A mediaeval court physician at work: Ibn Jumayʿ’s commentary on the Canon of Medicine

A mediaeval court physician at work: Ibn Jumayʿ’s commentary on the Canon of Medicine

By Daniel S. Nicolae

PhD Dissertation, University of Oxford, 2012

Folio from a manuscript of the De Materia Medica by Dioscorides (ca. 40-90 AD),
showing a physician preparing an elixir. From Iraq or Northern Mesopotamia,
perhaps Baghdad.

Abstract: Ibn Jumayʿ’s (d. c. 594/1198) commentary on the Canon of Medicine by Ibn Sīnā (d. 428/1037) occupies an important place in the history of medicine for it is the first Canon commentary written by a physician and thus stands at the start of a tradition extending over 500 years.

In addition, it is a so-far neglected source for our understanding of mediaeval Islamic medicine. The present thesis analyses the commentary with the aims of (1) determining the methods by which the court physician composed his treatise and (2) understanding why Ibn Jumayʿ undertook to prepare a commentary on one of the most thorough medical compendia of the middle ages.


Chapter One presents the biography of Ibn Jumayʿ, reveals that his religion had little impact on his writings and surveys his library which played a pivotal role in the composition of the commentary. Chapter Two investigates Ibn Jumayʿ’s methodology in the entire commentary; it reveals that with his philological and source-critical methods Ibn Jumayʿ wanted to establish an authoritative reading of the Canon and to demonstrate the high degree of his erudition. Chapter Three focuses on selected passages in the commentary in form of three case studies. Ibn Jumayʿ’s comments on anatomy/dissection, assorted materia medica and headaches demonstrate the court physician’s reverence for ancient authorities and his quest to revive and refine their teachings. Chapter Four contextualises Ibn Jumayʿ’s methods and agenda by comparing them to those of other relevant scholars of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

The thesis concludes by arguing that Ibn Jumayʿ’s commentary was part of his revival of the art of medicine and his attempt to gain power in the medical tradition by attaching his name to one of the greatest scholars of his time — the raʾīs Ibn Sīnā.

Click here to read this dissertation from the University of Oxford


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