“The sheikh of the translators”
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 “Golden Age,” during which period the Muslim world became an unrivaled intellectual center for science, philosophy, medicine, and education. Approximately eighty years after the dynasty’s rise to power, the Abbasid Caliph (ruler) al-Ma’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’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 “Joannitius.” Referred to as “the sheikh of the translators,” 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’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.