The Islamic Golden Age saw extraordinary advances in science, medicine and philosophy. Between the seventh and thirteenth centuries, Baghdad was not only one of the world’s largest and wealthiest cities but was also home to a significant academy of knowledge known as the ‘House of Wisdom’. Muslim scholars gathered knowledge from classic works of antiquity, translated them into Arabic, Turkish, Sindhi and Persian, and then added their own observations and discoveries to produce innovative works; by the eleventh century, Latin translations of the revised works were widespread throughout Europe.
Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariyya al-Razi (Rhazes) was one of the most significant physicians from this era. Born in the city of Rayy, Iran in 865 AD, Rhazes was Chief Physician at the hospital in Baghdad, where he wrote over 1000 works in his lifetime. He was the first medieval physician to challenge ancient knowledge, in particular Galen’s humoral theory, and in doing so, he made great advances in contemporary medical knowledge. He emphasised the importance of experimentation and was the first to discern the difference between smallpox and measles in his work al-Judari wa al-Hasbah (A Treatise on Smallpox and Measles), of which the Arcadian Library holds an English translation from 1848.
Rhazes’ most influential work in Europe however, was the Liber ad Almansorem, a short medical textbook, split into ten chapters covering all aspects of health from diet and hygiene to anatomy and surgery. It became one of the most widely read medieval medical manuals in Europe and attracted many commentators.
The featured item contains one such commentary by Galeatus de Sancta Sophia, a member of the famous medical family dominant in Padua throughout the fourteenth century. The fact that Renaissance scholars were still commenting on and praising Rhazes’ work almost five centuries later – including the renowned sixteenth century anatomist Andreas Vesalius - demonstrates its popularity and far-reaching influence. In fact, the ninth book, on therapeutics, was so popular that it was widely disseminated by itself.
Bound with this commentary is a work by Ibn Jazla, an eleventh-century physician from Baghdad, who cited Rhazes as an influence on his work. Jazla’s Dispositio corporum de constittutione hominis, Tacuin agritudinum describes and outlines the treatment of over 350 diseases in a series of tables. It was not printed in the original Arabic until 1914, and this, the first edition, was the first of any of his works to be printed.
Both works in this volume are themselves rare, however, for them to be bound with additional works is thought to be unique. The additional works include two short tracts by other authors, one by the relatively unknown Antonio de Grado on fevers, as well as works by Clemente Clementino, personal physician to Pope Leo X.
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De Bustinza, V. P., 2016. How early Islamic science advanced medicine. National Geographic [Online] Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/magazine/2016/11-12/muslim-medicine-scientific-discovery-islam/ [Accessed June 2019]
Hajar, R., 2013. The Air of History (Part IV): Great Muslim Physicians Al Rhazes. Heart Views: The Official Journal of the Gulf Heart Association, 14(2), pp. 93–95.
Tubbs, R. S., Shoja, M. M., Loukas, M. and Agutter, P., 2019. History of Anatomy: An International Perspective. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
Zarrintan, S., Shahnaee, A. & Aslanabadi, S., 2018. Rhazes (AD 865-925) and his early contributions to the field of paediatrics. Child’s Nervous System, 34(8), pp.1435-1438.