Hippocrates’ Aphorisms enjoyed great popularity in the ancient and medieval world. According to Maimonides, it was Hippocrates’ most useful work as it contains aphorisms, which every physician should know by heart. He adds that he even saw how non-physicians have schoolchildren memorize them in school, so that subsequently people who are not physicians know many of these aphorisms by heart from learning them in school. The Aphorisms were very popular in Jewish circles as well. They were translated into Hebrew several times, the earliest dated translation written on the basis of an unknown Latin Vorlage between 1197 and 1199 by an anonymous author who—after his conversion to Christianity—called himself Doeg ha-Edomi. Other translations based on the Latin version by Constantine the African are by Hillel ben Samuel of Verona (ca. 1220–1295) and possibly by Judah (Astruc) ben Samuel Shalom (ca. 1450). Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq’s Arabic version of Hippocrates’ Aphorisms—i.e., of the lemmata in Galen’s commentary—was the basis for the translation by Nathan ha-Meʾati and the otherwise unknown Jacob bar Joseph ibn Zabara. However, it was Maimonides’ commentary on Hippocrates’ Aphorisms that was primarily responsible for the profound influence that the work had in Jewish circles. Maimonides’ Arabic commentary was translated into Hebrew in the year 1260 by Moses ibn Tibbon (fl. 1244–1283). Other translations of Maimonides’ commentary are that by R. Zeraḥyah ben Isaac ben Sheʾaltiel Ḥen (end of the thirteenth century) and by an anonymous author. An indication of the esteem in which Hippocrates’ Aphorisms were held by generations of Jewish scholars is the fact that it was twice parodied, namely by the Provençal writer Maimón Gallipapa (fourteenth–fifteenth century?) and by the Haskalah satirist Isaac Erter (1791–1851) under the title Pirkei ha-Zahav.
The edition of Maimonides’ Arabic commentary and its Hebrew translations is part of a project to critically edit Maimonides’ medical works that have not been edited at all or have been edited in unreliable editions. The project started in 1995 at the University College London with the support of the Wellcome Trust and was continued at the University of Cologne with the support of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. So far it resulted in the publication of critical editions of Maimonides’ On Asthma (2 vols.), Medical Aphorisms (5 vols.), On Poisons and the Protection against Lethal Drugs, On Hemorrhoids, On Rules Regarding the Practical Part of the Medical Art, On Coitus, On the Regimen of Health, and On the Elucidation of Some Symptoms and the Response to Them.
The first ten volumes in the series were published by the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative at Brigham Young’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. From On Coitus on, the series is continued by E.J. Brill, Leiden. I thank Jessica Kley for her assistance, Felix Hedderich for compiling the Hebrew indexes and copy editing and proofreading the text, and also Fabian Käs for checking the proofs.