iCHSTM 2013 Programme • Version 5.3.6, 27 July 2013 • ONLINE (includes late changes)
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The role of Avicenna’s Medical Poem in the transmission of medical knowledge to medieval Europe
Rabie E. Abdel-Halim | Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilization, United Kingdom

With the increased interest in literary studies and the revival of various natural sciences that occurred in the Medieval Arab world starting from the 8th century, a new theme of Arabic poetry flourished with the appearance of a tradition of didactic poems composed by scholars to be used in educating and training their students. Not only numerous medical treatises were rendered into verse to help students memorize basic concepts but also essays on other topics such as Quranic studies, Arabic grammar, history, oceanography, navigation, astronomy and even mathematics. The Medical Poem (“Al-Urjuzah Fi Al-Tibb”) of Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 980-1037), the most reputable example of this genre, is the subject of this primary-source study evaluating its scientific value, poetics and pedagogical significance as well as assessing its role in the transmission of medical knowledge to Medieval Europe. In addition to one original manuscript (MS 480/95671/Medicine, Al Azhar University Collection, Cairo) and two modern editions (the first is edited by Mohammed Mostafa Khan, Lucknow, 1845 whilst the second by Jahier and Noureddine, Paris, 1956), an English translation by Krueger (Springfield, 1963) was also studied. Ibn Sina’s poem on medicine consisting of 1326 verse, meticulously classified in numerous theory and practice sections, is practically considered as a poetic summary of his encyclopedic textbook: the Canon of Medicine; hence its popularity in the East then the West as a tool in the process of transmitting medical knowledge from master to student. Since first translated by Gerard of Cremona (1114-1187) in the middle of the 12th century, the Latinized Ibn Sina’s poem was frequently published in Medieval Europe either independently or combined with the Latinized Ibn Sina’s Canon of Medicine or with the Articella; the famous collection of Greco-Roman and Latinized Arabian medical treatises in use in the universities of Salerno, Montpelier, Bologna and Paris up to the 17th century. The study of the Krueger’s English edition, primarily based on the Jahier and Noureddine’s French translation with frequent references to Medieval Latin and Modern German sources, revealed few places where the full meanings of the original Arabic text were not conveyed. This can be explained by the inherent and twofold difficulties in translating foreign poetry. A list of those places is given together with the suggested corrections.