Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Canon of Medicine

The Canon of Medicine
The Canon of Medicine with original title is “Qanun" which translates to The Law of Medicine is a 14-volume Persian medical encyclopedia written by Avicenna and completed in 1025.Written in Arabic, the book was based on a combination of his own personal experience, medieval Islamic medicine, the writings of the Greek physician Galen, the Indian physicians Sushruta and Charaka, and ancient Arabian and Persian medicine.

Canon of Medicine remained a medical authority up until the 18th century and early 19th century. It set the standards for medicine in Europe and the Islamic world, and is Avicenna's most renowned written work. The principles of medicine described by him ten centuries ago in this book, are still taught at UCLA and Yale University, among others, as part of the history of medicine.

Who is Avicenna? Avicenna was a physician-in-chief to the hospital at Bagdad. Widely learned in Greek scientific classics he exerted a great influence on contemporary thought. He was a court physician to a succession of caliphs, and this eminent position enhanced his authority. Besides medical writings he made significant contributions to geology in his theory of the formation of mountains.

About 100 years after Avicenna’s death Gerard of Cremona in Toledo translated the Qanun into Latin as the Canon of Medicine. This was later reworked and improved by Andrea Alpago (d. 1520), a physician and scholar. The improved version was published in Venice in 1527 and reprinted more than 30 times in the 15th and 16th centuries. There are more than 50 complete or partial copies of the Qanun, and manuscripts of the many later commentaries on it are even more numerous. It has been observed that probably no other medical work ever written has been so much studied.

Avicenna begins The Canon of Medicine with a definition of the science of medicine: Medicine is the science by which learning the various states of the human body in health and when not in health, and the means by which health is likely to be lost, and when lost, is likely to be restored. In other words, medicine is the art whereby health is conserved and the art whereby it is restored after being lost.

Avicenna insists that the human body cannot be restored to health unless the causes of both health and disease are determined. In categorizing the causes, he states that a complete knowledge may be, and should be obtained of the causes and antecedents of a disease, provided, of course, such causes exist. Sometimes these causes are obvious to the senses but at other times they may defy direct observation. In such circumstances, causes and antecedents have to be carefully inferred from the signs and symptoms of the disease. Hence, a description of the signs and symptoms of disease is also necessary.
The Canon of Medicine
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