present volume also includes a useful Greek-English-Arabic Glossary, not included in the previous work.
Divided into ten chapters and two supplements, the book treats a group of mutually related meteorological phenomena in separate chapters; these chapters do not correspond to those in Aristotle's Meteorology. The structure of the book envisages a uniform treatment of the material in all chapters: a summary of Aristotle's text, followed by an account of various Greek commentaries, followed by Arabic versions of Meteorology by Ibn al-Bitriq and Hunayn ibn Ishaq and an Arabic version of the paraphrase by Pseudo-Olympiodorus. The chapters end with miscellaneous Arabic commentaries and other treatises on meteorology, such as those by al-Kindi, Ibn Sina, Ibn Bajja and Ibn Rushd. The two bi-lingual Arabic-English supplements contain Maqalah fi'l Athar al-Mutkhayylah fi'l Jaww (Treatise on Imagined Phenomena in the Atmosphere) by Abu'l Khayr Hasan ibn Suwar (d. ca. 1030) and Commentary on the Meteorology by Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Yahya ibn al-Sa'igh ibn Bajja (b. Saragossa, al-Andalus, end of 11th century; d. Fez, 1138 or 1139).
The book under review is mainly concerned with treatises on meteorology inspired by Aristotle's Meteorology and written by philosophers. These include a number of letters by al-Kindi, those chapters of Ibn Sina's Kitab al-Shifa' which deal with meteorology, the Short and Middle Commentary on the Meteorology by Ibn Rushd, and the two aforementioned treatises, which have not been previously published. In addition, the book includes discussion on the meteorological sections of the encyclopedic works of Bahmanyar ibn al-Marzuban (d. 1067) (Kitab al-Tahsil), Abu'l-Barkat al-Baghdadi (d. 1165) (Kitab al-Mu'tabar), and Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 1209) (Kitab al-Mabahith al-Mashriqiyyah), grouped together under the heading "School of Ibn Sina". It also discusses Ibn al-Haytham's (d. ca. 1040) work on the halo and rainbow and traces the developments in this area in Ibn Rushd's works. Arabic paraphrase of Aristotle's Meteorology by Yahya ibn al-Bitriq (d. ca. 830) and Olympiodorus' Commentary on Aristotle's Meteorology, which was translated into Arabic by Hunayn ibn Ishaq is also part of the discussion; this translation was revised by Ishaq ibn Hunayn.
Paul Lettinck traces the history of the reception of the first three Books of Aristotle's Meteorology in the Muslim world, leaving aside Book IV, which most scholars consider to be authentic but which does not belong to meteorology proper. Through a survey of the contents of translations, Lettinck clearly establishes various axes of influence which were operative in the Islamic scientific tradition and which transformed Aristotle's Meteorology in the course of centuries.
What is highly impressive in Lettinck's work is its systematic approach that brings a large body of literature within a clearly defined framework of inquiry, its lucidity, distinctions of various meteorological phenomena, and a solid understanding of the complexities of the translation movement that brought Aristotle's text into Arabic. Numerous references to the influences of various works upon the later writers, summary descriptions of the views of major philosophers and scientists upon different aspects of meteorological phenomena, and a synthetic ability that compresses a large body of information into precise units without losing its salient features are some of the highlights of this work which, when read with his Aristotle's Physics and its Reception in the Arabic World, significantly adds to our understanding of a hitherto under-studied aspect of the Islamic scientific tradition.
(1.) The earlier book was published by E. J. Brill in 1994 as volume 7 of the same project, The Aristoteles Semitico-Latinus, under which the present work has been published. This project "envisages the publication of Syriac, Arabic and Hebrew translations of Aristotle's works, of the Latin translations of those translations, and of the mediaeval paraphrases and commentaries made in the context of this translation tradition". H. Daiber and R. Kruk are the General Editors of this project. Aristotle's Meteorology and its Reception in the Arab World is volume 10 in the series.
Center for Islam and Science
Sherwood Park, AB,
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|Publication:||Islam & Science|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2004|
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