Editions, translations, transformations: refashioning the Arabic Aristotle in Egypt and metropolitan Europe, 1940–1980


Like translations, critical editions can play an important role in the language-mediated evolution of political concepts. This paper offers a case-study of a modern edition of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics by the famous twentieth-century Egyptian philosopher and father of ‘Arab existentialism’ Abd al-Rahman Badawi (d. 2002). It draws on ancient Greek and medieval Arabic corpora developed by the Genealogies of Knowledge project and a modern Arabic corpus accessible through Sketch Engine to examine the lexical patterning of key political items relating to the concept of citizen in the Arabic and Greek versions of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. This corpus-based analysis of lexical patterns is contextualised against discursive and disciplinary parameters that shaped Badawi’s edition. Supplementing this collocational analysis of relevant lexical items with a more traditional analysis of Badawi’s paratexts, I argue that the editing process produces a hybrid ‘third text’ that is neither a transcription of the original manuscript nor a reconstruction of the manuscript’s archetype. The paper concludes that, like translations, editions transform the texts they are based on.


Aristotle’s (d. 322 BCE) Nicomachean Ethics sets out a virtue-theory of the good life that continues to inspire today (Sen, 2009; Nussbaum, 2013; MacIntyre, 1981). His moral philosophy was influential in the Arabo-Islamic philosophical and literary tradition for centuries, thanks in large part to the efforts of two Christian late antique classical scholars who, independently of each other, translated the text from Greek into Arabic in Baghdad: Eustathius (fl. c. 830 CE) first at the beginning and then Isḥāq ibn Ḥunayn (d. 910 or 911 CE) at the end of the ninth century (Ullmann, 2011). European orientalists had long believed that the Arabic Nicomachean Ethics was lost, being preserved in scattered citations in the writings of medieval philosophers, such as Alfarabi (d. 950 CE), Miskawayh (d. 1030 CE), and Avempace (d. 1138 CE) (Ullmann, 2011; Akasoy and Fidora, 2005; Akasoy, 2012, pp. 98–104). In the 1950s, however, British orientalists A.J. Arberry and Douglas M. Dunlop found a unique manuscript copy of the Arabic Nicomachean Ethics in Fez.Footnote 1 Arberry found part of the manuscript, containing Books Seven to Ten, in the Qayrawīyīn mosque in 1951 and 1952, whereupon he began laying the groundwork for a critical edition (Arberry, 1955). Dunlop, Arberry’s close colleague at Cambridge, was directed to the remaining parts of the manuscript whilst visiting the Qayrawīyīn mosque in 1959, whereupon he embarked on the task of preparing a complete English translation (Dunlop 1962).Footnote 2 This part of the manuscript included Books One to Five, the end of Book Six, and a spurious ‘Book Seven’.Footnote 3 The Fez manuscript contains portions of the translations by both Eustathius and Isḥāq. According to Ullmann (2011), the Arabic translations of Books One to Four of the Nicomachean Ethics contained in the Fez manuscript are by Isḥāq ibn Ḥunayn. Books Five to Ten as well as the spurious ‘Book Seven’ are attributed to Eustathius. The laborious task of editing the Arabic Ethics was interrupted by Arberry’s death in 1969. For nearly a decade, from 1959 to 1969, Arberry and Dunlop had collaborated to prepare a full critical edition and translation of the Arabic Ethics. Arberry had apparently completed the critical edition, which then went missing after his death and has never been seen since (Akasoy and Fidora, 2005, p. vii). Dunlop later completed a full English translation, but by the time of his death in 1987, it had not yet been published. The Arabic Nicomachean Ethics did not appear in print in Europe until 2005, when two German classical scholars, Anna Akasoy and Alexander Fidora, published a full critical edition, accompanied by an English translation.Footnote 4

Between Arberry’s death and Dunlop’s, however, Abd al-Rahman Badawi (1917–2002), the famous Egyptian existentialist philosopher, historian, and editor of numerous medieval Arabic translations of Aristotle’s writings, published a complete critical edition of the Arabic Ethics (Badawi, 1979). In his autobiography, My Way of Life (Sīrat ḥayātī), Badawi boasts about how many medieval Arabic translations of Aristotle he was able to edit in a relatively short time, noting that generations of orientalists had edited only a fraction of what he was able to edit in just a few years (Badawi, 2000, vol. 1, pp. 180–181). Though Badawi criticises orientalists in My Way of Life, his relationship to orientalism, European philosophy, and the Islamic philosophical tradition is complex. In the early 1940s he studied with leading European existentialists who were instrumental in popularising and synthesising the existentialism of Heidegger and the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl in France (Di-Capua, 2018, p. 51; Baring, 2019). Furthermore, Badawi’s lifelong interest in Heidegger led him to form lasting relationships with European orientalists, such as Henri Corbin (1903–1978), who, like Badawi, perceived profound connexions between elements of Heidegger’s philosophy and Islamic philosophical mysticism (Corbin, 1964). Badawi had enormous respect for French and Italian orientalists, but does not mince words about his disdain for others. On the whole, he does not regard orientalism as a European imperialist tool for dominating the orient (Said, 2003). On the contrary, far from being a tool of European colonialism, in Badawi’s eyes orientalism held the potential to bring to light the landmark contributions of Arab and Islamic civilisations (Badawi, 2000, vol. 1, p. 255). On the other hand, Badawi studied traditional Islamic philosophy and intellectual history for several years with the famous philosopher of the Islamic tradition and rector of the Azhar (1945–1947) Muṣṭafā ʿAbd al-Rāziq (1885–1947) (Di-Capua, 2018, pp. 52–53; Adams, 1933, pp. 251–253). His philosophical method was deeply influenced by ʿAbd al-Rāziq’s hermeneutics-based approach to philosophical speculation and the importance he assigned to language and interpretation in philosophical enquiry (Badawi, 2000, vol. 1, pp. 251–253).

It is within this complex post-colonial political and academic context (Haddour, 2008), therefore, that we should situate Badawi’s edition of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, as the product of a life split between Egypt, a former British colony, and metropolitan Europe. Badawi’s personal identity, education, political affiliations, scholarship, philosophical interests, and professional associations were shaped by political, literary, and intellectual trends in the metropole. His autobiography reveals that throughout his long publishing career his work was inspired, methodologically speaking, by a desire to produce scholarship that would be valued by European scholars and philosophers. Yet the numerous editions of the Arabic philosophical texts he produced were equally inspired by his pride in the Arabo-Islamic intellectual and linguistic heritage, his interest in rejuvenating contemporary Arab philosophy, and a commitment to making original contributions to Arabo-Islamic thought by effecting a synthesis between European existentialism and medieval Islamic philosophical mysticism.

In My Way of Life, Badawi explicitly links his decision to edit medieval Arabic translations of Greek philosophical texts—he calls it the ‘philological turn (al-ittiǧāh al-fīlalūǧī)’ in his thought—to his desire to extend Heidigger’s existentialism in Arabic to logic, metaphysics, and moral philosophy (Badawi, 2000, vol. 1, p. 180). His editions of medieval Arabic translations of Aristotle were therefore inextricably tied to his own philosophical programme for further developing Arab existentialism in the post-war Middle East. With the Arabic Nicomachean Ethics, Badawi sought to produce a critical edition of a unique medieval Arabic text whose philological rigour would be respected by European orientalists, but would also expand the modern Arabic philosophical lexicon. The result was a patchwork edition that mixed Modern Standard and classical Arabic in an effort to “make a complete Arabic translation of the Greek text accessible to his countrymen” (Ullmann, 2011, vol. 1, p. 14).

Akasoy and Fidora’s edition of the Arabic Nicomachean Ethics, produced a quarter-century later, pursued different aims. In line with their philological and historical interest in the Arabic text as classical scholars, Akasoy and Fidora focus on the lexicographical and linguistic features of the text. For them the Arabic Ethics is a textual specimen, a set of observable phenomena whose linguistic and historical features are the object of philological enquiry and analysis, similar to what Edward Said referred to as Ernst Renan’s ‘philological laboratory’ (Said, 2003, pp. 141–148). Their edition is an expression of their professional interest in the historical evolution of classical Arabic and the value of medieval Arabic manuscripts for the textual criticism of the Greek Ethics (Ullmann and Schmidt, 2012). To be sure, Badawi was as eager to preserve the text of the Arabic Ethics as his German and British colleagues, and recognised the value of the medieval Arabic translations to classical philologists (Badawi, 2000, vol. 1, p. 181). By means of textual and paratextual interventions, however, Badawi also sought to ensure that his edition faithfully communicated Aristotle’s philosophical insights. His edition was not intended merely as a study in classical Arabic philology but was also meant to serve as a vehicle for educating modern Arabic-speaking audiences about Aristotle’s philosophy. The differences between these two approaches reveal one aspect in which a critical edition may be considered a form of translation, as I argue in more detail below.

Badawi’s critical edition of the Ethics as a translation: paratextual interventions

While the creative, interpretive, and even subjective capacities latent in translation have long been recognised by scholars of translation (Venuti, 1995), the claim that editing a classical text is analogous to translating goes against classical philology’s self-identification as an empirically oriented “science” (Timpanaro, 1985, p. 19). Under the influence of positivism, pioneering figures in nineteenth-century textual criticism sought to re-imagine the discipline as a science based on the empirical evidence provided by manuscripts combined with a rigorous, mechanical, rule-based method for reconstituting an ancient text without editorial interpretive intervention (Timpanaro, 2005). Even as the “general reaction against positivism in all the human sciences” accelerated at the end of the nineteenth century (Timpanaro, 2005, p. 11), textual criticism still envisioned itself as a science, one that stood in opposition to “anti-scientific (antiscientifico)” disciplines involving interpretation (Timpanaro, 1985, p. 12, Timpanaro, 2002, p. 4). Expressed in the words of the great nineteenth-century philologist Karl Lachmann (1793–1851), this attitude towards interpretation could also serve as the epitaph for the positivist approach to textual criticism: “We both can and must edit [recensere] without interpreting” (cited in Timpanaro, 2005, p. 88).

Despite the affront to textual criticism’s collective sensibilities, I propose to consider a critical edition as a form of translation in the sense that it is the outcome of a process that generates hybrid texts. In the case of the Ethics, the edition is a ‘third text’ that is not identical to the ‘source text’—the text copied in the Fez manuscript—or ‘target’—the archetype, the most ancient ancestor, of the Fez manuscript.Footnote 5 The edition, the third text, results from the editor’s interpretative engagement with the source manuscript in light of linguistic, discursive, and textual parameters and disciplinary norms of practice, all of which shape the edition in a number of ways. The practical canons of classical philology dictated the editorial method Badawi adopted, as well as the type of content that could feature in the edition’s paratext. Standing at the juncture between language and culture, discourses, such as those produced by classical philology and orientalism influenced the way Badawi interpreted the text, how he read the manuscript, and the historical value he assigned the text for modern Arab audiences. The linguistic codes involved further constrained the interpretation of the Arabic manuscript, the kinds of paratextual interventions Badawi made, and the reception of Badawi’s edition by a contemporary Arabic-speaking readership. The argument that Badawi’s edition of the Arabic Nicomachean Ethics is a translation that creates a hybrid ‘third’ text whose production and features are moulded by these parameters can be demonstrated in two ways: by examining the editor’s paratextual interventions, and through an analysis of aspects of the lexical patterning of the main text. The latter is the focus of section “Badawi’s critical edition of the ethics as a translation: lexical patterning”.

Hybrid sources and paratextual interventions

The Fez manuscript is now nearly 800 years old. Copied in 1222 CE, the paper and ink in which the text is written had deteriorated considerably by the time Arberry and Dunlop began the arduous chore of editing and translating the Arabic text. Due to its age and poor curation, it has been eaten by worms, the paper is frail, and the ink has in many places become illegible (Akasoy and Fidora, 2005). Many folios are missing, and even in those that remain, there are frequently passages that are illegible due to wear and damage to the manuscript.Footnote 6 To complicate matters further, between Books Six and Seven of the Arabic Nicomachean Ethics in the Fez manuscript lies a spurious ‘Book Seven’, a unique feature of the Arabic textual transmission of Aristotle’s Ethics (Ullmann and Schmidt, 2012, p. 15; Ullmann, 2011). To top it all off, as far as we know the Fez manuscript is the only surviving copy of the Arabic Nicomachean Ethics. The editors could not, therefore, rely on a better copy of the Arabic text in another manuscript. Badawi himself remarks that editing the text would have been completely impossible had he not had the Greek text to aid conjectures on the manuscript’s readings (Badawi, 1979, p. 41). Editing the Arabic Nicomachean Ethics was, therefore, an act of reconstruction that involved much conjecture and interpretation of the manuscript in light of knowledge of the Greek Ethics, of the corpus of Aristotle’s writings in Greek, and of the historical development of the Graeco-Arabic philosophical lexicon recorded by European orientalists.

In addition to the Greek text, orientalist scholarship and the canons of classical philology, European classical scholarship more generally also set the parameters for the final shape that the edition took. Where long portions of the Fez manuscript are missing or illegible, Badawi replaces these lacunas with his own Arabic translation, which evidently draws on the French translation of the Greek text by Jules Tricot (1893–1963), rather than on the Greek edition. Using a French translation as the source text for an Arabic translation of a classical author would not have been unusual in the modern Middle East (Pormann, 2006, 2009, 2015), particularly in Egypt, where writers such as Taha Hussein, for example, are thought to have used French translations as source texts for Arabic renditions of ancient Greek drama (Pormann, 2006, p. 10). The fact that Badawi uses Tricot’s French translation as the source is plain from a number of considerations. For example, the division of the Arabic text into sections and paragraphs exactly matches Tricot’s divisions of the text in the French translation, neither of which follows the section divisions in Bywater’s (1894) Greek edition. Moreover, in the majority of cases, the section headings that Badawi introduces into the medieval Arabic text as brief summaries are Arabic translations of the French headings in Tricot’s translation. He makes other editorial interventions in the edition that are not inspired by Tricot, such as the fact that he takes the spurious ‘Book Seven’ out of its location in the Fez manuscript and places it in an appendix near the end of his edition. The effect of this decision is to present the reader with what appears to be the genuine Aristotle in full, and to reduce the textual and conceptual clutter that might accompany a more philologically rigorous edition.

Badawi also makes hundreds of paratextual interventions in the footnotes to the edition. Akasoy and Fidora’s footnotes are restricted to presenting the critical apparatus, that is, a concise register of textual variants in the manuscript, instances in which the Arabic differs from or parallels the Greek text, differences between the various editions, places in the manuscript that are illegible or damaged, and the editors’ suggested conjectures and emendations of the text. In addition to recording this type of information, Badawi introduces a number of other paratextual interventions to forge a different reading experience of the Arabic Nicomachean Ethics. His footnotes include explanatory notes in the form of lexicographical explanations of rare Arabic words, meanings and morphology; discussion of Aristotle’s Greek vocabulary; comparisons between Arabic and Greek, and rationales for the translators’ choices; clarification of names and events mentioned in the Greek text; references to secondary literature in Arabic for further information on a certain subject; clarifications and glosses where the meaning may be unclear; references to parallel words or concepts in the Arabic Aristotelian and Platonic corpus; and philosophical discussion of key Aristotelian ethical themes as they arise in the text.

Badawi’s footnotes also offer retranslations where he considers that the medieval Arabic text gets the sense of the Greek wrong or plainly misreads it. In these situations, Badawi leaves the erroneous text in the body of the page and places his corrected version, based on the Greek and Tricot’s French translation, in a footnote. Footnotes that involve retranslation take the form of glosses that bring the medieval Arabic closer to the modern reader, in effect ‘translating’ it into something more familiar to a twentieth-century Arab reader. These retranslations may extend to a full paragraph, as in the following example from Book Ten (1175a18-20). The Greek text reads:

πότερον δὲ διὰ τὴν ἡδονὴν τὸ ζῆν αἱρούμεθα ἢ διὰ τὸ ζῆν τὴν ἡδονήν, ἀφείσθω ἐν τῷ παρόντι. συνεζεῦχθαι μὲν γὰρ ταῦτα φαίνεται καὶ χωρισμὸν οὐ δέχεσθαι.

[Let us put aside [the question] for now whether it is thanks to pleasure that we grab hold of life, or thanks to life [that we grab hold of] pleasure. For it seems that they are tied together, and are not subject to being separated.]

Eustathius either misreads the Greek text or the Greek manuscript he had was faulty. Having omitted the phrase to zēn airoumetha ē dia to zēn tēn hēdonēn, he provides the following Arabic translation:

.فهل ينبغي أن نترك الفعل حيننا هذا لمكان اللذة فإنه يظهر أنها قد تقاربت معًا فلا تقبل الفرقة

[Hence is it necessary for us to refrain from performing an action at this very moment because of pleasure? For it seems that they are so close together that they do not admit separation.]

In the footnote to this text Badawi remarks that Eustathius’ translation is “extremely erroneous” (ḫaṭaʾun ǧiddan), whereupon he retranslates the passage in full:

فهل ينبغي أن نختار الحياة من أجل اللذة، أو نختار اللذة من أجل الحياة؟ تلك مسألة يمكننا الآن أن ندعها. جانبًا. والواقع أن من البين أن هذين الاتجاهين مرتبطان ارتباطًا وثيقًا ولا يحتملان أي فصل .بينهما

[Is it necessary therefore to choose life because of pleasure or to choose pleasure because of life? This is a question we can put to one side for now. In fact, it is clear that the link between these perspectives is so strong that they do not admit separation from each other.]

Hence, we observe that Badawi’s paratextual interventions mediate the reader’s experience and transform their understanding and reception of the text in important ways. These editorial strategies are modernising in the sense that they do not leave the text to stand as if on display, for observation as it were, in the philological laboratory. Rather, they allow Badawi to attenuate or even circumvent the remoteness and alienation that the modern Arab reader might feel when reading this often obtuse and frequently lacunate text.

The hybridity of Badawi’s edition of the Arabic Ethics is in part a consequence of a battery of paratextual material that accompany his text, and that feature material that draws on the Greek edition of the Ethics, Tricot’s French translation, other texts in the Aristotelian and Platonic corpus in Greek and Arabic, and European-language classics research. These classical and philological sources and discourses coalesce into a network of norms that guide Badawi’s editorial practice, inform his understanding of Arabic and Greek language and culture, and shape his personal views of the modern Middle East. The outcome is ultimately a text formally identified as a critical edition but in practice revealing in particularly stark ways a complex process of reinterpretation that is involved in all critical editions. In this case, the critical edition is the result of interpretive engagement with the Arabic translation of a Greek text mediated by the edited Greek text, classics scholarship, the disciplines of Graeco-Arabic studies and Arabic lexicography, and the practical canons of classical philology. A critical edition, in the sense of being a lexical transformation mediated by interpretation, is thus always a translation in its own right.

Badawi’s critical edition of the ethics as a translation: lexical patterning

Scope of corpus-based analysis: text and paratext

Having analysed the paratextual material in Badawi’s edition, I turn now to explore the lexical patterning in the main text of Badawi’s edition and uncover other strategies Badawi used to further mediate the readers’ understanding of the text and shape how they engaged with it. In theory at least, the collocation analysis that I pursue in section “Refashioning Aristotle’s politics in the modern Arab Middle East” could have been applied to the paratextual material in Badawi’s edition as well. In practice, however, the paratextual interventions of the type I discussed in the previous section could not be analysed using the Genealogies of Knowledge premodern corpora—that is, the corpora of ancient Greek, medieval Arabic and Latin which constitute part of the resources built by the GoK team. These resources were created specifically to aid research on the evolution and mediation of political and scientific concepts, from around the fifth century BCE into the present, Internet age. Although copyright restrictions played a less significant role in limiting the range of texts included in the premodern subcorpora than they did in restricting the inclusion of material in the Modern English corpus (covering the nineteenth to the twenty-first century), the repositories from which we sourced many of the Greek and Latin texts in particular influenced the design of these corpora in a different but significant way.

Early in the project’s development, the team made a strategic decision to omit the paratextual material from all premodern subcorpora (Arabic, Greek, and Latin). The reasons for this were mainly pragmatic. We sourced our texts from a number of repositories, including Perseus Digital LibraryFootnote 7 and the Digital Corpus for Graeco-Arabic Studies.Footnote 8 While these digitisation projects have made admirable contributions to classics and Graeco-Arabic studies, the editors evidently did not have the study of paratextual features of nineteenth-century and twentieth-century critical editions in mind when they were developing the paratextual elements and attributes to be marked up in XML. Paratextual material is partially or entirely omitted in these repositories, and we were therefore obliged to systematically omit paratextual material from the texts in the premodern corpora for the sake of consistency. Nevertheless, it is also fair to say that what made the decision to omit paratexts from the texts included in the premodern subcorpora easier to take was our assumption at the time that the material introduced into an edition by a modern editor is not immediately relevant to a digital humanities project devoted to studying the evolution of political and scientific concepts. We assumed, in effect, that bracketing out introductions, footnotes, the critical apparatus, and endnotes, for example, would not greatly impact our results. The unstated premise—consciously or unconsciously suppressed—was that the lexical patterns in the material introduced by the editor(s) do not contribute in an important way to the text’s journey through space and time. One of the aims of the current study is precisely to query the validity of this assumption, which now seems a tendentious one indeed, given the evidence presented in the section “Badawi’s critical edition of the ethics as a translation: paratextual interventions” above. This section focuses on the lexical patterning of a particular set of items relating to the concept of ‘citizen’ in the main body of Badawi’s critical edition of the Ethics as further evidence of the translational nature of the critical edition.

Data and methodology

To explore this dimension of Badawi’s edition, this study draws on three main sources, two from the corpora built by the Genealogies of Knowledge projectFootnote 9 and one from Sketch Engine, a vast collection of corpora in numerous languages (Kilgarriff et al., 2004; Arts et al., 2014):

  • The Genealogies of Knowledge medieval Arabic subcorpus (totalling 3,284,012 tokens)Footnote 10 is a collection of translated and original texts in classical Arabic, written between the eighth and the fourteenth centuries CE. The corpus includes philosophical, scientific, and political texts, all of which are strongly informed by the classical tradition in Islamic intellectual history after the eighth century (Rosenthal, 1992). The Arabic translations include Aristotle’s philosophical texts, such as the Posterior Analytics and the Metaphysics; medical texts, such as Galen’s commentary on the Hippocratic Aphorisms; and political texts such as the apocryphal ‘novel’ that provides a narrative of the correspondence between Aristotle and Alexander the Great.

  • The Greek text of the Nicomachean Ethics (Bywater, 1894) is part of the Genealogies of Knowledge ancient Greek subcorpus (totalling 3,271,324 tokens),Footnote 11 which includes a variety of philosophical, scientific, and historical texts by classical Greek authors such as Hippocrates and Aristotle, Hellenistic writers such as Diogenes Laërtius (fl. third century CE), and late antique authors such as Procopius (d. after 555 CE). I use only the text of the Ethics in the analysis that follows.

  • The Sketch Engine Modern Arabic subcorpus (totalling 8,322,097,229 tokens) is a large collection of internet texts from across the Arab world (Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, but also Somalia, Djibouti, and Mauritania). The texts are taken from news cites, opinion sites, and other sources, and represent political ideologies across the political spectrum. Pro-regime mainstream outlets such as Egypt’s Al-Ahram feature alongside outlets promoting socialism, salafism, marxism, and evangelical Christianity.

These three corpora provide the basis for examining the lexical patterns that form around the Greek word referring to citizen, politēs, the collocational behaviour of the Arabic terms for rendering politēs in the medieval Arabic philosophical tradition, and Badawi’s use of the modern Arabic political term muwāṭin to translate politēs. Badawi’s choice of muwāṭin as a translation for politēs over the set of terms used by medieval translators might seem anachronistic. As I demonstrate in section “Refashioning Aristotle’s politics in the modern Arab Middle East”, however, my analysis suggests that the semantic features of muwāṭin in Modern Standard Arabic were a better match for Aristotle’s politēs than the semantic features in Modern Standard Arabic of the terms used by the medieval Arabic translators.

Concordances, or lists of “all the occurrences of a particular search term in a corpus presented within the context that they occur in”, are the cornerstone of corpus-based research (Baker, 2006, p. 71). The importance of concordances lies in the fact that they reveal lexical patterns that form around the search item and that would not necessarily be obvious when encountering the item in the usual flow of text. Specifically, they enable us to identify collocations, or the “co-occurrence of patterns observed in corpus data” (McEnery and Hardie, 2011, p. 123). The study of collocations assumes that the meanings of a lexical item are not contained exclusively or even primarily within the item considered in isolation, but “subsist in the characteristic associations” in which it is frequently involved (McEnery and Hardie, 2011, p. 123).

In section “Refashioning Aristotle’s politics in the modern Arab Middle East” below, I use the Genealogies of Knowledge concordance software to observe diachronic shifts in the meanings of a lexical item by tracing changes in its collocational patterning across centuries. I use the Genealogies of Knowledge Greek subcorpus to analyse the collocational patterning of politēs in Greek, and the Genealogies of Knowledge Arabic subcorpus to examine how Eustathius and Isḥāq ibn Ḥunayn rendered this term in classical Arabic. Finally, I use the Sketch Engine corpus of Modern Standard Arabic in order to identify and compare collocational patterns in the Genealogies of Knowledge Arabic subcorpus and Modern Standard Arabic for keywords relating to the citizen. Differences in collocational patterning in the premodern and modern Arabic corpora demonstrate that Badawi’s editorial interventions were informed by the meanings and associations that the terms relating to citizen acquired in Modern Standard Arabic, which partially account for the hybrid nature of Badawi’s edition of the Arabic Nicomachean Ethics. I demonstrate that Badawi eschews the task of reconstructing the text of the Arabic Ethics based on the vocabulary used by Eustathius and Isḥāq in the ninth century, and instead prefers to reconstruct Aristotle’s meaning in a modern Arabic idiom. The form of written Arabic closest to Badawi’s day, Modern Standard Arabic, thus served as a lexical parameter that shaped how he approached those parts of his edition in which he provides his own translation of Aristotle’s text. Given the type of text involved and his Arab audience, however, he nevertheless had to negotiate the collocational tensions between classical and Modern Standard Arabic.

The choice to focus on ‘citizen’ was informed by thematic, methodological and historical considerations rather than strictly by word frequency as is normal in corpus-based studies (Baker, 2006, pp. 121–123). First, the citizen, whom Aristotle characterises as someone having the authority to be involved in the affairs of the city (Johnson, 1984), frames Aristotle’s thinking about virtue, justice, happiness, friendship, and the good life pursued in association (Develin, 1973; Hardie, 1980, pp. 182–210, 12–27, 317–335). The citizen represents, in other words, a key subject in Aristotle’s ethical philosophy. From a methodological and historical perspective, citizen represents an ideal choice because it provided an opportunity to carry out diachronic corpus-based analysis from Greek into Classical Arabic, and from Classical into Modern Standard Arabic thanks to historical transformations in the lands between the Nile and the Oxus rivers from the 5th century BCE to the twentieth century. The centrality of the city as the normative thought-space in which to conduct ethical enquiry continued to be pertinent when Aristotle’s Ethics was translated in Baghdad in the ninth century. Madīna (‘city’) and its cognates formed the lexical base for Eustathius’ and Isḥāq’s Arabic translations of Greek terms referring to the city-state (polis), politics (hē politikē), political rule (hē politeia), the statesman (ho politikos), and the citizen (ho politēs) (Ullmann, 2011, vol. 1, pp. 371–372). However, as government structures and political economies moved away from the agrarian and imperial economies of the medieval and early modern Islamic Middle East towards global commodity-based economies and nation-state political structures, the meaning of ‘citizen’ in modern Arabic political parlance witnessed a dramatic shift (Ayalon, 1987, pp. 52–53). By the 1970s when Badawi was preparing his edition of the Arabic Ethics, the citizen as a person with authority to manage affairs in the city (madīna) had transformed into a subject under the law with rights and obligations in a nation-state (‘waṭan’). As he worked through his edition, Badawi was careful to faithfully transcribe Isḥāq’s and Eustathius’ medieval Arabic translations of politēs, which are invariably based on derivatives of madīna (‘city’) in Arabic. However, Nicomachean Ethics Book One, Chapter Nine, 1099b26–1101b9 is missing from the Fez manuscript, and, consequently, Badawi had the opportunity (his only one in this text) to translate politēs’s plural form, politai, directly into Arabic from the Greek. At this critical juncture, we find that Badawi does not use a term relating to the city to translate the Greek as in all other instances in the medieval Arabic translation, but selects the Modern Standard Arabic term muwāṭinīn (‘citizens’, singular: muwāṭin). In effect, Badawi’s choice is being ‘primed’ by linguistic factors that lie not in the medieval Arabic text that he is editing or in Tricot’s French translation (Tricot, 1972, p. 70: “citoyen”), but in lexical patterns surrounding madīna with its Arabic cognates and muwāṭin in Modern Standard Arabic. I explore the linguistic conditions that underlie this ‘priming’ and its ramifications for understanding editing and translation below.

Refashioning Aristotle’s politics in the modern Arab Middle East

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics lays out an ethical theory of the good life (Kraut, 1991). He develops a theory of virtue (aretē) and describes the kinds of practical reasoning (phronēsis) that are required in order to achieve these virtues. Aristotle says that living the good life (euzia, to eu zēn) leads to happiness (eudaimonia) in a worldly sense, as well as to a kind of happiness that is born from leading a life of contemplation (theōria). Primary virtues such as justice (dikaion), courage (andreia), and temperance (sōphrosynē), for example, are achieved by ensuring that individual actions and conditions of the individual’s soul adhere to the norms of virtue that Aristotle identifies. Yet such a view of the virtues presumes that the ensouled moral agent is acting in a community in close association with other citizens and non-citizens. Aristotle describes just exchange, for example, as a form of reciprocity (to antipeponthos) based on need (hē chreia) as an equal standard of valuation (1133a, 26–27, 1132b 21-1133b30). Indeed, he observes that “there would be no community if there was no exchange” (1133b19), and that “what keeps the city together” is the process of distributing dues in proportion to what work or actions merit (1132b32). Moreover, the human needs required to sustain human life are what drive people to seek to live in a community, but the quest to fulfil needs also drives the pursuit of the good life, which is, in Aristotle’s eyes, the ultimate aim of life in the city. Aristotle also articulates this principle in the Politics (1281ba2-4), for example, where he says that humans come together to form a city “for the sake of noble actions, not for just living together” (tōn kalōn … praxeōn charin … tēn politkēn koinōnian alla ou tou sunzēn).

Thus, although the virtue theory that Aristotle lays down in the Ethics is directed at analysing the actions and forms of reason involved in making choices and acquiring noble moral conduct, the theory’s framework is shaped by a vision of virtue and vice in a city where the pursuit of basic needs for life drives, complements and enhances the pursuit of the good life (Finlayson, 2010). The Athenian citizen’s moral choices were informed by what it meant to participate in the life of the city.

Concordance lines from the Greek text of the Ethics included in the Genealogies corpus complement these observations.Footnote 12 Of the 10 instances of politēs (citizen), most appear in contexts in which the citizen is envisioned not in terms of belonging to a city as an institution or to a set of institutions in it, but as belonging to a city constituted of citizens in which human life in association is pursued for the sake of achieving the good life.

1. τὸ δ᾽ αὔταρκες λέγομεν οὐκ αὐτῷ μόνῳ, τῷ ζῶντι βίον μονώτην, ἀλλὰ καὶ γονεῦσι καὶ τέκνοις καὶ γυναικὶ καὶ ὅλως τοῖς φίλοις καὶ πολίταις, ἐπειδὴ φύσει πολιτικὸν ὁ ἄνθρωπος.

[We say ‘self-sufficient’ not for someone who lives life that is solitary, but for someone who lives with parents, children, a wife, true friends, and citizens, for the human being is naturally inclined to what relates to the city.]

2. δοκεῖ δὲ καὶ ὁ κατ᾽ ἀλήθειαν πολιτικὸς περὶ ταύτην μάλιστα πεπονῆσθαι: βούλεται γὰρ τοὺς πολίτας ἀγαθοὺς ποιεῖν καὶ τῶν νόμων ὑπηκόους.

[It appears that the one who is truly engaged in the affairs of the city gives his utmost attention to this, for he wishes to make the citizens good and obedient to the laws.]

3. δοκοῦσι γὰρ ὑπομένειν τοὺς κινδύνους οἱ πολῖται διὰ τὰ ἐκ τῶν νόμων ἐπιτίμια καὶ τὰ ὀνείδη καὶ διὰ τὰς τιμάς.

[For what appears to be the case is that citizens submit to dangers because of the penalties exacted by the law, because of being censured, and because of being honoured.]

4. διαφέρει δὲ καὶ τὰ δίκαια: οὐ γὰρ ταὐτὰ γονεῦσι πρὸς τέκνα καὶ ἀδελφοῖς πρὸς ἀλλήλους, οὐδ᾽ ἑταίροις καὶ πολίταις, ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν ἄλλων φιλιῶν.

[But the things that are just are different, for these [differ], parents towards children and brothers towards each other, nor close companions towards citizens, and likewise in relation to those who are friends.]

5. ἕτερα δὴ καὶ τὰ ἄδικα πρὸς ἑκάστους τούτων, καὶ αὔξησιν λαμβάνει τῷ μᾶλλον πρὸς φίλους εἶναι, οἷον χρήματα ἀποστερῆσαι ἑταῖρον δεινότερον ἢ πολίτην, καὶ μὴ βοηθῆσαι ἀδελφῷ ἢ ὀθνείῳ.

[And, indeed, unjust things are different in relation to each of these [different members of the city], and it [injustice] tends to increase the dearer they are, such as [the fact that] it is more terrible to steal something from a companion than from a citizen and [more terrible] not to come to the aid of a brother than a stranger.]

6. καὶ συγγενέσι δὲ καὶ φυλέταις καὶ πολίταις καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς ἅπασιν ἀεὶ πειρατέον τὸ οἰκεῖον ἀπονέμειν.

[One must always distribute what is appropriate to relatives, members of the same tribe, citizens, and all the rest.]

7. καὶ παρ᾽ αὐτὸ τὸ πολιτεύεσθαι περιποιουμένη δυναστείας καὶ τιμὰς ἢ τήν γε εὐδαιμονίαν αὑτῷ καὶ τοῖς πολίταις, ἑτέραν οὖσαν τῆς πολιτικῆς, ἣν καὶ ζητοῦμεν δῆλον ὡς ἑτέραν οὖσαν.

[Beyond itself, engaging in affairs in the city secures power, honour, and happiness for oneself as well as for citizens that is different from political [activity].]

These concordance lines reveal that the citizen in Artistotle’s Ethics is enmeshed in a web of personal relations between parents, children, wives, clansmen, friends, and companions. These kinds of figures make up the relations by which the citizen pursues his affairs and interests in the city. Virtues such as justice are not the same everywhere, but rather vary according to the proximity and affection that characterise the relationship between moral agents. People are driven to act virtuously not only because they submit to customary laws, but because they fear being censured or desire to be praised by other people. Finally, the fruits of political engagement—power, honour, happiness—benefit not just the politician but other citizens as well.

The meanings and lexical patterns that politēs has in Aristotle’s Ethics became particularly important for Badawi’s edition when, owing to a missing folio in the Fez manuscript, he was obliged to translate politēs directly from Greek into Arabic at Nicomachean Ethics, Book One, 1099b28-32. In this passage, Aristotle links his discussion of happiness (eudaimonia) with the aim (telos) of politics:

ὁμολογούμενα δὲ ταῦτ᾽ ἂν εἴη καὶ τοῖς ἐν ἀρχῇ: τὸ γὰρ τῆς πολιτικῆς τέλος ἄριστον ἐτίθεμεν, αὕτη δὲ πλείστην ἐπιμέλειαν ποιεῖται τοῦ ποιούς τινας καὶ ἀγαθοὺς τοὺς πολίτας ποιῆσαι καὶ πρακτικοὺς τῶν καλῶν.

[And these [statements] correspond to the things [stated] at the outset, for we set down that the end of politics is what is most excellent, and it [politics] takes the greatest care to make citizens (politas) of a certain type do what is good and able to perform actions that are noble.]

To render the various associations of politēs (‘citizen’) in Aristotle’s Greek into Arabic, two options were available to Badawi. One was to take over the terminology already provided by the medieval Arabic translators; the second was to adopt a new set of lexical terms. The first option entailed, in effect, rendering politēs into Arabic by matching the Greek terms with a set of Arabic terms whose root meaning matched that of the Greek. Politēs relates to the Greek word for city (‘polis’), and politēs refers to the inhabitant of a city. Each of the medieval translators based his translation on the basic meaning of city (‘madīna’), though the exact terms and phrases used varied. The following concordance shows that Eustathius used a variety of constructions.Footnote 13

1. πρὸς ἑταίρους δ᾽ αὖ καὶ ἀδελφοὺς παρρησίαν καὶ ἁπάντων κοινότητα. καὶ συγγενέσι δὲ καὶ φυλέταις καὶ πολίταις καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς ἅπασιν ἀεὶ πειρατέον τὸ οἰκεῖον ἀπονέμειν

[… to brothers and comrades goes frank speech and sharing among everyone. To brothers and clansmen and citizens and to all the rest one must give a portion to all …]

والخلطاء بكلهم أي القرابة والعشيرة وأهل مدينته وجميع باقي هؤلاء فقد ينبغي أبداً أن يدام إعطاؤهم

[… and all of those [forms of honouring should be shown] to associates, namely relatives, clansmen, citizens [lit. ‘people in his city’], and to the rest of them, it is necessary always to consistently give them…]

2. οἷον χρήματα ἀποστερῆσαι ἑταῖρον δεινότερον ἢ πολίτην, καὶ μὴ βοηθῆσαι ἀδελφῷ ἢ ὀθνείῳ

[such as [the fact that] it is more terrible to steal something from a companion than from a citizen and [more terrible] not to come to the aid of a brother than a stranger.]

كقولي إن انتزاع الأموال من الصاحب أردأ من انتزاعها من المشارك في المدينة وترك المعونة الأخ أردأ من ترك معونة الغريب

[… such as when I say that taking the wealth of companion is worse than taking it from a citizen, and not coming to the aid of a brother is worse than not coming to the aid of a stranger…]

3. καὶ ἀδελφοῖς πρὸς ἀλλήλους, οὐδ᾽ ἑταίροις καὶ πολίταις, ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν ἄλλων φιλιῶν. ἕτερα δὴ καὶ τὰ ἄδικα

[… and brothers towards each other, nor comrades towards citizens, and similarly in relation to other intimates. For justice is different …]

والأخوة وبعضهم إلى بعض ولا الأصحاب والذين من مدينة واحدة وكذلك في سائر الأصدقاء فإن العدل أيضاً آخر

[… for brothers towards one to another, and for comrades and citizens (literally, ‘those from a single city’) of a single city, and likewise for all friends. For justice is is something else for…]

4. ἴσοι γὰρ οἱ πολῖται βούλονται καὶ ἐπιεικεῖς εἶναι: ἐν μέρει δὴ τὸ ἄρχειν, καὶ ἐξ ἴσου: οὕτω δὴ καὶ ἡ φιλία.

[… For they aim for citizens to be equal and have merits, and in turn, to hold authority equally, and affection.]

من أجل أنه يراد أن يكون المدنيون مساوين ذوي استئهال وأن تكون الرياسة جزية بالسوية وكذلك المحبّة أيضاً

[… since what is sought is that the citizens are equal and possess merits, and that leadership should be equally particular, and so affection in like manner …]

5. ἢ τήν γε εὐδαιμονίαν αὑτῷ καὶ τοῖς πολίταις, ἑτέραν οὖσαν τῆς πολιτικῆς, ἣν καὶ ζητοῦμεν δῆλον ὡς ἑτέραν οὖσαν.

[… or [to procure] for himself and for citizens happiness that is different from the one that relates to the city, but which we evidently seek because is different.]

.أو يكتسب السعادة لذاته وللمدنيين التي غير المدنية وبيّن أنّا نطلبها على أنّها أخرى

[… or acquire for himself and for citizens the happiness that is not related to the city, and that we plainly seek it because it is something else.]

To translate politēs or its plural politai, Eustathius combines madīna (‘city’) with ahl (‘people’) in an annexation (iḍāfa); places madīna in the participial clause al-mušārik fī (‘the one who participates in [the city]’); puts madīna in a relative clause allaḏīn fī madīnatin wāḥidatin (‘those who are in a city’); and twice uses a relational adjective (nisba), madanīyīn (‘of or relating to the city’), derived from madīna, which in its substantive form refers to the city-dweller.

Isḥāq’s strategy for translating politēs was to use madīna (‘city’) in an annexation, ahl al-madīna in the singular, and ahl al-mudun (literally, ‘people of the cities’) to render the plural politai. The following concordance illustrates Isḥāq’s approach.

1. … ἀλλὰ καὶ γονεῦσι καὶ τέκνοις καὶ γυναικὶ καὶ ὅλως τοῖς φίλοις καῖ πολίταις, ἐπειδὴ φύσει πολιτικὸν ὁ ἄνθρωπος. Τούτων δὲ ληπτέος …

[… but he is with parents, children, women, and, in general, with intimates and citizens, for the human being is political by nature. From these one ought to …]

لكنه يكون مع أبوين وأولاد ونساء وأهل المدنية لأن الإنسان مدني بالطبع وينبغي

[… but he is with parents, children, women, and citizens, for the human being is political by nature. It is necessary …]

2. μάλιστα γὰρ ἔοικεν. δοκοῦσι γὰρ ὑπομένειν τοὺς κινδύνους οἱ πολίται διὰ τὰ ἐκ

[… since it is most similar. For citizens think they should patiently endure dangers because of …]

لأنه يشبه أن تكون أخصّها وذلك أنّ أهل المدن يرون أن يصبروا على الشدائد من أجل

[… since it seems that it is most proper to it, for citizens believe that they should endure dangers for the sake of …]

Of these different ways of referring to the citizen, two phrases stand out. Evidence provided from the Classical Arabic subcorpus shows that after the tenth century CE influential Arabic texts on political and ethical philosophy continue to use ahl al-madīna (‘people of the city’) and madanī (‘city-dweller’) to speak about the citizen. The following concordance shows how the normative discourse about the citizen continued to be conceived of in the thought-space of the city.

ثم أخذ يبيّن أمر التغلّب وأنه قد يُحتاج إليه إذا لم يكن أهل المدينة أخياراً جيدي الطباعFootnote

Filename ‘prem000182’: Alfarabi, Summary of Plato’s Laws (Ǧawāmiʿ Kitāb al-nawāmīs li-Aflaṭūn), ed. Druart (1998).


[… whereupon he begins to investigate the nature of despotic rule, and that it may be needed if the citizens do not possess merit, and do not have excellent natures.]

ويتبيّن ايضا مع ذلك انّه لا يكمّل السياسة لاهل المدينة الّا من كمّل السياسة لاهل بيته وسياسة نفسهFootnote

Filename ‘prem000200’: Themistius (d. c. 385 CE), Letter to Julian, ed. Swain (2013).


[… and, nevertheless, it is evident that the only person who perfects citizens’ conduct is the one who perfects the conduct of the people in his household as well as his own [conduct].]

كثيرون واللذين فى المدينة إنهم قليلون، لكن كان الكبر بالجبل احق والكثرة باهل المدينة اوجب، لكن كل واحد من هذه يوصف بذلك بقياسه إلى شئFootnote

Filename ‘prem000222’: Ibn al-Ṭayyib (d. 1043 CE), Commentary on Aristotle’s Categories, ed. Ferrari (2006).


[… are numerous, and those in the city are few. Yet, being large is proper to the mountain just as being numerous is proper to citizens, but each one is described in this way in relation to something else …]

مثال ذلك في المشهورات أن الذهن اذا تصور الانسان من جهة ما هو مدني ومصاحب ، وكان المتصور فاضلا، لزم في النفس أنFootnote

Filename ‘prem000262’: Avempace, Notes (taʿālīq) on the Book of Demonstration (Kitāb al-Burhān) by Alfarabi, ed. Fakhry (1987). The text in the corpus is from the 2012 re-edition.


[… if the mind conceives of the human being as a citizen and comrade and the person who forms the conception is virtuous it follows that in the soul …]

ثم شرع في ذكر أرزاق المدنيين وأشبع القول في ذلك بعدما كانFootnote

Filename ‘prem000182’: Alfarabi, Summary of Plato’s Laws, ed. Druart (1998).


[He turned then to discussing the provisioning of citizens, and he discussed completely …]

تشتمل عليها آراء الملة صفات تخيل إلى المدنيين جميع ما في المدينة من الملوك والرؤساء والخدمFootnote

Filename ‘prem000234’: Alfarabi, Book of Religion (Kitāb al-milla), ed. Mahdi (1968). The text in the corpus is from the 2001 re-edition.


[… the things that religious beliefs include have properties that bring to citizens’ minds everything pertaining to the city, such as kings, leaders, servants…]

.وكيف الوجه في إزالة الرذائل عن أهل المدن، والحيلة في تمكينها في نفوس المدنيين ووجه التدبير في حفظها عليهم حتى لا تزولFootnote

Filename ‘prem000237’: Alfarabi, Selected Aphorisms (Fuṣūl muntazaʿa), ed. Naǧǧār (1971). The text in the corpus is from the 1993 re-edition.


[… and how to eliminate vices from citizens, and the way to inculcate [virtues] in citizens’ souls, and how to maintain them so that they do not vanish …]

In this concordance we observe that ahl al-madīna and madanī are particularly common in contexts in which the text speaks about the members and inhabitants of the city as a group, or, as in line 4, when reference is made to share company.

The above concordances from the Arabic Nicomachean Ethics and from classical Arabic political philosophy show that Badawi had strong philological grounds to adopt madanī or ahl al-madīna as the translation of politēs. Instead, Badawi opted for the term muwāṭin, which is derived from waṭan (‘nation’). To understand why Badawi took this route we should recall, as argued in section 1, that Badawi was not exclusively interested in reconstructing the text of Aristotle’s Ethics as a contribution to textual criticism and Arabic lexicography. From the perspective of his modern Arabic-speaking audience, using madanī or ahl al-madīna to mean something akin to citizen would have not impressed on the reader the contemporary relevance of Aristotle’s ethical and political thought about the state. Ahl al-madīna is particularly ill-suited to conveying the idea of citizen to a modern Arabic audience. Al-madīna itself, the Modern Standard Arabic word for ‘city’, shows a strong semantic preference for religious lexical items (Wehr, 1974, p. 899). When it is part of the annexation ahl al-madīna, the phrase can be used to refer to the inhabitants of any particular city (Hoogland et al., 2003, p. 843), but very frequently refers to the people of Medina, particularly during the formative years of Islam. This is evident from concordances from the Sketch Engine corpus of Modern Arabic, my third source of data for this study, in which ahl al-madīna occurs about 58,000 times.Footnote 21

من الصحابة، والتابعين، وتابعيهم، وهو مذهب مالك واهل المدينة، والليث بن سعد، واهل مصر.1

[… of the [Prophet Muḥammad’s] Companions, their followers, and their [followers] followers, and it is the position of Mālik [early Muslim jurist, d. 795 CE] and the people of Medina, as well as that of Layṯ ibn Saʿd [early Muslim jurist, d. 791 CE] and the people of Egypt …]

فقتلته الفئة الباغية. وفي العام التالي، قام اهل المدينة المنورة وفيهم كبار الصحابة، ابن.2

[… whereupon the unjust party murdered him. The next year the people of Medina, the illumined, set out—and among them were [the Prophet Muḥammad’s] outstanding companions such as Ibn …]

The above concordances show that ahl al-madīna, as it is used in Modern Standard Arabic, is not semantically equipped to make Aristotle’s ideas about the citizen personally relevant to a modern Arab. For an Arab audience who see themselves as citizens in a modern nation-state, speaking about citizenship in terms of membership of the city would have seemed needlessly archaic, if it made sense at all.

As a way to impress on a modern Arab audience the contemporary relevance of Aristotle’s philosophical thoughts about the citizen, madanī, the other term Badawi inherited from the medieval Arabic translators, fares no better. In the Sketch Engine corpus of Modern Arabic madanī occurs about 132,000 times. In its substantive form, it primarily means civilian as opposed to military personnel (ʿaskarī), as in the following examples.

…حربي عسكري قتالي وليس قانوني مدني، و هذه المسالة تحتاج الى كثير.1

[… a fighting military combatant, and not a legal civilian, and this issue requires a lot of …]

.رأينا الجنود الامريكان يتجولون في داخل المحافظة، وليس هناك من عسكري او مدني يحمل سلاحا.2

[We saw American troops patrolling inside the district even though there were no military personnel or civilians carrying arms.]

As an adjective, madanī is used as a qualifier in phrases such as al-muǧtamaʿ al-madanī (civil society, line 2), al-qānūn al-madanī (civil law, line 3), and ʿiṣyān madanī (civil disobedience, line 1).

اعلنت التنسيقيات عن القيام يوم الاربعاء 26 تشرين اول / اكتوبر بعصيان مدني تضامنا مع اهالي حوران التي اعلنت .1

[… Wednesday, 26 October, they would engage in civil disobedience in solidarity with the residents of Ḥawrān who announced …]

الدفاع عن متظاهري مصر كان البعض يتعامل مع منظمات المجتمع المدني والبعض يرفض المدعم منها رغم الادوار المتفاوتة بينها. ولكن مع .2

[… defending protestors in Egypt, some collaborated with civil society organisations, while others refused support from them despite the various roles they have. However, with …]

…جعل الدين يقف دائما مع الزوج و ليس الزوجة، و لكن القانون المدني دائما مع حقوق الانسان. هل هذا منطق بالنسبة لك؟ ام انك .3

[… the religious always sides with the husband not the wife. However, civil law always takes the side of human rights. In your view is this sensible? Or do you …]

These collocational patterns reveal semantic disparities between ahl al-madīna and madanī as it is used by the medieval Arabic translators to translate politēs in the Nicomachean Ethics, and how these same terms are used in Modern Standard Arabic. Today ahl al-madīna is used to refer to refer to a city’s populace, but the above concordances show that this term also has religious and historical overtones, which limits how useful it can be for conveying purportedly timeless philosophical principles. On the other hand, as a substantive, madanī means a non-military civilian. As an adjective, madanī qualifies government institutions such as the courts that are not controlled by the military (line 2), or it can be used to refer to secular rather than religious legal concepts (line 3). Madanī also qualifies political groups or activities that arise out of group solidarity (lines 1, 2). In Modern Standard Arabic, madanī is thus enmeshed in lexical patterns whose formations are shaped by secular international and state legal codes that are sustained by the state’s monopoly on coercive power. Neither term in Modern Standard Arabic matches the lexical patterns surrounding ahl al-madīna or madanī that we find in the Arabic Nicomachean Ethics. If, then, Badawi did not envision his task in this edition as using a deliberately archaic Arabic terminology derived from the Graeco-Arabic tradition in order to reconstruct as accurately as possible Eustathius’ and Isḥāq’s medieval translations, his decision not to use this pair of terms in this passage of the Arabic Nicomachean Ethics seems clearly motivated and justified.

To render politai (‘citizens’) in Greek, Badawi uses the word muwāṭinīn (‘citizens’) rather than derivatives of madīna. Muwāṭin, the singular of muwāṭinīn, entered the Arabic political lexicon in the twentieth century (Ayalon, 1987, p. 52). When first introduced into the lexicon, it was employed to refer to a person who belonged to a location, a waṭan (Ayalon, 1987, p. 52). Only in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, following the nationalist and anticolonial struggles in the Middle East, did muwāṭin begin to refer to a citizen of a nation in the manner of the French citoyen (Ayalon, 1987, p. 53). From a philological and text critical perspective, therefore, it is anachronistic to use muwāṭin to translate politēs. Nevertheless, as I have already demonstrated, the collocational patterning surrounding madanī or ahl al-madīna militated against Badawi’s use of as a translation of the Greek politēs. At the same time, the lexical patterning of muwāṭin in Modern Standard Arabic made it a good fit for conveying Aristotle’s ideas about citizenship from the perspective of Badawi’s contemporary Arabic-speaking audience. As evident in the concordances presented below, the collocational patterning of muwāṭin aligns it in important ways with the way Aristotle’s ethics is contextualised within the human project of living life in a virtuous way, as both a personal and collective enterprise. The way muwāṭin is used in Modern Standard Arabic inflects the term in ways that present the citizen as a living being who has needs, and who sets out to achieve personal goals in association with other people.

The first pattern of note in the Sketch Engine Modern Arabic corpus concerns the way muwāṭin collocates with a number of verbs that mean or relate to the concept of living or residing, such as qaṭana, ʿāša, and sakana. In the case of qaṭana and ʿāša, for example, we see that even in contemporary sources muwāṭin is used to refer to people living in a city, city district, geographical area, or region. Citizen as an individual legal status with political rights features alongside these other common collocations. The bare, mundane facts of living in a place are typical of the lexical patterns that form around muwāṭin, and as we will see in later examples, are relevant to the citizen’s relationship with the state and governing institutions.

…احد المواطنين ان دخول الكهرباء امل طال انتظاره من العديد من المواطنين الذين ظلوا يعيشون داخل القاهرة معتمدين علي سرقة التيار الكهربائي.1

[… one of the citizens [said] that the installation of electricity is a long-awaited hope among many citizens living in Cairo who continue to rely on stealing electric current …]

في هذه الكارثة وتركت الحكومة المواطنين يعيشون دون عناية ولم يحظ مواطنوها.2

[… in this disaster was also revealed, and that the government left citizens to live there without offering aid, nor did it offer incentives to citizens …]

في منح اراض من البلدية ومراجعة جميع الجهات المختصة في الرياض بحكم ان معظم هؤلاء المواطنين يقطنون المنطقة الغربية والشرقية ويعانون من.3

[… the pertinent agencies in Riyad, since most of these citizens inhabit the Western and Eastern provinces and suffer from …]

The second pattern of note is that as citizens are confronted with the mundane facts of life, they also endure harm and suffering (muʿānāt) in life. In concordance lines in which muwāṭin appears in close proximity to some kind of suffering (the relevant verb here being yuʿānūna), we observe that citizens suffer poverty (faqr, line 1), disabilities (iʿāqāt, line 2), diseases (amrāḍ, line 3), unemployment (al-baṭāla, line 4), and a rise in something negative (irtifāʿ, line 5), from the cost of basic commodities to cholesterol levels.

…مؤتمركم القادم ان ملايين المواطنين العرب يعانون الفقر والجوع والحرمان بينما يضم هذا الوطن .1

[… future convention that millions of Arab citizens suffer poverty, hunger, and deprivation while this nation has …]

.ان الاحتلال لا يتورع عن اعتقال المواطنين الذين يعانون من اعاقات . نفسية و جسدية مختلفة.2

[The occupation does not hesitate to imprison citizens who suffer from various mental and physical disabilities.]

…من الناحية الصحية، وان المواطنين يعانون امراضا مثل الربو وغيره بسبب تطاير الغبار .3

[… health perspective, and that citizens suffer from diseases such as asthma and the like because of blowing dust …]

.ينعكس على مستويات معيشة غالبية المواطنين الذين يعانون من ارتفاع معدل البطالة والتضخم.4

[… reflect on the living standards of the majority of the citizens who suffer from the level of unemployment and inflation.]

…وزارة الصحة كشفت عن ان 26 % من المواطنين يعانون من ارتفاع الضغط الشرياني بالاضافة الى ارتفاع الكوليسترول في الدم .5

[The health ministry discovered that 26% of citizens suffer from high blood pressure in addition to high cholesterol in the blood …]

Third, the types of suffering we witness in these concordances relate to basic necessities for living life in a modern urban space and determine the form of political action citizens take in order to pressure authorities to ameliorate their suffering. Rudimentary needs for the individual are expressed in the Modern Arabic corpus with a number of lexical items, such as iḥtiyāǧāt asāsīya (basic necessities), iḥtiyāǧāt ḍarūrīya (necessary needs), and (iḥtiyāǧāt yawmīya (daily needs). The collocation iḥtiyāǧāt al-muwāṭinīn al-asāsīya (the citizens’ basic needs), for example, is frequently followed by lists of necessary provisions such as health care, education, employment, electricity and sanitation, and transportation. The nouns that occur to the left of the collocations involving some form of suffering suggest that the needs of citizens are to be met by the state through actions such as taʾmīn (safeguarding), taġṭiya (covering), taḥqīq (fulfilling), talbiya (meeting), and tawfīr (provisioning).

لنشاط المؤسسات الخدمية والانمائية بالمحافظة في توفير وتأمين الاحتياجات الاساسية للمواطنين وتحسين مستوى خدماتها,… .1

[… with the activities of the services and development agencies in the district in providing and safeguarding the basic needs of citizens and improving the level of its services, …]

متطلبات التنمية الجارية في البلاد وتغطية احتياجات المواطنين من الطاقة الكهربائية في مختلف.2

[… the requirements of foreign development in the country and covers the needs citizens have for electricity in the different …]

.مصطلح اممي استحدث عام 2005، ويعني تحقيق الاحتياجات الحالية للمواطنين في الحاضر، بالاضافة الى تحقيق حاجات الاجيال المقبلة.3

[… international term coined in 2005, which means fulfilling the immediate needs of citizens in the present as well as fulfilling the needs of the coming generations.]

تتطلب التركيز على توسيع مساحة الخدمات المقدمة للمواطنين وتوفير الاحتياجات اللازمة لتقليل حجم البطالة… .4

[… it demanded focusing on expanding the range of services provided to citizens and provisioning the necessities required in order to reduce levels of unemployment …]

…ولان قادة المنطقة يدركون اهمية الاسراع في تلبية الاحتياجات الاجتماعية و السكنية للمواطنين، فان حكومات دول المجلس وضعت .5

[… and also because the leaders in the region recognise the importance of promptly meeting the social and housing needs of citizens. For which reason the governments of the countries belonging to the council have laid down a …]

These concordance lines show that the state is expected to recognise its obligation to safeguard, meet, provision, and cover citizens’ needs. Citizens are not represented here as passive recipients of what they are offered by caring and conscientious political authorities, however. They are able to identify aims or services (such as financial services, line 1 below) as desirable for life (yarġabūna, they desire/want—concordance lines 1–4 below). Rather than pursuing ideological goals, citizens’ desires are often represented as utilitarian. Concordance lines with the key item yarġabūn fī, yarġabūna bi- (they desire) within five tokens of citizens/muwāṭinīn show citizens wanting to make use of utilities (istifāda, line 1), acquire necessities (al-ḥuṣūl ʿalā, line 2), and participate in or contribute to public activities (al-mušāraka fī, line 3; al-musāhama fī, line 4).

بانشاء البنوك الاسلامية في السلطنة لاتاحة الفرصة امام المواطنين الذين يرغبون في الاستفادة من هذه الخدمات المصرفية حسب ما استقر عليه الوضع.1

[by establishing Islamic banks in the sultanate in order offer the opportunity citizens who want to use these financial services, depending on how the situation is]

هي القيمة النسبية لعدد المواطنين الذين يرغبون في الحصول على فرص عمل ولكن ليس لديهم وظيفة.2

[… which is the percentage of the number of citizens who want work opportunities but do not have a job …]

في سورية مشيرا الى ان المعرض مليء بالمواطنين السوريين الذين يرغبون بالمشاركة وممارسة حياتهم العادية.3

[…in Syria indicating that the exhibition is full of Syrian citizens who want to participate and pursue a normal life while also rejecting …]

وعمل بطاقات دعم للرياضة والاندية يتم توزيعها على المواطنين الذين يرغبون بالمساهمة بدعم الاندية والرياضة.4

[… and making cards for supporting sports and athletics clubs, which have been distributed to citizens who want to contribute to supporting athletics clubs and sports …]

When their desires are not met, citizens gather together to bring about change. They are represented as assembling together (taǧammaʿū, line 1 below), rallying together (iḥtašadū, line 2) and gathering together to form a crowd (tawāfadū, lines 3 and 4). In many cases these crowds of citizens call for practical changes that are related directly to meeting needs or shortcomings in the government’s pastoral responsibilities (lines 1, 3, 4). In other instances, however, citizens congregate to call for change on a grand scale, as in line 2 below, or to seize what they desire by force, as in line 3.

وبدأ يصرخ أمام مئات الشباب والمواطنين الذين تجمعوا في ساحة البلدية للتنديد بما وصفوه بنقص مناصب الشغل ومنحها.1

[… and began to shout in front of hundreds of young people and citizens who had assembled in the municipal square to condemn what they described as a shortage in jobs that were given …]

بأعداد كبيرة. وكان العشرات من المواطنين قد احتشدوا في اعتصام سلمي رفعوا فيه الشعارات المكتوبة مطالبين ببعض الحقوق الاساسية.2

[… with large numbers [of police officers]. Dozens of citizens had rallied together in a peaceful sit in, raising banners written with slogans calling for basic rights …]

اللجان الشعبية بالمنطقة فى اخراج البلطجية والمواطنين الذين توافدوا من العشوائيات للاستيلاء على الشقق.3

[… the people’s committees in the district to remove thugs and citizens who had gathered from the slums to seize apartments …]

للمشاركة في الاعتصام الذي شارك فيه المئات من المواطنين بالمديرية والذين توافدوا امام محطة الكهرباء بباجل.4

[… for participating in the sit in in which hundreds of citizens in the district participated and who gathered together in front of the power station in Bajil …]

The Sketch Engine corpus of Modern Arabic thus reveals that muwāṭin attracts collocations that tie the political subject to the elementary needs for life and to suffering when these elementary needs are not met by authorities entrusted with providing pastoral care. Citizens suffer but they are not idle. They are conscious of the many dangers they face when their needs are not met, and take active measures to ensure that they are. This activity is consistently represented as public, taking place on streets and bridges, and in front of mosques, power stations, ministries, municipal buildings. It is also represented as involving groups taking action to promote the general welfare. What gives their demands immediate currency and poignancy is that, at core, their calls appeal to the fact that in their neighbourhoods, districts, cities, provinces, countries, or regions of the globe unjust distributions of resources are pervasive.

These patterns resemble those that form around politēs in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, and at the same time, are quite different from the lexical patterning of madanī and ahl al-madīna in Modern Standard Arabic. Since his editorial and translational decisions were not motivated by strictly historical or philological considerations, and given that this edition of the Arabic Nicomachean Ethics was intended for consumption by a modern Arabic-speaking audience, Badawi’s choice of muwāṭin as a translation for politēs is coherent and consistent with his overall objectives.


I have argued in this paper that a critical edition is ultimately a reinterpretation of another text, and in this sense may be considered as a form of translation. I have also described some of the ways in which editing and translating are analogous activities. The distinction between translation and edition is not clear-cut, but lies on a spectrum that is determined chiefly by the kinds of textual, linguistic, and disciplinary parameters that shape the structure and content of the edition, the reading of the manuscript, and the interpretation of the text preserved in the manuscript. In the case of Badawi’s edition of the Arabic translation of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Modern Standard Arabic served as a linguistic parameter that shaped the selection of specific lexical items as equivalents for Greek lexical items in those parts of the Arabic Ethics that were missing from the Fez manuscript and that necessitated direct translation of the Greek text. French classical scholarship in the guise of Tricot’s French translation of the Nicomachean Ethics influenced Badawi’s interpretation of the text, and how he framed it for his readers using a variety of paratextual interventions. The disciplinary norms of classical and Arabic philology shaped Badawi’s editorial procedure and the form and content of the critical apparatus. Finally, the discourse of orientalism in turn left an imprint on this critical edition of a medieval Arabic manuscript, in that despite being addressed to a modern Arab readership, Badawi nevertheless included a complex critical apparatus that involved isolating, collecting, and analysing the linguistic features of a medieval Arabic manuscript artefact for display to a specialist readership. Badawi’s edition evinces aspects of each of these parameters. He was equally influenced, however, by his personal philosophical programme, his identity as an Arab, and his commitment to promoting Arabo-Islamic philosophy and intellectual history. His edition shows the marks of each of these influences that often pulled him in opposite directions. Taken as a whole, these linguistic, discursive, and disciplinary parameters form a dense network of terms, concepts, practices, and norms that powerfully shaped the final form that Badawi’s edition took.

Finally, drawing on the Genealogies of Knowledge corpora of Greek and medieval Arabic and a corpus of Modern Arabic available through Sketch Engine, I examined the collocational patterning of lexical items related to the concept of citizen in Aristotle’s Ethics, and discussed how Eustathius and Isḥāq translated politēs into Arabic in the ninth century using a set of terms relating to the core concept of city (madīna). I showed that after the ninth century, madīna continued to stand at the centre of Arabic philosophical discussions of the citizen. By the twentieth century the thought-space for thinking about the citizen in Arabic political discourse was the nation (‘waṭan’) not the city. I argued, based on corpus evidence, that Badawi’s choice of a cognate of waṭan over cognates of madīna as a translation for politēs is, even if anachronistic, entirely consistent with his objectives, envisioned readership, and his own philosophical programme. Complementing traditional methods of textual analysis with corpus-based analysis of larger bodies of data has been shown to provide a different and powerful vantage point from which to understand critical editions as translations.

Data availability

The raw-text data of the Classical Arabic texts analysed in the current study are not available to the public owing to copyright restrictions. Limited access to the texts for the sake of corpus analysis is available using the Genealogies of Knowledge concordance software available for download at: http://genealogiesofknowledge.net/software/. The Greek text of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is available to the public under a Creative Commons license at the Perseus Digital Library’s text GitHub repository: https://raw.githubusercontent.com/PerseusDL/canonical-greekLit/master/data/tlg0086/tlg010/tlg0086.tlg010.perseus-grc1.xml. The raw text of Modern Standard Arabic analysed in this study are not available to the public owing to Sketch Engine’s proprietary ownership of the corpus data. Purchasing a subscription gives limited access to the texts for the sake of corpus analysis: https://www.sketchengine.eu.


  1. 1.

    See Ullmann (2011) for a detailed history of the ‘discovery’ of the manuscript.

  2. 2.

    Dunlop’s translation is published in the edition by Akasoy and Fidora (2005).

  3. 3.

    The spurious ‘Book Seven’ has been part of the transmission history of the Nicomachean Ethics in Arabic since at least the tenth century; see Ullmann (2011) and Akasoy (2012).

  4. 4.

    An assessment of this new edition is found in Ullmann (2011).

  5. 5.

    In writing this paper I have benefitted from William Frawley’s (2000) ideas about translation, but ultimately developed my argument in a different direction.

  6. 6.

    Badawi (1979, p. 46) reckons that nearly 14% of the original text is missing from the manuscript. This includes about half of Book Five and almost all of Book Six.

  7. 7.


  8. 8.


  9. 9.


  10. 10.


  11. 11.


  12. 12.

    A keyword search in the Genealogies of Knowledge concordance browser will regenerate the Greek and Classical Arabic concordances referred to below. For more information on the software, see https://genealogiesofknowledge.net/software/. The Greek text of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics used in this study is Bywater’s (1894), which corresponds to filename ‘prem000150’ in the Genealogies of Knowledge Greek subcorpus.

  13. 13.

    The Arabic text of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics used in this study is Badawi’s (1979) edition, which corresponds to filename ‘prem000305’ in the Genealogies of Knowledge Arabic subcorpus.

  14. 14.

    Filename ‘prem000182’: Alfarabi, Summary of Plato’s Laws (Ǧawāmiʿ Kitāb al-nawāmīs li-Aflaṭūn), ed. Druart (1998).

  15. 15.

    Filename ‘prem000200’: Themistius (d. c. 385 CE), Letter to Julian, ed. Swain (2013).

  16. 16.

    Filename ‘prem000222’: Ibn al-Ṭayyib (d. 1043 CE), Commentary on Aristotle’s Categories, ed. Ferrari (2006).

  17. 17.

    Filename ‘prem000262’: Avempace, Notes (taʿālīq) on the Book of Demonstration (Kitāb al-Burhān) by Alfarabi, ed. Fakhry (1987). The text in the corpus is from the 2012 re-edition.

  18. 18.

    Filename ‘prem000182’: Alfarabi, Summary of Plato’s Laws, ed. Druart (1998).

  19. 19.

    Filename ‘prem000234’: Alfarabi, Book of Religion (Kitāb al-milla), ed. Mahdi (1968). The text in the corpus is from the 2001 re-edition.

  20. 20.

    Filename ‘prem000237’: Alfarabi, Selected Aphorisms (Fuṣūl muntazaʿa), ed. Naǧǧār (1971). The text in the corpus is from the 1993 re-edition.

  21. 21.

    A keyword search in the Sketch Engine arTenTen corpus will regenerate the Modern Arabic concordances referred to below. Each text’s metadata includes a hyperlink to the original online source. For this reason I omit direct references to the outlets from which the concordances were originally extracted. For information on how to consult the arTenTen corpus see https://www.sketchengine.eu/artenten-arabic-corpus/.


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This research was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (Grant number: AH/M010007/1).

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Correspondence to Kamran I. Karimullah.

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Karimullah, K.I. Editions, translations, transformations: refashioning the Arabic Aristotle in Egypt and metropolitan Europe, 1940–1980. Palgrave Commun 6, 3 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-019-0376-9

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