How And Why Has The Reputation Of Ibn Sina’s Canon Changed Over Time?

1511 words - 7 pages

How and why has the reputation of Ibn Sina’s Canon changed over time?

In this essay we will explore how and why the reputation of Ibn Sina’s Canon changed over time. To do this we will look to how the Islamic world developed its medical theory from earlier Greek works and used contemporary information to build on this. We will explore how the reputation of the Canon became widespread throughout the Islamic world and how it came to be the foremost medical text of its time, despite an array of other medical texts also prevalent. We will then move on to discuss how the reputation of the Canon spread to the western world as Islamic medical works were translated in Europe. Finally we look ...view middle of the document...


Ali ibn Sina’s Al Qanan fil al-tibb (Canon of Medicine), referred to as the Canon, was highly regarded in the Islamic world. Ibn Sina held “considerable influence in the medical world” (Saffari M, Pakpour AH, Avicenna's Canon of Medicine, 2012, p. 785). Whereas many previous Islamic medical texts were simply translations of individual Greek works, the Canon was a compilation of several. Ibn Sina did not merely translate these works, but collated and interpreted a huge selection of them. What was presented was then a highly organised and comprehensive account of Greek medicine.

The Greek humoural theory explained body function in such a systematic way that no attempt was made to fundamentally revise it. “Galen’s positive ideas about anatomy, physiology, disease, and treatment of disease have the pride of place in the Canon, as they do in all of Islamic medicine.” (Musallam, 2011). However one area in which Ibn Sina (along with other Islamic practitioners) differed from the Greeks was the extensive use of drugs. Whereas the Greeks focussed on the role of diet, lifestyle and the environment, the Canon listed over 800 individual drugs and 650 compound prescriptions which could be used to treat conditions. New drugs were then categorised and fitted into the humoural system.

The Canon was not the first authoritative exposition of Galenic medicine. Authors such as Mohammad b. Zakariya Razi, and Ali b. Abbas Majusi had published sophisticated medical works. Despite this the Canon has been described as a “monumental unity” and “the clear and ordered ’summa’ of all the medical knowledge of Ibn Sīnā’s time” (A.-M. Goichon, Ibn Sina EI2 III, p. 942, in Musallam, 2011). Such was the influence of the Canon that it was “considered a medical masterpiece” and “during his time, he (Ibn Sina) was regarded as a prominent physician and philosopher who influenced the world through his valuable works” (Saffari M, Pakpour AH, Avicenna's Canon of Medicine, 2012, p. 785).

Not only was the Canon held in high regard in Iran, but its influence spread throughout the Islamic world at the time. Although there were many books based on individual Greek works and also compilations, the Canon’s reach was widespread. It became the main medical text in the Indian sub-continent, with summaries from regional authors also prevalent; it was also held in high regard in Egypt and Sham (now Syria). At that time it became “the most prevailing text book in the Islamic World” (Moosavi, Avicenna Journal of Medical Biotechnology, 2009, p. 5).

Although the Canon was not the only compilation of medical works, what set it apart from the rest was its “organisation and clarity” (Britannica Academic Edition, 2013). Other works, such as The Mansurian Book of Medicine by al-Razi were also divided into categories and books; however the way in which the Canon was organised made it easy for practitioners to find help in diagnosing an ailment, finding what drugs...

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