Epitome of Medicine


This manuscript is a copy of the well-known al-Mūjiz fī al-ṭibb (Epitome of medicine), by Ali Ibn Abi al-Hazm al-Qarshi al-Dimashqi (better known as Ibn al-Nafis, 1210 or 1211‒88). Ibn al-Nafis studied medicine in Damascus but spent a great deal of his professional life in Cairo where he served, among other things, as the personal physician to the Mamluk ruler Baybars (circa 1223‒77). Credited as being the first to discover the pulmonary circulation of blood, Ibn al-Nafis wrote about his finding in his commentary on al-Qānūn fī al-ṭibb (The canon of medicine) by Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 980–1037), where he clearly described the passage of blood from the right ventricle through the pulmonary artery to the lungs and back to the left atrium via the pulmonary vein (in circa 1242). This observation was in contradiction to Galen, who had insisted on the passage of blood across the central membrane of the heart, the septum. Al-Mūjiz fī al-ṭibb is commonly thought to be an abstract of Ibn al-Nafis’s commentary on The Canon of Medicine, although it does not contain a reference to Ibn al-Nafis’s discovery. Al-Mūjiz fī al-ṭibb has the same structure as Ibn al-Nafis’s Sharḥ al-Qānūn (Commentary on the canon). Each work consists of four sections, with the first section containing the principles of the theory and practice of medicine; the second section a study of materia medica and foods, followed by a treatise on compound drugs; the third section treating diseases specific to each organ, as well as their causes, symptoms, and treatments; and the last section treating diseases that are not specific to certain organs, such as fevers. Ibn al-Nafis’s Epitome of Medicine was a popular text and was translated from Arabic into several other languages, including Turkish and Hebrew. It engendered a number of commentaries, including those by Ibrahim ibn Muhammad al-Suwaydi (1203 or 1204‒91), Jalal al-Din al-Qazwini (1267 or 1268‒1338), and Muzaffar al-Din Abu al-Thana Mahmud ibn Ahmad ’Ayntabi al-Amshati (1409‒96). Two well-known commentaries on the Epitome of Medicine are in the World Digital Library, Sharḥ al-mūjiz, by Sadid al-Din Kazaruni, and Ḥall al-mūjiz by Jamal al-Din Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Aqsara’i. Ibn al-Nafis was reputed to have relied on his own observations and deductions rather than on the authority of reference books. His discoveries regarding the circulatory system are perhaps even more remarkable by virtue of the fact that his personal beliefs made him averse to the dissection of animals. Parts of the present manuscript have been annotated heavily in Arabic. The end-leaf contains a sardonic Persian verse by an unknown scribe urging forbearance in the face of oppression.

Last updated: June 16, 2016