In men like Simeon this Byzantine Diaspora reached well beyond Mediterranean Europe into the Rhine and Danube regions. Not only Greek but also Syriac Christians became additional mediators of the classical heritage at this time, driven from their homeland by the Jihad.
“Paradoxically,” writes Gouguenheim, “Islam from its beginning transmitted Greek culture to the Occident by provoking the exile of those who refused its domination.” So, to be fair, did the Puritanical spasms of Byzantine court-theology in its regular iconoclastic moods. The persecuted iconodules, like the Syriac Christians, often sought refuge in Italy, Spain, or France.
Gouguenheim makes clear the conscious and deliberate indebtedness of the Carolingian Renaissance to these sustained currents from the East; he emphasizes the importance of the Carolingian Hellenophile project to the preservation and recirculation of Neo-Platonic and Aristotelian thought before the school of Aquinas.
“From the court of the Carolingians to that of the Germanic emperors of the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries, one does not cease to encounter men who interested themselves in Greek knowledge and culture.”
Gouguenheim mentions how Pépin le Bref (reigned 751-768) petitioned the Pope for Greek texts and how Paul I responded by committing to royal custodianship various “liturgical books, manuals of grammar and orthography, of geometry [and] works of Aristotle and pseudo-Dionysius” along with “men capable of translating them.”
Charlemagne himself employed an Italian of Greek background, Paul Diacre (720-799), “to teach Greek to the clerics” at a moment when a marriage seemed possible between his daughter Rothrude and a Byzantine prince.
Charles the Bald (reigned 840-877) “was fascinated by Greek culture, to the point that he asked the Irish savant Duns Scotus Erigena to translate the work of [pseudo-Dionysius] towards 855.”
With respect to Aachen, Gouguenheim senses an “irresistible attraction for the Greek authors,” which carries over into the Ottonian period and even intensifies. “The reputedly obscure centuries of the Middle Ages were in reality animated by multiple intellectual rebirths.”
Gothic Christianity, far from being averse to or irreconcilable with antique philosophy, “succeeded in the task of integrating antique culture within the Biblical framework of which [Christendom] was the issue.”
In addition to passing remarks, Gouguenheim devotes a separate chapter to the classicizing tendencies of the Syriac and Arab Christians, as distinct from their linguistic cousins and brethren in the Islamic faith.
As part of Byzantium, of which their main region of Cappadocia was a province, Syriac Christians played a central role in constituting the Eastern theological discourse during the medieval centuries, continuing to do so even after they had fallen under the sway of the Caliphs, thereby assisting in the westward transmission of Attic and Alexandrian lore. Gouguenheim writes:
“Insofar as one speaks of ‘Arabic-Muslim culture’ in the Seventh through the Tenth Centuries, one commits an anachronism… because the culture was at that time barely Muslim and was Arab only by displaced appellation.” Truly, “Syriac is closer to Hebrew than to Arabic,” and the elites of the Nestorian and Monophysite dispensations could generally boast bilingualism in their own tongue and the Koine of the Empire.