Bilingualism in Greek and Arabic in the Middle Ages and Beyond: Evidence from the Manuscripts

Maria Mavroudi
UC Berkeley

This book project is based on examining more than two hundred manuscripts that contain evidence of having been copied or read by individuals who understood both Greek and Arabic (9th–19th centuries). They are mostly Christian (liturgical, biblical, patristic) but also medical, botanical, astronomical, astrological, philosophical and philological (dictionaries and grammars). According to the received scholarly narrative, the Byzantine empire and its literary and scientific culture declined from the 7th-century onwards, partly as a result of the conquest of Byzantium’s Eastern provinces by the Arabs. Presumably, the only significant encounter of Greek with Arabic took place in the 9th and 10th centuries and involved the translation of ancient, not medieval, Greek texts into Arabic, and the adaptation of their contents for the needs of Islamic society. Byzantium supposedly preserved and imitated but never creatively used its own classical Greek heritage. However, most manuscripts under examination were copied after the 10th century and indicate literary and scientific transmission in two directions, both from Greek into Arabic and from Arabic into Greek. The book correlates this evidence with recent scholarly conclusions on Byzantine economic history and revises the established narrative regarding the cultural transmission between the Byzantine and the Islamic world.