The Notebook of the Oculists


The current manuscript preserves Tadhkirat al-kaḥḥālīn (The notebook of the oculists), a landmark treatise in ophthalmology that is often cited as one of the most important works of its kind in medieval Islam. The author was ʻAli ibn ʻIsa al-Kahhal (died circa 1038), who lived in Baghdad and practiced and taught in the ‘Adudi Bimaristan hospital. Known in the Latin West as Jesu Oculist, al-Kahhal described in detail more than 130 eye diseases in this well-organized work. He classified the diseases by their anatomical location, drawing upon earlier Greco-Roman and Arab sources, but also adding “a few things” that he observed or practiced. The manuscript is divided into three main “essays,” each of which is further divided into numerous sections that provide clear and succinct descriptions of the subject matter. The first essay, comprising 21 sections, deals with the anatomy of the eye. The second essay, covering 73 sections, discusses the causes, symptoms, and treatments of apparent eye diseases. The third essay, consisting of 27 sections, covers the less apparent eye diseases and their treatment. The work concludes with an alphabetical glossary of remedies for eye ailments. Al-Kahhal is credited with a number of firsts, including the prescription in the literature of an anesthetic for surgery; and the discovery of the symptoms of the Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada syndrome, which include inflammation of the eye and loss of vision. His Tadhkirat influenced numerous Arab and European oculists. It was translated into Latin in the 15th century. A German translation with commentary by ophthalmologist Julius Hirschberg and orientalist Julius Lippert was published in 1904. It was this version on which Casey Wood based his 1936 English translation, describing the Tadhkirat as “the most complete, practical and original of all the early textbooks on the eye and its diseases.” The manuscript of the Tadhkirat presented here was produced in 1631. The name of the scribe is unknown.

Last updated: September 29, 2017