The article has three interrelated aims. First, to document that the title “Book of Letters”, despite its fame, was far from being ‘traditional’ in Arabic philosophy, as it is often presented, but it rather served as a temporary designation of the Metaphysics in Arabic. Apart from later derivatives, this title is attested only four times, in different forms, in writings of the IV/X century, with no trace beforehand and a life-span of a few decades, from the time of the translation activity of Abū Bišr Mattā (d. 328H/940) until the compo- sition of an ethical work by Miskawayh (written between 358H/968 and 360H/970) and of the Fihrist (377H/987-8). This title soon disappeared from the philosophical scenario in the course of the V/XI century, when it apparently lost currency in philosophical contexts. The second aim is to shed some light on the origin of this expression. “Book of Letters” as a title of the Metaphysics comes, in fact, from a cultural environment different from the Arabic-Islamic one, namely from the Syriac tradition of Greek philosophy, or from its Pahlavi offshoots. The Syriac provenience is indicated by the first known user of this expression, Paul the Persian (VI c. CE). It is corroborated by the Syriac background of some parts of Alexander of Aphrodisias’ commentary on the Metaphysics preserved in Arabic, in which all the treatises of the Metaphysics are systematically designated through letters. The third aim is to explain the waning of the title under discussion with reference to Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā, d. 428H/1037) and his renewal of philosophical nomenclature in the V/XI century. The author of the Book of the Cure/Healing (Kitāb al-Šifāʾ) not only neglected the title at stake, as already others had done before him: in his masterpiece on metaphysics, he also proposed a new and alternative denomination of Aristotle’s eponymous work (“First Teaching”, al-taʿlīm al-awwal), which condemned to irrelevance the textual content of the Metaphysics and a fortiori its material arrangement in distinct treatise designated by means of letters.

On the Arabic Titles of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. The Case of “Book of Letters”

Bertolacci, Amos
2022-01-01

Abstract

The article has three interrelated aims. First, to document that the title “Book of Letters”, despite its fame, was far from being ‘traditional’ in Arabic philosophy, as it is often presented, but it rather served as a temporary designation of the Metaphysics in Arabic. Apart from later derivatives, this title is attested only four times, in different forms, in writings of the IV/X century, with no trace beforehand and a life-span of a few decades, from the time of the translation activity of Abū Bišr Mattā (d. 328H/940) until the compo- sition of an ethical work by Miskawayh (written between 358H/968 and 360H/970) and of the Fihrist (377H/987-8). This title soon disappeared from the philosophical scenario in the course of the V/XI century, when it apparently lost currency in philosophical contexts. The second aim is to shed some light on the origin of this expression. “Book of Letters” as a title of the Metaphysics comes, in fact, from a cultural environment different from the Arabic-Islamic one, namely from the Syriac tradition of Greek philosophy, or from its Pahlavi offshoots. The Syriac provenience is indicated by the first known user of this expression, Paul the Persian (VI c. CE). It is corroborated by the Syriac background of some parts of Alexander of Aphrodisias’ commentary on the Metaphysics preserved in Arabic, in which all the treatises of the Metaphysics are systematically designated through letters. The third aim is to explain the waning of the title under discussion with reference to Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā, d. 428H/1037) and his renewal of philosophical nomenclature in the V/XI century. The author of the Book of the Cure/Healing (Kitāb al-Šifāʾ) not only neglected the title at stake, as already others had done before him: in his masterpiece on metaphysics, he also proposed a new and alternative denomination of Aristotle’s eponymous work (“First Teaching”, al-taʿlīm al-awwal), which condemned to irrelevance the textual content of the Metaphysics and a fortiori its material arrangement in distinct treatise designated by means of letters.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11771/22459
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