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Appropriating the Greek Past in the Greco-Arabic Translation Movement

Coleman Connelly, Harvard University, William R. Tyler Fellow 2014–2016

The first year of my Tyler Fellowship, spent at Dumbarton Oaks, has allowed me to work on three projects. The first of these, my dissertation, focuses on the ways in which Christian Greco-Arabic translators in ninth-century ‘Abbāsid Baghdad handle elements of Greek culture, religion, and literature they find embedded in the scientific and philosophical texts they translate. How do these translators deal with alien references to plural gods, to Homeric poetry and myth, or to Greco-Roman history? ‘Abbāsid ideology claimed the Greek legacy for Islam over and above its apparent heirs, the Byzantine Christians, and suggested that Christianity was responsible for the downfall of the Greeks. The Christian translators, as intermediaries between Greek past and ‘Abbāsid present, were in a privileged position to transmit their own version of the Classical past to the predominantly Muslim readers of their translations. My year at Dumbarton Oaks has also produced a paper, “Greco-Arabic Translation and Tahrīf,” investigating accusations of textual tampering leveled at ninth-century Greco-Arabic translators. I look forward to presenting it at this year’s North American Syriac Symposium. Finally, for the institutional project of my fellowship, I proofread and edited Latin-to-English translations for the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library. I am grateful to have had this invaluable and hands-on experience with academic publishing and to have spent the year in the company of such warm and helpful colleagues.