Scientific Discourse in the Middle Ages 500-1500

Manuscript miscellany of philosophical writings, mainly by Aristotle, Rome, 1457, Cod. 64, fol 8v. © Austrian National Library.

Today’s scientific world rests upon the shoulders of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars who translated ancient scriptures in the Middle Ages. The significance of this transfer of knowledge cannot be overstated. The exhibition is dedicated to this phenomenal period of the meeting of cultures. Four great writing cultures are presented: Hebrew, Greek, Arabic and Latin. While religiously-motivated questions prevented the acceptance of cross-cultural knowledge, they also often provided the initial impetus for scientific research. The exhibition focuses on areas that benefited particularly from this intercultural dialogue. The topics that have been much discussed since ancient times take centre stage: medicine, astronomy and astrology. The often richly illuminated manuscripts are mainly from the Middle Ages and impressively evidence how fundamental knowledge in these scientific fields was passed on. These meetings, which were enriching for all parties, primarily took place at the points of intersection and contact in the Middle East and the Mediterranean region. The courts of the caliphates of the Middle East and the princedoms in Europe, the schools, as well as the universities that were beginning to become institutionalised functioned as melting pots and catalysts in this process. The cultural heritage from Greek and Roman Antiquity was the starting point. Transmitted via Byzantium, monasteries in Latin Europe and above all through the early translations by Arabic and Jewish scholars, it left its mark on the entire Middle Ages. The exhibition shows how the translations, comments and excerpts from original works served to initiate a creative process of appropriation.