Transmission of Classical Scientific and Philosophical Literature from Greek into Syriac and Arabic (Erc-Starting-Grant ID 679083, 2016-2021)

A Syriac palimpsest parchment codex of Galen’s “On the Mixtures and Powers of Simple Drugs – or On Simple Drugs” (11th cent.) (source:

The ERC-project “Hun@aynNet” focuses on the transmission of classical scientific and philosophical literature from Greek into Syriac and Arabic. The analysis of these translations highlights the extent to which scientific knowledge and scholarship in the medieval Near East was based on the shared tradition of Greek antiquity and illustrates the significance of language in the exchange and transmission of knowledge, also between Christian and Muslim scholars.

It is often taken for granted that the Greek-Arabic translation movement (8th-10th c.) that made the entire body of Classical Greek scientific and philosophical literature available in Arabic (and that was later passed on to Europe in Latin translations) owes much to the translations from Greek into Syriac that were produced by Aramaic-speaking Syriac Christians in the preceding period. However, the actual impact of the Syriac translations on later methods of translation has so far not been measured and assessed.

This project aims to facilitate a comprehensive comparison of Syriac and Arabic translations through lexicographical analysis by developing an innovative research tool. Drawing on online lexicography and corpus linguistics, we will produce an aligned corpus of Syriac scientific and philosophical translations to facilitate the analysis and comparison of Syriac scientific terminology and translation techniques both with extant Greek originals and with Arabic versions. The lexicographic database will provide definitive data for the study of Syriac and Arabic translations and the connections between them. It will reveal how the Syriac translations along with underlying methods and tools that were put to use for the first time ever by Syriac Christians eventually formed the bedrock for the prosperity of the Islamic sciences. The open-access database thus creates a new instrument for a study of the history of the transmission of Greek scientific literature in antiquity and the middle ages.

The project is undertaken in cooperation with the University of Bochum.

Cooperation partners


  • G. Kessel, A Syriac Medical Kunnāšā of Īšōʿ bar ʿAlī (9th c.): First Soundings. Intellectual History of the Islamicate World 5 (2017) 228–251
  • G. Kessel, Inventory of Galen’s Extant Works in Syriac, in: J. C. Lamoreaux (ed., tr.), Ḥunayn Ibn Isḥāq on His Galen Translations (Eastern Christian Texts, vol. 3). Provo 2016, 168-192.
  • G. Kessel, Membra disjecta sinaitica I: a reconstitution of the Syriac Galen Palimpsest, in: A. Binggeli – A. Boud’hors – M. Cassin (Hrsg.), Manuscripta Graeca et Orientalia. Mélanges monastiques et patristiques en l’honneur de Paul Géhin (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 243). Leuven 2016, 469-496.
  • G. Kessel, A Neoplatonic treatment of Clytemnestra’s infidelity: an East Syriac Philosopher Denḥā on the power of music, in: E. Coda – C. Martini Bonadeo (Hrsg.), De l'Antiquité tardive au Moyen Age. Etudes de logique aristotélicienne et de philosophie grecque, syriaque, arabe et latine offertes à Henri Hugonnard-Roche (Études musulmanes, xliv). Paris 2014, 123-147.
  • B. Bhayro – R. Hawley – G. Kessel – P. E. Pormann, The Syriac Galen Palimpsest: Progress, Prospects and Problems. Journal of Semitic Studies 58 (2013) 131-148.