Art in the press

Crossing the seas is the first step to knowledge, Phoenician proverb by Hareth Boustany

(Copyright, Lebanese Imprints on the Twentieth Century, Volume I, Asma Freiha and Viviane Ghanem, 2006)

Recounting tales that are timeless sheds light on the advance of humanity, from its earliest days to the present. These tales hover between history and myth and they expose hitherto unsuspected connections between peoples. They open a window of truth onto the history of human contact - the peaceful and cultural radiation as well as the often more painful expansion.

They are the echoes of meetings between people that took place long ago, the impact of which we may never be able to fully appreciate.

Research is of immense value in the interpretation of the mosaic of history and the minutest discovery can overturn established theory. And yet, there is still a large measure of unknown in the telling of man’s great adventure through time. For this reason, it is a pleasure to find that a part of this mystery, the enigma of the Lebanese people, has been addressed in this book.

“Free man! You will always cherish the sea!” (Beaudelaire)

From the beginning of time, the inhabitants of Lebanon have channeled their ambition abroad. Though viscerally attached to their land, a rock suspended between sky and sea, they have always been drawn to the sea’s open arms. The voyages of expansion of the Phoenicians, the Lebanese people of antiquity, happened so long ago that they have passed into legend and mythology. it is said that the European continent derived its name from Europa, a princess of Tyre or Sidon, whom Zeus, disguised as a bull, abducted from a Phoenician beach and took to Crete. Europa’s brother Cadmus, leaving his homeland in search of his sister, is thought to have stopped in Rhodes, Thrace, Phocaea, and Boeotia, where he founded Thebes and later its citadel, Cadmea, and to have taught the Greeks how to plough with oxen, and mine and work metals. Most notably, he also brought the alphabet to Greece.

From their outposts on the Mediterranean shores, the Phoenicians passed on the world their belief in a mortal god who resurrects in spring, the cultivation of olives, vines and wheat, principles of architecture and urbanisation, principles of democracy, the alphabet, transparent glass and the colour purple.

The first elements of modern sciences as mathematics, natural sciences, physics, chemistry, agriculture and navigation can also be traced back to the Phoenicians, as can a certain philosophy of life. Familiar names such as Mochos of Sidon, Sanchuniathon of Beirut, Euclides of Tyre, Pythagoras, Thales and Philon of Byblos, Zeno of Citium (Larnaka, Cyprus) the first stoic philosopher, Elissa-Dido, founder of Carthage, and Hannibal, father of military science, are all Phoenicians.

The book you hold, conceived by Asma Freiha and Viviane Ghanem, tells the wonderful story of the successors of these Canaanites, generations of new Phoenicians following their own dream, proud descendants of antiquity’s Euclides, Pythagoras and Eupalinus. These men and women have in their own way helped advance humanity, ensuring a better future for themselves and for all. From the Severus of antiquity to a fresh faced graduate seeking a visa to satisfy his thirst for knowledge abroad, so many of Lebanon’s famous sons and daughters have made their mark throughout the world.

Alexander Severus; six popes, including Anicet the Great, who strengthened the papacy in Rome; and the great humanists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries who introduced the mysterious Orient to the rest of the world. Lest we forget them, their names are engraved in stone at some of France, Spain, Portugal and Italy’s most venerable institutions.

Pope Gregory XIII founded the Maronite College of Rome in 1584 for young Maronite seminarists who, once educated, found positions in Rome, Paris, Bologna, Ravenna, Florence, Salamanca, Lisbon, El Escorial and Madrid. They became translators and interpreters for princes and kings and held chairs of oriental languages in the most esteemed universities.

Their most important work by far was the publication of the multilingual Bible. Gabriel Sionita (as Sahyouni), Jean Hesronita (al Hasrouni) and Abraham Hecchellensis (al Haqlani) worked tirelessly over many years to produce this Bible, which first appeared in 1645 in seven languages: Arabic, Syriac, Chaldean, Hebrew, Samaritan, Greek and Latin. Joseph Semaan (as Semaani) published the Bibliotheca Orientalis, a digest and inventory of all oriental manuscripts kept at the Vatican Library. He was the director of the Vatican Library and organized the Lebanese Council of Loueyze in 1736.

Nasrallah Chalac el Acouri (a.k.a. Vittorio Seilac Accurensis 1635) was a professor of Arabic and Syriac at Rome’s Sapientia and also the director of Sapientia’s Arabic printing press. He gave his fortune to found the Maronite College in Ravenna.

Youhanna Fahd el Hasrouny (a.k.a. Joannes Leopardus, 1632) introduced the Gregorian calendar to the Maronite Church and left a treatise on Syriac grammar and a partially completed translation of St Thomas Aquina’s works.

Ishaq ach Chadraoui (a.k.a. Issac Sciadren, 1663) was Archbishop of Tripoli and a contemporary and friend of Fakhreddine II the Great. He specialized in the Chaldean rite and translated into Latin the works of that rite’s interpreters and thinkers.

Merhej, son of Nairoun el Bani (a.k.a. Faustus Nairon Albanensis 1711), a professor of Syriac at Rome’s Sapientia, was the author of the first treaty written in Latin on the benefits of coffee.
Estephane Aouad was Head of Archives at the Medicis Library and Youssef Louis was a professor at Rome’s Sapientia and an interpreter to the Pope.

Semaan as Semaani was the author of several treatises, including Arabs before Islam, Arab Numismatism, Coufic Calligraphy and the influence of Arabic on contemporary European Poetry.
Boutros Moubarak (a.k.a. Pierre Beneditti Ambarac, 1742) joined the Company of Jesus and taught Arabic at the University of Pisa. He founded the College of Aïtoura in 1728 and published a six-volume translation in Syriac, Greek and Latin of the works of Saint Ephrem.
Mikhaël Ghaziri was the archivist at the Escorial library.

These men had an arduous and critical task. They helped the universe in its progress hoping that Lebanon would rise to the occasion; but it was Lebanon’s people, scattered throughout the world who picked up the torch.

These men gave their knowledge to the world because their own land had no use for it.