Gabriele Ferrario – Graeco-Arabic Science in Jewish Attire: New Evidence from the Cairo Genizah

HOS Colloquium
Event date: 
November 30, 2017 - 4:30pm
Speaker(s): 
Gabriele Ferrario
Johns Hopkins University
Seminar Series: 
History of Science Colloquium
Co-Sponsored by: 
The Princeton Geniza Project
Audience: 
Public

The Cairo Genizah–a storage room for the disposal of tattered sacred texts attached to the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fusṭāṭ (Old Cairo)–has preserved hundreds of thousands manuscript fragments, a unique and unparalleled source for our understanding of the medieval Mediterranean world. Although originally aimed at safeguarding religious material from careless disposal, the genizah of the Jewish community of Fusṭāṭ became the resting place of all sorts of other writings: administrative documents, financial accounts, magical amulets, literary works, writing exercises, private letters, works on natural philosophy and medicine, etc.

My talk will focus on the Genizah fragments that preserve Judaeo-Arabic (and also, but to a lesser extent, Hebrew) renditions of philosophical, medical, alchemical and scientific works of Graeco-Arabic origin. The availability of these works in Judaeo-Arabic allows us to draw a picture of the scientific and philosophical activities of the Jewish community of medieval Cairo, and to connect them to the cultural environment of the surrounding Islamicate world. Moreover, the Cairo Genizah has preserved a cache of unique manuscripts: medical prescriptions, physicians’ notebooks, lists of drugs and indications for their preparations, and a number of operative alchemical recipes. This rich material will be addressed as a source for investigating the relationship between Graeco-Arabic scientific theory and its translation into practice.

This Colloquium is co-sponsored by the Program in History of Science and the The Princeton Geniza Project