Abu´l Qasim Halaf ibn Abbas al-Zahraui - Chirurgia

Cod. Vindob. S. N. 2641 - Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria)

Alternate Titles:

Abu´l Qasim Halaf ibn Abbas al-Zahraui – Chirurgia, Grundlagenwerk der Medizin und Brücke zwischen Orient und Okzident

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Codiology

Alternate Titles

Abu´l Qasim Halaf ibn Abbas al-Zahraui – Chirurgia
Grundlagenwerk der Medizin und Brücke zwischen Orient und Okzident

Type
Extent / Format

166 pages / 40.5 x 28.0 cm

Origin
Date
2nd half of the 14th century
Style
Genre
Language
Artist / School

Abu al-Qasim

Illustrations

227 smaller golden initial letters, 1 ornamental page, 1 pen drawing and 68 miniatures with illustrations from the medical sphere; text in Gothic Rotunda

Short description

The Chirurgia by Abu´l Qasim Halaf ibn Abbas al-Zahraui is the oldest and also most important link between Greek classical and late classical medicine and the European medicine of the high Middle Ages. In it, the personal physician to Caliph al-Hakam II (961–976) combines the medical knowledge of antiquity with the physician´s own experience from decades of medical practice. The text was was translated from Arabic into Latin by Gerard of Cremona (1114–1187), at which point Latin Europe was given the opportunity of access to a text which combined European medical knowledge in the field of surgery with highly specialized Greek and Arab findings.

Facsimile editions available

Description

Fundamental Guide for Medicine – a Bridge between the Orient and Occident

The textbook of surgery written by the Arab physician Abu al-Qasim Khalaf Ibn Abbas az-Zahrawi stood for nearly 500 years as the leading handbook in this field of medicine. It constitutes the oldest and also most important link between Greek classical and late classical medicine and the European medicine of the high Middle Ages. Over long stretches of the Middle Ages, the Occident had lost the medical knowledge of Greco-Roman classical teachings. The Arabs, who preserved the classical ideas in the domains of poetry, philosophy, and science, brought this knowledge back to the western world, especially in the field of surgery where Arab medicine had made great progress. The most famous representative in this field was Abu al-Qasim, court physician of the Western Umayyad Caliph al-Hakam II (961–976) and author of writings which later became widely known. The Latin translation of this Arabic textbook on surgery was richly illustrated and lavishly decorated, thus underlining the estimation of the western world for what was then this most sensational of texts. In all, 68 miniatures form the artistic furnishings of this bibliophile manuscript, illustrating individual methods of medical treatment and instruments in all their details. Besides these miniatures, which might have been derived from Arab models, numerous 227 gilded initials altogher bear testimony to the flawless quality and great significance of the manuscript, both in medical history and in the history of art.

Abu al-Qasim: a Renowned Arab Physician

Abu al-Qasim is thought to have been born around the 930's or 940's near Cordoba (in al-Zahra precisely). The Arabic scholar thus stemmed from the Western Umayyad Caliphate which reached its climax during the 10th century. As the personal physician to Caliph al-Hakam II, he had the opportunity to enlarge his reputation as a physician, far beyond the scope of his own work. His writings were widely acknowledged and preferred even to the teachings of the Greek medical authority Galen.

The Contents of the Book

Chirurgia is the last chapter of a huge, comprehensive work Kitab al Tasrif liman ajizaan-al-ta´alif comprising the reception of Greek medical knowledge on the one hand and the physician´s own experience from decades of medical practice on the other. Out of 30 chapters of Abu al-Qasim´s lifework, which treats all domains of medicine in an encyclopaedic form, only Chirurgia and three more sections were translated into Latin, leaving this huge œuvre widely undisclosed to the western world. Chirurgia, however, went down in high medieval medical history as the most important work in this field. Chirurgia is composed of three books and decorated with numerous miniatures to illustrate diverse methods of treatment. In the first book, which deals with cauterisation, 40 miniatures show the application of the glowing iron to different parts of the body. The second book explains incisions, midwifery, bloodletting, the healing of wounds, and the application of leeches and cuppers, all illustrated in 27 miniatures, one of which shows the treatment of hydrocephalus (fol. 17r). The third book on the rejoining of bones and treatment of fractures and dislocated limbs contains the well-known and often reproduced miniature of the rack (fol. 76v).

An Epoch-Making Medical Text

Abu al-Qasim´s Chirurgia was translated from Arabic into Latin by Gerard of Cremona (1114–1187), one of the foremost members of the famous school of translators of Toledo, where numerous Greek writings were transliterated into Latin from Arabic sources. It was through the translation of Chirurgia that Latin Europe was given the opportunity of access to a text which combined European medical knowledge in the field of surgery with highly specialized Greek and Arab findings. A treasure throve not least for Latin philology in the Middle Ages, the Latin version of Chirurgia gave the western world an insight into new and revolutionary methods, thus constituting a truly epoch-making work of medicine.

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