Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy

2011 Edition
| Editors: Henrik Lagerlund

al-Balkhī, Abū Zayd

  • Hans Hinrich Biesterfeldt
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-9729-4_73


Despite Abū Zayd al-Balkhī’s (d. 934 CE) extensive and multifarious bibliography, he is known today almost exclusively as an author of geographical works and the founder of the so-called Balkhī School, a type of geographical writing that combines – highly stylized – regional maps of the Islamic world with detailed descriptions of its provinces, including information on climate, agriculture, etc. Regrettably, Abū Zayd’s geographical work is lost, surviving only in later adaptations, as are almost all his works dealing with the Hellenistic scholarly, particularly philosophical, heritage on the one hand and with Islamic theology and Qurʾānic scholarship on the other – the latter an object of some praise from his contemporaries and later biographers. Abū Zayd’s wide-ranging interests (which include topics of traditional Arabic culture) are shared by al-Sarakhsī (d. 899 CE), and both their “encyclopedic” outlooks belong to the tradition of the “philosopher of the Arabs,” al-Kindī (d. soon after 870). Three fragments of works by Abū Zayd that are preserved as quotations – first on the definition of politics, second on the question of free will vis-à-vis divine determination, third on the typology of religious idols – show his independence of thought and ability to apply adequate categories; his one surviving monograph on the Welfare of Body and Soul is a witness to his limpid, elegant style and his virtuosity in integrating the Arabic–Islamic heritage, distinct elements of Sasanian political and ethical thought, and the Hellenistic philosophical and scientific tradition.

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Primary Sources

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hans Hinrich Biesterfeldt
    • 1
  1. 1.Seminar für OrientalistikBochum UniversityBochumGermany