Beauty Can be Dangerous to Your Health

George Saliba

Columbia University

The talk will address the circumstances under which beautifully illustrated manuscripts could become dangerous to your health. While the production of illuminated manuscripts certainly enhanced the beauty – and thus the price of the manuscript – this beauty almost always came at a price. At times this price dangerously involved sacrificing essential part(s) of a text in order to accommodate the illumination. Furthermore beautifully illuminated manuscripts usually involved at least two people: one to copy the text, the other, and more artistically talented one, to produce the illuminations, for it is indeed very rare to find an illuminated manuscript that was produced by one person who could perform both tasks. This cooperative effort was not always risk free either. This to say nothing of manuscripts that were translated from one language to another as was the case with most Greek manuscripts that were translated into Arabic. The talk will demonstrate how some of those intricate problems involved in the very nature of the production of illuminated manuscripts came to impact the final content of the text thus exposing the consumer of the text to real danger.

George Saliba is a historian of Arabic and Islamic Science. He has been teaching at Columbia University since 1978. After completing a B.S. in Mathematics and an M.A. at the American University of Beirut, he received another M.A. and his doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley. Saliba studies the development of scientific ideas from late antiquity to early modern times, with a special focus on the transmission of astronomical and mathematical ideas from the Islamic world to Renaissance Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. He received the History of Astronomy Prize from the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science in 1996, and the History of Science Prize given by the Third World Academy of Science in 1993. He has also been selected as Distinguished Senior Scholar at the Kluge Center of the Library of Congress (2005-6), and at the Carnegie Scholars Program (2009-10).

He is the author of Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance (2007); Rethinking the Roots of Modern Science: Arabic Scientific Manuscripts in European Libraries, Occasional Paper, Center for Contemporary Arabic Studies, Georgetown University (1999); The Origin and Development of Arabic Scientific Thought (in Arabic, 1998); A History of Arabic Astronomy: Planetary Theories During the Golden Age of Islam (1994); The Astronomical Work of Mu'ayyadal-Din al-'Urdi (d. 1266):  A Thirteenth-Century Reform of Ptolemaic Astronomy (1990); From Deferent to Equant: A Volume of Studies in the History of Science in the Ancient and Medieval Near East in Honor of E. S. Kennedy (co-editor, 1987);The Crisis of The Abbasid Caliphate: An Annotated Translation of Tabari's caliphate of al-Musta'in and al-Mu'tazz (862 - 869 A.D.) (1985); and Planispheric Astrolabes from the National Museum of American History (coauthor, 1984).

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