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Research

Simon Swain began his research career studying the Greek culture of the High Roman Empire and particularly the cultural politics and relations with Rome of the Greek elites including Plutarch and Dio Chrysostom. With Jim Adams and Mark Janse he held the first conference on ancient bilingualism, which built on his interests in socio-linguistic research and the application of theoretical models such as the ‘matrix language frame’ model to dead languages. He has continued to be interested in all aspects of the Greek culture of antiquity and has paid special attention to the transition to the 4th century and the world of Libanius and Themistius.

Since a number of key works from Greek antiquity survive only in Arabic, Simon turned his attention to classical Arabic in the mid-90s after a number of years of working on Syriac. His first major ‘Greco-Arabic’ project was to gather texts, translations, and studies pertaining to the Physiognomy of Polemon of Laodicea, a work of the mid-2nd c. preserved in Greek and Latin epitomes and in a complementary fashion in Arabic translation. The Physiognomy is a precious resource not only for the culture of visual inspection that characterized antiquity but also and specifically for some of the political language of the 2nd c. This project was funded by the Leverhulme Trust. Further Leverhulme funding allowed him to work on a unique text for the family and social history of the early Roman world, Bryson’s Oikonomikos Logos, which survives in a very few fragments in Greek and crucially, albeit rewritten, in the discourses of Musonius Rufus. Bryson work is well preserved in Arabic. Bryson, undoubtedly a pseudonym, had an original understanding of the economy as a series of links in a chain where labour and services are interdependent the removal of one will endanger the whole system. His comments on slavery amplify what we know from Seneca and others about the correct treatment of slaves in order to maximize their labour output. But his most original contribution was on marriage, where he is among the first thinkers to insist on virginity for men and women before wedlock, and on his ‘Victorian’ regulation of the son of the married couple who jointly own the estate, a son who must be controlled in all his activities day and night.

Work on Bryson led to an interest in a political pamphlet of Themistius that survives in Arabic, the Letter to Julian, an interesting example of 4th-century political thought which is lost in Greek apart from some sections embedded in Nemesius’ On the Nature of Man. It is not clear whether the Letter was really sent to Julian, but there is no doubt it is by Themistius and it gives us a view of his political theories that is distinct from the presentation of politics in the great public speeches to the emperors.

Other Greco-Arabic includes a major AHRC project grant to edit, translate, and comment on a famous Oxford manuscript well known as a major source of ‘the Greek Shaykh’, the Arabs’ name for the philosopher Plotinus. Plotinus’ name became detached from the partial transmission of his thought into Arabic and ‘the Greek Shaykh’ is in effect what we would call ‘Anonymus Graecus’. This project led to a major CUP publication under the name of Simon’s postdoctoral assistant on the project, Dr Elvira Wakelnig, A Philosophy Reader from the Circle of Miskawayh (2014).

Simon was also PI on the Wellcome Trust grant which started the Warwick “Epidemics” project to edit and translate the Arabic translation of Galen’s commentary on the Hippocratic Epidemics. The lion’s share of the work on this been done by Dr Uwe Vagelpohl, who is sole credited author on the first volume (the commentary on Epidemics Bk 1) which is now in press with the Corpus Medicorum Graecorum in Berlin. Simon’s input will be recognized in the crediting of the second volume for CMG, which will go to press in late 2014. Dr Vagelpohl now holds a Welcome Trust History of Medicine Fellowship in the department for his work on Galen’s commentary on Epidemics Bk 6, which will also be published by CMG. Simon is sponsor of his fellowship.

Simon has sponsored and mentored two Wellcome University Award holders, Dr Peter Pormann (now Professor Peter Pormann at the University of Manchester) for his work on Medieval Islamic medicine, and Dr Caroline Petit, who currently holds this Award at Warwick for her work on late antique medicine.

From his work on Themistius Arabus Simon developed a project to edit, translate, and study Nemesius’ On the Nature of Man, which has been funded by the AHRC. This encyclopedia of medicine, psychology, and anthropology was hugely influential in the Middle Ages and there were several translations into Arabic, Syriac, and other languages. The Arabic text has not yet been properly edited and the current project to do so is being done in conjunction with Dr Peter Starr (Research Foundation for the History of Science in Islam, Istanbul) with input from Father Samil Khalil SJ (Beirut). Nemesius is a crucial part of the Christian Arab patrimony and publication (planned with METI) will make it available for the first time in a scholarly edition.

Simon has had long collaboration with colleagues in Oxford and especially with Dr Fritz Zimmerman (formerly Oriental Institute) and Professor Emilie Savage Smith FBA (formerly Professor of the History of Islamic Science). His interest in Greco-Arabic medical thought came together with Professor Savage Smith’s unrivalled expertise in Islamic medicine and science in the Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award they hold as joint PIs for the project on Ibn Abi Usaybi’a’s world history of medicine from the beginnings to his own time in the 13th c.