[Arabic] [Contents] [Introduction] [English] [Contents]


This 1593 version of Ibn Sina's Canon of Medicine has been digitized and published by the Saab Medical Library as a contribution to the online body of historical medical knowledge for research and teaching purposes.

I would like to thank Mr. Khalil T. Nassar for the english translation. I would like to thank him also for his patience and perseverance in this task.

Also I would like to thank Mrs. Nadine Shoujaa Timani for typing and retyping the English and Arabic texts. My thanks go to Mrs. Nada Sbaity for coordinating the realization of this work and to Mr. Børre Ludvigsen for the conception and realization of this work.

Hilda T. Nassar - Director, Medical Librarian

Concept, design, digitizing and authoring: Børre Ludvigsen, Beirut 2002-2007.

A short biographical note on Ibn Sina (Avicenna) by Abd al-Rahman al Naqib, professor at Mansoura University, Egypt:

(This biographical note is part of an article orginally published in UNESCO's Prospects: the quarterly review of comparative education, vol. XXIII, no. 1/2, 1993, p. 53-69, and is © UNESCO.)

The man and his age

The Sheikh al-Ra'is Sharaf al-Mulk Abu 'Ali al-Husayn b. 'Abd Allah b. al-Hasan b. 'Ali Ibn Sina (known in Europe as Avicenna) was born in the village of Afshana in the vicinity of Bukhara (in what is now Uzbekistan), in 370 AH (980 AD) - the generally accepted date - of an Ismailian family concerned with intellectual sciences and philosophical inquiry, all of which had its effect upon the scientific career of Avicenna.

So Avicenna lived in the fourth century of the Islamic era, the most flourishing 'Abbasid period in respect of learning and knowledge, which stands in complete contrast to the political situation at that time. Learning was much in demand, scholars were numerous, libraries were filled with the outpourings of the scholars of Islam, and with translations made from the sciences of other nations in accordance with the desires of caliphs and viziers.

It was just around the time of Avicenna's birth and in the subsequent years that Islamic Arabic culture reached its peak. Since the Arabic language was the accepted vehicle for the transmission of knowledge in this era, Avicenna studied Arabic under Abu Bakr Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Barqi al-Khwarizmi. As soon as he had mastered Arabic (his mother tongue was Persian), his father obtained for him a teacher of the Qur'an and another for literature. The young pupil learned quickly from his two teachers, and before he was 10 years old he knew the Qur'an and a considerable amount of literature as well, becoming 'almost a prodigy', as Avicenna says of himself. Next he developed a leaning towards philosophy, geometry and Indian mathematics, so his father sent him to the school of Mahmud al-Massah' (the surveyor), a man learned in arithmetic, algebra and the movement of the heavens, as reported by al-Bayhaqi. He also studied figh (Muslim law) and the Sufism movement with Isma'il al- Zahid al-Bukhari. And no sooner had Abu 'Abdallah al-Natli, the philosopher, arrived in Bukhara than Avicenna's father invited him to his house, hoping that the boy would learn intellectual subjects from him. If al-Natli had any noticeable success, it is that he diverted the boy from a preoccupation with law and Sufism in favor of the theoretical sciences and philosophical studies.

Before long, the professor sensed that the boy no longer needed him, for Avicenna was very anxious to acquire learning and had a real craving for the sciences of wisdom. He was then attracted by medical science, and devoted himself to it for a brief time, until he surpassed all the scholars of his age in this science. Avicenna says: "Then I desired to study medicine, and took to reading the books written on this subject. Medicine is not one of the difficult sciences, so naturally I became proficient in it in the shortest time, until the excellent scholars of medicine began to study under me. I began to treat patients, and through my experience I acquired an amazing practical knowledge and ability in methods of treatment."

Avicenna was not content with the theoretical study of medicine, but he also practiced it from humanitarian motives and in order to put his learning to good use. He achieved all this while still no more than 16 years of age. Then he devoted himself to intensive study and reading for a year and a half, in which time he read through logic and all known sections of philosophy. Before Avicenna had reached the age of 18, his scholarly fame for philosophical inquiries and medical knowledge had spread far and wide.

It is clear from Avicenna's biography that he was quick to learn, with a vast memory, and wrote with ease. When he was 21 years old, he composed the book al-Majmu (The Compendium), at the request of some of his pupils; in this he dealt with all of the theoretical sciences, except mathematics. Despite the political turmoil reigning in the land of Transoxania, which obliged him to move house a number of times, and the fact that he was acting as minister for certain princes, this did not prevent him from both studying and teaching science. He always had his own students and his study circles wherever he went, and this continued right up to the time of his death, on a Friday in Ramadan in 428 AH (1037 AD). He was buried at Hamadan in Persia.

(The complete article is available here as a .pdf file.)

(The illuminations at the top and bottom of the page are from the book.)

© AUB Libraries, 2002-2007

Last modified: Tue Mar 27 14:21:11 2007 BL