Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Language, Literature and Humanities - Alexander von Humboldt Professorship


Medical Translators at Work.
Syriac, Arabic, Hebrew and Latin Translations in Dialogue

International Conference

20-21 March 2014

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Hauptgebäude, Unter den Linden 6, room 3059



Translations played a central role in the transmission, circulation and transformation of medical knowledge throughout the centuries. Greek medical works penetrated into different cultural milieus by communicating ideas, theories and vocabulary that needed to be reinterpreted and reconfigured in languages different from the original ones. Being translated into Latin, Syriac, Arabic or Hebrew, Greek and Roman medicine continued to be transmitted up to the Renaissance period across various cultures and religious and political boundaries.

This conference seeks to bring together scholars from the fields of classics, oriental studies and history of medicine. The aim is to promote an innovative interdisciplinary dialogue on medical translations, addressing one (or more) of the following topics:

  1. Translation technique and skills of the translators. How were original texts approached by translators? How closely or freely were they rendered into another language? What sorts of difficulties (linguistic, conceptual, or other) surrounded the translation process? How were termini technici dealt with?
  2. Translation tools. How widely did sources (manuscripts, editions) circulate and how widely were they available across different historical periods? What kinds of translation aids (such as dictionaries, lexica, and other) did translators have at their disposal? And how were libraries containing such works organised?
  3. Translations in their new contexts. How did translations circulate and cross geographical boundaries? To what extent and in what ways did they inspire new medical works and commentaries?
  4. Translation in its social, historical and political context. What was the role of institutions in production and circulation of translations? To what extent did patrons influence the work of translators? What was the translators’ professional status, and intended audience? Did they work in a private or in an institutional environment?


Registration and contact

The workshop is free to attend, but registration is required by March 16, 2014 – please email Dr Matteo Martelli (

For any inquiries please contact the organisers:

Dr Matteo Martelli (
Dr Oliver Overwien (
Dr Christina Savino (



The workshop is funded by the Research group ‘Medicine of the Mind, Philosophy of the Body’ (funded by the Alexander-von-Humboldt-Stiftung).



(click here to download a pdf version)

Thursday, 20 March, 2014

9.00-9.30 Welcome and opening

9.30-13.00 Morning session: Syriac and Arabic translations

9.30-10.15 Siam Bhayro (University of Exeter):
Between translators and practitioners: contrasting fortunes in the transmission of Galenic medicine in Syriac

10.15-11.00 Grigory Kessel (Universität Marburg):
“Sergius ar-Ra’sῑ has translated it into Syriac, but poorly.” Comparison of Ḥunayn b. Isḥāq’s and Sergius of Rēš ‘Aynā’s translation technique

11.00-11.30 Coffee break

11.30-12.15 Robert Hawley (CNRS-Paris; UMR 8167, “Orient et Méditerranée”):
Transliteration versus translation of Greek plant names in the Syriac medical writings of Sergius of Reš ʿAynā

12.15-13.00 Veronique Boudon-Millot (Université Paris-Sorbonne):
La réception arabe des traités pharmacologiques de Galien

13.00-15.00 Lunch

15.00-17.15 Afternoon session: Arabic translations

15.00-15.45 Gotthard Strohmaier (Freie Universität Berlin):
Die gesellschaftliche Einbettung der griechisch-arabischen Übersetzungen in Bagdad

15.45-16.30 Uwe Vagelpohl (University of Warwick):
Forms and functions of amplification in medical translations. Examples from the Arabic version of Galen’s Commentary on the Hippocratic Epidemics

16.30-17.15 Hans Hinrich Biesterfeldt (Ruhr-Universität Bochum):
Die hippokratischen Aphorismen in syrischen und arabischen Übersetzungen: ein Vergleich

17.15-18.00 Coffee break

18.00-19.00 Evening Lecture
Vivian Nutton
(University College London):
From Largus to Linacre: the economy of medical translation

19.00 Reception


Friday, 21 March, 2014

9.00-12.00 Workshop: Galen’s commentary on Hippocrates’ Aphorisms

9.00-10.30 Samuel Barry, Taro Mimura, Christina Savino
Introduction to the Syriac, Arabic, and Latin tradition of Galen’s commentary on Aphorisms

Comparative reading of passages preserved in Greek, Syriac-Arabic, and Latin
with collaboration of Maria Börno and Giulia Ecca

10.30-11.00 Coffee break

11.00-12.00 Comparative reading of passages preserved in Greek, Syriac-Arabic, and Latin

12.00-13.00 Morning session: Hebrew translations

12.15-13.00 Gerrit Bos, Guido Mensching (Universität zu Köln, Freie Universität Berlin):
Jewish multilingualism in medieval medical lexicography and translations

13.00-14.30 Lunch

14.30-16.00 Afternoon session 1: Latin translations

14.30-15.15 Stefania Fortuna (Università Politecnica delle Marche):
Le traduzioni di medicina dal greco: nuovi contributi

15.15-16.00 Anna Maria Urso (Università di Messina):
Pietro D’Abano e Niccolò da Reggio traduttori di Galeno: il caso del Περὶ μαραϲμοῦ

16.00-16.30 Coffee break

16.30-18.00 Afternoon session 2: Latin translations

16.30-17.15 Ivan Garofalo (Università di Siena):
Gerardo of Cremona and Burgundio da Pisa: two translators of Galen's De methodo medendi

17.15-18.00 Nicoletta Palmieri (Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne):
Caratteristiche comuni dei traduttori Greco-latini dell’Articella

18.00-18.30 Varia

19.00 Dinner