The Four Books on Medicine by Octavius Horatianus and the Three Books by Abū Al-Qāsim, Distinguished Among All Surgeons


This volume printed at the Argentorati shop in Strasbourg (present-day France) in February 1532 includes two works, the first of which is the Latin translation by Theodorus Priscianus (flourished around 400) of his own therapeutic compendium, the Euporista (Easily obtained remedies), originally written in Greek. The second work is the Latin translation of a section of the well-known Arabic medical work by Abu al-Qasim Khalaf ibn al-Abbas al-Zahrawi (also known by his Latinized name Albucasis, circa 936–1013), Al-Taṣrīf li man ‘ajiza al-ta’līf (The arrangement of [medical knowledge] for one who is unable to compile [a manual for himself]). Not much is known about either author. Theodorus Priscianus was a North African physician who was a student of Vindicianus. The Greek version of his compendium is lost. As the Euporista originally was organized in three sections, the fourth section in the Latin translation is presumably related to material in De Physicis, the only other surviving work (albeit incomplete) by Theodorus. This 1532 edition was published under the name Octavius Horatianus. Al-Zahrawī’s name indicates that he was born in Madinat al-Zahrā, near Cordoba in al-Andalus (Andalusia, or present-day Spain). According to the earliest sources he died in al-Andalus after 1009. Later biographers state that al-Zahrawī worked at the Andalusian courts of ‘Abd al-Raḥman III (ruled 912–61), al-Ḥakam II al-Mustanṣir (ruled 961–76), or al-Manṣūr bi llāh (de facto ruler of al-Andalus, 978–1002). Al-Zahrawī’s only surviving work is the enormous al-Taṣrīf li man ‘ajiza al-ta’līf, a work written in 30 chapters, with the first (on general principles), the second (on the symptoms and treatments of diseases), and the 30th (on surgery) forming almost half the work. Al-Taṣrīf enjoyed considerable fame in the Islamic world and in Europe. The first and second chapters were translated into Hebrew in the mid-13th century and subsequently into Latin, and were published in Augsburg in 1519 under the title of Liber theoricae nec non practicae Alsaharavii. The 28th chapter, on “the improvement of medicines, the burning of mineral stones and the medical uses thereof,” was translated into Hebrew and thence into Latin at the end of the 13th century under the title of Liber Servitoris and first printed in Venice by Nicolaus Jenson in 1471. The text presented here, the 30th chapter, on surgery, is the first comprehensive and illustrated treatment of its subject. The long chapter is divided in three sections, or books: one on cauterization; one on phlebotomy, dissection, wounds, and the extraction of arrows; and one on dislocations and bone setting. It was translated into Latin at Toledo by Gerard of Cremona under the title of Liber Alsaharavi de cirurgia and first printed in Venice in 1497, followed by later editions in 1499, 1500, 1520, 1532, and 1540.

Last updated: June 17, 2014