The Reputation of Ḥunayn b. Isḥāq in Contemporaneous and Later Sources

in Journal of Abbasid Studies
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


The intellectual abilities and activities of the great Abbasid-era scholar and translator, Ḥunayn b. Isḥāq (d. 260/873 or 264/877), have been lauded and eulogised from the Middle Ages through to modern times. However, it is clear that most of the information which has shaped Ḥunayn’s reputation derives from much later reports in histories and biographical dictionaries. This is particularly true of Ḥunayn’s purported “autobiography,” which, as a number of recent investigations have concluded, is most likely a later fabrication. However, I would suggest that there are three extant reports which were plausibly composed by contemporaries of Ḥunayn: namely, Abū Maʿshar, Yūsuf b. Ibrāhīm b. al-Dāya and Ibn al-Munajjim. In the course of this study, I discuss the reliability of these accounts and evaluate how far they support the later descriptions of Ḥunayn. Following this, I investigate a report, found in Ibn Rabban al-Ṭabarī’s (fl. 235/850) Firdaws al-ḥikma, which appears to be the only extant criticism of Ḥunayn’s intellectual achievements.



AbūMaʿshar Federici-VescoviniG. La versio latina degli excerpta de secretis Albumasar di Sadan Archives d’histoire doctrinale et littéraire du Moyen Âge 1998 65 273 330

Al-BayhaqīʿAlī b. Zayd Tārīkh al-ḥukamāʾ (Tattimat ṣiwān al-ḥikma) 1935 Lahore University of the Punjab

Ḥunayn MeyerhofM. The Book of the Ten Treatises on the Eye 1928 Cairo Government Press On the Eye = Ḥunayn b. Isḥāq

Ḥunayn BergsträsserG. Über die syrischen und arabischen Galen-Ubersetzungen 1925 Leipzig F.A. Brockhaus Risāla = Hunain b. Ishaq

Ḥunayn b.Isḥāq Fī anna al-ḍawʾ laysa bi-jism al-Machriq 1899 2 1105 1113

Ḥunayn b.Isḥāq SbathP.MeyerhofM. Le Livre des Questions sur l’oeil de Ḥonaïn Ibn Isḥāq 1938 Cairo Imprimerie de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientate

Ibn AbīUṣaybiʿa ʿUyūn al-anbāʾ fī ṭabaqāt al-aṭibbāʾ 1965 Beirut Dār Maktabat al-Ḥayā

Ibnal-ʿAdīm Bughyat al-ṭalab fī taʾrīkh Ḥalab 1988-9 Damascus Institut für Geschichte der Arabisch-Islamischen Wissenschaften 12 vols.

Ibnal-Nadīm Kitāb al-Fihrist 1971 Tehran Maktabat al-Asadī wa-Maktabat al-Jaʿfarī al-Tabrīzī

Ibnal-Qifṭī Taʾrīkh al-Ḥukamāʾ 1903 Leipzig Dieterich’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung

IbnJuljul Ṭabaqāt al-aṭibbāʾ wa-l-ḥukamāʾ 1955 Cairo Imprimerie de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale

IbnKhallikān Wafayāt al-aʿyān wa-anbāʾ abnāʾ al-zamān 1968-1972 Beirut Dār al-Thaqāfa

IbnRabban ṢiddīqīM. Z. Firdausu’l-Ḥikmat or Paradise of Wisdom 1928 Berlin-Charlottenburg Firdaws = ʿAlī b. Rabban al-Ṭabarī

Job of Edessa MinganaA. Encyclopaedia of Philosophical and Natural Sciences as Taught in Baghdad about A.D. 817 or Book of Treasures by Job of Edessa 1935 Cambridge W. Heffer & Sons

Ṣāʿidal-Andalusī Kitāb Ṭabaqāt al-umam 1912 Beirut Imprimerie Catholique

AdamsonPeter Vision, Light and Color in al-Kindī, Ptolemy and the Ancient Commentators Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 2006 16 207 236

ArnzenRüdiger Aristoteles’ De Anima. Eine verlorene spätantike Paraphrase in arabischer und persischer Überlieferung: Arabischer text nebst Kommentar, Quellengeschichtlichen Studien und Glossaren 1998 Leiden Brill

BhayroSiam Syriac Medical Terminology: Sergius and Galen’s Pharmacopia Aramaic Studies 2005 3 2 147 165

BiesterfeldtHans Hinrich D’AnconaC. Palladius on the Hippocratic Aphorisms The Libraries of the Neoplatonists 2007 Leiden and Boston Brill 385 397

BrockelmannCarl Review Zeitschrift für Semitistik und verwandte Gebiete 1932 8 270 288

BruningJelle Yūsuf b. Ibrāhīm b. al-Dāya (3rd/9th c.): A Study into his Life and Works Journal of Semitic Studies 2012 57 1 97 120

BurnettCharles Abū Maʿshar Encyclopaedia of Islam Three

CoopersonMichael The Purported Autobiography of Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq Edebiyât 1997 7 235 249

D’AnconaCristina Review of Rüdiger Arnzen, Aristoteles’ De Anima. Eine verlorene spätantike Paraphrase in arabischer und persischer Überlieferung Oriens 2001 36 340 351

DunlopD.M. BosworthC.E The Mudhākarāt fī ʿIlm an-Nujūm (Dialogues on Astrology) attributed to Abū Maʿshar al-Balkhī (Albumasar) Iran and Islam: In memory of the Late Vladimir Minorsky 1971 Edinburgh Edinburgh University Press 229 246

DunlopD.M. The Translations of al-Biṭrīq and Yaḥyā (Yuḥannā) b. al-Biṭrīq Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 1959 91 3-4 140 150

EastwoodBruce S. The Elements of Vision: The Micro-Cosmology of Galenic Visual Theory according to Ḥunayn Ibn Isḥāq Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 1982 72 5 1 59

EndressGerhard Abū ʿUthmān al-Dimashqī Encyclopaedia of Islam Three

FleischhammerM. Munadjdjim Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition 1954-2005 VII Leiden Brill 558 561 13 vols.

KäsFabian Die Mineralien in der arabischen Pharmakognosie: Eine Konkordanz zur mineralischen Materia medica der klassischen arabischen Heilmittelkunde nebst überlieferungsgeschichtlichen Studien 2010 Wiesbaden Harrassowitz

LeveyMartin Medical Ethics of Medieval Islam with Special Reference to al-Ruhāwī’s “Practical Ethics of the Physician” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 1967 57 3 1 100

MeyerhofMax New Light on Hunain Ibn Ishaq and His Period Isis 1926 8 4 685 724

OverwienOliver PormannP. E. The Art of the Translator or: How did Ḥunayn ibn ʾIsḥāq and his School Translate Epidemics in Context: Greek Commentaries on Hippocrates in the Arabic Tradition 2012 Berlin and Boston De Gruyter 151 169

PetersFrancis E. Aristoteles Arabus: The Oriental Translations and Commentaries of the Aristotelian Corpus 1968 Leiden Brill

PormannPeter E. Case Notes and Clinicians: Galen’s Commentary on the Hippocratic Epidemics in the Arabic Tradition Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 2008 18 247 284

PrüferCurtMeyerhofMax Die aristotelische Lehre vom Licht bei Ḥunain b. Isḥāq Der Islam 1911 2 117 128

PrüferCurtMeyerhofMax Die Augenheilkunde des Jûḥannâ b. Mâsawaih (777-857 n. Chr.) Der Islam 1916 6 217 256

ReynoldsDwight F. Interpreting the Self: Autobiography in the Arabic Literary Tradition 2001 Berkeley, Los Angeles and London University of California Press

RosenthalFranz From Arabic Books and Manuscripts Journal of the American Oriental Society 1963 83 4 452 457

Sa’diLutfi M. A Bio-Bibliographical Study of Hunayn Ibn Is-haq al-Ibadi (Johannitius) (809-877 AD) Bulletin of the Institute of the History of Medicine 1934 2 7 409 446

SamirKhalilNwyiaPaul Une correspondence islamo-chrétienne entre Ibn al-Munağğim, Hunayn ibn Ishāq et Qustā ibn Lūqā 1981 Turnhout Brepols

Savage-SmithEmilie Galen’s Lost Ophthalmology and the Summaria Alexandrinorum Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 2002 45 S77 121 138

StrohmaierGotthard Ḥunain ibn Isḥāq und die Bilder Klio 1965 43-45 525 533

StrohmaierGotthard Usṭāth Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition 1954-2005 X Leiden Brill 927 928 13 vols.

SwansonMark N. A Curious and Delicate Correspondence: The Burḥan of Ibn al-Munajjim and the Jawāb of Ḥunayn Ibn Isḥāq Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 2011 22 2 173 183

UllmannManfred Die Medizin im Islam 1970 Leiden and Köln Brill

WattJohn W. TamckeMartin The Syriac Translations of Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq and their Precursors forthcoming Proceedings of the German Syrologentag December 2011 Göttingen


Reynolds (ed.), Interpreting the Self, 108.


Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa, ʿUyūn al-anbāʾ, 286:9-10.


Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa, ʿUyūn al-anbāʾ, 414:8-11.


Ibid., 101-102.


Ibn Rabban, Firdaws, 1:18.


Ḥunayn, Risāla, 15:16-18.


Ḥunayn, Risāla, 8:9-11.


Ḥunayn, Risāla, 1:1.


Samir and Nwyia (eds.), Une correspondence, 558:6-12.


Ibn Rabban, Firdaws, 8:5-10.


Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa, ʿUyūn al-anbāʾ, 265:18-19.


Ḥunayn, On the Eye, x-xi.


Ibn Rabban, Firdaws, 80:5-7.


Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 58 58 15
Full Text Views 28 28 15
PDF Downloads 3 3 3
EPUB Downloads 8 8 7