The re-presentation of Arabic optics in seventeenth-century Commonwealth England



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Arabic Studies experienced a resurgence in seventeenth-century English institutions. While an awareness of the efflorescence has helped recover a fuller picture of the historical landscape, the enterprise did not foment an appreciable change in Arabic grammatical or linguistic expertise for the majority of seventeenth-century university students learning the language. As a result, the desuetude of Arabic Studies by the 1660s has been regarded as further evidence for the conclusion that the project reaped insubstantial benefits for the history of science and for the Scientific Revolution. Rather, this inquiry contends that the influence of the Arabic transmission of Greek philosophical works extended beyond Renaissance Italy to Stuart England, which not only shared a continuity with the continental reception of Latinized Arabic texts but selectively investigated some sources of original Arabic scientific ideas and methods with new rigor. The case study at hand demonstrates how one English physician in the Commonwealth period turned to a medieval Muslim author of optics to dispel reliance on either mechanical, deterministic or occult explanation of natural phenomena.