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Catalogue: Chemical Medicine

Blue arrow pointing to the right A Note on Ghāyat al-itqān fī tadbīr badan al-insān
(The Culmination of Perfection in the Treatment of the Human Body)
غاية الاتقان فى تدبير بدن الانسان
by āli ibn Nar Allāh al-alabī Ibn Sallūm (d. 1670/1081)
صالح ابن نصر الله ابن سلوم الحلبى

During the reign of Sultan Ahmed III, the chemical medicine that developed in Europe from the theories of Paracelsus acquired a following among some Muslim physicians in Istanbul. The concept of 'chemical medicine' was introduced to the Ottoman court of the seventeenth century through the writings of a court physician, a Syrian named āli ibn Nar Allāh, usually known as Ibn Sallūm. In 1655 he translated into Arabic extracts of Latin treatises by Oswald Croll (d. 1609), professor of medicine at the University of Marburg, and Daniel Sennert (d. 1637), professor of medicine at Wittenberg. Both men were followers of Paracelsus (d. 1541), who employed mineral acids, inorganic salts, and alchemical procedures in the production of remedies. Many of the medicaments required distillation processes as well as plants that were indigenous to the New World, such as guaiacum and sarsaparilla.

Ibn Sallūm's treatises not only reflected the new 'chemical medicine' but also described for the first time in Arabic a number of 'new' diseases, such as scurvy, anemia, chlorosis, the English sweat (a type of influenza), and plica polonica (an East European epidemic of matted and crusted hair caused by infestation with lice). Ibn Sallūm, however, drew his theoretical considerations of the causes and symptoms for the most part not from the Paracelsians but from late medieval Islamic writers of the 13th to 16th centuries such as Da'ud al-Antaki. This resulted in Ibn Sallūm's treatises being pastiches of late medieval Islamic medical thinking alongside 17th-century European medical chemistry.

The precise number and nature of Ibn Sallūm's medical writings present puzzling problems to modern scholars. Numerous manuscripts exist in European and Near Eastern libraries of a treatise attributed to him having the title Ghayat al-itqan fi tadbir badan al-insan (The Culmination of Perfection in the Treatment of the Human Body). No systematic comparison of them, even in general terms, has been undertaken. Yet when we actually look at some of the manuscript copies, there appears to be at least two different versions, all written in Arabic. The first group of manuscripts state in the introduction that the treatise is divided into four maqalat, or chapters, the first of which is concerned with the basic principles of medicine, while the second chapter is in two parts concerned with material medica and with compound remedies. The third chapter of this version discusses diseases associated with specific parts of the body, while the fourth concerned those diseases, such as fevers and skin complaints, not specific to any one part.

The second group of manuscript-copies of The Culmination of Perfection in the Treatment of the Human Body contain the same introduction, but with a different listing of contents. This version is divided into four books (kutub) rather than chapters: Book 1 is on diseases, Book 2 on simple drugs, Book 3 on compound remedies, and Book 4 on 'The New Chemical Medicine of Paracelsus'. Book 1 of this version is in turn subdivided into four chapters (maqalat): (1) on diseases of the head, (2) on diseases of the chest, (3) on diseases of the intestines and reproductive organs, and (4) on those diseases not assigned to a specific part. Book 4 of this version (The New Chemical Medicine of Paracelsus), also subdivided into four chapters, often circulated by itself, and there is good evidence that it was written by Ibn Sallūm early in his career, for one copy is known to have been made in 1640/1050 - thirty years before the author's death - most likely before the other writings which were later assembled to form the second version of The Culmination of Perfection in the Treatment of the Human Body.

The first group of manuscripts of Ghāyat al-itqān fī tadbīr badan al-insān (The Culmination of Perfection in the Treatment of the Human Body) is represented by MS A 12 and MS A 30. The latter is a complete copy of all four chapters (maqalat) comprising the treatise, plus a brief addendum on the occult properties of certain substances, while the former is an incomplete copy of the four chapters.

Of the second version of Ghāyat al-itqān fī tadbīr badan al-insān (The Culmination of Perfection in the Treatment of the Human Body), MS A 13 is a copy of Book One (on diseases) only. This manuscript is notable for its outstanding example of a mid-eighteenth-century illuminated opening. Book 4 of the second version (The New Chemical Medicine of Paracelsus) is represented by MS A 78, which will be catalogued separately.

For discussions of this treatise, see E. Savage-Smith, 'Drug therapy of eye diseases in seventeenth-century Islamic medicine: The influence of the "new chemistry" of the Paracelsians', Pharmacy in History, 1987, 29:3-28; and Nil Sari and M. Bedizel Zülfikar, 'The Paracelsian Influence on Ottoman Medicine in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century', in Transfer of Modern Science & Technology to the Muslim World. Proceedings of the International Symposium on 'Modern Sciences and the Muslim World' (Istanbul 2-4 September 1987), ed. by Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu (Istanbul: Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture, 1992), pp. 157-179.

For other copies, see Ullmann, Medizin, pp. 182-3; and E. Savage-Smith, 'The Influence of the "New Chemistry" of the Paracelsians upon Seventeenth-Century Arabic Medicine and its Application to the Treatment of Eye Diseases', forthcoming.

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