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 current manuscript is a complete transcription of this work, with Books 1 and 2 bound together, as are Books 4 and 5. The marginal notes in this manuscript are primarily in Arabic, with some in Persian. A lone illuminated border appears on a leaf in Book 3 of the work, in a section discussing ḥaṣāt al-kulya (kidney stones). The remaining pages are borderless, consisting of 25 lines per page of neatly written script, with rubricated titles. All five books share a single copyist. A date of 1270 AH (1853‒54) appears in the colophon to Book 3, indicating the mid-19th century as the date for the completion of this work.

Last updated: December 29, 2015