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Medieval Manuscripts in the National Library of Medicine Medieval Manuscripts in the National Library of Medicine home National Library of Medicine in blue lettering. National Library of Medicine logo which is a link to the National Library of Medicine homepage. Historiated inital O featuring a physician consulting a book at his patient's bedside which is a link to the History of Medicine Division homepage.
Arabic Legacies written in red lettering.

Some 1200 years ago, Baghdad became a veritable seedbed of medical learning, cross-fertilized by Persian-Mesopotamian, Byzantine-Greek, and Indian traditions. Under enlightened caliphs, the fabled city drew Muslim, Jewish, and Christian scribes and scholars who cooperated on making available a wealth of texts, an enterprise facilitated by the recent introduction of paper. The most productive workshop was that of Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-'Ibadi (809?-873), whose simple but lucid synopsis, Questions on Medicine, reinforced the impact of numerous translations. Together with the explosion of reading materials, Hunayn's organization of the subject matter inspired the composition of encyclopedias, such as The Royal Book of All Medicine by Ali ibn Abbas al-Majusi (known in the West as Haly Abbas, d. 994) and the Canon of Medicine by ibn Sina (Avicenna, d. 1037), which would be consulted for centuries. Ibn Sina and later philosophers, most notably ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198) and Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides, d. 1204), expanded the range of theoretical medicine. Practical teaching was enriched above all by the clinical observations of Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariyya or al-Razi (Rasis, d. ca. 925), "The Experienced One"; by the pharmacology of Yuhanna ibn Masawayh (Mesue, d. 857); and by the surgery of Abu l'Qasim (Albucasis, d. 1009). The gist of these writings survives to this day in the "Greek" or "Unani" medicine of South Asia. Arabic medicine also flowed westwards, to Damascus and Cairo, Kairouan, Palermo, and Cordoba. Its influx into Latin Europe began with the translations of Constantine the African (d. 1087) at Monte Cassino. While these seem not to have immediately affected discourse in relatively nearby Salerno, Constantine's version of The Royal Book of Haly Abbas, titled Pantegni, exerted a strong influence on the first universities. Subsequently, the university curriculum drew extensively on a second wave of Arabic works which were translated in twelfth-century Spain, particularly in Toledo.

Folios 236 recto and 237 verso of Ali ibn al-'Abbas al-Majusi's Kamil al-sina'ah al-tibbiyah. [The complete book of the medical art] written in arabic script using brown and red ink. Folio 237 is the colophon to a copy of al-Majusi's Complete Book of the Medical Art in which it is stated that the copy was finished on 7 Dhu al-Qa‘dah 604 [= 15 May 1208] by the Christian scribe Tawmā ibn Yūsuf ibn Sarkis al-Masīḥī, who copied it for Maḥmūd ibn Zaki al-Ruqiy al-Shihabi.

Ali ibn al-'Abbas al-Majusi, fl. 940-980 (known as Haly Abas). Kamil al-sina'ah al-tibbiyah. [The complete book of the medical art].
May 15, 1208.

Known as the Royal book [Kitab al-Malaki], because it was dedicated to a Prince of Shiraz, this well-organized compendium of medical theory and practice purported to contain everything a physician needed to know for proceeding with treatment.

Folio 1 recto from Avicenna's Canon medicinae. The folio is written in two columns of sixty lines using black ink; ruled in ink; prickings in outer margins. The headings are written using red ink. The beginning of each section has an illuminated letter in gilt with blue and red coloring alternating.

Avicenna. Canon medicinae.
14th century.
(DeRicci NLM 1. Schullian 495.)

The section of the Canon displayed here deals with the popular subject of regimen, i.e. diet and healthy living.


Folio 231b of Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi's al-Juz al-thalith min kitab al-Hawi fi al-tibb. [The third part of the comprehensive book on medicine]  featuring the colophon in which the unnamed scribe gives the date he completed the copy as Friday, the 19th of Dhu al-Qa‘dah in the year 487 [= 30 November 1094] written in brown ink fading to a lighter shade, with headings in red. Folio 102b of Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi's al-Juz al-thalith min kitab al-Hawi fi al-tibb. [The third part of the comprehensive book on medicine]  featuring the section on gastrointestinal diseases written in brown ink fading to a lighter shade, with headings in red. Folio 1b of Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi's al-Juz al-thalith min kitab al-Hawi fi al-tibb. [The third part of the comprehensive book on medicine]  featuring the section on gastrointestinal diseases written in brown ink fading to a lighter shade, with headings in red.

Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi, 865?-925? (known as Razi). al-Juz al-thalith min kitab al-Hawi fi al-tibb. [The third part of the comprehensive book on medicine].
Nov. 30, 1094.
(NLM A17)

Rhazes is noteworthy for his clinical observations. This part of his encyclopedia, the oldest item in the NLM collection, deals with gastro-intestinal diseases.

Folio 1 recto from Yuhanna Ibn Masawayh's Liber de simplicibus featuring hand written two column page of sixty lines that are ruled in ink. A twenty-nine initial 'I' begins at the top of the folio. Paragraph marks alternate in red and blue. Folio 22 recto from Yuhanna Ibn Masawayh's Liber de simplicibus featuring hand written two column page of sixty lines that are ruled in ink. Paragraph marks alternate in red and blue.

Yuhanna Ibn Masawayh, d. 857 or 8 (known as Mesue). Liber de simplicibus.
13/14th c.?
(DeRicci NLM [79].)

Treasured in the Middle Ages as a sort of "physician's desk reference," this work on simples and their applications has a remarkable number of decorative initial letters.