Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq’s Galen Translations and Greco-Arabic Philology: Some Observations from the Crises (De crisibus) and the Critical Days (De diebus decretoriis)

in Oriens
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The author shows, from Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq’s translations of Galen’s Crises and Critical Days, and borrowing a scheme from Sebastian Brock, that Ḥunayn’s translation style was “reader-oriented,” in which he added whatever he thought necessary to help his readers understand the text and its complex subject matter, rather than “text-oriented,” which adhered closely to the original. Using several examples classified in a working typology, the author shows how caution must be used when deriving Greek textual variants from Arabic. Moreover, the author considers how the Arabic translations creatively distorted certain scientifically significant concepts.

Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq’s Galen Translations and Greco-Arabic Philology: Some Observations from the Crises (De crisibus) and the Critical Days (De diebus decretoriis)

in Oriens




Discussed in: Glen M. CooperGalen De diebus decretoriis from Greek into Arabic: A Critical Edition with Translation and Commentary and Historical Introduction of Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq Kitāb ayyām al-buḥrān (London: Ashgate2011) 85 and 504. (Hereafter references to this work will be as follows: Galen (ed. Cooper) Critical Days 85 and 504). See also discussion in: Overwien “The Art of the Translator” 153.


Elaheh Kheirandish“The Arabic ‘Version’ of Euclidean Optics: Transformations as Linguistic Problems in Transmission,” in Tradition Transmission Transformation: Proceedings of Two Conferences on Pre-modern Science Held at the University of Oklahoma ed. F. Jamil Ragep and Sally P. Ragep with Steven Livesey (Leiden: Brill1996) 227–45.


Gotthelf BergsträsserHunain ibn Ishaq Über die syrischen und arabischen Galen-übersetzungen (Leipzig: Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft1925) 15 line 9 (Arabic). cited hereafter as Ḥunayn (ed. Bergsträsser) Risāla. Discussed in Overwien “The Art of the Translator” 152.


See for example William CullenFirst Lines of the Practice of Physic (Worcester, Mass.: Isaiah Thomas1790). Sudhoff gave an historical survey that showed the persistence of the critical days doctrine that is still useful: Karl Sudhoff “Zur Geschichte der Lehre von den kritischen Tagen im Krankheitsverlaufe” Sudhoffs Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin 21 no. 1–4 (1929): 1–22.


See e.g.: Glen M. Cooper“Rational and Empirical Medicine in Ninth-Century Baghdad: Qusṭā ibn Lūqā’s ‘Questions on the Critical Days in Acute Illnesses’,” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 24 (2014): 69–102; and Idem “Approaches to the Critical Days in Late Medieval and Renaissance Thinkers” Early Science and Medicine 18 no. 6 (2013): 536–65.


Sebastian Brock“Towards a History of Syriac Translation Technique,” Orientalia Christiana Analecta 221 (1983): 1–14; here 4 ff. See also the discussion in: Uwe Vagelpohl “The ʿAbbasid Translation Movement in Context: Contemporary Voices on Translation” in ʿAbbasid Studies III: Occasional Papers of the School of ʿAbbasid Studies Leuven 28 June–1 July 2004 ed. J. Nawas (Leuven: Peeters 2010): 245–6.


GutasGreek Thought Arabic Culture142–3.


Galen (ed. Cooper)Critical Days202–3.


Galen (ed. Cooper)Critical Days226–7.


Galen (ed. Cooper)Critical Days230–3.


Galen (ed. Cooper)Critical Days282–3.


Galen (ed. Cooper)Critical Days340–1.


Galen (ed. Cooper)Critical Days378–9.


Galen (ed. Cooper)Critical Days370–3.


See e.g. Derek Collins“Mapping the Entrails: The Practice of Greek Hepatoscopy,” American Journal of Philology 129 (2008): 319–45.


Galen (ed. Bengt Alexanderson)Galenos Peri Kriseon: Überlieferung und Text (Göteborg: Elanders Boktryckeri Aktiebolag1967): 169 line 20–171 line 17 (970614–70914 K). The sigla key for his apparatus criticus is found in the Appendix to the present article.


Michael DolsMajnūn: The Madman in Medieval Islamic Society (Oxford: Clarendon Press1992) 57–8.


Manfred UllmannIslamic Medicine (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press1978) 29–30.


Liddell and ScottA Greek-English Lexicon1044. The word derives from λήθη “forgetting.” The form that Ḥunayn has transliterated is the adjective ληθάργος “forgetful.” The verb ληθαργέω means “to forget.” The same explanation appears in Ḥunayn’s translation of a passage on 171 A / 9709 K.


Edward W. LaneArabic-English Lexicon (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society1984) 187.


Liddell and ScottA Greek-English Lexicon1944.


See Jon Moline“Aristotle, Eubulides, and the Sorites,” Mind 78 (1969) 393–407. The sorites continues to be of interest to modern philosophers e.g. Delia Graff “Phenomenal Continua and the Sorites” Mind 110 no. 440 (2001): 905–35.


Glen M. Cooper“Hagar Banished: Anti-Arabism and the Aldine Edition of Galen’s Critical Days,” Early Science and Medicine 17 no. 6 (2012): 604–42; here 612–3.


Galen (ed. Cooper)Critical Days116–7.


Jonathan Barnes“Medicine, Experience, and Logic,” in Science and Speculation: Studies in Hellenistic Theory and Practiceed. J. Barnes J. Brunschwig M. Burnyeat and M. Schofield 24–68 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1982) 32 n. 16. Several contexts are listed.


Galen (ed. Cooper)Critical Days312–3. Note that this is a corrected version of this passage. In my edition I mistranslated the passage slightly due to my having transcribed part of the Arabic incorrectly.


Galen (ed. Cooper)Critical Days104–5.


Gotthard Strohmaier“Ḥunayn Ibn Isḥāq et le Serment hippocratique,” Arabica 21 no. 3 (1974): 318–23especially 321.


Gotthard Strohmaier“Die griechischen Götter in einer christlich-arabischen Übersetzung. Zum Traumbuch des Artemidor in der Version des Hunain ibn Ishak,” in Die Araber in der alten Welted. F. Altheim and R. Stiehl (Berlin: De Gruyter1967) 127–62; Idem “Galen in Arabic: Prospects and Projects” in Galen: Problems and Prospects ed. Vivian Nutton (London: Wellcome Trust 1981) 187–96.


Galen (ed. Cooper)Critical Days85.


George Lakoff and Mark JohnsonMetaphors We Live By (Chicago: University of Chicago Press1980).


GlareOxford Latin Dictionary406–7.


Joosse and Pormann“Archery Mathematics and Conceptualising Inaccuracies” 426.


Liddell and ScottA Greek-English Lexicon1418–419. Literally it is formed of πλην (“except”) and μελος (“limb”). “Limb” is a metaphor for an articulated part of a harmony namely a “melody” and means “out of tune; out of harmony.”


Liddell and ScottA Greek-English Lexicon77. Source: Glossarium Græco-Arabicum (online: http://telota.bbaw.de/glossga/) which lists works mostly by Aristotle and commentators. (Consulted 10/21/2014).


Liddell and ScottA Greek-English Lexicon595.


Cf. Overwien“The Art of the Translator” 169. On page 155 he eloquently states: “The text of the Greek original was not sacrosanct to Ḥunayn.”


Paul MaasTextual Criticism (Oxford: Clarendon Press1958) 2–9.

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