Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Christopher I. Beckwith's "Warriors of the Cloisters"

Christopher I. Beckwith is Professor of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University. He is the author of The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia: A History of the Struggle for Great Power among Tibetans, Turks, Arabs, and Chinese during the Early Middle Ages; Koguryo, Language of Japan’s Continental Relatives; Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present; and several other books.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Warriors of the Cloisters: The Central Asian Origins of Science in the Medieval World, and reported the following:
The ‘Page 99 Test’ is interesting, as usual. The text on the page in question happens to be only a third of a page long, as it is the tail end of its chapter. It consists of the last parts of an abbreviated example of the recursive argument method—the oral and literary ‘scientific method’ of medieval science—translated from a disputational work in Classical Arabic by the medieval scholar Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, with a brief final comment by me. I think that it does reveal, to take Ford’s statement literally, “the quality of the whole,” and the recursive argument method is one of the two main topics of the book (the other being the origins of the college), but the page definitely does not clarify that. As it happens, though, the very next page—the first page of Chapter Six—does. It briefly summarizes the history of the transmission of Classical Arabic learning from the Islamic world to a still conservative Western Europe during the Crusades, and introduces the chapter’s main topic: the story of how the recursive argument method was not a native European invention, but was borrowed from the Classical Arabic literary and scientific world of Islam to the Medieval Latin world of the mid-twelfth century in Spain. The main translator, Avendauth (Ibrāhīm ibn Dā’ūd), was a famous Jewish philosopher who collaborated with Dominicus, a local archdeacon in Toledo, to produce the first Latin translation of Avicenna’s De anima ‘On the soul’ or ‘Psychology’, a volume from his great encyclopedic summa ‘The Book of the Healing’. The next page begins an abbreviated translation of a recursive argument from the ‘Psychology’.
Learn more about Warriors of the Cloisters at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Empires of the Silk Road.

Writers Read: Christopher I. Beckwith.

--Marshal Zeringue