“The sheikh of the translators”

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With the ascension to power of the Abbasid dynasty in 750 CE and the transfer of the capital of the Muslim Empire to the newly-created city of Baghdad, the middle of the eighth century heralded an era that in Islamic history is referred to as the &#8220;Golden Age,&#8221; during which period the Muslim world became an unrivaled intellectual center for science, philosophy, medicine, and education. Approximately eighty years after the dynasty&#8217;s rise to power, the Abbasid Caliph (ruler) al-Ma&#8217;mun (d. 833 CE) established in Baghdad <i>Bayt al-Hikma</i> (the House of Wisdom), an educational institution where Muslim and non-Muslim scholars together sought to gather the world&#8217;s knowledge not only via original writing but also through translation. Probably the most well-known and industrious translator of the era was Hunayn ibn Ishaq (d. 873 CE), known in the West by the Latinized name &#8220;Joannitius.&#8221; Referred to as &#8220;the sheikh of the translators,&#8221; he is reported to have mastered the four principal languages of his time: Greek, Syriac, Persian, and Arabic. Hunayn is credited with an immense number of translations, ranging from works on medicine, philosophy, astronomy, and mathematics, to magic and oneiromancy. This article looks at Hunayn&#8217;s work, briefly places this key figure within the translatorial <i>habitus</i>, discusses his methodology towards translation, as described in his own works, and examines that methodology in light of the sociological and sociolinguistic factors of the time.


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