The Doctors’ Dinner Party
By Ibn Butlan, edited and translated by Philip F. Kennedy and Jeremy Farrell
New York University Press
Al-Muḫtār ibn al-Ḥasan ibn Buṭlān (d.1066) was one of the most famous physicians of the Middle Ages, responsible for several important works about medicine and health care. This work, however, is a fictional one – a satire he wrote that tells the story of a young doctor going to a dinner party with a group of older physicians.
The plot of The Doctors’ Dinner Party is simple, belying the sophistication of the work. The narrator, a young man appears in the town of Mayyafariqin, in the Diyar Bakr region that straddles western Anatolia and northern Syria. He has traveled there on foot from Baghdad, destitute and seeking work as a physician. He soon encounters an older man in the marketplace, who eloquently and courteously receives him and, after a brief discussion, invites him home for a meal. The younger stranger claims he has an ailing stomach and will not be able to eat. This is central to the old fellow’s invitation, for he turns out to be an atrocious miser, and a dinner guest who cannot consume food is a glorious find for a miser in search of company.
Who is this book for?
One does not often see works of satire from the Middle Ages, so this will be of interest to those who want to know more about medieval humour. Its entertainment value, however, is greatly aided by how much one already knows about medical practices from the 11th century. This book is part of the Library of Arabic Literature series from New York University Press, which has been publishing many excellent works.
Philip F. Kennedy is Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies and Comparative Literature at New York University. Click here to view his university webpage. Jeremy Farrell holds a Ph.D. from Emory University and works on pre-modern Islamic society. Click here to view his Academia.edu page.
You can learn more about this book from the publisher’s website.