January 30, 2012

The Book of Compilation

Abu Nasr Muhammad al-Farabi (also known by his Latinized name, Alpharabius, circa 870–950 AD) was a Muslim philosopher and scientist, who also had interests in political philosophy, logic, cosmology, music, and psychology. Although his origin is unconfirmed, it is generally agreed that al-Farabi was of Persian origin and that he was born either in Faryab in present-day Afghanistan or in Farab in present-day Kazakhstan. He was called the “Second Teacher,” a deferential reference suggesting he was second in philosophy only to Aristotle. Shown here is Kitab Al-majmu' (Book of compilation), which describes Al-Farabi’s philosophical views and reflects his meticulous studies of ancient philosophy. It comprises eight treatises dealing with Greek (Plato and Aristotle) and Islamic philosophy, in addition to Islamic mysticism. It is said that this work of Al-Farabi’s helped Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 980–1037) to master Aristotle’s metaphysics.

Book on the Soul

Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Yahya ibn al-Sayigh, better known as Ibn Bajjah or by his Latinized name, Avempace (circa 1095–1138 AD), was an Andalusian Muslim polymath, who was born in Zaragoza, Spain, and died in Fes, Morocco. He was also a politician and served as a vizier (minister) for the Almoravids, the Islamic rulers of southern Spain and North Africa circa 1062–1150. Ibn Bajjah is best known for being the first commentator on Aristotle in Spain and is one of the earliest known representatives of the Spanish Arabic Aristotelian-Neoplatonic philosophical tradition. He wrote extensively on a wide range of topics, including astronomy, logic, philosophy, music, botany, medicine, psychology, and poetry. Kitab al-Nafs (Book on the soul) is a philosophical treatise focused on psychology and principles of logic and reason. Although the treatise draws parallels with, and is often compared to, Aristotle’s De Anima (On the soul), it is not an explicit commentary on that work. Ibn Bajjah was an influence on Ibn Rushd (also called by the Latinized name, Averroes, 1126–98 AD), the Andalusian philosopher known as “the Commentator on Aristotle.”

Lives of the Physicians

Muaffaq-addin Abu Al-Abbas Ahmad Ibn Al-Qasim Ibn Khalifa Al-Khazraji, better known as Ibn Abī Usaybiah (died circa 1269 AD), was an Arab physician and historian, who was born in Damascus, Syria. The son of an oculist, he studied medicine in Syria as well as in Egypt. Uyūn ul-Anbā fī Ṭabaqāt ul-Aṭibbā (Lives of the physicians) is an encyclopedia containing biographies of known Greek, Roman, Indian and Muslim physicians from ancient times to around 1245 AD. The work is divided into 15 chapters, the first of which is a general treatment of the medical profession. Ibn Abī Usaybiah lists some of the moral qualities required of physicians, such as complete discretion, intelligence, sound personal ethical standards, and the like. The remaining chapters of the book identify and classify physicians, such as the Persian polymath Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi (commonly known as Rhazes), and philosophers not primarily thought of as physicians, such as Aristotle and Pythagoras.

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Ghiyath al-Din Abu'l-Fath Umar ibn Ibrahim Al-Nisaburi al-Khayyami, better known as Omar Khayyam (1048–1131 AD), was a Persian Muslim mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and poet, whose interests also included music, mechanics, and geography. He was born and died in Nishapur, Iran, where he taught the philosophical theories of Ibn Sina (also known as Avicenna, 980–1037), among other disciplines. Although Khayyam is known to later generations mainly as a poet, his work on algebra, mathematics, and calendar reform were of great importance. Khayyam is known for his rubaiyat (quatrains), which are two-line stanzas with two parts. The term “rubaiyat” is derived from the Arabic root of the word “four.” Shown here is a collection of Khayyam’s quatrains, the interpretation of which has been a contentious issue. While some see the work as a call to enjoy and celebrate life, others view it in a mystical context. Still others contend that it reinforces pessimism and nihilism. These interpretations have been greatly influenced by the varying translations of the collection. The exact number of Khayyam’s quatrains is unknown, as many are thought to have been added to the original collection by later poets. Still, some 1,200 to 2,000 quatrains have been attributed to Omar Khayyam.

The Method of Medicine

Abu al-Qasim Khalaf ibn al-Abbas Al-Zahrawi (also known by his Latinized name Albucasis, circa 936–1013 AD) was an Andalusian Muslim surgeon, who was born in El Zahra (known today as Medina Azahara), near Cordoba, Spain. He is considered by some to be the father of modern surgery and is best known for his medical encyclopedia Al-tasreef liman ajiza an al-taaleef (The method of medicine). This work became a standard text in Europe for five centuries under its Latin title, Liber Alsaharavi de cirugia, after it was translated from the Arabic in the mid–late 12th century by Gerard of Cremona. The encyclopedia consists of 30 chapters or treatises, which cover such topics as the doctor–patient relationship, various areas of medical specialization, nutrition, the link between diet and disease, diagnosis by examination, pharmacology, and classification of diseases and their symptoms. The last section deals with surgery, and in it, al-Zahrawi argues that the surgeon requires knowledge from all other medical areas before operating. The book also contains diagrams and illustrations of the medical and dental tools that al-Zahrawi used, some of which he himself devised.

January 31, 2012

Abstracts on the Physiognomy of Horses

This is a two-volume manuscript, by an unknown author. The material originated from a wide range of works on horses dating from earlier times. It records in great detail the shapes of horses, which were often used to judge the quality of a horse. The work also contains about 100 verses on the treatment of horses, written in a folk-song style, listing the equine diseases that were prevalent at the time and the remedies. The illustrations are included at the end of the second volume. The manuscript dates from the Ming dynasty and was probably written during the Longqing reign (1567–72).