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September 26, 1999
To the Editor of National Geographic:
In your overview of modern science, "Millennium Moments" (October 1999), you introduce your survey of scientific milestones by asserting that "Modern science begins during the Renaissance in Europe, sparked by ancient texts—Euclid's geometry, Ptolemy's geography, Galen's medicine—that were preserved through the Dark Ages by Arab scholars."
While Arabic scholarship did contribute significantly to Europe's rediscovery of classical Greek learning, it was the heirs of the ancient Greeks themselves, the Byzantines, who transmitted the lion's share of this knowledge to both the Arabs and the West. This occurred in large part due to the exodus of Byzantine Greek scholars and artists to Italy and other parts of Europe during the conquest of their civilization by the Ottoman Turks.
It is this much-neglected truth that lead Steven Runciman, arguably the Byzantine Empire's most prominent scholar, to write:
"For eleven hundred years [in Constantinople] the intellect was admired and the learning and letters of the Classical past were studied and preserved. Without the help of Byzantine commentators and scribes there is little that we would know today about the literature of ancient Greece."†
Your magazine is well-recognized for its commitment to fact instead of hype. Please see to it that your readers are given the benefit of this important historical insight.
P. D. Spyropoulos, Esq.
† The Fall of Constantinople 1453, p. 189, Canto, 1996; Cambridge University Press, 1988.