Friday, July 25, 2014

A00035 - Ibn al-Jazzar, Author of Zad al-Mussafir, a Medical Treatise

Ahmed Ben Jaafar Ben Brahim Ibn al-Jazzar al-Qayrawani (c. 895 – c. 979) (Arabic: أبو جعفر أحمد بن أبي خالد بن الجزار القيرواني‎), was an influential 10th-century Muslim physician who became famous for his writings on Islamic medicine. He was born in Qayrawan in modern-day Tunisia. He was known in Europe by the Latinized name Algizar.

We know the biography of Ibn al-Jazzar only by an Andalusian physician Ibn Joljol and he only knew it by his student Ibn Bariq, who went to Qayrawan, Tunisia to learn medicine. The writers of Tabakates or "classes of famous men" generally considered writing only for Faquih, the benefactors and the saints. Thus, the information we have about Ibn  al-Jazzar is second hand.

Ahmed Ben Jaafar Ben Brahim Ibn al-Jazzar was born in Qayrawan around 895, and died around 979. He had learned the Qu'ran at kuttab in his youth, and grammar, theology, fiqh and history at the mosque Okba Ibn Nafaa. Ibn al-Jazzar learned medicine from his father and his uncle that were physicians, and from Ishaq Ibn Suleiman (Isaac Ben Salomon), a physician in Qayrawan.

In the time of Ibn al-Jazzar, medical training was provided by the doctors themselves at home. This was the case with the education of Ibn al-Jazzar. He said himself in the conclusion of his book Zad al-Mussafir, he would be available at home for his students at the end of his daily consultations.

At that time, the medical teaching was oral. After all, paper was not widely spread in the ninth century, and scrolls were rare and expensive. Ibn Al Jazzar had a library rich of 25 quintals, as it seems. This figure seems exaggerated. The quintal at the time amounted to 50 kg according to some and 25 kg according to others. These books were not all about medicine, but also of other disciplines.

Ibn al-Jazzar wrote a number of books. They deal with grammar, history, jurisprudence, prosody, etc. Many of these books, quoted by different authors are lost. The most important book of Ibn al-Jazzar is Zad al-Mussafir (The Viaticum). Translated into Latin, Greek and Hebrew, it was copied, recopied, and printed in France and Italy in the sixteenth century. It was adopted and popularized in Europe as a book for a classical education in medicine.

Zad al-Mussafir is a medicine handbook from head to feet, designed for clinical teaching.  In the text, the author names the disease, lists the known symptoms, gives the treatment and sometimes indicates the prognosis. He often cites in reference the names of foreign authors, as if to give importance to his subject, or for intellectual integrity to justify the loans.

One can not speak of Ibn al-Jazzar without mentioning the translator of his books: Constantine the African. Constantine translated Zad al-Mussafir, the Guide for the Traveller Going to Distant Countries (or Traveller's Provision)into Viaticum peregrinantis.  Viaticum peregrinantis became a medieval bestseller.  Viaticum peregrinantis was translated into Greek and Hebrew as Zedat ha-derachim, which helped propel the treatise to international bestseller and most read status.

Just as travellers today seek advice on how to handle all kinds of ailments on the road, travellers in medieval times also needed a reference book to see them through the bad times.  Not only for travellers, Viaticum peregrinantis was a systematic and comprehensive medical work accepted into the so-called Articella or Ars medicinae, a compendium of medical textbooks widely used in medical schools and universities at Salerno, Montpellier, Bologna, Paris and Oxford.  It contained remarkable descriptions of smallpox and measles.    

The major work Ibn al-Jazzar was Zād al-Musāffir.  However, he also had some books on geriatric medicine and the health of the elderly (Kitāb Ṭibb al-Mashāyikh) or (Ṭibb al-Mashāyikh wa-ḥifẓ ṣiḥḥatihim).  Additionally, a book on sleep disorders and another one on forgetfulness and how to strengthen memory (Kitāb al-Nisyān wa-Ṭuruq Taqwiyat al-Dhākira) and a Treatise on causes of mortality (Risāla fī Asbāb al-Wafāh).

Ibn al-Jazzar also had other books on pediatrics, fevers, sexual disorders, medicine of the poor, therapeutics, stomach disorders, leprosy, separate drugs, compound drugs, and this is in addition to his books in other areas of science, e.g., history, animals and literature.

Ibn al-Jazzar died around 979 leaving 24,000 dinars and twenty-five quintars (about 2500 pounds) of books on medicine and other subjects.  The legacy of Ibn al-Jazzar also included a treatise on women's diseases and their treatment.  According to Ibn al-Jazzar, menstruation played a central role in maintaining women's health as well as in causing women's diseases.  Such writings earned Ibn al-Jazzar immense fame and made him very influential in medieval western Europe. 

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