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Early Printed Translations of Arabic Medical Works

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Commentary

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Avicenna, Gerard of Cremona

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Early Printed Translations of Arabic Medical Works

Early Printed Translations of Arabic Medical Works
by The Arcadian Library
The Arcadian Library
The Arcadian Library
DOI: 10.24157/ARCS_004

  • Subtitle:
    An introduction
  • Keywords:
    Arabic manuscripts, Cremona, Early Modern Period, Europe, Incunable, Measles, Medical philosophy, Medicine, Padua, Renaissance, Smallpox, Toledo, Zoology
  • Identifier:
    ARCS_004
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From the eighth to the thirteenth centuries, scientists from across the Islamic world made great advances in the study of medicine, compiling the knowledge of the ancient Greeks, Romans, Persians and Indians and building upon it themselves, largely under the patronage of the Abbasid caliphs or the Muslim rulers of Spain. The Andalusian surgeon Albucasis revolutionized surgical practices, the Persian physician Rhazes made great strides in the development of the experimental method and conducted pioneering work on infectious diseases, the Nestorian Christian doctor Mesue the Younger produced pharmacological books which became standard reading in the West, and the Bukharan polymath Avicenna compiled the most important medical encyclopaedia of his age, which continued to be consulted in European universities well into the eighteenth century.

The Influence of Avicenna on Medieval and Renaissance Europe

Arabic scientific texts were among the first works to be printed. For many years the standard medical text in the Islamic world was the compendium by the tenth-century Persian physician Abu ‘l-Hasan ‘Ali ibn ‘Abbas al-Majusi, known in the West as Haly Abbas.

It was first printed in 1492, and the library has the second edition from 1523. Haly Abbas, however, was superseded by the man who would become by far the most popular Arabic writer from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century, the eleventh-century philosopher, also from Persia, Abu ‘Ali al-Husain ibn ‘Abdullah ibn Sina, better known as Avicenna.

The earliest edition of Avicenna’s main medical work in the library, the Canon medicinae, dates from 1479. It was printed in Padua and was translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona. From the collection of Sir Hans Sloane, the library has the 1484 edition of the Regimen sanitatis salernitanum, a poem attributed to Arnaldo da Vilanova but in fact produced by the School of Salerno, which is filled with references to Avicenna. The first and only fifteenth-century edition of Avicenna’s philosophical work, the De anima, is dated 1484. Then come other works—the first separate edition of another philosophical text, the Metaphysica, which had a deep influence on Thomas Aquinas, printed in Venice in 1495; the 1496 second edition of the early fourteenth-century commentary on Avicenna’s work on epidemics and surgery by the Florentine physician Dino del Garbo, known as the Expositor Avicennae; and, printed in 1498, the first edition of a part of Avicenna’s medical canon with the commentary of Jacques Desparts, the rector of the University of Paris and personal physician to Charles VII.

In 1500 there appeared, for the first time, Avicenna’s sole work on zoology, De animalibus, translated in Toledo in the twelfth century by Michael Scot and dedicated to the emperor Frederick II (who used it in his De arte venandi, of which the Arcadian Library also has a printed edition). De animalibus was printed in Venice by Gregorio de’ Gregori who produced, in 1514, the first complete text ever to be printed in Arabic, the Fano Book of Hours. And 1508 saw the publication, in the twelfth-century Latin translation by the Spanish philosopher Domenico Gundisalvo, of the first edition of Avicenna’s De logica and a number of other works, together with the De intelligentiis by the ninth-century Persian philosopher Abu Nasr Muhammad al- Farabi, who spent many years in Baghdad and was one of the first Muslims not only to study logic but also to develop it independently of Aristotle.

The enduring popularity of Avicenna’s Canon is attested by a series of new editions, commentaries and translations throughout the sixteenth century. Besides a copy of Giacomo da Forlì’s Expositio of the first book of the Canon, printed in Venice by Jacopo Pencio, and the 1520–1522 edition of the first five books, the library has an edition printed in 1507 by the Venetian printer Paganino de’ Paganini. The first edition of an epitome of the Canon appeared in Lyons in 1514 edited by Michael de Capella together with the Flores de animalibus and, translated in the thirteenth century by the Dominican Armengaud de Blaise, the Cantica, a poem by Avicenna setting out the essentials of medical practice (also published separately). The edition of Avicenna’s principal medical texts with cross-references to Galen by Gabriel Tarrega, a Catalan Jew who had converted to Christianity and taught medicine in Bordeaux, dates from 1520.

Gerard of Cremona’s translation of Avicenna’s Canon was soon subjected to criticism. It was followed, some 400 years later, by that of Andrea Alpago. But even Alpago’s version had errors, and it was in the hope of improving on it that Jacobo Mantino, the Spanish Jewish physician working in Venice, turned to the Hebrew renderings. He only completed a small part of the new translation, however. It was first published in 1530, and the Arcadian Library has a copy of the second edition which appeared in Paris in 1532.

In 1543 Mariano Santo, the professor of surgery at Bologna who transformed surgical practice and always defended Avicenna’s Canon as the ideal manual for the practitioner, published his own commentaries. In 1575 the translations of both Andrea Alpago and Jacobo Mantino were included in a version with an extensive exposition by the Paduan physician Marco degli Oddi. And in 1556 there appeared the first edition of the commentary on the Canon by Giovanni Battista da Monte, also at the University of Padua. A second edition followed in 1557, the year that also saw the publication of the commentaries on Avicenna by Ugo Benzi, the physician from Siena who died in 1439. In 1564 Giovanni Paolo Mongio and Giovanni Costeo republished Alpago’s translation in Venice, supplying it with an elucidation of their own.

In 1593, for the first time, Avicenna’s Canon was printed in Arabic. The press was the Typographia Medicea and the purpose of this and its other Arabic publications, all of which are in the Arcadian Library, was both to extend the influence of Rome and to exploit what was believed to be a potential market in the Arab world where typography was prohibited. Of the 1593 Arabic Avicenna the Arcadian Library has, besides the original, a copy of two printed fragments accompanied by a manuscript commentary.

Even if he was still revered by a scientist such as Santorio Santorio in Padua, the 1660 edition of whose complete works is in the library, in the course of the seventeenth century, as the scientific revolution placed ever more emphasis on experimentation and direct observation, Avicenna lost some of his medical authority. Nevertheless, he retained a certain popularity as a philosopher. His work on logic was duly translated into French by Pierre Vattier, physician to the Duke of Orléans and appointed professor of Arabic at the Collège Royal in 1658, the year in which his translation was published in Paris.

Editions of Rhazes’s Work and His Western Commentators

Of the many incunables in the Arcadian Library translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona, some of the most significant are works by the pioneering Persian physician Rhazes, the first scientist to discern the difference between smallpox and measles, and whose pioneering work earned him the position of chief physician at the hospital of Baghdad. The library owns the 1481 edition of the Liber ad Almansorem and the 1483 Liber nonus ad Almansorem, a popular therapeutic guide, the latter edition of which comes from the Benedictine abbey of Scheyern in Bavaria.

The 1481 edition also contains tracts by Galen, Hippocrates, Mesue the Younger and John of Damascus, while the 1483 edition has an exposition by Sillanus de Nigris. Another incunable dating from 1497 has the commentary of Giovanni Arcolani, professor of medicine at Bologna in the early fifteenth century, on the ninth book of Rhazes’s Liber ad Almansorem. The ninth book itself was again included in the 1504 edition of the major works of Gerard de Solo, who taught at Montpellier in the early fourteenth century. By Rhazes the library also has the 1506 Venice two-volume edition—the rare second one—of the influential Liber helchavy, the 1511 edition of his Opera parva, and the Basel edition of 1544 of his collected works, which includes Gerard of Cremona’s translation of the first eight books of the Liber ad Almansorem with Vesalius’s translation of the ninth book and Alban Thorer’s of the tenth. Thorer was the editor.

Rhazes’s works attracted many commentators. The Arcadian Library has an early sixteenth-century first edition of a fifteenth-century commentary on his Liber ad Almansorem by members of the Santa Sofia family in Padua, together with a medical work by the eleventh-century Baghdadi physician Ibn Jazla on the pathology and therapeutics of numerous diseases, and an elucidation, published in 1564, by Leonardo Giachini who taught at Pisa, edited by the Protestant doctor Girolamo Donzellino. Rhazes’s brilliant work on smallpox and measles—he was the first physician to distinguish between the two—was published in 1747 by Richard Mead, whose complete works the Arcadian Library also owns. The translation in Mead’s edition was put together by Thomas Hunt, the Laudian professor of Arabic at Oxford, from two contemporary translations, one by the Syrian Christian Salomon Negri and the other by the Lord Almoner’s professor of Arabic at Oxford, Jean Gagnier. The work appeared again in London in 1766 edited by John Channing, and, in 1848, translated into English by William Alexander Greenhill, a distinguished physician and sanitary reformer who, in 1840, had had the explorer Richard Burton to stay with him and had encouraged him to learn Arabic. He had accordingly introduced him to the Spanish Arabist Pascual de Gayangos.

Other Notable Medical Works Featured in the Arcadian Library

Avicenna and Rhazes, while luminaries in the field of Arabic medicine, were just two of many groundbreaking physicians of the Islamic Golden Age. The Arcadian Library has an incunable, dating from 1479, which includes the pharmacological writings of Yahya ibn Masawaih al-Mardini, known in the West as Mesue the Younger. Mesue, a Jacobite Christian from Mardin, died in Cairo in 1015, having spent many years in Baghdad. His contribution to pharmacology was immense and his writings on the subject became standard textbooks in the West. This particular edition, edited by Simon Cordo with the Arabic texts translated into Latin by Abraham Tortuosiensis, a Jew from Tortosa, at the end of the thirteenth century, was the first to include the Liber salvatoris on the preparation of simples by al-Zahrawi, as well as the fourteenth-century Complementum of Franciscus Pedemontanus and the twelfth-century text on antidotes by Nicholas of Salerno. There is also, published in Lyons in 1500, an illustrated alphabetical index of maladies and their remedies taken from Mesue’s works by Jacques Desparts, and an edition of the Opera medicinalia printed by Gregorio de’ Gregori in 1497. The library has an early sixteenth-century edition, printed in Lyons by Giovanni Giolito, of Mesue’s complete writings in addition to supplements by Nicholas of Salerno, Pietro d’Abano, the physician and astrologist who taught at Padua in the early fourteenth century, and the Summula of Jacques Desparts. In 1549 Giunta issued a further edition of Mesue in the revision of the anatomist Jacques Dubois. Yet another edition, in two translations, one ‘ancient’ and the other by Dubois, came out in 1558 and also contained texts by al-Zahrawi and al-Kindi. The popularity of Mesue the Younger is further confirmed by the 1623 reprint of Giovanni Costeo’s edition, which had first appeared in 1568.

The Arcadian Library also has two Venetian incunables of the Kitāb al-taysir, translated as Liber theiçir, by the twelfth-century Andalusian doctor Avenzohar (Abu Mirwan ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Zuhr), considered the father of experimental surgery. The work contains numerous clinical descriptions, some of cases of scabies and inflammation of the middle ear, and recommends tracheotomy and artificial feeding. The first dates from 1490, and the second, with numerous marginal notes and which was once in the library of the German Nation at the University of Padua, from 1496. Highly praised by Averroes, at whose request the book was written, it is supplemented by Averroes’s own Kitāb al-kulliyāt (known in Latin as Colliget), containing a general theory of medicine, and was translated by Hieronymus Surianus from Rimini. The Arcadian Library also has a further edition, printed in Venice by Gregorio de’ Gregori in 1514, the year in which he produced the Fano Book of Hours. The copy was once owned by the Bavarian monastery of Baumburg.

Together with Avicenna, Averroes (Ibn Rushd), who lived in Cordoba in the twelfth century, was the most renowned of the philosophers writing in Arabic. When he was read in the first half of the thirteenth century he was hailed as one of the very greatest commentators of Aristotle—the Arcadian Library has the 1496 edition of the works of one of his first admirers in the early thirteenth century, William of Auvergne. By the middle of the century, however, it had become evident that his teaching held many dangers for Christianity, above all for the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Nevertheless, both his medical and philosophical writings continued to be read, and his commentaries on Aristotle were reprinted frequently in the sixteenth century. The Arcadian Library has a first edition of the Regimen sanitatis of 1505 which includes Averroes’s treatise on poisons, besides texts by Avicenna, Reginaldo da Vilanova and Hippocrates; a first edition of the commentary by the humanist from Verona, Giovanni Francesco Burana, on Aristotle’s Analytica priora in Latin together with Averroes’s Middle Commentary on the same work, translated from the Hebrew and published in 1524; a copy of a textbook edition of Averroes’s epitomes of three Aristotelian works published in Venice in 1542; and a first edition, printed in Venice in 1550, of Giovanni Filippo da Lignamine’s controversy on Averroes’s Aristotelian philosophy of science. While Marcantonio Zimara, who had studied and taught at Padua before becoming professor at Salerno and Naples, was always devoted to Averroes—the library has a copy of the 1543 edition of his Theoremata, which includes a concordance of the propositions of Averroes and Aristotle—Agostino Nifo, professor of philosophy at Padua, who had once been an admirer of Averroes, radically altered his position and from 1495 on studied Averroes ever more critically. Of his critical works the Arcadian Library has a first edition of Super tres libros de anima of 1503, a first edition of his Commentationes of 1508, a first edition of his In quattuor libros De caelo et mundo … expositio, and an edition of the In librum destructionum Averrois commentarii of 1542.

The Arcadian copy of the 1542 edition of Averroes’s Colliget is bound together with the 1530 Venice edition of another popular medical work, the encyclopaedic Practica by Yuhanna ibn Sarabiyun, or Serapion the Elder, a Syriac-speaking Christian who propagated the ideas of earlier Arab writers in Damascus in the ninth century. His work had been translated into Arabic, and subsequently into Latin in Toledo by Gerard of Cremona. Gerard’s translation, however, was found to be imperfect, and Andrea Alpago produced a new version of Serapion’s Practica, which was first published in 1550. It was accompanied by the De simplicium medicamentorum temperamentis commentaria by Ibn Sarabi, or Serapion the Younger, who probably lived in the twelfth century but about whom little is known.

One of the earliest incunables in the Arcadian Library, printed in Venice in 1479, is a compilation of Byzantine and Arabic medical sources, the Liber aggregatus,

also by Serapion the Younger, and in 1531 his work on materia medica, together with similar texts by Averroes and Rhazes, was edited by the German botanist Otto Brunfels. The copy belonged to Matthias Borbonius, who acted as protomedicus in Bohemia in 1610 and was taken prisoner at the Battle of the White Mountain at the start of the Thirty Years’ War. The name of Otto Brunfels, who was condemned in the Roman index of prohibited books on account of his Protestant and Anabaptist sympathies, is crossed out.

Another popular Arabic writer on medicine was the eleventh-century Baghdadi Christian Ibn Butlan. The Tacuini sanitatis, his work on ‘the maintenance of hygiene’, with its eminently sensible advice about diet and physical exercise, first appeared in a Latin translation in 1531, with illustrations and two other shorter treatises, one on the same subject by Ibn Wafid from Toledo who wrote in the eleventh century and the other by the ninth-century philosopher al-Kindi on the preparation of medicaments. Ibn al-Baitar studied in Seville but settled in Cairo in the thirteenth century and systematized many of the discoveries of his predecessors. The Arcadian Library has the edition, printed in 1757 and based on Alpago’s translation, of his treatise on the lemon, which had first come out in 1583.