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The Syriac Aristotle Between Alexandria and Baghdad


John W. Watt

Cardiff UniversityNone
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The efflorescence of philosophy in Arabic in ninth century Baghdad shows a clear relationship to the philosophical work done in Greek in late antique Alexandria, as well as some significant differences. In both locations there was intense interest in Aristotle, though in Baghdad much less in Plato than had been the case in Alexandria. Less is known about philosophy in the intervening period, but the presence of Syriac philosophers both in sixth century Alexandria and eighth-to-tenth century Baghdad raises the possibility that the Syriac tradition may have been a conduit between the two. This article surveys the work of Sergius of Reshaina, an alumnus of Alexandria and the first known Syriac writer on Aristotle, in its relation to his Alexandrian masters, the evidence for Syriac engagement with Aristotelian philosophy in the subsequent two centuries, and the Syriac contribution to Aristotelian philosophy in Abbasid Baghdad. While a continuous tradition of Syriac interest in Aristotle, clearly linked in many of its representatives to the Christianised Neoplatonism of Pseudo-Dionysius, does not exclude the possibility that other aspects of late antique Greek thought may have found their way into Arabic through other channels, such as the Levantine Greeks on which al-Kindī depended for his Arabic translations, or even the alleged Neoplatonists of Harran, the Syriac focus on Aristotle, from Sergius of Reshaina in the sixth century to Abū Bišr Mattā and the Baghdad Aristotelians in the tenth, most convincingly accounts for the dominant position he held in Islamic philosophy.
How to Cite: Watt, J.W., 2013. The Syriac Aristotle Between Alexandria and Baghdad. Journal for Late Antique Religion and Culture, 7, pp.26–50. DOI:
Published on 15 Dec 2013.
Peer Reviewed


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