This explains the first Western Renaissance, known as the Carolingian Renaissance, which took place at the turn of the 9th Century.

Fourth, far from having been a “dark” or “barbarian” age, the period from the 8th to the 12th century, from Charlemagne to Peter Abelard, was characterized by the gradual assimilation of Greek philosophy and science and by an exceptional intellectual dynamism.

It is throughout this period that Europe acquired the frame of mind of Greek and Roman antiquity and developed an understanding of the world and of science which became a specific character of Western civilization.

The period set the stage for the 13th century, which witnessed a new intellectual “take-off” that manifested itself in the philosophical and theological works of Bonaventure, Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas, as well as in the scientific works of Roger Bacon, Campanus de Novare and Pierre de Marincourt.

Anyone interested in understanding the cultural roots of Western civilization will benefit greatly from reading Gouguenheim’s book. It provides overwhelming evidence in support of the notion that the Islamic world and the West reacted very differently to Greek knowledge, with the former remaining relatively impermeable to its influence and the latter making it very much its own.

No one who reads Guggenheim can fail to realize how true remains the contention that Western civilization was built on the combined heritage of Athens, Rome and Jerusalem.

Finally, one is hard put to find any evidence in this book in support of the view that it is ideologically biased. The grievances against the author call to mind Matthew 7:3 – “Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye but fail to notice the beam in your own eye?”


(1) This is the view held by historians such as R.-R. Menocal (The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History: A Forgotten Heritage), A. de Libera (Penser au Moyen Âge), A. Miquel (L’Islam et sa civilisation) and R. Mantran (L’Expansion musulmane).

(2) See, for example: M. Détienne, Les Grecs et nous, Paris, Perrin, 2005.


A Review by Richard Bastien, mercatornet, for Sylvain Gouguenheim’s “Aristote au Mont Saint-Michel: Les racines grecques de l’Europe Chrétienne”, here edited with emphasis (in bold or italics) by ELLOPOS BLOG