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Tyler Fellow Update: Coleman Connelly

Posted On January 26, 2015 | 13:15 pm | by lainw | Permalink

The William R. Tyler Fellowships support two years of travel and dissertation completion for advanced Harvard graduate students in areas related to the fields of study at Dumbarton Oaks. Coleman Connelly (Classics) is working on “Appropriating the Greek Past in the Greco-Arabic Translation Movement.”

I arrived at Dumbarton Oaks early this summer to settle in for the first year of my Tyler Fellowship. Since then I have made great headway on my dissertation, which focuses on the translation of Greek into Arabic in ninth- and tenth-century Baghdad. I investigate the ways in which the translators—the majority of whom were Syriac-speaking Christians—handle the elements of Classical Greek culture, religion, and literature embedded in Greek scientific works. How do these Christian translators process and transmit to their Muslim readers references to the Greek gods, to Homeric poetry, to Greco-Roman political structures, or to historical figures from the Greek past?

Where ‘Abbāsid ideology claimed the Greek legacy for Islam over and above Christianity, Christian translators like Ḥunayn ibn ’Isḥāq and Qusṭā ibn Lūqā used their privileged position as intermediaries between Classical Greek past and ‘Abbāsid present to shape their own version of that past for their readers. Needless to say, the Greek present as represented by Byzantium was never far from sight.

When not researching in the library or peering at inscriptions in the gardens, I have been taking advantage of the numerous opportunities Dumbarton Oaks has to offer. For instance, Scott Johnson has generously been leading a Syriac reading course. Some of us come with prior experience in Arabic and others in Hebrew, and these diverse linguistic perspectives have led to impromptu and thoroughly enjoyable jaunts into Comparative Semitics. I am looking forward to an evening of sacred music—including some in Syriac—offered next month as part of the Public Lecture series. This semester, I am also excited to begin my institutional project, for which I will be editing Latin texts and translations for the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library.