What A Physician Cannot Afford to Ignore


This manuscript was copied in 1682 by Ibn ʻAbd al-Nabī Muḥammad Ibn ʻAbd al-Nabī, as noted in the colophon of the manuscript. It preserves a comprehensive pharmacological compendium by Yūsuf ibn Ismaʻīl ibn al-Kutubī, also known as Al-Jam‘ al-Baḡdādī (The compendium of Baghdad). Ibn al-Kutubī was born in present-day Azerbaijan, but he spent the productive years of his life at the Abbasid court in present-day Iraq. His work is an abridgement of the famous Kitāb al-jāmiʻ li-mufradāt al-adwiya (The comprehensive book on simple remedies) composed in the 13th century by the Andalusian scientist ʻAbd Allāh ibn Aḥmad Ibn al-Bayṭār (died 1248). Ibn al-Kutubī added information on nutrition and general medicine, in order to include, as the title claims, everything a physician should know. The result is a well-organized medical treatment manual explaining the evolution of the healing art in the Middle Ages. The lengthy introduction that begins the treatise touches upon the history of pharmacology, the ways in which simple drugs can be combined, and how the patient can benefit from their use. The core of al-Kutubī's work is organized alphabetically: for every vegetable or mineral drug mentioned, he provides an extensive description of its properties and the preparation required to make it medicinally effective. The degree of detail in the work is particularly apparent in cases where it describes substances found in different varieties. In the section on clay, for example, the author mentions ten different types and their peculiar features. The section on pepper describes five varieties sourced in different locations and with distinct medical properties. Some of the remedies sound strange to the modern reader, for example recipes that prescribe the use of tongues of different kinds of animals, including lamb, ox, camel, sparrow, lion, and dog. The margins of the manuscript are annotated in many places; these marginalia appear to be in the same hand as the main text and can thus be attributed to the copyist himself.

Last updated: April 15, 2016