The Quintessence of Medicine


The author of this treatise, Isma‘īl ibn Muhammad al-Husayn al-Jurjānī (circa 1042–1136), also known as al-Sayyid Isma‘īl, was one of the most-famous physicians and prolific writers on medicine of his time. He was a student of the noted Persian physician Ibn Abī Sādiq Al-Nīšapūrī, who followed the teachings of Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) and was nicknamed Buqrāt al-tāni (The second Hippocrates). Thanks to his proficiency in medicine, al-Jurjānī was employed by the shahs of Khvarazm, Qutb al-Dīn Muhammad (1097–1127) and ‘Azīz b. Muhammad (1127–56). The former commissioned him to compose a monumental medical encyclopedia in Persian, which became Zakhīrah-i Khvārazm’Shāhī (The treasure of Khvarazm’Shah). The tenth part of that work, on medicines both simple and compound, sometimes circulated as a separate treatise: Kitāb-i Qarabadhin, or Dakīra (The formulary), used by the shahs on their travels. The Kitāb Zubdat al-Tibb (The quintessence of medicine) is another al-Jurjānī medical manual, of which not many copies survive. This one is a very elegant and richly rubricated 17th-century manuscript. The first part of Zubdat al-Tibb is a treatise on theoretical medicine arranged in the form of tables, aimed at schematizing the diagnoses that can be made from analyses of the pulse and urine. In what follows, al-Jurjānī deals with human anatomy and the treatment of fevers. This large manuscript—a true compendium of the medical knowledge available to a 12th-century physician—includes other treatises by Al-Jurjānī devoted to the explanation of simple and composite drugs and to discussions of tumors, sexual intercourse and sexually transmittable illnesses, and poisons.

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Title in Original Language

كتاب زبدة الطب

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Physical Description

257 leaves (18-33 lines), bound : paper ; 29 X 20 centimeters


  • Paper: yellowed cream, of varying thickness, some with watermarks, damaged by termites, pages repaired. Red and black ink on title page and in text, few diacritical marks. The text is framed by a single red line; many tables written veritically or horizontally. Catchwords at bottom of rectos. Naskhi script, with headings in thuluth. Binding: old red leather decorated with blind tooling; repaired.

Last updated: August 29, 2017