Twelfth-Century Toledo and Strategies of the Literalist Trojan Horse

Anthony Pym

The scientific translating associated with twelfth-century Toledo remains a poorly understood phenomenon. Attention to its political dimension suggests that it should not be attached to the state-subsidized work carried out under Alfonso X after 1250 but is better explained in terms of Cluniac sponsorship of the first Latin translation of the Qur'an in 1142. This approach reveals grounds for potential conflict between the foreign scientific translators and the Toledo cathedral. Such conflict would nevertheless have been smoothed over by certain translation principles serving both scientific and religious interests. The foremost of these principles were literalism, secondary elaboration, the use of teamwork, the inferiorization of non-Latinist intermediaries, justification of conquest and the accordance of authority to non-Christian texts. Thanks to this shared regime, the Church helped scientific translations to enter Latin. But the translations brought with them a questioning spirit that would contest and eventually undermine Church authority.

Table of contents

Mention of the 'School of Toledo' is almost obligatory in any history of translation. The general reference is to work from Arabic into Latin in the twelfth century, mainly in the fields of astronomy, astrology, mathematics, medicine and assorted kinds of necromancy. More than a few of these scientific and proto-scientific texts were of Greek origin and had been translated into Arabic in the ninth century, mostly via the mediation of Syriac. In Spain we thus find several originally Greek texts being translated from Arabic into Latin, in the absence of any Greek manuscripts. That much can be agreed. But there is little agreement about how much of the translating should be associated with Toledo or described in terms of a school.

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