Universidad de Castilla~La Mancha

Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha


The School of Translators of Toledo

The School of Translators of Toledo is considered to be an historical fact which took place in the 12th and 13th centuries. Systematically and with the support of the Archbishopric of Toledo, and of King Alfonso X himself later, many Arabic works which contained part of the Greek, Persian, Indian and Arabic science and philosophy and which have survived until our days were translated.

This situation was made possible thanks to the fact that Toledo was the first great Muslim city of Al-Andalus conquered by a Christian kingdom. When Castilian king Alfonso IV conquered the city in 1085, he found out that there were plenty of original works in the libraries of Toledo, including the remaining works from the library of Al-Hakam II in Cordoba, which had managed to gather up to 400,000 volumes.

All that, along with the presence of a large number of Muslim, Hebrew, Mozárabe, Latin and Frankish educated people in the city, made possible that scholars and translators from all over Europe gathered in Toledo to know and share the scientific and philosophical knowledge of Al-Andalus and Sefarad.

Toledo was not just a vast translation centre, but also a place for meditation on the organization of knowledge, which later proved to be crucial because of its repercussion on European culture.

The School of Translators of Toledo experienced two colourful periods under the lead of Archbishop Don Raimundo first and king Alfonso X later, being each one of them determined by a different work technique. In the time of Archbishop Don Raimundo translations were made in teams, that is, at first an Arabist, generally a Jew or a Mozárabe, translated the original texts into Romance language orally; after that, a Latinist wrote them up in Latin, the language of science at that time.

The work system evolved in the 13th century. The role of a proper translator, expert on several languages appeared. In addition, Castilian Romance language replaced Latin as the target language of translations, which contributed to the consolidation of Castilian as both a scientific and a literary language and to the consequent secularization of the culture, separating knowledge from Latin in the Western World for the first time in history.

The predominance of philosophical translations throughout the 12th century made the figure and thinking of Aristotle well-known in European universities, where it was studied. Given this interest, many different works of this philosopher and a complete series of other Aristotelian authors such as Alfarabí or the Hispanic-Jew Avicebrón were translated.

Apart from philosophical works, translations of other scientific disciplines were also made at this stage. In medicine, for example, it is important to state that almost all the works by Galen, Hippocrates and mainly by Avicenna were translated, becoming texts for use in European universities until the 16th century. As far as Mathematics are concerned, Euclides and Al-Juwarizmi were translated too, introducing the Indian algorism through the latter.

In the time of Alfonso X, the number of translators who came from Toledo increased, Jews played a more important role than Christians and Astronomy, Astrology, Physics and Mathematics would dominate over Philosophy. During this period scholars such as Álvaro de Toledo, Hudá ben Mosé or Samuel Ha-Leví Abulafia played a relevant role.

The Libro conplido de los Judizios de las Estrellas, considered to be the best synthesis of Greek-Arabic astrology, as well as the four books of stars of the eighth sphere were translated among others. In addition the translators of these works were original authors, which led to the production of books as well-known as The Alfonsine Tables of Toledo or Libro del astrolabio redondo (The Book of The Rounded Astrolabe).

At the beginning of the 12th century European science nested in very few places and consisted only of a very small number of philosophical and theological subjects. Indeed, the scholastics previous to the time of don Raimundo counted only on the Thyme by Plato, the logical treatises by Averroes interpreted by Boecio and the compilations by San Isidoro.

However, the Arabs, with their receptive and syncretic capacity, owned both the Greek knowledge – Ptolemy, Aristotle, Plato, Euclid’s or Galen – thanks to their interaction with the Byzantines, and the Indian and Persian science.

In this context, the translating activity of the School of Translators of Toledo gave the European centres of knowledge the chance to discover the scientific and literary knowledge that had been compiled and developed by the Hebrews and Arabs in their contact with the East and the West.

Thanks to the translations of Arabic texts into Latin and Castilian language which were made in Toledo, Aristotelianism and mainly Averroísm arrived in Europe. The works of Aristotle influenced the ideas of St Thomas and the Scholastic, and, after being spread, the ideas of Averroes brought about several confrontations between philosophers and theologians in the University of Paris. The contribution of the School of Translators was remarkably significant in Medicine, Mathematics, Astronomy and Astrology. In Mathematics the sexagesimal system, the algorism and the number zero were spread. The translations of astronomical subjects, along with the works supported by Alfonso X, meant the birth of European astronomy, so much so that The Alfonsine Tables of Toledo helped Copernicus to develop his heliocentric theories.

Finally, translators did not only help to spread texts, but, what is more important, to spread the Islamic experimental method consisting of experience, observation and analogy; which would prove to be crucial for the later development of modern science and European Renaissance.

The translations, methods and in short the philosophy of The School of Translators of Toledo laid the foundations for the Renaissance, which, helped by the invention of the press, appeared two centuries later.

Promoted by the University Board of Toledo (within the University of Castilla-La Mancha), Toledo has a new School of Translators nowadays. The new school, located at the old Palace of King Don Pedro, intends to become a place to meet, reflect and discuss about the circulation of ideas and thoughts all along the Mediterranean basin. In order to achieve these goals, their basic activities aim at creating a network of institutions of translation around the Mediterranean Sea, promoting discussion about the translating activity and in short at supporting the education of new translators.

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