Graeco-Roman Case Histories and their Influence on Medieval Islamic Clinical Accounts
Alvarez, Millan Cristina.
Social History of Medicine, 1999 Apr;12(1):19-43.
The medieval Islamic medical tradition was the direct heir of Classical and Hellenistic medicine thanks to an unprecedented movement of translation into Arabic, commentaries and systematizations of Greek scientific texts. In the process of assimilation, not only theoretical principles, but also literary
models of presenting medical knowledge were adopted, amongst them the case history. Since the clinical account can be used as a tool for medical instruction as well as an instrument for professional self-promotion, this study seeks to investigate which purpose most motivated Islamic physicians, and to demonstrate the extent to which they were influenced by the stylistic patterns which served them as a model. This article comprises an analysis of
the context, literary devices and purpose of case histories of the Epidemics, Rufus of Ephesos and Galen, and compares them with those by the tenth-century Islamic physician Abu Bakr Muhammad b. Zakariya al-Razi. Author of the largest number of case histories preserved within the medieval Islamic medical literature, al-Razi’s clinical records constitute an instrument with which to study and expand medical knowledge as well as providing useful material for students’ medical training. Although al-Razi fused elements from the sources which served him as a model, he did not emulate Galen’s use of the clinical history to assert himself in order to gain authority and prestige, but remained faithful to the Hippocratic essence.