The jolly idea of Muslim competence in classical learning, as Gouguenheim argues, rests on a misunderstanding: what Islam knew of Greco-Roman wisdom, which it possessed at no time extensively, it knew largely thanks to Syriac scholars.
“The Syriac [Christians] were in effect the essential intermediaries of the transmission into Arabic of the philosophical texts of the ancient Greeks,” who generously gave far more than the reluctant takers took.
Obtuse westerners betray their lack of discrimination and their poverty of real knowledge in failing to differentiate between Syriac culture and the Arabic-Muslim culture that, by means of the Jihad, conquered and cruelly stamped out Nestorian (and Coptic and Byzantine) society.
Unlike their Muslim beneficiaries, however, the Syriac Christians could assimilate the full range of Greek logic and speculation.
The Johannine Logos stemmed from the Greek Logos and the Christianity of the Patres – whether Greek, Latin, or Syriac – therefore comported itself as a rational theology; already in Late Antiquity, Cappadocians and Syrians stood out as the chief developers of Neo-Platonism; emperors both Pagan and Christian sought counsel from the professors of Antioch’s renowned Daphnaeum.
In a chapter on “Islam and Greek Knowledge,” Gouguenheim notes that for Muslims, on the other hand, the Logos constituted an inassimilable scandal, subversive of the absolute submission to Allah’s commands, as articulated in the Koran, that the name Islam denotes.
Islam kept of Greek thought “in general [only] that which could not come in contradiction with Koranic teaching.” Furthermore, “Greece – and so too Rome – represented a world radically foreign to Islam, for reasons religious, but also political”; and, unlike the Latinate and Frankish peoples, “Muslims did not interest themselves in the languages of those whom they had conquered” because “Arabic was the sacred language par excellence, and that of revelation.”
More aggressively, “Muslim rejection – or indifference – to Greek knowledge manifested itself again through the destruction of the cultural centers that were the monasteries, the Muslims not acting in this way any differently from the Vikings.”
One could remark here, however, that the Vikings at least had the decency after two centuries to cease their predatory behavior and settle down as members of Christendom.
Multiculturalists and Islamophiles have pointed to the Abbasid establishment in Spain (Andalusia) called the Bayt al Hikma or “House of Wisdom” as proof of Muslim enthusiasm for classical learning. Gouguenheim demonstrates that this is another “seductive” misunderstanding, to which the fanciful eagerly yield. The “House of Wisdom” never functioned other than as a Koranic school, and even in that capacity it enjoyed only a truncated existence.
Aristote au Mont Saint-Michel celebrates a central figure, Jacques de Venise (Twelfth Century), who, not only metaphorically, brought Aristotle to Mont Saint-Michel.
Jacques was a cleric of Venetian origin, as his name tells, who studied in Constantinople before reestablishing himself in France. Jacques, as Gouguenheim phrases it, through his Herculean labor of scholarship and translation, supplies “the missing link in the history of the passage of Aristotelian philosophy from the Greek world to the Latinate world.”