Islamic Pharmacology and Pharmacy in the Latin West: An Approach to Early Pharmacopoeias


Islamic Pharmacology and Pharmacy in the Latin West: An Approach to Early Pharmacopoeias

By Teresa Huguet-Termes

European Review, Vol. 16, No. 2 (2008)

Abstract: During the final decade of the 15th century and the first half of the 16th century, there were moves to harmonize pharmaceutical therapy in a number of areas of the Mediterranean and Central Europe. The most evident consequence was the appearance of books of compilations of simple and compound remedies specially selected from a wide range of earlier pharmacological literature. These compilations were set up as ‘standards’ by the authorities concerned with public health in many states. In theory, apothecaries were obliged to follow these ‘official’ instructions for preparing and dispensing drugs in order to ensure that the medicines prescribed by physicians were correctly made up and safe. The aim of this paper is to demonstrate the persistence of Arabic drugs and recipes through the content of three of these handbooks between 1499 and 1618.




Introduction: Most of our Western medical heritage, written in either Arabic or Hebrew, was translated into Latin for the first time in Toledo, as well as in the southern Italian area of Salerno. It was indeed thanks to these translations that Islamic pharmacology was able to keep Greek traditions of drugs and drug-lore alive in the Latin West, with some local and Indian alterations, and to influence European medical texts from the 13th to the 19th centuries. Nonetheless, fascinating as this process may seem, apart from certain notable exceptions, such as the studies by Danielle Jacquart and Albert Dietrich, there are, surprisingly, still great gaps concerning key issues relating to the reception of Islamic pharmacology and pharmacy in the West. Despite the existence of various studies of these translations into Latin from Arabic, Syriac and Indian works, or of the original aspects of Islamic contributions, such as the development of clinical medicine and the role of the hisba system in the maintenance of standards, we still do not have a clear picture of the reconstruction of the intellectual world of Arabized Galenism during the Renaissance within the context of the anti-Arabic Greek and Hellenist humanist rhetoric. There has been one significant exception to this in the work of Luis Garcı´a Ballester and his school, which has shown the persistence of Arabized Galenism in the medical practice of converso or morisco minorities in 16th-century Spain.

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Sharan Newman

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