New Library website coming in mid-summer.   Learn more.

Sample Essay from Brooker Prize Winner




The Marriage of Philo and Sophia:
Love and Knowledge in Medieval Islam
and the European Renaissance

Aniko T. Szatmari

General Information


Previous Prize Recipients

  My book collection reflects my interests in medieval Islamic philosophy, the related traditions of the European Renaissance, and the artistic representation of the ideas of these traditions. In Hungary, where I grew up, I studied traditional Persian miniature painting with an Iranian teacher who introduced me to the philosophical and religious symbolism inherent in Islamic art. This interest has developed since then, and I have gone on to study Islamic philosophy and mystical poetry in college.
Specifically, I am interested in the philosophical approaches to the relationship between love and knowledge. In certain Islamic schools of thought, love was considered to be a fundamental ontological, epistemological, and moral principle, and it was inseparable from the path of knowledge. One can find these ideas in the writings of the twelfth century Arab and Persian philosophers such as Avicenna, Ibn, Arabi and Suhrawardi, and also in the Sufi poetry of Rumi, Hallaj, and others whose works are represented in my collection.

The other, related part of my collection is focused on European medieval and Renaissance hermetic and Neoplatonic philosophy. I am fascinated by the ideas of love in the Renaissance, and in particular, those ideas which were influenced by Islamic thought. The renaissance in Sicily and Southern Italy emerged from a lively intellectual exchange between Europeans. Byzantines, Muslims and Jews. Thinkers like Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Gemisthos Plethon, and Leone Ebrea, to mention only a few, are emblematic of a cosmopolitan era when the love of wisdom managed to transcend religious, linguistic, and ethnic boundaries.

I have been developing my personal research library on these particular topics since 1995, when I began to study miniature painting. I found the majority of my books in various used bookstores, among which are some especially good ones, such as the Libreria Herder (Rome), the Atlantic Könyvsziget and the Liszt Ferenc Antikvárium (Budapest), the monthly book sales of Harvard Library and McIntyre & Moore (Cambridge, Mass.), the Arlington Bookstore (Arlington, Mass.), Moe's (Berkeley), the Green Apple (San Francisco), Powell's (Portland), and Ex Libris and Powell's here in Hyde Park.

In the future, I would like to acquire primary sources of Persian and Arabic philosophy and literature. This year I have started to study Arabic, and I am planning to start Persian next year so that I can read these works in their original language. Unfortunately, many of the texts I am interested in are still in unedited manuscript form, therefore this project will have to involve traveling to the Middle East and researching libraries. I am also looking for out-of-print translations of Arabic and Persian Sufi poetry and philosophy, and scholarly works on the cultural exchange between Renaissance and Islamic civilization. Finally, I would like to find a dictionary of Islamic philosophical terms.

Ms. Szatmari won the 2nd-year prize in 2000
for the collection described in the preceding essay.