The Book of the Pillow on Medicine


Abu al-Mutarrif ʻAbd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad Ibn Wafid was an Andalusian physician and courtier who lived and worked in Toledo during the first half of the 11th century. In Kitāb al-wisād fī al-ṭibb (The book of the pillow on medicine), Ibn Wafid discusses the medicaments to be used for the treatment of a variety of conditions, including dizziness, swellings, boils and skin ulcers, paralysis, and tetanus. In his biography of Ibn Wafid, the 13th century physician Ibn Abi Usaybi‘ah wrote that Ibn Wafid devoted himself to the study of the works of Galen and Aristotle, thereby becoming the foremost expert on the topic of simple (as opposed to compound) drugs. The result of this research, which reportedly took 20 years to complete, was Ibn Wafid’s Kitāb fī al-adwīya al-mufrada (Book on simple medicines), which was translated into Latin in an abridged version by Gerard of Cremona in the 12th century and is considered by some historians as a companion work to Kitāb al-wisād. In addition to these two titles, Ibn Abi Usaybi‘ah lists Tadqīq al-naẓar fī ‘ilal ḥassāt al-baṣar (Observations on the treatment of the illnesses of the eye) and Kitāb al-mughīth (Book on assistance), both of which have been lost, among the works by Ibn Wafid. Ibn Abi Usaybi‘ah also names Mujarrabāt fī al-ṭibb (Medical experiences) as another work by Ibn Wafid. The title suggests a lost book about medical treatments that have been tested and verified with regard to efficacy. It is possible, however, that Mujarrabāt is merely an alternate title for Kitāb al-wisād, as is suggested by the manuscript shown here, in which the word Mujarrabāt appears in the title page. Another work by Ibn Wafid, De balneis sermo—a book on balneology (the treatment of disease by bathing and medicinal springs)—survives only in Latin. The curious nature of the title Kitāb al-wisād fī al-ṭibb has prompted one modern historian to suggest a misreading of al-wisād for al-rashshād, thus proposing Kitāb al-rashshād fī al-ṭibb (The guide to medicine) as the correct title. The production of the manuscript appears to have experienced unforeseen difficulties, as the script becomes increasingly less legible near the end of the work. It concludes in a scrawling script in Persian, with the scribe stating his difficulties in obtaining reliable versions of the manuscript to conclude his work.

Last updated: June 16, 2016