The Map of Knowledge: A Thousand-Year History of How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found
By Violet Moller
2019, Double Day, 978-0-3855, $30 hb.
Reviewed by Tom Verde on July 15, 2020
Moller traces three of antiquity’s greatest works—Euclid’s Elements (mathematics); Ptolemy’s Amalgest (astronomy); and Galen’s writings (medicine)—on their circuitous journeys via translation centers of the Middle East and southern Europe, to the printing presses of Renaissance Venice. Stops include the medieval cities of Baghdad, “unrivalled anywhere in the world for its … scholarship and wonder”; Córdoba, “a great centre of learning” that “drew scholars far and wide, especially in the fields of medicine [and] astronomy”; Toledo, where Alfonso X “established a school of Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars to translate important texts into the local vernacular”; and Palermo, where “an open-minded atmosphere … prevailed at court,” and Arabophilic kings employed scholars to translate original Greek texts “from Arabic to Latin.” This exploration of “the web of transmissions of these manuscripts” is entertainingly informative.