Avicenna (Ibn Sina)

Abstract

980–1037 Physician/philosopher whose works, originally written in Arabic, had a formative influence between the twelfth and seventeenth centuries on medicine, medical education, early modern science and philosophy.

Keywords: the Canon; medicine; medical education; mind/body; philosophy; thought experiment; vision; Aquinas; Descartes; Greek science; Galen; Aristotle; Hippocratic tradition; Paracelsus; Pavlovian conditioning

Figure 1.

The front binding board of a seventeenth‐century copy of the Ibn Sina's al‐Qanun fi'l‐Tibb. (It is known in the West as Avicenna's Canon.) Wellcome MS Or. 155, Isfahan, Iran, 1632. The scene, painted in the style of Persian miniatures, depicts the physician taking the patient's pulse. The ‘pulse’ was the key diagnostic tool in pre‐modern medicine with a detailed description of rhythms carefully correlated with various disorders (physical and psychological) as understood then. The Canon systematically encompasses, in five books, all of Graeco‐Arabic medical knowledge. It is one of the most influential works in history of medicine and medical teaching. Numerous copies of the Arabic manuscript exist in various library collections.

Figure 2.

Title page, Avicenna, Canon; Rome: Typographia Medicea, 1593.L 21282. Ibn Sina's al‐Qanun fi'l‐Tibb, known as Avicenna's Canon, was printed in Arabic for the first time by the Medici Press in Rome by means of a specially designed moveable metal type in an elegant cursive under the direction of Giovan Battista Raimondi (d. 1614). Originally intended, as part of an ambitious publishing venture, for the Eastern market, it served, instead, the humanist scholars in Northern Europe and England during the seventeenth century in their comparative studies and the corrections of its Latin versions.

Figure 3.

First of two folios from the manuscript of Avicenna's Canon in Latin. L 31500 – Avicenna, Canon Libri I–V [Avicenna]. Padua: [J.Herbort], 1479. Sig a 2 recto. Originally written in Arabic in five books, the Canon in its Latin translation by Gerard of Cremona at the beginning of the twelfth century, became one of the most widely diffused and authoritative texts on Graeco‐Arabic medicine. It was standard reading at medical schools (Montpelier, Bologna, Padua, and Louvain) until the end of the seventeenth century. The formative influence and longevity of the Canon derives from a systematic and rational exposition of medicine which is both theoretical as well as empirical. It represents a comprehensive synthesis of Aristotelian natural philosophy with Galenic humoral physiology. At the same time, Avicenna draws on the Hippocratic tradition, including the clinical experience, comparative assessment, and observational experiments of such physicians as Rhazes as well as those of his own.

Figure 4.

Second of two folios from the manuscript of Avicenna's Canon in Latin. L 31500 – Avicenna, Canon Libri I–V [Avicenna]. Padua: [J.Herbort], 1479. Sig a 4 recto. Originally written in Arabic in five books, the Canon in its Latin translation by Gerard of Cremona at the beginning of the twelfth century, became one of the most widely diffused and authoritative texts on Graeco‐Arabic medicine. It was standard reading at medical schools (Montpelier, Bologna, Padua, and Louvain) until the end of the seventeenth century. The formative influence and longevity of the Canon derives from a systematic and rational exposition of medicine which is both theoretical as well as empirical. It represents a comprehensive synthesis of Aristotelian natural philosophy with Galenic humoral physiology. At the same time, Avicenna draws on the Hippocratic tradition, including the clinical experience, comparative assessment, and observational experiments of such physicians as Rhazes as well as those of his own.

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Further Reading

Avicenna (1593) The Canon (Kitab al‐Qănun f′l‐tibb). Rome: Typographia Medicea.

Ibn Sina (1877) al‐Qanūn fi al‐tibb. Cairo, Egypt.

Achena M and Massé H (transl.) (1955–1958) Ibn Sina. Dănesh‐Năme (Le Livre de science). D’édition ‘Les Belle Lettres’, vol. 1 (Logique, Metaphysique). Paris: UNESCO.

Achena M and Massé H (transl.) (1955–1958) Ibn Sina. Dănesh‐Năme (Le Livre de science). D′édition ‘Les Belle Lettres’, vol. 2 (Physique, Mathématiques). Paris: UNESCO.

BakoŠ J (ed./transl.) (1956) al‐Fann al‐sadis min al‐Tabi’ yyat (cilm al‐nafs) min Kitab al‐Shifac, Psychologie d’ Ibn Sina (Avicenne) d'aprés son oeuvre aŠ‐Šifa, (II, vi), 2 vols. Prague: Édition de L'Académie de Tchécoslovaque des Sciences.

Crombie AC (1952) Avicenna's influence on the medieval scientific tradition. In: Wickens GM (ed.) Avicenna: Scientist and Philosopher, A Millenary Symposium, pp. 84–107. London: Luzac.

Gillespie CC (ed.) (1970–1980) Dictionary of Scientific Biography, pp. 494–501. New York: American Council of Learned Societies and Charles Scribner's Sons.

Gohlman WE (ed.) (1974) The Life of Avicenna: A Critical Edition and Annotated Translation. Albany, NY: Suny Press.

Goichon A‐M (1969) Ibn Sina. The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd edn, pp. 941–947. Leiden: EJ Brill.

Goodman LE (1992) Avicenna. London/New York: Routledge.

Gruner OC (transl.) (1930) A Treatise on the Canon of Medicine of Avicenna Incorporating a Translation of the First Book. London: Luzac and Co.

Gutas D (1988) Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition: Introduction to the Reading of Avicenna's Philosophical Works. Leiden/New York: EJ Brill.

Lindberg D (1979) Theories of Vision from Al‐Kindi to Kepler, chap iii, pp. 43–52. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Rahman F (1952) Avicenna's Psychology. An English translation of Kitab al‐Najat, Book II, chap. VI. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rahman F (ed.) (1959) Avicenna's De Anima. Being the Psychological Part of Kitab al‐Shifac. London: Oxford University Press.

Russell GA (née Atal) (1973) Ibn Tufayl's Hayy ibn Yaqzan: The first psychological novel. In: Durzak M, Reichmann E and Weisstein U (eds) Texte und Kontexte (Festschrift), pp. 9–27. Bern: Francke Verlag.

Russell GA (1984) Ibn Sina (Avicenna). In: Porter R (ed.) Dizionario Biografico della Storia della Medicina delle Scienze Naturali (Liber Amicorum) (Biographical Dictionary of Medicine), vol. I, pp. 52–54. Florence: Franco Maria Ricci.

Russell GA (1994) The Age of Arabick. The Interest of the Natural Philosophers in Arabick in Seventeenth‐Century England, esp. pp. 5–7. Leiden/New York: EJ Brill.

Russell GA (1996) The emergence of physiological optics. In: Rashed R (ed.) Encyclopedia of Arabic Science. Mathematics and the Physical Sciences, vol. II, esp. pp. 683–885. London/New York: Routledge.

Shah MH (transl.) (1996) The General Principles of Avicenna′s Canon of Medicine, Book I (Based on Arabic). Karachi, Pakistan: Naveed Clinic.

Siraisi N (1987) Avicenna in Renaissance Italy: The Canon and Medical Teaching in Italian Universities after 1500. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Yarshater I (ed.) (1987) Encyclopedia Iranica, pp. 66–111. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

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Russell, GA(Mar 2003) Avicenna (Ibn Sina). In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0003613]