Introduction to Arabic philosophical collections

Graeco-Arabic Material 

The SAWS project covers a number of transmission processes of Greek wisdom, namely the transmission from Greek into Syriac and Arabic and from there onwards into Medieval European languages (Latin and Spanish), as well as from the Ancient Greek culture into the Byzantine world.

In the ninth and tenth century Greek works of wisdom literature and philosophy, sometimes in their late Antique re-workings, were translated into Arabic. Many of these translations are nowadays lost, but collections and compilations composed in the early Islamic centuries preserve excerpts and traces of them. Editing and analysing such collections thus serve a twofold purpose, namely to make the otherwise lost source material accessible and to provide insight into the world and mind-set of the Arabic speaking compilers by considering their literary products in their own right.

The Arabic texts which SAWS provides may broadly be divided into two groups: the gnomological collections and the purely philosophical compilations.

Arabic philosophical compilations

Several philosophical compilations are here made accessible in preliminary editions for the first time.

Description of the texts

Ps-Aristotle, K. al-araka (The Book on Motion) in Ankara, MS Ismail Saib I 1696 and Istanbul, MS Hacı Mahmud 5683: see text.

The K. al-araka is a compilation of passages derived from Proclus’ Elements of Theology (see text) and Elements of Physics (see text) and Aristotelian material dealing mostly with motion most probably stemming from the commentators. The passages derived from the Elements of Physics are the first unambiguous evidence for a Greek-Arabic translation of this particular Proclean work. Unfortunately there is no way to establish how many levels of re-working the assumed translation has undergone before having reached the stage in which it is currently preserved. The material of the K. al-araka in general seems - judging from the vocabulary and the terminology used - to date back to the earliest days of Arabic philosophy, the days of al-Kindī and most probably to his circle. However, the compilation as such seems to be of a later date, maybe composed in the twelfth century, and curiously lacks a final redaction, as, for example, proposition 20 of the Elements of Theology is taken up twice.

The K. al-araka is known to be extant in two Turkish manuscripts of miscellaneous contents, the Istanbul MS being a copy of the Ankara MS. For a descriptions of the two MSS see Taylor (1982).

SAWS provides a preliminary edition of the Istanbul MS (with only very few emendations, but standardisation of the hamza orthography) which is a preparatory step towards a critical edition based on the Ankara MS, but considering the Istanbul MS. The text is also linked to its Proclean sources which have been already been established by Pines (1986), slightly refined by Wakelnig. 

Anonymous, Kitāb al-ikma: see text

The K. al-ikma (Book of Wisdom) is preserved in an Istanbul MS of miscellaneous contents, namely Süleymaniye Kütüphanesi, MS Esad Efendi 1933, fols 56b-109b. It is preserved anonymously and even the title seems to be an addition by a later hand.  The K. al-ikma is a collection of almost verbatim excerpts of three main sources, Miskawayh’s Fawz al-aġar, (see text) yet in the alternative recension (see Wakelnig (2009)), Aristotle’s Meteorologica in the version of Yaḥyā ibn al-Biṭrīq (see Schoonheim (2000)) and Ps-Apollonius, K. al-ʿilal: see Weisser (1979). A fourth, minor, source is al-Ṭabarī’s Firdaws al-ikma: see al-Ṣiddīqī (1928).

SAWS presents a preliminary edition of the MS (with a small number of emendations and standardised hamza orthography), which is linked to the online edition of al-Ṭabarī’s Firdaws and indicates, in notes, references to the other sources in their printed editions. Further the rubrics of the MS are indicated which allows for comparing the division of the passages as given by the scribe and as based on the different source texts.

Kitāb fīhi arā’ al-ukamā’ fī l-abīʿīyāt wa-fihī al-arā’ wa-l-kalimāt al-rūānīya lil-mutaqaddimīn (Book on the Opinions of the Sages on Natural Sciences and on the Spiritual Opinions and Statements of the Ancients) in Istanbul, MS Ayasofya 2450: see text. 

The Kitāb Arā’ al-ukamāʾ is a compilation which is, in some regards, similar to the K. al-ikma. The excerpts for which the sources  have been established so far are taken almost verbatim from al-Ṭabarī’s Firdaws al-ikma, Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq’s compendium of the Aristotelian Meteorology, al-Kindī’s Risāla fī-mā li-n-nafs dhikruhū and Qusṭā ibn Lūqā’s al-Farq bayn al-nafs wa-l-rū.

SAWS presents a preliminary edition (with a small number of emendations and standardised hamza orthography), which is linked to the online edition of al-Ṭabarī’s Firdaws, indicates, in notes, references to the other sources in their printed editions and marks the rubrics of the MS.


The Summa Alexandrinorum (see text) is, as Ullmann (2012) has shown, based on a now lost Arabic summary of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Fragments of the Arabic versions survive in a Cairo manuscript and in quotations in Mubashshir’s Mukhtār al-Ḥikam. The Arabic-Latin translation was undertaken by Hermannus Alemannus and survives in a possibly shortened version which has been edited by Marchesi and transformed into a SAWS text by Christoph Storz. There also exists a reworking of the translation termed Redactio Patavina and completed in the second half of the thirteenth century by Engelbert of Admont.