Hugh Bibbs, B.A.
Bowen Island

Scriptorium Series: Volume 3
Northwest & Pacific Publishing
Northwest & Pacific Publishing


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The Islamic Foundation of the Renaissance

Copyright:  Hugh Bibbs, B.A., 1999
All rights reserved

First Edition




The scholasticism of medieval Catholic Europe, focussed
entirely as it was upon ancient authority, was unable to inform
scientific inquiry until the revolutionary libraries of Islam were
made available to the Catholic world.
All western advances in civil engineering, mathematics,
chemistry, medicine and astronomy were founded upon the
medieval sciences of Islam, which were themselves built upon
the classical traditions lost to the west during the Germanic
destruction of the Roman Empire.  
This text details the massive contribution of medieval Islamic
learning upon the history of western science, and upon the
Renaissance itself.

Prelude to the Early Renaissance

In early medieval Europe, all education, other than the
passing along of iron-age trade skills, was controlled entirely by
the Roman Catholic Church for the express purpose of assisting
the clergy in establishing the superiority of the universal
Christian religion promoted from Rome.
What is now called the scientific method was then being
followed to some extent by artisans and craftsmen.  By trial and
error they gained some knowledge of how things behave, but
medieval Germanic Europe never achieved on its own the
sophistication of classical Mediterranean science.  
The Church s singularly most useful skill, offered only to
clergymen, was literacy, but it was only used towards two ends.  
Firstly, to promote scholarship in service of the world view of
the Catholic hierarchy, which was a world view of narrow
scope.  Secondly, to fix the status quo which was enforced by a
King, by recording in writing all royal charters, land grants,
criminal codes (such as the Salic law of Francia) and taxes
collected from vassals.  But, this record keeping on the King s
behalf was of secondary interest to the universal Church.  
The Church s focus on scholarship was intended to assist
the promotion of the Christian faith, not to increase knowledge
as such.  So, the scholarship of medieval Europe prior to the
eleventh century consisted of a study of religion, and the natural
sciences were confined to a search for the moral qualities in
man and nature.  Morality was a continuous theme in the
scholastic tradition inherited from the early Roman Christianity
of Empire.
As the engine driving all serious study in Europe, the
Roman Catholic version of natural philosophy had not been
significantly derailed at any time between its formative years
during the reign of Constantine, just prior to the Council of
Nicaea in A.D. 325, and the end of the first millenium six
hundred years later.  
Between the years A.D. 1050 and 1250, however, a great
change took place, after which all serious scholarship had
irreversibly adopted a new emphasis upon empirical evidence.  
The goals of knowledge became more materialistic and less
esoteric.  Interestingly, during the same period, Europe had
come into full contact with the people of Islam.  
It may be possible that the impact of Arabic knowledge
can be credited with having brought about such a change in
European thought.  

Islamic Contact with Europe

The introduction of Arabic texts into the studies of the
West divides the history of science and philosophy in the
middle ages into two distinct periods.  Before the advent of
Islamic learning, the Western mind had to be satisfied with
fragments of the Roman schools which had been heaped
together by Marianus Capella, Bede, Isidore, and a few
technical treatises.  In the scheme of Medieval education, there
were seven kinds of study, or seven faculties of scholarship.
These were grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry,
music, and astronomy.  
Four of these, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and
music, were considered mathematical.  As seen in the textbooks
of Boethius and Bede, the arithmetic was elementary.  
Gerbert of Aurillac acquired fame for going somewhat
beyond these masters. However, Gerbert was a student of Arab
The Muslim expansion into Spain in A.D.1085 brought
with it a new world view and new learning previously unknown
in Europe, such as the technology of papermaking. The scholars
of Islam in Spain also brought with them a vast body of
empirical studies in natural science developed by generations of
men from traditions ancient and contemporary who all spoke
from outside of the narrow world view of the Catholic Church
articulated by St. Augustine of Hippo.
Included in the Arabic libraries were a fully developed
mathematics of physics and astronomy, and the ancient Greek
medical texts of Hippocrates and Galen, as well as the entire
body of Aristotle's writings. The Arabs  massive written record
of non-Christian discussion included new ideas supported by
incontrovertible proofs of evidence or logic, and some of these
valid new ideas contradicted outright their corollary forms as  
taught by the Roman Catholic Church.  
The recovery of this ancient learning, supplemented by
what the Arabs had gained from the Orient and from their own
observations, constituted the intellectual rebirth of Europe.
The Theocentric world view of Europe was further
shaken throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries as the
Europeans who went east to fight in the crusades discovered for
themselves that their infidels had a higher civilisation.  The
Muslims had hospitals, sewers, irrigation, and for battle, heavy
artillery in the form of great iron cross bows.  In debate, the
Muslims were more sensible, with their background in
Aristotle.  For Europeans, it was the worst form of culture
shock: the discovery of their own backwardness.  
Disease also served to weaken the faith that Christians
had the higher power on their side.  The armies of the Pope s
crusaders were decimated, more by diseases than by Saracen
warriors.   Taking into account the epidemics of bubonic plague
which were also sweeping Europe, the terror of disease reduced
the credibility of the Church by introducing pessimism and
scepticism of miracles and religion.
As ancient trade networks reopened along the seaways of
the Mediterranean because of the bustle of activity under way
for the crusades, a coinciding rise of commercial enterprises
encouraged a revival of the cash economy, and cities which had
been abandoned for centuries were reopened as centres of trade
and shipping.
Ecclesiastic authority shifted from the Abbots of
monastic estates who had limited fixed wealth in the land, to
the bishops of those towns which controlled ever-increasing
cash flow.  The feudal soldier-nobility similarly lost power to
the new banking and merchant families of the cities.  Centres of
learning opened up in those cities, as in Naples where Saint
Thomas of Aquinas went to study.  It was at Naples that
Aristotle's philosophy was first taught by the Church.  
As St. Thomas rewrote Christian philosophy in the light
of Aristotelian philosophy, the age of Catholic reliance upon
Augustinian thought drew to a close.  Building upon Plato,
Augustine had said that through meditation we gain knowledge
of unchanging truth;  that divine illumination enables lasting,
knowing statements to be made.  Aquinas wrote that knowledge
depends on sense perception, since senses are the primary
source of knowledge.  
Augustine taught of an agent intellect which acts
universally, giving our minds the abstractions of universal truth
so that we may understand the truth.  Aquinas said it is our own
intellect which has the power of abstraction.  We don't
necessarily depend on God for knowledge, since human reason
is autonomous.  
Augustine had it that conscience was the voice of God
within, upon which we are directly dependant.  Aquinas saw
conscience as a natural law flowing from practical reason.  
Augustine saw the purpose of the human community as
tending towards the sanctification of all souls.  Aquinas saw the
purpose of the state as the common good of all.  His philosophy
clearly reflected the new reliance upon reason as the guiding
light rather than upon tradition.  He even used the fact of the
Muslims to demonstrate the shortcomings of traditional
Catholic authority:

It is difficult to proceed against each particular
error, because some of the gentiles, as
Mohammedans and Pagans, do not agree with us
in recognising the authority of any scripture
available for their conviction, as we can argue
against the Jews from the Old Testament, and
against heretics from the New.  But these receive
neither;  hence it is necessary to have recourse to
natural reason, which all are obliged to assent to.
 Science  is a word derived from the Latin  Scientia ,
meaning knowledge.  Today it means a particular kind of
knowledge, of the physical world, arrived at through reason and
empirical evidence.  The language of Science has been the
mathematical model, which has provided a suitably abstract and
well defined framework for theoretical discussion.  The value of
mathematics as a modelling tool was known to the ancients of
Babylon, who used primitive algebraic geometry and arithmetic
to describe the motions of the planets accurately enough to be
able to predict lunar eclipses.  
But, all of this Muslim science was only brought into the
ken of Europeans through the efforts of scholars, often Jewish,
who translated the Arabic documents. Many of the Jewish
translators did not know Latin, so they turned the Arabic into
Hebrew, and then Latin scholars turned the Hebrew into Latin.  
While the Muslims were being driven out of Spain, scholars
tagged along behind the Spanish armies in search of texts.  For
them, Toledo was an intellectual jackpot, being the seat of
scholarship in Spain under the Arabs.  
The following list of a few of the Greek and Arabic
works which were translated from the Arab manuscripts during
the twelfth century will indicate the extent of the scientific
revival that took place at that time:
Euclid s Elements, Optics, Catoptics, and Data
Apollonius  preface to his Conic Sections
Archimedes  Measurement of the Circle
Ptolemy s Almagest, Optics, Planisphere, and
Heron s Pneumatics
Hippocrates  Aphorisms
Aristotle s Meteorologica I-IV, Physics, De Caelo,
De Generatione et Corruptione,
Posterior Analytics,  Parva Naturalia,  
Metaphysics I-IV,  and De Anima
Theodosius  Spherics,
Alexander of Aphrodisias  De Motu et Tempore
Proclus  De Motu
Various medical treatises of both Hippocratus and
Galen and their respective medical schools,
as well as the extensive Arabic contributions
advancing their medical traditions
Al-Kwarismi s trigonometric tables and his
There were also works by dozens of other Arab scholars,
mathematicians, physicians, alchemists et cetera, each of which
had to be translated by somebody into Latin before it could ever
be read by the educated clerics of Europe.  

The Translators

The great translators involved in this work were Adelard
of Bath, Plato of Tivoli, Tobert of Chester, Hermann of
Carinthia, with his pupil Rudolf of Bruges, and Gerard of
Cremona, while in Spain itself were Dominicus Gondisalvi,
Hugh of Santalla, and a group of Jewish scholars including
Petrus Alphonsi, John of Seville, Savasorda, and Abraham ben
Much of the work of translation was carried out at
Barcelona, Tarasona, Sagovia, Leon, Pamplona, as well as
beyond the Pyrenees at Toulouse, Beziers, Narbonne, and
Marseilles, in the first quarter of the twelfth century.  
Later, after 1116, the chief centre became Toledo, due to
the patronage of Raymond, the archbishop of Toledo.  The
hospitality of the Spanish King, Frederick II (also the Holy
Roman Emperor) to Arab learning certainly sped up the flow of
Arab thought into Christendom.  
Gerbert of Aurillac, born into the tenth century, was one
of the first to profit from the Arab learning.  Through Bishop
Lupitus of Barcelona, he acquired instruments and books on
Arab mathematics and science, apparently amazing his
contemporaries with the skills he learned.  Early in the twelfth
century the whole of Euclid s Elements of Geometry was
translated, then his Data and Optics and Algebra.
The Arabs had also ruled in Sicily from 902 until 1091,
and there the Muslim population remained largely intact after
the Norman conquest.  There, in the middle of the twelfth
century, Edrisi wrote his compendium of Arabic geography,
and Eugene of Palermo translated the Optics of Ptolemy from
the Arabic.
North Africa was the source of additional books on
mathematics.  From this foundation, the mathematician Leonard
of Pisa was able to write his Liber Abaci along with solutions of
quadratic and cubic equations.
Astronomical texts were mainly copies of Bede and
Helperic in Europe.  As late as 1119, Philippe de Thaon wrote
his Cumpoz from the latin tradition.  The next year, Walcher of
Malvern began to figure in degrees, minutes, and seconds, as he
had learned to do from a Spanish Jew, Petrus Alphonsi.  
In 1126, Adelard of Bath translated the tables of Al-
Kwarizme, then those of Al-Battani, Al-Zarkali, and Al-
Fargani.  Adelard of Bath was a translator of both Arabian and
Greek works.  The range of his interests can be judged from his
writings, which include texts on trigonometry, astrology,
Platonic philosophy, falconry, and chemistry.  What he
acquired from the Arabs was a rationalist s mentality, what we
would call secular thinking.  He developed a feel for
observation and experiment.  In a letter to his nephew, he
It is hard to discuss with you, for I have learned
one thing from the Arabs under the  guidance of
reason; you follow another halter, caught by the
appearance of authority, for what is authority but a
halter?   If reason is not to be the universal judge,
it is given to each to no purpose.  

Constantine the African, a Benedictine monk of Monte
Cassino, was at work in the eleventh century translating
important medical works, which inspired a revival of studies at
the first modern medical school in Europe, at Salerno.  
Advances in medical science required the medical knowledge
of the ancient world, especially Hippocrates and Galen.  
Constantine the African translated some of their teaching, his
versions constituting most of the twenty six treatises of the
medical library of Hildesheim in 1161.  Most of their writings
came to the west, however, in the later twelfth century through
the Arabic versions translated by Gerard of Cremona.

Medieval Islamic Science

In Islamic thought, there were three schools which
dominated.  Firstly, there was the Peripatetic school which
followed Aristotle.  Secondly, was the school which followed
Plato, called the Aprioristic school by Pines.  Thirdly was the
school of the Mathematicians.  Of course, the mathematicians
placed a great emphasis upon the validity of the mathematical
description of the world.  The other two schools shared an
interest in phenomena and in the description of phenomenon,
seeking knowledge of experience rather than knowledge of
causes.  The main reason that the Apriorists could become so
concerned with phenomenon was that many of their leading
spokesmen, like Al-Rhazi, were physicians whose medical
attitude was dependant upon observation.
It must be emphasised that the natural sciences,
medicine, geography, alchemy, mathematics, and other such
pursuits were utterly peripheral to the whole mainstream of
Islamic scholarship.  Mohamedanism was not hostile to these
sciences, and so they developed normally, but they developed
only as a means of further glorifying the whole culture,
religion, philosophy, and vision, of Islam.  Al-Rhazi s, Ibn-
Hayyan s, Al-Biruni s Al-Haitham s, Al-Khazini s, Ibn-Sina s
(Avicenna), Ibn-Rushd s (Averroes), scientific works are
largely given over to philosophical outbursts and religious
insights.  Their scientific work was valid in their own eyes only
because it fit well with the whole truth, which was their vision
of God and His universe.  
The science of the Arabs was chiefly Greek in origin,
either by being direct translations of Greek works, or through
Syrian or Hebrew copies.  However, this body of ancient works
was improved upon, developed, by the Arabs under the
patronage of generations of benevolent Caliphs.
Many of our scientific words in the West are derived
from the Arab manuscripts.  The medical works which were
translated often came with glossaries of botanical terms in
Greek and Arabic.  Ophthalmology first developed in Egypt,
where such words as Retina and cataract originated.  The words
algebra, zero, cipher, almanac, zenith, azimuth, alchemy,
alcohol, alkali, elixir, syrup, bazaar, tariff, arsenal, and the
Arabic numerals, all come to us from Islam.  
As far as the other natural sciences are concerned, the
Arabs made their contributions in each field of study.  Al-
Biruni was especially perceptive of geological processes as he
saw them indicated in natural formations.  Referring to having
found sea fossils inland, he wrote:

In a similar way, sea has turned into land, and land
into sea; which changes, if they happened before
the existence of man, are not known and if they
took place later they are not remembered because
with the length of time the record of events breaks
off especially if this happens gradually.  This only
a few can realise.
Islamic learning in the middle ages was so far in advance
of the European traditions that the usage of Islamic knowledge
by Europe cannot be seen as other than a wholesale adoption of
an entire foundation of knowledge upon which the Later
Renaissance was constructed.  In addition to the scholastic
contributions, such as the philosophy of Aristotle, there are four
specific areas of scientific specialisation which merit particular
attention, in the form of a specific review; the four most telling
fields of Arabic science being medicine, astronomy, physics
and chemistry.

1. Medicine

Medicine is the most celebrated of the Islamic sciences.  
They excelled in this field, their observation and knowledge of
anatomy and diseases being far superior to anything known in
the West at that time.  Islamic medicine combined the
observational and concrete experimental approach of the
Hippocratic school with the theoretical method of Galen, and
added the theories and experiences of the Persian and Indian
physicians, especially in pharmacology.  Islamic medicine
remained for the most part empirical, seeking the causes for
individual phenomena.  
The two most influential physicians of Islam were
Avicenna (Ibn-Sina) and Rhazes (Al-Rhazi).  The ninth century
Rhazes, who entered the study of medicine late in life, was the
greatest clinical and observational physician of Islam.  He
became the director of the main hospital at Baghdad, thus
gaining much practical experience.  An illustration from his
own notes demonstrates his grasp of medicine:

Abdullah Ibn-Sawada used to suffer from attacks
of mixed fever   Only a short time elapsed ere the
patient passed pus in his urine.  I thereupon
informed him that these feverish attacks would not
recur, and so it was.
The only thing which prevented me at first from
giving it as my definite opinion that the patient
was suffering from ulceration of the kidneys was
that he had previously suffered from other mixed
types of fever  When he passed the pus, I
administered to him diuretics until the urine
became free from pus, after which I treated him
with terra siglata, boswellia thurifera, and
Dragon s blood, and his sickness departed from
him.  That the ulceration was slight was indicated
to me by the fact that he did not complain to me at
first of weight in the loins.  After he had passed
pus, however, I inquired of him whether he had
experienced this symptom, and he replied in the
affirmative.  Had the ulceration been extensive, he
would of his own accord have complained of this
symptom.  And that the pus was evacuated quickly
indicated a limited ulceration.  The other
physicians whom he consulted besides myself,
however, did not understand the case at all, even
after the patient had passed pus in his urine.
Rhazes  Continens is the most voluminous medical work
ever written in Arabic.  It was studied avidly in the western
world from the twelfth to the seventeenth century, when Rhazes
and Avicenna were held in higher esteem than even
Hippocrates and Galen.  According to Nasr, the greatest
Muslim surgeon, ever, was the tenth century Al-Zahrawi, who
wrote the Concessio translated by Gerard of Cremona.
The best known physician , however, for being widely
read, was Avicenna.  His book, The Canon of Medicine, is the
most widely read of all Islamic medical texts.  It was translated
into five volumes of Latin text by Gerard of Cremona.  The
German edition of the Canon, written in the thirteenth century,
remained the standard encyclopaedia of the medicine of the
Muslim world until modern times.  
Typical of scholastic reverence for written authority,
these texts were interpreted literally and dogmatically rather
than experimentally in clinics.  In Islamic territories, teaching in
clinical medicine was done in hospitals. Doctors had theoretical
and practical training, wrote a thesis which had to be accepted
by their masters, and took the Hippocratic oath before they
were given a permit to practise medicine.
The Semitic tradition of excellence in executing surgical
procedures was a very old one, especially in the region which
fell under the political control of Baghdad.  The responsibility
was serious, as was the skill involved.  The Hammurabic code
of ancient Mesopotamia included a provision that:

If a surgeon has   opened an eye-infection with a
bronze instrument and so saved the man s eye, he
shall take ten shekels.  If a surgeon has   opened
an eye-infection with a bronze instrument and
thereby destroyed the man s eye, they shall cut off
his hand.    

Progress was made in Western medical schooling as a
direct result of the Arabic learning.  A saner attitude towards
the problem of medicine was inculcated, and the professional
status of a physician was later established.  Jewish and Arab
physicians were in great favour wherever they could be had.  
So, not only during the middle ages were the Muslim
physicians studied seriously in the West, but even until the
seventeenth century their teaching remained authoritative.  In
the East, they remained the supreme medical authorities until
modern times.
2. Astronomy

The twelfth century opened in the West with the manuals
of Bede, Isidore, Hyginus and Heiric of Auxerre being the chief
texts on Astronomy.  Beginning a Chartres, there was a revival
of Platonic philosophy, so that there was evidence of the
platonic influence in the first interest in Arab learning.
As the Aristotelian physics began to filter in through
Arabic writers, the conflict of this with Plato and Ptolemy
brought confusion in the minds of the scholastics.  The
Questiones of Adelard of Bath and the De Essentiis of Hermann
of Carinthia were followed by translations of Al-Fargani and
Al-Battani, the tables of Al-Kwarizme and Al-Zarkali, and a
mass of astrological literature.  The new knowledge, the new
controversies, the more exact observations, and the contrast
between the scientific writings at the beginning of the century
and those at the end, give a good indication of the intellectual
ferment, and progress, of the age.  
Al-Battani in the latter ninth century made some of the
most accurate observations in Islamic astronomy.  He
discovered the motion of the solar apsides, as indicated by the
change in the sun s apogee since Ptolemy, when the sun s
farthest distance from the earth was at a point some seventeen
degrees different than in his own time.   His major work
became known in the West as De Scientia Stellarum.  It was
one of the basic works of astronomy until Galileo, Copernicus,
and Kepler overtook it in the Later Renaissance.
Of the many attempts to estimate the distance and size of
the planets in relation to the earth, none became as well known
as that of Al-Farghani, the ninth century astronomer from
Transoxiana.  His Elements of Astronomy was translated and
the distances given by him became universally accepted in the
West up to the time of Copernicus.  His estimates of the moon s
dimensions are remarkably accurate.  He gave the maximum
distance of the moon from the earth as 256,000 miles, while it
is in fact 252,000 miles, and he gave its volume as being twenty
six percent that of the earth s, while it is in fact twenty point
four.  He gave as the earth s diameter a distance of 7,980 miles,
and it is actually 7,926 miles.
In the twelfth century, the astronomer Jabir Ibn Aflah
criticised the Ptolemaic system, as did the philosophers
Avempace and Ibn Tufail.  Their criticisms were used as
effective instruments by Later Renaissance astronomers against
The construction of observatories as distinct scientific
institutions owes its origin to Islam.  Many fine observatories
were built in Islam from Spain to India, and instruments such as
the astrolabe were invented by the Muslim astronomers.  

3. Physics

The Arabs built their physics upon Aristotle, but they
added some sophisticated concepts of their own, such as inertia,
time, and space, as constants.  Generally, however, their
physics was rationalistic, and not subjected to experiment.  
Nonetheless, some groups did work in experimental physics.  
Al-Biruni established tables of specific weights for all the
known compounds and elements.  
Al-Khazini worked with densities and gravity theory.  
Al-Haitham began with the Optics of Euclid and studies
of refraction by Ptolemy, and went on to do experiments to
determine the rectilinear motion of light, the properties of
shadows, and the use of the lens.  He invented the camera
obscura, which he studied mathematically.  He had a lathe on
which he turned lenses and ground mirrors for his experiments,
and he studied spherical and parabolic mirrors, applied the
rectangle of velocities at the surface of refraction centuries
before Newton, studied atmospheric phenomenon, determined
that the twilight ends when the sun is nineteen degrees below
the horizon, and analysed vision as being light travelling from
object to eye which employs a lens like his camera.  His work,
the Opticae Thesaurus in Latin, was printed in the sixteenth
century and his influence is to be seen in the optical studies of
In his Process of Calculation, Al-Kharazmi used the
word al jabr, meaning  compulsion , for the first time.  
Algebra, cultivated by the Muslims, had its roots in Greek and
Indian mathematics.  This union of Greek and Indian
mathematics began in the ninth century with the work of Al-
In the tenth century, the Arabs translated further Greek
mathematics into Arabic, and came up with some elaborations
of their own.  Ibn Qurrah calculated the volume of a paraboloid,
and produced geometrical solutions for third degree
By far the greatest bulk of the Arabic contribution to
mathematics, though, was in their development and mastery of
Viewing medieval Arabian science in hindsight, it can be
seen that the concepts of the sciences could have been further
developed to the point of Newtonian physics.  Al-Rhazi s and
Abu l-Barakat s conceptions of time and space and Alhazen s
concept of inertia could have been rendered mathematically.  
The great mathematician Al-Biruni was fascinated by Al-
Rhazi s physics, but he did not accept it.  This synthesis of
concepts and skills which Newton possessed did not take place
in Islamic science.

4. Chemistry

The most important works written on the chemistry of
Islam were by Ibn-Hayyan, who became the greatest authority
on the subject, not only in the Islamic world, but also in the
West, where as  Geber  he became universally accepted as the
leading authority.  In the twelfth century, following the
translation of alchemy texts from Arabic into Latin, interest in
alchemy grew in the West.
Ibn-Hayyan s grasp of the chemical nature of matter was
quite profound.  Taking the example of mercuric sulphide,
which he calls cinnabar, he writes:

When mercury and sulphur combine to form one
single substance, it is thought that they have
changed essentially, and that an entirely new
substance has been formed.  That facts are
otherwise, however.  Both the mercury and the
sulphur retain their own natures;  all that has
happened is that their parts have become
attenuated, and placed in close approximation to
one another, so that to the eye the product appears
If one could devise an apparatus to separate the
parts of one sort from those of the other, it would
be apparent that each of them has not been
transmuted or changed.  We say, indeed, that such
transmutation is not possible.
He also demonstrates how the mercuric sulphide can be
produced by heating mercury and sulphur together in the same
vessel.  His interpretation of this phenomenon is likened to
modern acid-base theory.  Indeed, Ibn-Hayyar is reckoned to be
the first to fully outline the acid-base theory of chemical



There was plenty of inspiration and example for further
study and experimentation within the Arabic learning.  
Aristotle s descriptions of animals often reach the limits
attainable without a microscope.  Hippocrates observed diseases
with accuracy.  Surgical experiments, physical calculations,
empirical study abounds in the Arab literature.  But, initially the
Europeans took the results of Greek and Arabic science rather
than its methods.  Medicine became the study of the texts
interpreted scholastically.  Physics became the interpretation of
Aristotle.  Geography, which the well-travelled cartographers of
Islam had fully pursued, became in the West the study of books.  
Nevertheless, there were a few minds who grasped the
scientific lesson in the Arab learning.  A great English scholar,
the Franciscan monk, Robert Grosseteste, brought the Arabic
and Greek works on mathematical and experimental science to
Oxford, and his pupil of the thirteenth century, Roger Bacon,
began rewriting the natural sciences, at the same time as
Thomas Aquinas was rewriting Christian philosophy.  Bacon

Experimental science has one great prerogative in
respect to all other sciences, that it investigates
their conclusions by experience.  For the principles
of the other sciences may be known by experience,
but the conclusions are drawn from these
principles by way of argument.  If they require
particular and complete knowledge of those
conclusions, the aid of this science must be called
in.  It is true that mathematics possesses useful
experience with regard to its own problems of
figure and number, which apply to all the sciences
and experience itself, for no science can be known
without mathematics.  And if we wish to have
complete and thoroughly verified knowledge, we
must proceed by the method of experimental

The influence of Islamic scholarship effected changes
which eventually resulted in the secularisation of European
scholarship.  This is due to the fact that, since the religious
philosophy and doctrine of Islam was of no interest to the
Catholic world, the important works which Latin Europe
adopted from Arabic Islam were mainly scientific.
The subtle shift away from rationalism and scholasticism
towards empiricism and experiment had by no means become
obvious by the end of the Medieval period.  Traditionalists still
held sway.  However, the great influence of the Arab literature
remained.  The Christian world had changed in light of the
Muslim world, and the new learning offered possibilities where
the old learning failed.  Indeed, the old learning had failed, so
there was no way of recovering the mentality of the tenth
After contact with the Arabs, the Later Renaissance and
the Scientific Revolution were perhaps inevitable in Europe.

"Brother Cadfael" is the world's best-known 12th century monk, a renowned herbalist and a clever sleuth. This succinct history of herbal remedies and monastic herb gardens such as Cadfael's, features a complete A-to-Z guide to the medical uses for every herb and plant mentioned in Ellis Peters' books.

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