Arab-Islamic Reception and Development of Hellenistic Science
Giovanna Lelli
University of Ghent, Ghent, Belgium.
DOI: 10.4236/ahs.2015.41004   PDF    HTML   XML   3,508 Downloads   4,486 Views  


This article is an overview of the Arab-Islamic reception and development of Hellenistic science. It particularly refers to mathematics, physics and astronomy. It focuses on the following topics: 1) Two interpretative models of this reception in the 19th, 20th, and 21st century scholarship: the “Indo-European model” (which supposes a cultural heterogeneity between Greece and Islam) and the “cosmopolitan Hellenistic model” (which supposes homogeneity between the two). 2) The channels through which Hellenistic science was transmitted to the Islamic world: the philological channel, and the oral channel which implies the pre-existence of a common Greek-Semitic cultural ground that made this transmission possible. 3) Three features of the Arab-Islamic sciences that highlight their essential contribution to the emergence of modern science in 16th and 17th century Europe: 3.1. The “democratising” character of the Arab-Islamic sciences resulting from a larger diffusion of literacy. 3.2. The higher precision of measurements and calculations. 3.3. The experimental approach of Muslim scientists. A positive role in the accomplishment of these advances has been played by the non-metaphysical character of orthodox Islamic monotheism. According to Muslim orthodoxy, there are no Neo-Platonic intermediaries between the almighty God and his creation. The whole universe is submitted to the same physical laws. I argue that today it is important to open an interdisciplinary debate on the Arab-Islamic sciences. It would certainly lead to a better appreciation of their historical contribution. It could also suggest answers to contemporary epistemological impasses deriving from the growing gap between the humanities and the sciences.

Share and Cite:

Lelli, G. (2015) Arab-Islamic Reception and Development of Hellenistic Science. Advances in Historical Studies, 4, 29-42. doi: 10.4236/ahs.2015.41004.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Abed al-Jabri, M. (1999). Arab-Islamic Philosophy. A Contemporary Critique. Austin: The Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Austin.
[2] Abed al-Jabri, M. (2006). Nahnu wa al-turāth. Beirut: Centre for Arab Unity Studies.
[3] Al-Bāqillānī (1957). Kitāb al-tamhīd. P. R. J. McCarthy (Ed.). Beirut: 1957.
[4] Al-Battānī (1899-1907). Al-Battānī sive Albatenii Opus astronomicum (al-Zīj al-Sābi'). C. A. Nallino (Ed.), 3 Vols. Milano: Ulrich Hoepli.
[5] Al-Bīrūnī (1879). The Chronology of Ancient Nations. E. Sachau (Transl.). London: W. H. Allen & Co.
[6] Al-Bīrūnī (1923). Chronologie Orientalistiker Völker. E. Sachau (Ed.). Leipzig.
[7] Amin, S. (1999). Judaism, Christianity and Islam: An Introductory Approach to their Real or Supposed Specificities by a Non-Theologian. In A. Mueller, A. Tausch, & P. Zulehner (Eds.), Global Capitalism, Liberation Theology, and the Social Sciences: An Analysis of the Contradictions of Modernity at the Turn of the Millennium. New York: Nova Science Publishers.
[8] Amin, S. (1988). L’Eurocentrisme. Critique d’une idéologie. Paris: Anthropos economica.
[9] Arkoun, M. (1991). La pensée arabe. Paris : PUF.
[10] Bausani, A. (1985). Il contributo scientifico. In F. Gabrieli (Ed.), Gli Arabi in Italia (pp. 629-660). Milano: Garzanti Scheiwiller.
[11] Bernal, M. (1987). Black Athena. The Afro-Asiatic Roots of Classical Civilization. Vol.1: The Fabrication of Ancient Greece, 1785-1985. London: Free Association Books.
[12] Braudel, F. (1993). Grammaire des civilisations. Paris: Flammarion.
[13] De Libéra. A. (1993). La philosophiemédiévale. Paris: PUF
[14] Galilei, G. (1843). Le Opere complete di Galileo Galilei. Vol. II: Lettere intorno al sistema copernicano. Firenze: Società Editrice Fiorentina.
[15] Galilei, G. (1844). Le Opere complete di Galileo Galilei. Vol. IV: Opere astronomiche. Firenze: Società Editrice Fiorentina.
[16] Hogendijk, J. 1 (2002). Two Editions of Ibn al-Haytham’s Completion of the Conics. Historia Mathematica, 29, 247-265.
[17] Hogendijk, J. 2 (2002). The Burning Mirrors of Diocles: Reflections on the Methodology and Purpose of the History of Pre-Modern Science. Early Science and Medicine, 7, 181-197.
[18] Ibn al-Haytham (1983). Kitāb al-Manāzir (Optics): Vol. 1-3. Kuwait: Sabra.
[19] Ibn Khaldūn (1967). The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. 3 Volumes, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
[20] Ibn Khaldūn (2001). Muqaddima Ibn Khaldūn. Beirut: Dār Al-Fikr.
[21] Jolivet, J. (1996). Classification of Science. In R. Rashed (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science (Vol. 3, pp. 1008 f). London and New York: Routledge.
[22] Koyré, A. (1948). Du monde de l’à peu près à l’univers de la précision. In A. Koyré (Ed.), Etudes d’histoire de la pensée philosophique (pp. 341-362). Paris: Gallimard.
[23] Koyré, A. (1973). Etudes d’histoire de la pensée scientifique. Paris: Gallimard.
[24] Kuhn, T. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago, IL: the University of Chicago Press.
[25] Kunitzsch, P. (1975). Uber das Frühstaduium der arabischen Aneignung antiken Gutes. Saeculum, 26, 3.
[26] Lacoste, Y. (1998). Ibn Khaldūn. Naissance de l’histoire, passé du tiers monde. Paris: La Découverte.
[27] Nasr, S. H. (1968). Science and Civilisation in Islam. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
[28] Needham, J. (1954-2004). Science and Civilization in China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[29] Rashed, R. (2004). Recherche sur la tradition scientifique arabe. In Actes de la Rencontre syro-libanaise de recherche sur la tradition scientifique arabe (pp. 313-333). Beyrouth: Publication de l’Université Libanaise.
[30] Rashed, R. (Ed.) (1996). Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science. 3 Volumes, London and New York: Routledge.
[31] Renan, E. (1855). Historire générale et système comparé des langues sémitiques. Paris: Imprimérie Impériale.
[32] Renan, E. (1882). Averroès et l’Averroïsme. C. Lévy (Ed.). Paris.
[33] Rūmī, J. (1368/1990 ca.). Mathnavi-e manavi. 3 Volumes. Teheran: Entesharat-e Mawla.
[34] Rūmī, J. (1925-1940). Masnavi. London: Luzac and Co.
[35] Van Dalen, B. (2007). Battānī: Abū Abd Allāh Muhammad ibn Jābir ibn Sinān al-Battānī al-Harrānī al-Sābi. In T. Hockey et al. (Eds.), The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (pp. 101-103). New York: Springer.

Copyright © 2023 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.