The Revival of Letters by the Arabs

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We now meet with a somewhat curious and unexpected phenomenon in the history of literature during these dark ages; and though it may not properly fall within the line of our church history, it is too interesting and important to overlook. The professed teachers of Christendom were at this time, as is well known, sunk in the very depths of ignorance; but we find the Saracens had risen to be the students and the teachers of the national literature of Greece. This was the remarkable state of things at the beginning of the eleventh century.
We have already seen that in the seventh century the companions and successors of Mahomet desolated the face of the earth with their arms, and darkened it by their ignorance, and the acts of barbarism ascribed to them—such as the burning of the Alexandrian library, attest their contempt for learning, and their aversion for the monuments which they destroyed. In the eighth century they seem to have settled down in the countries which they subdued, and, with the advantages of a finer climate and a richer soil, they began to study the sciences and useful knowledge. "In the ninth [century]," says Dean Waddington, "under the auspices of a wise and munificent Caliph, they applied the same ardor to the pursuit of literature which had heretofore been confined to the exercise of arms. Ample schools were founded in the principal cities of Asia, Bagdad, and Cufa, and Bassora; numerous libraries were formed with care and diligence, and men of learning and science were solicitously invited to the splendid court of Almamunis. Greece, which had civilized the Roman republic, and was destined, in a much later age, to enlighten the extremities of the West, was now called upon to turn the stream of her lore into the barren bosom of Asia; for Greece was still the only land possessing an original literature. Her noblest productions were now translated into the ruling language of the East, and the Arabians took pleasure in pursuing the speculations, or submitting to the rules, of her philosophy.
"The impulse thus given to the genius and industry of Asia was communicated with inconceivable rapidity along the shores of Egypt and Africa to the schools of Seville and Cordova; and the shock was not felt least sensibly by those who last received it. Henceforward the genius of learning accompanied even the arms of the Saracens. They conquered Sicily; from Sicily they invaded the southern provinces of Italy; and, as if to complete the eccentric revolution of Grecian literature, the wisdom of Pythagoras was restored to the land of its origin by the descendants of an Arabian warrior."*
(*Waddington's History, vol. 2, p. 44.)