How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found

David Abulafia at Literary Review:

Adelard of Bath would be in demand in the present day. This 12th-century English scholar, arrayed in his striped hat, brilliant green or red cape and lapis lazuli shirt, ‘had a talent’, Violet Moller explains, ‘for communicating complex scientific ideas and adapting them for an amateur, but interested, audience’. Yet he also devoted a good part of his time to profound research, translating mathematical, astronomical and astrological texts from Arabic – astrology being regarded in his time, especially at the Norman court in Sicily, as a very exact science with medical as well as political uses. Adelard knew that court well, but what is particularly interesting is that when he translated Euclid’s Elements into Latin he chose to do it not from its original Greek, the language of nearly half the population of Sicily at that time, but from Arabic, the language of the other half. Nor was he alone in taking such a route: works such as Ptolemy’s Almagest, fundamental for the medieval study of the heavens, seemed to inhabitants of Christian western Europe easier to understand through translation of the Arabic version rather than of the Greek original. The Arabic translators had interspersed their texts with explanations of terms and concepts the meanings of which in the original Greek puzzled western European readers, even if (as was rarely the case) they could understand that language.

more here.