The Canon of Medicine


Abu ʻAli al-Husayn Ibn Sina was born in Bukhara (present-day Uzbekistan) in 980 and died in Hamadan (present-day Iran) in 1037. 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-Raʼīs (the preeminent scholar), acknowledgment of his status 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. Ibn Sina’s fame in Europe rests principally on this work, al-Qānūn fī al-ṭibb (The canon of medicine), which was translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona in the 12th century and remained part of the standard curriculum for medical students until the late 17th century. It was due to the reputation of this work, as well as two of Ibn Sina's other works that were translated into Latin—al-Adwiya al-qalbīya (Cardiac medication) and al-Urjūza fī al-ṭibb (a versified manual on medicine)—that Ibn Sina was sometimes referred to in the Latin West as princeps medicorum (prince of physicians). The Canon of Medicine is organized into five books as follows: Book 1 is entitled al-Umūr al-kulliya fī ’ilm al-ṭibb (General medical principles) and covers the basic principles of medicine; Book 2 is entitled al-Adwiya al-mufrada (Materia medica) and lists approximately 800 individual drugs of vegetable and mineral origin; Book 3 is entitled al-Amrāḍ al-juz’iya (Special pathology) and discusses the diseases of individual organs; Book 4 is entitled al-Amrāḍ allatī lā takhtaṣṣ bi ’udw bi ’aynihi (Diseases involving more than one member) and discusses medical conditions that affect the entire body, such as fevers and poisons; Book 5 is entitled al-Adwiya al-murakkaba wa al-aqrābādhīn (Formulary) and lists some 650 medicinal compounds as well as their uses and effects. The present manuscript includes Books 1, 2, and 3. The work concludes with the statement “these are the last words in Book 3 … and we must now commence with Book 4,” which, however, is not included. The book was heavily damaged and subsequently repaired, and the opening of the work appears to be on a leaf that was a later addition. This repair work was done improperly, with a resulting lacuna, and with the text on the facing page starting abruptly in the middle of the table of contents. The facing page to the opening has an illuminated border, which indicates that the leaf containing the original opening had a similar border and likely an illuminated panel containing the bismillah or basmalah (In the name of God) and/or the title of the work. The manuscript is written in a black naskh script; headings and dividers are highlighted in red.

Last updated: December 2, 2015