“The Scientific Essay on the Need for Compound Remedies” from the "Canon of Medicine"


Abu Ali al-Husayn Ibn Sina (980–1037) was one of the intellectual luminaries of the medieval world. Known in the Latin West as Avicenna, this Persian polymath was often referred to by Muslim authors as al-Shaykh al-Ra'īs, in acknowledgement of his role as one of the foremost savants of the Islamic world. A prolific author, Ibn Sina wrote on topics as varied as metaphysics, theology, medicine, psychology, earth sciences, physics, astronomy, astrology, and chemistry. His fame in Europe rests principally on his Canon of Medicine, which was translated into Latin and remained part of the standard curriculum for medical students for centuries. It was due to the reputation of this work, as well as of two of his other works that were translated into Latin, al-Adwīya al-qalbīya (Cardiac medication) and al-Urjūza fī al-ṭibb (a versified manual on medicine), that Ibn Sina  sometimes was referred to in the Latin West as princeps medicorum (prince of physicians). Presented here is a manuscript copy of the fifth book of Avicenna's Canon. The title al-Maqālah al-ʻilmīyah fī al-ḥājah ilā al-adwīyah al-murakkabah (The scientific essay on the need for compound remedies) is used as a heading for a section of the Canon by the author himself. The current book is organized into sections dealing with primary organs or medical conditions. Each section is subdivided into topics, such as symptoms, treatments, prescriptions for nutrition, and recipes for medicinal compounds. The section on the kidney, for example, includes subsections on the anatomy of the kidney, on various indicators of the status of the kidney, and a list of ailments, such as “hotness,” ”coldness,” or ”weakness” in the kidney, and remedies for them. The present manuscript appears to have been part of a larger book, the first 300 pages or so of which have been removed. The first page of text includes a blank field that presumably was meant for a frontispiece that was never completed. There are 35 lines per page. The text is in black ink, with headings in red ink (frequently repeated in the margins).

Last updated: December 2, 2015