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19.12.2011 By: Cecilia Martini Bonadeo, University of Pisa

Averroes’ Long Commentary on the Metaphysics Online by Cecilia Martini Bonadeo

A License Agreement between the Publisher Dar el-Mashreq and "Greek into Arabic" grants access to the volumes of the series Bibliotheca Arabica Scholasticorum (photos: Dr. Nicola Gronchi, Pisa).

 See the collection: Bibliotheca Arabica Scholasticorum Online

Averroes' Long Commentary on the Metaphysics is the first issue of the "Bibliotheca Arabica Scholasticorum Online".

The transmission of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, no matter at what time or into which language, is a crucial issue for the history of philosophy. The translation of this work into Arabic was momentous for the intellectual elite of the Arabic-speaking world, from early ‘Abbāsid times, when the earliest translation was done on the demand of al-Kindī,to later periods and distant places. In the Muslim West, Averroes (d. 1198 A. D.) wrote many commentaries on Aristotle’s works, which were available to him in Arabic.  We owe our knowledge of the Arabic translation of the Metaphysics chiefly to Averroes’ Long Commentary (Tafsīr Mā ba‘d al-ṭabī‘a, lit. “Commentary on What is Beyond Nature”).

One among Averroes’ latest works, the Tafsīr has come down to us only through the MS Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, Or. 2074 (cod. arab. 1692) edited between 1938 and 1952 by Father Maurice Bouyges S. J.[1] Averroes quotes almost literally eleven of the fourteen books of the Metaphysics. Only books Κappa, Μu, and Νu are missing from his commentary.

As it is the case with several Greek commentaries from the Imperial age and Late Antiquity, Averroes’ commentary is lemmatized, i.e. Aristotle’s text is splitted into units: the so-called lemmata (textus, in the Latin version). Each unit is commented upon (commentum). To the lemmata the formula “qāla Ārisṭū, Aristotle said” is usually premitted; in his explanations, Averroes at times quotes alternative translations. Thus, the Arabic translation of the Metaphysics, in itself lost to us, is almost completely available thanks to the lemmata quoted by Averroes, and it is sometimes the case that one can compare two Arabic renderings of a Greek sentence. What Father Bouyges has granted access to is not only Averroes’ magnum opus, but also Aristotle’s Metaphysics in Arabic.

The Metaphysics has been repeatedly translated into Arabic. The lemmata of Averroes' commentary bear the traces of this history: the translations which he had at his disposal were made by several translators, active in different stages of the Greek-Arabic translation movement which took place under the ‘Abbāsids.

The first two books of the Metaphysics appear in reverse order with respect to the Greek. Alpha elatton ­– i. e. one of the two introductory books of the Metaphysics as it has come down to us – antecedes Alpha Meizon, the well-known beginning of Aristotle’s work.[2] Two Arabic translations of alpha elatton are extant: the Leiden MS contains the translation by Isḥāq ibn Ḥunayn (d. 910 A. D.) in the main text, and another translation in the margins. The latter is ascribed to a certain Usṭāṯ (9th century), who is mentioned also in the Kitāb al-Fihrist by Ibn al-Nadīm (d. 995 A. D.) as the author of the Arabic translation of the Metaphysics made for al-Kindī.

Book Alpha Meizon is extant in Arabic only from 987 a 6 onwards. Averroes had at his disposal the translation by a certain Naẓīf (10th century). The latter is mentioned by Ibn al-Nadīm as a physician and a mathematician, but there is no mention of Naẓīf’s translation of the Metaphysics in the Kitāb al-Fihrist. Passages from Alpha Meizon which are missing in Naẓīf’s translation feature – quoted in all likelihood from a different translation – in the Metaphysics (Ilāhiyyāt) of Avicenna’s Kitāb al- Šifā’, as well as in the Kitāb al-Milal wa-l-niḥal by al-Šahrastānī (d. 1153 A. D.), and in the Kitāb fī ‘ilm mā ba‘d al-ṭabī‘a by ‘Abd al-Laṭīf al-Baġdādī (d. 1231 A. D.). Finally, the MS Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Ott. Lat. 2048 contains in an anonymous Latin translation a part of Alpha Meizon not included in the so-called Metaphysica Nova, i.e. the Arabo-Latin translation of the Metaphysics made on the basis of Averroes’ Long Commentary. Taking into account the fact that MS Ott. Lat. 2048 bears the hallmarks of a translation from Arabic, one may surmise that even the parts of Alpha Meizon unknown to Averroes were extant in Arabic, although the details of this textual transmission remain obscure.

Book Βeta is extant in Usṭāṯ’s translation, albeit fragmentarily. Another translation of this book is mentioned in the Kitāb al-Fihrist, as well as the commentary by Syrianus on it.[3] Usṭāṯ’s translation of Book Beta is also recorded among the books in the possession of Yaḥyā ibn ‘Adī.[4] Usṭāṯ’s translation seems to be in use for Book Gamma, too, but Averroes also quotes a different translation, possibly Isḥāq’s one. Books Delta and Epsilon are extant in Usṭāṯ’s translation. Usṭāṯ translated also Zeta, which is quoted by Averroes in the lemmata; but the latter also quotes the epitome of Nicolaus Damascenus in his commentary. As for Book Ηeta, Averroes had only Usṭāṯ’s translation at his disposal. Books Theta and Iota are quoted in Usṭāṯ’s translation in the lemmata, but in the commentary Averroes has recourse to a different translation, commonly ascribed to Isḥāq ibn Ḥunayn.

As for book Κappa, neither the translation nor Averroes’ commentary are extant. However, Averroes provides a description of its contents in the introduction to the commentary on Lambda. In doing so, he indicates Book Kappa by the letter Yā’, regretting also that it is not available to him. According to Father Bouyges, this means that Averroes was not acquainted with Book Κappa, but this opinion has been challenged later on.[5] We still lack a decisive argument to settle the issue.

Lambda, the theological book of the Metaphysics par excellence, was translated six times, in itself an indication of the extraordinary interest raised by Aristotle’s doctrine of the First Principle. Averroes quotes Book Lambda in two translations in the lemmata of his commentary. From 1069 a 18 (the beginning of the book) to 1072 b 16 Averroes uses the translation from Syriac made by Abū Bišr Mattā (d. 940 A. D.), one of the leaders of the “Aristotelians of Baghdad” mentioned above. According to the Kitāb al-Fihrist, Abū Bišr Mattā translated also the commentary on Lambda by Alexander of Aphrodisias, and possibly also Themistius’ paraphrase. From 1072 b 16 onwards, Averroes comes back to the translation ascribed to Usṭāṯ. Averroes’ commentary on Lambda is of special importance because it quotes Alexander’s commentary, lost in Greek. Besides, Averroes quotes the translation of Yaḥyā ibn ‘Adī and another one, which can be ascribed either to Isḥāq ibn Ḥunayn or to a certain Šamlī (9th century), an almost unknown translator to whom the Kitāb al-Fihrist also ascribes a translation of book Lambda. Finally, an anonymous paraphrase of Lambda 6-10, edited in 1937 in Egypt and later on by Badawī (1947) must be added. The terminological affinity of this paraphrase with the Arabic translation of Themistius’ one should be considered in future studies.

As for books Mu and Nu, neither the translations nor Averroes’ commentaries are extant. However, Averroes seems to be acquainted with these books and provides a description of them in his introduction to Lambda. According to a marginal note in f. 1 r of the Leiden MS, book Mu was translated by ‘Īsā Ibn-Zur‘a (d. 1008 A. D.), and book Nu was translated by Naẓīf ibn Ayman. Ibn al-Nadīm, in his Kitāb al-Fihrist, informs that the books of the Metaphysics are arranged according to the order of the Greek letters, beginning from minor Alif (alpha elatton). To this, he adds that the Metaphysics goes from minor Alif to Mim, and that the latter was translated by Yaḥyā ibn ‘Adī. Then he says that books minor Alif - Mim had been also translated by Usṭāṯ for al-Kindī. Finally, he states that Book Nun (i.e. Nu) was extant in Greek together with Alexander’s commentary.

The Arabic Metaphysics with Averroes’ commentary is now available on line in its entirety. This counts as a key tool for in-depth research on the Arabic version of the Metaphysics, as well as on Avicenna’s and Averroes’ reception of it. It will also contribute to the study of of the Latin translations of the Metaphysics. The masterly and restless work of the leading scholar in the field, Gudrun Vuillemin-Diem, has put at the disposal of the scientific community the critical edition of the Graeco-Latin translations of the Metaphysics (Aristoteles Latinus XXV,1-1a; XXV, 2; XXV, 3.1; XXV, 3.2). We would be glad and honored if "Averroes' Long Commentary Online" might be of help also for the study of the Latin translation of the Metaphysics from Arabic.


A note of thanks to Dr. Nicola Gronchi for his generous help with the digital images of Averroes' Long Commentary.



Averroès, Tafsir ma ba‘d at-tabi‘at, Texte arabe inédit, établi par Maurice Bouyges, Imprimerie Catholique, Beyrouth 1938-1952 (Bibliotheca Arabica Scholasticorum). 

ʿA. Badawī, Arisṭū ‘inda l-‘arab. Dirāsāt wa-nuṣūṣ ġayr manšūra, Maktabat al-nahḍa al-miṣriyya, Cairo 1947 (Dirāsāt islāmiyya, 5).

— Rasā’il falsafiyya li-l-Kindī wa-l-Fārābī wa-Ibn Bājja wa-Ibn 'Adī, al-Jāmi‘a al-Lībiyya, Bangazi 1973.

M. J. de Goeje,  Catalogus Codicum Orientalium Bibliothecae Academiae Lugduno-Batavae, vol. V, 324-325, n. 2821. 

C. Genequand, Ibn Rushd’s Metaphysics. A Translation with Introduction of Ibn Rushd’s Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book Lam, Brill, Leiden 1984. 

Ibn al-Nadīm, Kitāb al-fihrist, ed. G. Flügel, J. Rodiger, A. Muller, Vogel, Leipzig 1871-72; ed. R. Tağaddud, Marvi Offset Printing, Teheran 1973. 

S. Khalifat, Yaḥyā ibn ‘Adī, The Philosophical Treatises, A Critical Edition with an Introduction and Study, Publications of University of Jordan, Amman 1988. 

Mishkāt, M., Arisṭāālīs-i Ḥakīm. Naḫustīn maqāla-i Mā ba‘d al-ṭabī‘a mawsūm bi maqālat al-Alif al-ṣuġrā tarğama-i Isḥāq b. Ḥunayn bā Yaḥyā b. ‘Adī wa tafsīr-i Ibn-i Rushd, Tehran 1967.


Further readings

Abū l-‘Alā ‘Afīfī, "An Ancient Arabic Translation of the Book Lambda of Aristotle's Metaphysics" Bulletin of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Egypt 5 (1937), 89-138. 

L. Bauloye, "La traduction arabe de la Métaphysique et l’établissement du texte grec", in Aristotelica Secunda. Mélanges offerts à Christian Rutten, C.I.P.L., Liège 1996, 281-90.

— "Averroès. Grand Commentaire de la Métaphysique d’Aristote, Z 1 et 2. Traduction et notes, Bulletin d'Etudes Orientales 49 (1997), 53-73.

Averroès. Grand Commentaire (Tafsîr) de la Métaphysique, livre Beta, Vrin, Paris 2002.

A. Bertolacci, "On the Arabic Translations of Aristotle’s Metaphysics", Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 15 (2005), 241-75.

The Reception of Aristotle’s Metaphysics in Avicenna’s Kitāb al-Šifā’. A Milestone of Western Metaphysical Thought, Brill, Leiden 2006 (Islamic philosophy, theology and science, 63).

H. H. Biesterfeldt, "Kommunikation durch Übersetzung: Ziele und Methoden der griechisch-arabischen Übersetzungen des 9. Jahrhunderts" in Kommunikation durch Zeichen und Wort, Stätten und Formen der Kommunikation im Altertum IV, G. Binder, K. Ehlich hrsg., Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, Trier 1995, 137- 92.

G. Endress, The Works of Yaḥyā ibn ‘Adī. An Analytical inventory, Reichert Verlag, Wiesbaden 1977.

— "Die wissenschaftliche Literatur", in Grundriss der Arabischen Philologie, hrsg. von H. Gätje, Band II (Literatur), Reichert Verlag, Wiesbaden 1987.

— "The Circle of al-Kindī. Early Arabic Translations from the Greek and the Rise of Islamic Philosophy", in The Ancient Tradition in Christian and Islamic Hellenism, in The Ancient Tradition in Christian and Islamic Hellenism. Studies on the Transmission of Greek Philosophy and Sciences dedicated to H.J. Drossaart Lulofs on his ninetieth birthday, ed. by G. Endress and R. Kruk, Leiden 1997, 43-76.

J. Freudenthal, Die durch Averroes erhaltenen Fragmente Alexanders zur Metaphysik des Aristoteles, Verlag der Königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin 1885.

M. Geoffroy, "Remarques sur la traduction Usṭāṯ du livre Lambda de la Métaphysique, chapitre 6", Recherches de Théologie et Philosophie Médiévales 70 (2003), 417-36.

J. Janssens, "Avicenne et sa 'paraphrase-commentaire' du livre Lambda (Kitab al-insaf)", Recherches de Théologie et Philosophie Médiévales 70 (2003), 401-16.

I. Madkour,  "La Métaphysique en terre d’Islam", Mélanges de l'Institut Dominicain d'Etudes Orientales 7 (1962-63), 21-34.

A. Martin, "La Métaphysique. Tradition syriaque et arabe", in Dictionnaire des Philosophes Antiques éd. par R. Goulet, Ed. du CNRS, I, Paris 1989, 528-34.

C. Martini Bonadeo, "La Métaphysique. Tradition syriaque et arabe (t. I, 1989, pp. 528-531). Mise à jour bibliographique", in Dictionnaire des Philosophes Antiques éd. par R. GouletEd. du CNRS, Supplément, Paris 2003, 259-64.

— "La tradizione araba dei primi due libri della Metafisica di Aristotele: Libri a -A", in Aristotele e Alessandro di Afrodisia nella tradizione araba, a cura di C. D’Ancona e G. Serra, Il Poligrafo, Padova 2002, 75-112.

— "Un commento ad Alpha Elatton sicut litterae sonant nella Baġdād del X sec.", Medioevo 28 (2003), 69-96.

— "ΩΣ ΕΡΩΜΕΝΟΝ: alcune interpretazioni di Metaph. Λ 7", in Aristotele e i suoi esegeti neoplatonici. Logica ed ontologia nelle interpretazioni greche e arabe. Atti del convegno internazionale Roma, 19-20 ottobre 2001, a cura di V. Celluprica e C. D’Ancona, Bibliopolis, Roma 2004, 209-43.

— "The Arabic Aristotle in the 10th Century Bagdad. The Case of Yahya ibn ‘Adi’s Commentary on Metaph. Alpha Elatton", Veritas, 52.3 (2007), 7-20.

— "The Arabic version of book Alpha Meizon of Aristotle’s Metaphysics and the testimony of MS. Bibl. Apostolica Vaticana, Ott. Lat. 2048", in Les traducteurs au travail. Leurs manuscrits et leurs méthodes. Actes du Colloque international organisé par le “Ettore Majorana Centre for Scientific Culture” (Erice, 30 septembre - 6 octobre 1999), édités par J. Hamesse, Brepols, Turnhout 2001, 173-206.

J. N. Mattock, "The Early translations from Greek into Arabic: an Experiment in Comparative Assessment", in Symposium Graeco-Arabicum: Akten des Zweiten Symposium Graeco-Arabicum, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, 3-5 März 1987, Hrsg. von G. Endress unter Mittwirkung von Marita Schmeink. Archivum Graeco-Arabicum, 1., Amsterdam 1989, 73-102.

A. Neuwirth, "Neue Materialen zur Arabischen Tradition der beiden ersten Metaphysik-Bücher", Die Welt des Islams 18,1-2 (1977-78), 84-100.

R. Ramón Guerrero, "Nota sobre la presencia del libro Lambda de la Metafísica de Aristóteles en el mundo árabe", La Ciudad de Dios, 198 (1985), 117-21.

[1] Born in Aurillac in 1878, Father Maurice Bouyges S. J. studied Classical Arabic at the Jesuit College of Ghazir, Beirut, and then theology and philosophy in France. It was in this period that, following a suggestion of one of his teachers, he conceived of the idea of  the critical editions of the Arabic philosophical texts that nourished the Latin Scholastics – the future Bibliotheca Arabica Scholasticorum. After having served in the Army during the Ist World War, he went back to Beirut to teach at the Université Saint Joseph, where he carried on an impressive research on the philosophical texts in Arabic. See H. Fleisch, "In memoriam Père Maurice Bouyges S.J. (1878-1951). Notice et bibliographie”, Mélanges de l'Université Saint-Joseph 29 (1951), 1-14. 

[2] This is the beginning of the Greek Metaphysics: Πάντες ἄνθρωποι τοῦ εἰδέναι ὀρέγονται φύσει (Metaph. A 1, 980 a 21), “All men by nature desire to know”, trans. W. D. Ross. This is the beginning of the Metaphysics in Arabic, as it has come down to us:

إن النظر في الحق صعب من جهة سهل من جهة

corresponding to Metaph. α 1, 992 b 30-31, ἡ περὶ τῆς ἀληθείας θεωρία τῇ μὲν χαλεπὴ τῇ δὲ ῥᾳδία, “The investigation of the truth is in one way hard, in another easy”, trans. W. D. Ross.

[3] Extant in Greek, together with the commentary on Gamma and Mu-Nu. The critical edition of the Greek text is forthoming in the “Collection des Universités de France”, Association Guillaume Budé, Les Belles Lettres, Paris.

[4] Yaḥyā ibn ‘Adī (d. 974 A. D.) was one of the leading scholars of so-called “Aristotelians of Baghdad”.

[5] While Genequand (1984) maintains that in all likelihood there was no Arabic translation of Κappa, according to Bertolacci (2006) the passage in Averroes’ preface to Lambda only implies that the latter did not know this book as Kāf but as Yā’

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