From Athens to Baghdad to Toledo: a Philosophical Journey


Course Objective

Aims: to acquire or strengthen the knowledge of the key notions of the
history of both the Greek and Arabic philosophy by means of reading and
commenting on a particularly relevant text belonging to the Greek-Arabic
tradition; to acquire or strengthen the capacity of critical reading and
historical-theoretical framing of philosophical texts; to learn how to
master philosophical terminology; to improve presentation, writing and
argumentative skills.

Course Content

The Book on the Exposition of the Pure Good, ascribed to Aristotle and
better known by the title of its Latin version, The Book of Causes
(Liber de causis), is a reworking of Proclus’ Elements of Theology
redacted in Arabic, most likely in the 9th century at the “circle of
al-Kindī” in Baghdad.

It is composed of 31 propositions (32 in the most famous among the Latin
versions); each proposition is followed by a commentary, in which the
author(s) select(s) and recompose(s) in different order some key
principles of the Proclian system: the derivation of the second causes
from the first cause is a crucial idea.

Compared to Proclus’ Elements of Theology, the Book on the Exposition of
the Pure Good or Book of Causes presents some important theoretical
re-elaborations, which seem coherently to aim, and succeed, at making
the philosophy of the Neo-Platonic thinker acceptable in a monotheistic
and creationist religious context.

The course will examine the Greek origin (Proclus), the environment in
which the book was born and the project of philosophical translations
which explains its existence and - of course - the text itself: during
the course we'll read parts of both the Elements of Theology and the
Book of Causes. We will delve into its main philosophical topics: the
notion of being and of emanation/creation and its link to the idea of
both intelligence and soul; we will also present the philosophical idea
of analysis and the 'mos geometricus', which both play a fundamental
role in the work. Finally, we will also present the great fortuna of the
text in the Latin Middle Ages. Both Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas
(among others) commented the text. Only in 1268 – thanks to William of
Moerbeke's translation of the Elementatio theologica (from Greek into
Latin) Thomas Aquinas discovered the Proclian origin of the text.

Teaching Methods

Interactive lectures and seminars and a guest lecture.

Method of Assessment

Students will write two essays and discuss them in oral exams. Each
counts for 50% of the final grade.


Capita selecta from Proclus' "Elements of Theology", in the translation
of E.R. Dodds (Oxford Clarendon 1933/1963), from the "Book on the Pure
Good" in new translations of O.L.Lizzini, and from "The Book of Causes"
in the translation of Dennis J. Brand (Marquette University Press 1984,
2nd ed. Niagara University Press 2001).
Other literature to be announced through Canvas around a month before
the course starts.

Target Audience

This course is primarily intended for second and third year Philosophy
bachelor students. Other interested students: contact the teachers
before enrolling.

Recommended background knowledge

BA Philosophy introductions to Ancient Philosophy, Medieval Philosophy,
and Arabic Philosophy are highly recommended. Students who did not
complete these courses but would like to attend From Athens to Baghdad
to Toledo will need to contact the teachers before enrolling to discuss
additional preparatory reading.

General Information

Course Code W_BA_OPT
Credits 6 EC
Period P5
Course Level 300
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Humanities
Course Coordinator prof. dr. M. Martijn
Examiner prof. dr. M. Martijn
Teaching Staff dr. O.L. Lizzini
prof. dr. M. Martijn

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Last-minute registration is available for this course.

Teaching Methods Lecture
Target audiences

This course is also available as: