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It was, however, (d. 950) at the court of Sayf ad-Dawla, at Aleppo, whoreally shaped the philosophical teaching of Arabic Aristotelianism,basing his work on the better knowledge of the text of Aristotle madeaccessible by the labours of al-Kindi. Al-Farabi was of a Turkishfamily of Transoxiana, but had studied in Baghdad under the Christianphysician Yuhanna ibn Hailam and Abu Bishr Matta, already mentioned asa translator. He was a commentator on Aristotle and built up a systemof philosophy from Aristotelian and neo-Platonic material, this latterthen generally accepted as the correct interpretation of "thePhilosopher's" teaching, which resulted in a kind of Muslimneo-Platonism. From this he came to be known as "the second teacher ",that is to say, the authority next after Aristotle. He accepted theQur'an as true, but maintained that philosophy also was true, so thetwo must agree: in so far as they appear not to agree steps must betaken to reconcile them, for truth must be consistent and apparentinconsistencies can be explained away.

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His chief importance lay in his definiteacceptance of Aristotle as "the Philosopher", no longer simply as ateacher of logic. He professed to be his follower and took him asauthoritative, practically inspired, teacher, and in this was thefounder of the Arab Aristotelian school, though his actual work laychiefly in translating and introducing to the Arabs the teaching of thePhilosopher instead of the vague and inaccurate notions they hadgathered and exaggerated in the process from Syriac exponents. In theArabic Aristotelian school the teaching of Aristotle was accepted evenwhen in conflict with the literal statements of the Qur'an. It wasregarded as truth which was only intelligible to the enlightened,whilst the Qur'an and orthodox doctrine generally served well enoughfor the unlettered and was best adapted for them. Some followers ofthis school went farther and held that the Qur'an had an esotericmeaning disclosed only to the discerning, and that that esotericmeaning agreed with the teaching of Aristotle, It was the familiarproblem, granted that science and revelation are both true, they mustsomehow agree together although they seem to contradict one another.

The most celebrated of all translators of Greekscientific works into Arabic was (d.873 or 877) The outline of his life and work are well known from hisautobiography written in the form of letters to 'Ali ibn Yahya in 875.(Text from two manuscripts in the Aya Sofia Mosque at Stambul, ed. withtranslation by G. Bergestrasser, Leipzig, 1925.) He was a native ofHira, the son of a Christian (Nestorian) druggist. In later life helearned Arabic, so presumably he did not belong to the ruling class ofHira which was Arabic-speaking, and this is endorsed by his name'Abadi, which shows that he belonged to the subject people of Hira. Asa young man he attended the lectures of Ibn Masawaih (above) atJundi-Shapur, and so far earned. the approval of his teacher that hewas made his dispenser. But later he annoyed Ibn Masawaih by asking toomany questions in class, and at least his teacher lost patience andsaid: "What have the people of Hira to do with medicine? -- go andchange money in the streets," and drove him out weeping (Ibn al-Qifti,174). Expelled from the academy Hunayn went away to "the land of theGreeks" and there obtained a sound knowledge of the Greek language andfamiliarity with textual criticism such as had been developed inAlexandria. In due course he returned and settled for a time at Basrawhere he studied Arabic under Yhalid ibn Ahmad then, some time before826, proceeded to Baghdad where he obtained the patronage of Jibra'iland for him prepared translations of some of Galen's works. Harunar-Rashid died in 808 and al-Ma'mun succeeded in 813, after the briefand stormy reign of al-Amin, so that Hunayn's activities belong to aperiod later than Harun ar-Rashid. The excellence of his translations,far surpassing any previous work of the sort, greatly impressedJibra'il who then introduced him to the three "Sons of Musa", wealthypatrons of learning. Their father, Musa ibn Shakir, after a life spentin the lucrative profession of a brigand in Khurasan, had reformed andbeen pardoned, then settled down to spend his declining years incultured leisure. He entrusted his sons to the Khalif al-Ma'mun, whoappointed Ishaq ibn Ibrahim, and later Yahya ibn Abi Mansur to be theirteachers, and from those preceptors they received a training inmathematics. They were not so much interested in medicine, butpatronized Hunayn chiefly because of his excellence as a translator. Ofthese "Sons of Musa" the eldest Muhammad rose to high office under theKhalif al Motadid (892-932), and distinguished himself in astronomy andgeometry, a second son Ahmad excelled in mechanics, and the third sonHasan attained celebrity in geometry. They had a house in Baghdad nearthe Bab at-Taq, the gate at the eastern end of the main bridge over theTigris, opening into the great market street of East Baghdad, and therethey built an observatory where they made observations during the years850-870. To them we owe a treatise on plane and spherical geometry, acollection of geometrical problems and a manual of geometry which wastranslated into Latin by Gerhard of Cremona (d. 1187) as "Liber TriumFratrum de geometria" (ed. M. Curtze in xlix,109-167), whichlong held its own as an introduction to geometry. They were generouspatrons of scientific research and according to Ibn Abi Usaibi'a spentat one time an average Of 500 dinars (say £200) a month on theirscientific proteges.


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Shem'on associates a third person with Barsaumaand Narsai as spreading Nestorianism in Persia after 457, a ratherobscure character called Ma'na who is described as having ultimatelybecome cathohcus. But the only catholicos of this name which appears inthe list of the Persian metropolitans was made catholicos in 420, inthe last year of King Yazdgerd I, thirtyseven years before the death ofRibha. Shem'on further describes him as having translated Syriac booksinto Old Persian and as making a Syriac translation of the commentaryof Theodore of Mopscustia for Hibha. According to the Nestorianchronicles Yazdgerd I became a persecutor in the last year of hisreign, urged on by the native priesthood who were alarined at thespread of Christianity, which probably means that many Mazdeans hadbeen converted to Christianity, contrary to Persian law. So Yazdgerddeposed Ma'na, forbade him to control the affairs of the church, andrelegated him to his native province. Mare and Elias of Nisibis referto Mm as being banished and imprisoned, but liberated on theundertaking that neither he nor any other should claim the title ofcatholicos. His name does not occur at all in the diptychs of theNestorian Church, and the chronicles give Ma'na, Farbokht, and Dadisho'as becoming catholicos in 420 or 421, but agree that Dadisho'held that office from 421 to 456 and was then followed by Barsauma'sfriend Babowai. The most probable solution seems to be that at thedeath of the catholicos Yabalaha in 420 there was a disputed electionwith three candidates, that Ma'na and Farbokht held their own for awhile, then in 421 Dadisho obtained general recognition, thecomparatively obscure Majna being afterwards confused with a namesakewho left Edessa with Barsauma.

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This paper has been encouraged by the publication of Maite Aragonés Lumeras: Meaning: The Philosopher's Stone of the Alchemist Translator? (Translation Journal, Volume 12, No. 3 July 2008). She seems to be brave enough to raise the issue of the definition of meaning in a context where even theoretical and applied linguists fail to provide a decent definition of the term. For instance, a prominent professor of Linguistics in Hungary has only this to say: „meaning (sense) is a relational term..."