The Toledo school of translators

Once Toledo was captured in 1085, it became the most important city in Christian Spain and its cultural and intellectual center. Christians from all over al-Andalus took their refuge here, but intellectually speaking the city served more as a bridge than as a spearhead. The scholars of Toledo were often Arabic speaking and they relied on Arabic sources in their work. Coming into contact with western Christendom, where Latin was the only written language, it became necessary to translate all this material. This was an exciting task since the Arabs had access to many works, including classical Greek texts, which European scholars had heard about but never themselves read – works by Galen on medicine, by Ptolemy on geography, by Aristotle on philosophy, and so on. In the first part of the twelfth-century, Raymond, the arch-bishop of Toledo, set up a center in the library of the cathedral where classical works were translated, together with the commentaries and elaborations provided by Arabic scholars. Gerard of Cremona was the most productive of the translators, translating more than 87 works on statecraft, ethics, physiognomy, astrology, geometry, alchemy, magic and medicine.

The translation movement of Toledo of the twelfth- and thirteenth-centuries thus parallels the translation movement of Baghdad of the ninth- and tenth-centuries. The Arabs translated the classics from Greek into Arabic, and now the same texts were translated from Arabic into Latin. Instead of being lost, the books had survived, first in Baghdad and other Muslims centers of scholarship, and then, making the trip around the Mediterranean, they showed up in Spain.

From Toledo the classical texts continued straight into a new European institution – the university. The first European universities were established in the twelfth-century, and they used the new translations as their first textbooks. [Read more:Nalanda, a very old university“] This is how Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas came to read Ibn Rushd and Ibn Sina, how Roger Bacon was inspired by the scientific methods of Ibn al-Haytham, and how Nicolaus Copernicus read the works of Greek and Arabic astronomers. Renaissance means “rebirth” and what was reborn was more than anything the scholarship of classical antiquity – as saved, translated and elaborated on by the scholars first of Baghdad then of Toledo.

External links:

History of Philosophy, “Rediscovery channel”