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Willems, Florian, University of Cologne, Germany,
Gärtner, Mattias, University of Cologne, Germany,

The Digital Averroes Research Environment aims to provide structured access to the complete oevre of Abū l-Walīd Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Rušd, better known under his latin name Averroes, including scans of thousands of manuscripts, chunked full texts as interim editions of all his works and a comprehensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources. The primary data format is XML as TEI P5, but the complex tradition of Averroes’s body of works necessitates a higher level of abstraction than TEI is able to provide. Consequently, this high level abstraction should pave the way for crosswalks to lower level formats, as FRBRoo and such like will become more and more common.

Averroes himself wrote mostly in Arabic, but nearly all of his works were translated into Hebrew and Latin. As was the case with many medieval manusccripts, scribes often edited the texts they were copying, and, in the case of Averroes, numerous translations were crafted. Sometimes texts were translated from the Arabic original into for example Hebrew, and then, after generations translated back into Arabic. This creates a very inconsistent but very challenging tradition of the works of Averroes. Many of Averroes’s texts also have quite a few witnesses, often numbering in the hundreds, where the TEI doesn’t provide a satisfactory mean to manage that many manuscripts. Semantic interconnection of XML/TEI data to knowledge bases encoded in semantic web technologies may be a solution to that problem.

To this end, the connections between manuscripts, translations, abstract works and traditions have to be modeled as semantic data. Compatibility considerations led to an abstraction of the Europeana Data Model EDM, done in OWL-DL. A possible implementation of the DARE semantic model in CIDOC-CRM is also in the making with the integration of WissKI into our environment. Much work and thought went into the user interfaces, supported by experiments with different types of front ends and different types of users – how should a philologist be able to interface with the semantic data providing the glue between the documents? How should inference engines be used on the data? How will an editor use the manuscripts?

Performance is also in issue in highly interconnected data like that. We will show our backend solution for storage and maintenance of semantic data as well as the implementation of the inference engines. A completely new XML back end, XELETOR, was programmed to serve the sheer amount of XML data in reasonable time. User management and the history of a given triplet is also an issue.

Another challenge is posed by the inherent writing direction of Arabic and Hebrew script. Inputting XML in right-to-left script is tricky, but what about RDF triplets? The on-screen input methods have to be carefully chosen to facilitate bidirectional input. The problem of displaying said information is solved by the DARE, because intelligent usage of CSS- and XSLT properties provides easy display of bidirectional texts.

By using a given standard and giving much thought to interfaces and usability, DARE will have one of the first semantic representations of the complex tradition of one of medieval philosophy’s foremost commentator.

These central questions concerning especially the usability of the interface on the semantic data shall be presented as a demo. Two computers will allow interested parties to try DARE and its semantic technologies out.

All our technology is available as free and open source code.


This work is supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.


Hissette, R. (2010). Averroes Latinus. Commentum Medium Super Librum Praedicamentorum Aristotelis. Translation Wilhelmo De Luna Adscripta, ed. by R. Hissette, Arabic-Latin apparatus with notes by A. Bertolacci, glossaries by Hissette & Bertolacci and with † L.J. Bataillon (Averrois Opera. Series B. Averroes latinus 11). Leuven 2010.

Wirmer, D. (2008). Averroes, Über den Intellekt. Auszüge aus seinen drei Kommentaren zu Aristoteles’ De anima. Arabisch – Lateinisch – Deutsch, herausgegeben, übersetzt, eingeleitet und mit Anmerkungen versehen von David Wirmer (Herders Bibliothek der Philosophie des Mittelalters 15). Freiburg 2008.