The first Arabic translations of Enlightenment literature: The Damietta circle of the 1800s and 1810

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The subject of this paper is a circle of translators working in the Egyptian port of Damietta in the 1800s and 1810s. Based around the household of a wealthy Syrian merchant, this circle translated scientific, fictional and historical works of the Enlightenment, from Greek and other languages into Arabic. The first section gives some background on Damietta, the Syrian Christian merchant community there, and the Fakhr family, including contemporary accounts of Bāsīlī Fakhr and his household. The second presents the biography of ʿĪsā Petro, the main translator of the Damietta Circle. I then consider the translations themselves, presenting a thematic list of the known translations. I examine three sets of influences on the project: the Modern Greek Enlightenment, contacts with Western Europeans and the revival of Arabic letters among Christians in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I also compare the Damietta project with similar translations being made into Arabic at the same time in Constantinople. I go on to analyse the diffusion of manuscript copies of the Damietta translations, and their influence on readers. Finally, in a conclusion I attempt to assess the general significance of the Damietta Circle for literary and cultural history, in the Arab and Mediterranean contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-233
Number of pages25
JournalIntellectual History Review
Issue number2
Early online date8 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2015
Externally publishedYes

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