The Book of Humans


This anonymous manuscript can be dated to between the second half of the 18th century and the first years of the 19th century, thanks to a watermark impressed in the paper, which is of English or Dutch origin. The manuscript is likely a copy of an earlier work. The text is partly a treatise on the human body and how to maintain good health. It explains that the body is composed of chemical elements, and deals with medication, nutrition, and diseases of various parts of the body. Besides such practical considerations, the work discusses questions of physics and general physiology. The theoretical framework is typical of medieval Islamic physiology, in which the human being is seen as a compound made up of jasad jismānī (the material body) and nafs ruānī (the spiritual soul). The Aristotelian theory of the four elements, the basic constituents of the sublunary world, is explained in great detail and is linked to traditional ideas regarding the four humors (black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood) in the human body. This work also touches on other philosophical questions relating to the characteristic features of humans. It includes a discussion of the three faculties—animal, vegetable, and mineral—embodied in human beings. The author quotes Al-qanūn fī al-ibb (The canon of medicine) by Abū ‘Alī al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn Sīnā (980–1037), commonly known as Avicenna, one of the most widely read medical texts of the Middle Ages.  Surprisingly, he also refers to Balīnas, the Arabic name under which original and pseudo-epigraphic works by Apollonius of Tyana (first century) circulated. This work provides a vivid summary and a fair overview on the physiological and physical concepts that informed medieval Arabic medical theory and practice.

Last updated: August 7, 2013