Some pieces of Greek literature have survived only through the Arabs. But is there any classical Latin literature that has survived the same way? This could mean translations from Latin to Arabic and later back to a European language, palimpsests, or any other means. It does not have to be a whole book; any small example of Roman literature coming through the Arabs would be great.

It is easy enough to search online and find discussions of the Arabs preserving Greek literature, but I found no mention of Latin. Perhaps the absence of mentions is evidence against what I am after, but it is not a very convincing and definitive kind of evidence. If someone familiar with this kind of thing says that if there were any they would have heard it, I will consider that sufficient. I trust an expert much more than Google in matters like this.

1 Answer 1


The answer to your question is basically no. The books translated into Arabic in the famous translation movement of the 9th and 10th centuries were mainly Greek works on philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, natural sciences, medicine and to a very limited degree a few works of Hellenistic fictional literature. These translations were made by Syriac-speaking Christians and they were translated from Syriac into Arabic, not directly from Greek. (A very small number of Greek books were translated not via Syriac but via Middle Persian). The eastern Christians did not know Latin and did not read the Latin classics (not even Latin patristic writers like Augustine) and consequently could not translate them into Arabic. Even in the case of the Greek classics the oriental Christian scholars were very selective. They did not read Homer, the dramatists, the historians etc., so these books were not translated into Arabic.

  • And how about copied? You mention translations of Greek works, but I believe some Greek works have been preserved solely through Arab copies of the Greek originals? (Although I presume they would not have copied Latin texts, based on your answer.)
    – Cerberus
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 5:32
  • @Cerberus. I don't know what you mean by "Arab copies".
    – fdb
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 9:50
  • I meant copies of manuscripts of the Greek original text, made by Arab scholars, which survived in the Arab world, after the original Greek had been lost in the West. I was under the impression that this was the case for some works of Aristotle (and other Greek authors), but perhaps I was mistaken.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 18:14
  • @Cerberus. Greek school learning continued among the Christians in Syria and Egypt after the Arab conquest, so of course the scholars in these communities copied Greek manuscripts and composed texts in Greek, and later, after the Ottomon conquest of the Byzantine territories, Greek Christians continued to copy Greek texts in Constantinople, Athos, and other centres of learning. But this has nothing to do with Arabs.
    – fdb
    Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 11:16

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