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A tribute to Avicenna

Ibn Sina (Avicenna) 980-1037 AD

Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine - Washington DC

Lyman Phillips is pleased to submit this information to CyberMedics on the Persian philosopher and physician, Avicenna.

Who was Avicenna?
Avicenna was a Persian Muslim philosopher and physician in the Middle Ages who compiled many works, the most famous of which isThe Canon of Medicine, a definitive encyclopedia of Greek and Roman medical achievement.

Avicenna, or Ibn Sina was very influential to both the Islamic world and the Latin middle ages. He was born in a village near Bukhara in Turkistan. At the age of 18 he could consider himself an accomplished physician and had acquired immense philosophical knowledge as displayed in his large philosophical encyclopedias and in his numerous small treatises. After the collapse of the Samanid empire in 999 he decided to leave Bokhara. About 1020 he was Vizier in Hamadan. The last 14 years of his life were spent in the company of 'Ala ad-Daula, the ruler of Isfahan, whom he accompanied on all his journeys and on military ventures. He died in Isfahan in 1037 and was buried Hamadan. His existing writings, some of which are in his native Persian though most are in Arabic, include an autobiography (completed by an intimate pupil).

Medical Works
The work for which Avicenna is best remembered for is Al-Qanun fi'l-Tibb ("The Canon of Medicine"), a systematic encyclopedia based for the most part on the achievements of Greek physicans of the Roman imperial age and on other Arabic works, and, to a lesser extent, on his own experience (his own clinical notes were lost during his journeys). The influence if this work is evident not only because of its influence in the Islamic world (which was already quite advanced at this time), but was also studied in European universities for centuries, first in a 12th-century translation by Gerard of Cremona (printed 15 times before 1500) and then in a new translation by Andrea Alpago of Belluno (1527 and later editions). It was also the second text ever to be printed in Arabic (1593). Today, in a time in which major discoveries are made yearly, the creation of a work which is relevant for 500 years points to Avicenna's insight and understanding of the medical sciences.

Philosophical Works
Avicenna's works are of a synoptic nature, the most notable being a philosophical encyclopedia. As Avicenna mastered the medical knowledge of his era, he sought to master the other great discipline of the Islamic world, philosophy. For Avicenna, philosophy was the true path to understanding. His summaries of Aristotle reveal a Neoplatonic outlook, especially in his emphasis on the dualism of mind and matter. He saw matter as passive and creation as the act of instilling existence into this passive substance; only in the divine are being and existence one.

Bibliography

For a general account, see:

S. M. Afnan, Avicenna, His Life and Works (1958, repr. 1980); L. E. Goodman, Avicenna (1992).

For Avicenna's medicine see:

J. Hirschberg and J. Lippert, Die Augenheilkunde des Ibn Sina (1902)
P. de Konining, Trois traites d'anatomie arabes (1903)
O. Cameron Gruner, A Treatise on the Canon of Medicine of Avicenna Incorporating a Translation of the First Book (1930)
H. Jahier and A. Noureddine, Urjuzat fi'l-Tibb (1955)

For Avicenna's philosophy, see:

Heath, P. Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna (, 1992)
M. Horten, Die Metaphysik Avicenna (1907)
N. Carame, Avicennae metaphysics compendium (1926)
F. Rahman, Avicenna's Psychology (1952)
E. L. Fackenheim, "A Treatise on Love by Ibn Sina," Medieval Studies (1945)
J. Arberry, Avicenna on Theology (1951)

Online Resources

Avicenna's Dome

Ibn Sina of Persia

Some material excerpted from Compuserve Grolier Electronic Encyclopedia and the Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Additional text original.