Alfarabi (ca. 870-950 C.E.)

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Alfarabi (ca. 870-950 C.E.)

An adept of remarkable gifts with an extensive knowledge of all the sciences. Born at Othrar (then called Faral) in Asia Minor, he was named Abou-Nasr-Mohammed-Ibn-Tarkaw, but he was better known as Farabi, or Alfarabi, from the town of his birth. Though he was of Turkish extraction, he desired to perfect himself in Arabic, so he went to Baghdad and studied the Greek philosophers under Abou Bachar Maltey. He next stayed for a time in Hanan, where he learned logic from a Christian physician. Having far surpassed his fellow scholars, he left Hanan and drifted at last to Egypt. During his wanderings he came in contact with the learned philosophers of his time, and he wrote books on philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, and other sciences, acquiring proficiency in 70 languages. His treatise on music, proving the connection of sound with atmospheric /span> vibrations and mocking the Pythagorean theory of the music of the spheres, attained some celebrity.

He gained the goodwill and patronage of the sultan of Syria in a somewhat curious fashion. While passing through Syria he visited the court of the sultan, who was at that moment discussing abstruse scientific points with doctors and astrologers. Alfarabi entered in his stained and dusty traveling attire (he had been on a pilgrimage to Mecca), and when the sultan bade him be seated, he, either unaware of or indifferent to the etiquette of court life, sat down boldly on a corner of the royal sofa. The monarch, unused to such informality, spoke in a little-known tongue to a courtier, and asked him to remove the presumptuous philosopher. The latter, however, astonished him by replying in the same language: "Sire, he who acts hastily, in haste repents."

The sultan, interested in his unconventional guest, questioned him and learned of the accomplishments of Alfarabi. The sages who were present were also astounded at his wide learning. When the prince eventually called for some music, Alfarabi accompanied the musicians on a lute with such marvelous skill and grace that the entire company was charmed.

The sultan wished to keep such a valuable philosopher at his court, and some say that Alfarabi accepted his patronage and died peacefully in Syria. Others maintain that he informed the sultan that he would never rest till he had discovered the secret of the Philosophers' Stone, which he believed himself on the verge of finding. They say that he set out but was attacked and killed by robbers in the woods of Syria.