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13th century History of Medicine text and translation made open access

One of the earliest works to examine the history of medicine, written in the 13th century, has been translated and made freely available online.

The academic publisher Brill, along with Oxford University and the Wellcome Trust, have launched the open access version of A Literary History of Medicine – The ʿUyūn al-anbāʾ fī ṭabaqāt al-aṭibbāʾ of Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿah Online.

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Through the Brill website, one can access a full-text searchable, complete, annotated translation along with a new edition of this entertaining text, along with several introductory essays.  The work was created by Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿah (d. 1270), a Syrian physician. together The work is the earliest comprehensive history of medicine containing biographies of over 432 physicians, ranging from the ancient Greeks to the author’s contemporaries, describing their training and practice, often as court physicians, and listing their medical works; all this interlaced with poems and anecdotes.

For example, Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿah includes an extensive profile of the famous Greek physician Hippocrates, including this section:

When Hippocrates reflected upon the state of medicine, he realized that it was about to disappear because those who inherited this art among the family of Asclepius were too few. Upon that, he resolved to spread the art to all lands, to bring it to the rest of the people, and to teach it to all those who were worthy of learning it lest it disappeared. Hippocrates claimed that the gift of doing good should be given to anyone worthy of it, whether he was from the family (of Asclepius) or not. And so, he attracted strangers and taught them this precious art. He made them hold true to the vow he composed and bound them by the celebrated oaths to promise not to offend against the rules imposed upon them, and not to teach this art to anyone who had not previously taken this vow.

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The text is edited and translated by Emilie Savage-Smith, Simon Swain and Geert Jan van Gelder, with Ignacio Sánchez, N. Peter Joosse, Alasdair Watson, Bruce Inksetter, and Franak Hilloowala. Dr Jasmin Lange, Chief Publishing Officer at Brill, comments: “This outstanding publication is a perfect example of how scholars, funders and publishers work together to bring high-quality scholarship to every researcher that needs it. Reference works are key to advancing scholarship in the humanities. We are thankful to the Wellcome Trust for supporting this project which will spark and support many research projects on the history of medicine and beyond.”

Robert Kiley, Head of Open Research at Wellcome, added: “I am delighted that this reference work has been made freely available, so that everyone – scholars and non-scholars alike – can access this. The Literary History of Medicine will also be made available through PMC Bookshelf and Europe PMC, thus providing an opportunity to engage researchers working in very different disciplines”.

A Literary History of Medicine is in particular of interest for scholars of the Greco-Roman legacy in Islam; ancient and medieval healthcare; Arabic literature and poetry; Christians and Jews in Islamic culture; and medieval history and society.

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Click here to access A Literary History of Medicine.

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