This article surveys selected Arabic commentaries on the Hippocratic Aphorisms, Book Six, aphorism 11, documenting a five century-long debate on the disease known as phrenitis. We show how this debate springs from a variant transmission of the Hippocratic lemma. The variant reading, which appears in Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq’s (d. 873) Arabic translation of the Aphorisms and of Galen’s (d. ca. 216) commentary on this text, clashed with Galenic theories on phrenitis. Arabic commentators formulated different theories in order to explain the problematic lemma, engaging with each other and refuting or embracing the views of earlier authors. We follow the evolution of this compelling debate on mental health and the body, paying special attention to the emergence of new ideas on phrenitis and its aetiology. We also formulate a hypothesis about the source of another variant reading of the lemma, as it appears in the commentary by Ibn Abī Ṣādiq (d. after 1068). We underscore how Arabic commentators progressively shifted their focus from the distinct aetiologies of melancholy and phrenitis to the symptoms in the affected part. We conclude that this shift in hermeneutic focus reflected an increased interest in understanding the two pathologies as mental illnesses sharing important characteristics. Finally, our article shows how medical commentaries were, for various and at times surprising reasons, venues for the re-elaboration of medical theories, as well as venues for polemic and self-promotion.
Peter E. Pormann and N. Peter Joosse“Commentaries on the Hippocratic Aphorisms in the Arabic Tradition: The Example of Melancholy,” in Epidemics in Context: Greek Commentaries on Hippocrates in the Arabic Traditioned. Peter E. Pormann (Berlin: De Gruyter2012) 211–49.
Manfred UllmannDie Medizin im Islam (Leiden: Brill1970) 160. For a recent discussion of his impact on 13th century medicine see Ahmed Ragab The Medieval Islamic Hospital: Medicine Religion and Charity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2015) 154–5. Ragab concludes that Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa was not not well-informed about Ibn Abī Ṣādiq and “failed to acquire sufficient information” about his life. Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa ʿUyūn al-anbāʾ fī ṭabaqāt al-aṭibbāʾ ed. Augustus Müller (Königsberg: self-published 1884 [reprinted Westmead UK: Gregg International Publishing 1972]) 2:14. See also Pormann and Joosse “Commentaries on the Hippocratic Aphorisms” 221–5.
Pormann and Joosse“Commentaries on the Hippocratic Aphorisms”225–6. Emilie Savage-Smith A New Catalogue of the Arabic Medical Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library University of Oxford Volume I: Medicine (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2011) 13–4 [Entry 4].
UllmannMedizin16–7. Sami Hamarneh The physician Therapist and Surgeon Ibn al-Quff (1233–1286): An Introductory Survey of His Time Life and Works (Cairo: Atlas Press 1974). Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿ ʿUyūn al-anbāʾ 2:273–4.