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Islam the Civilizer A. D. 622-1406


IF Islam had never existed, the Christian countries of the world would probably be less advanced and certainly less varied, than they are. For it was Moslems who gave the West many of its basic skills and ideas. From the eighth to the thirteenth centuries, the Arabs and the other Islamic peoples were the main carriers of western civilization. While Europe was torn by almost constant fighting, Moslem scholars preserved the learning of the ancient world. Other Moslems added discoveries and original works of their own. In time, translators in the parts of Europe that were in closest contact with Islam passed this knowledge on to the Christian world. It helped produce a great intellectual and artistic awakening, the Renaissance, which ended the Middle Ages and ushered m modern times. So the West owes much to Islam. Its debt is specially great in philosophy and science. Many cultural treasures would have been lost forever if it had not been for Moslem scholarship. Among them are the works of three of the greatest thinkers of ancient Greece — the philosopher Aristotle, the physician Galen and the astronomer Ptolemy. These works are the foundations on which Renaissance thinkers built modern learning. In one branch of science, astronomy, the Arabs’ superiority is written across the very heavens‚ for most stars hear Arabic names to this day. Example the Acrab (from aqrab, a scorpion), Altair (from al-tair, the flyer) and Deneb (from dhanab, a tail). Allied to astronomy is mathematics. Taking their cue from work done in ancient India, Arab and Persian mathematicians developed algebra, geometry and trigonometry. They also taught Europeans to use the Arabic figures instead of the clumsy numerals based on the letters of the Roman alphabet. Unlike the ancient Greeks, who often came to conclusions by reasoning alone, the scientists …

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Greece and the World 323 B. C. – 250 B. C.


In the last years of the fourth century B. C., Greek citizens going about their business in the stoas or the shops sometimes stopped and wondered what was wrong. Everything seems strange. They themselves had not changed and their cities looked the same as before, but the world around them was so different that they could hardly recognize themselves. The little poleis on the mainland looked out at an enormous empire, which stretched across Asia and Egypt. They shipped their olive oil and pottery across the Mediterranean. Their corn came from fields beside the Black Sea and the Nile. Merchants who crowded their market places now did business in Antioch and their sculptors had gone to Alexandria. There were new Greek cities, thousands of miles from Greece, where Asians spoke Greek and Greeks began to dress like the barbarians. There were no barbarians now, only the many sorts of people who shared a world which Alexandria had conquered for  the Greeks. As the world the Greeks knew became larger, a man and his city seemed to become smaller. The Greeks began to wonder if there was a Greece at all any more. Athenians who travelled on business saw Athens in a new way when they came home. It was not very big and not very busy. When they went to the Assembly, the fine speeches had a hollow ring. In the old days, when Pericles or Themistocles spoke to the Assembly, things happened and the world felt the difference. Now, a man who spoke out in Athens might as well have dropped a pebble in an ocean. Alexander’s empire was much too big to be run by a group of citizens who talked over their problems in an Assembly. One man could rule it, if he was a king like …

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The Silent Peninsula 3000 B.C. to 1600 B.C.


About 3000 B. C., when the Pharaohs ruled Egypt and Babylon was the home of mighty kings, bands of sailors set out from Asia Minor. They followed a little chain of islands that led northward across the unexplored sea that, centuries later, would be called the Mediterranean. If the islands had not been there, the sailors would never have dared to sail so far from home. Asia, the only world they knew, stopped at the eastern store of the sea. Some of the men were afraid that they might suddenly reach the end of the world and drop over it into nothing, but their captains ordered them to sail on. Their own countries were becoming crowded and it was important to find new lands. So long as another island lay ahead of them, it seemed safe to go on. At last, their ships did indeed come to the end of the sea — but it was not the edge of the world. The sailors sighted a new mainland. It was the mountainous peninsula that would be given the name of Greece. It was a strange and silent country of white stone peaks that disappeared into the clouds. Its thick forests of oaks and pines ran down to an oddly ragged coastline. The mountains, too, were jagged, as though an angry giant had smashed them. Gods and Giants Years later, the people of Greece told a story about evil giants who fought a great battle with the gods to see which of them would rule the earth. The giants were defeated and the gods locked them forever in a cave far under the ground, but the giants lived on, the storytellers said. When their anger took hold of them, they beat against the roof of their prison and the earth shook. …

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