The Two Ibn Sīnās: Negotiating Literature

in Intellectual History of the Islamicate World
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This article investigates developments in medical literature through Ibn Sīnā’s Poem on Medicine (al-Urjūza fī al-ṭibb) to demonstrate how the Poem’s unique organization represents a different, practicable work. While Ibn Sīnā’s Canon of Medicine (K. al-Qānūn fī al-ṭibb) has traditionally been used to understand his approach to medicine, this article argues for a different Ibn Sīnā as seen through his Poem to show that the Poem should not be subordinated to the Canon. As the first comprehensive treatment of the Poem, it contextualizes the Poem in the medical literary tradition of the Islamic world followed by an analysis of the Poem’s structure. Finally, through a study of how this structure compares with other works, it establishes how the Poem is different from these other works to present a different Ibn Sīnā. In doing so, it hopes to draw interest to the role of textual agency in the conceptualization of medical literature.

The Two Ibn Sīnās: Negotiating Literature

in Intellectual History of the Islamicate World




ReissMirages pp. 229–232. Reiss discusses the Poem on Medicine and the nature of medicine Ibn Sīnā developed in it from a perspective of embodiment describing its content and heritage in earlier Greco-Arabic writers.


Temkin“Avicenna” p. 380.


Pormann and Savage-SmithMedieval Islamic Medicine p. 68.


Iskandar“Attempted” p. 242.


Ibid. pp. 238–239. For a discussion of how Galen’s texts were changed over time and eventually formed this corpus of texts see pp. 245–248. Iskandar frames this discussion within a study of the different grades of study which consisted of seven grades.


Ibid. p. 237.


Pormann“Medical” p. 432. For an introduction to Ḥunayn’s works see pp. 431–434. For a longer discussion of Ḥunayn and of his intentional reformulating of Galen’s work see Bos and Langermann Alexandrian pp. 3–10.


Al-SamarqandīChahár pp. 78–79.


Pormann“Medical” p. 429. See pp. 429–431 for a discussion of the use of division and its popularity within medical literature.


Ibid. p. 104.


Ibid. p. 107. See pp. 106–107 for non-poetic genres’ versification and the lack of poetic eloquence in the resulting product.


Ibid. p. 111.


Ibid. p. 116.


Van Gelder“Antithesis” p. 154.


Van Gelder“Arabic” p. 103.


KuhneUrŷuza pp. 279–281. Poetry appears to have been more popular in al-Andalus and similarly research on Islamic medical poetry has been conducted in Spanish but most of this scholarship focuses on individual works rather than an overview of the tradition.


Pormann“Avicenna” p. 93.


Pormann“Medical” pp. 429–430. Pormann includes a discussion of Galen’s division of medical ideas in his On Sects for Beginners.


See ibid. pp. 434–436 for an outline of Ibn Sīnā’s approach to organization. Also see Pormann “Avicenna” pp. 94–95 for a shorter description of this.


Ibn Sīnāal-Urjūza p. 92.


See Ibn IsḥāqMasāʾil pp. 40–41. These factors would later become the non-natural factors. The literal translation of this is ‘the necessary factors’ but scholarship on Greco-Roman and Latin medicine has traditionally translated this as the non-naturals a translation I employ here. For a study of these ‘non-naturals’ in a Galenic context see Saul Jarcho “Non-Naturals” pp. 372–377. These appear to follow the order found in Galen and Jarcho notes that they are present in the Poem on Medicine of Ibn Sīnā (Ibn Sīnā al-Urjūza pp. 372–373). See also Garciá-Ballester “On the Origin” pp. 105–115.


Ibn Sīnāal-Urjūza p. 112.


Ibn Sinaal-Urjūza p. 92.


Ibn Sinaal-Qānūn1: 13.


Pormann“Avicenna” pp. 93–94. Pormann discusses the importance of Ibn Sīnā’s introduction to his Canon focusing his discussion on the Canon as Ibn Sīnā’s conceptualization of medicine within medical writings. In particular Pormann demonstrates how Ibn Sīnā focused on the scientific aspect of medicine in the Canon which contrasts to his definition of medicine within the Poem (p. 93).


Ibn SīnāUrjūzā p. 92.


Ibn IsḥāqMasāʾil p. 1. The “[ ]” are “( )” in the original Arabic text and represent text that has been abbreviated in certain manuscripts or possibly added on later in others.


Al-RāzīManṣūrī p. 17.


See Ibn IsḥāqMasāʾil p. 66 for the pulse and p. 68 for urine.


Ibid. pp. 213–216.


Ibn Sinaal-Urjūza p. 124. These are also included as titles for divisions within the subsection on urine within one of the manuscript recensions.


Ibn Sīnāal-Qānūn1: 183.


Ibn Sīnāal-Urjūza p. 182.


Hamarneh“Ecology” pp. 166–168 for a discussion of Hippocrates and Galen in the Islamic world.


Ibn IsḥāqMasāʾil p. 88.


Ibn IsḥāqMasāʾil pp. 76–77; al-Rāzī Fuṣūl f. 17r for a discussion of exercise (riyāḍa).


Ibn Sinaal-Qānūn1: 310.


Ibn IsḥāqMasāʾil p. 75.


Ibid p. 85.


Ibn Sīnāal-Urjūza pp. 189–194.


Savage-Smith“Surgery” pp. 315–319. Savage-Smith discusses the place and actual practice of surgery but only nominally includes Ibn Sīnā. Through a cross-analysis between the Canon and Poem it would be possible to examine the types of surgery he considered most important.


Lloyd“Greek Science” p. 172. Lloyd argues that early medieval writers especially the Romans attempting to comment on or clarify earlier authorities ended up replacing them. In the case of Ibn Sīnā however the intentionality is visible in both how he defines medicine as well as the structure of his work.


Conrad“Scholarship” pp. 84–86; Conrad introduces the famous debate between Ibn Baṭlān and Ibn Riḍwān. For a brief introduction to see Ibn Jazla see Lev “Early Fragment” pp. 190–192.

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