Tuesday, June 25, 2013

960 A.D.: Haly Abbas writes mammoth book

Ali Ibn al-Abbas al-Majusiin was in Persia sometime around 930 A.D.  Haly Abbas, of which he is most commonly referred to, was the Latin version of his name.  He was physician who was a critic of the medical books available during his time, including those written by fellow Arabic physicians (Rhazes, Oribasius, Serapion, Paulus Aegineta).    So he set out to write a book of his own, one that was not as voluminous and costly as the Continent of Rhazes, and not as concise as the writings of Hippocrates.(1, page 158)

Yes, it's true!  He was even a critic of the Hippocratic writings.  He said:  
Hippocrates who is the prince of the medical art and the first physician who ever wrote a book on this art, is the author of many treaties on all sorts of medical topics.  But he writes in such a very concise manner that much of what he says is obscure, and as a consequence the reader, if he wishes to understand him, is obliged to seek the aid of a commentary."  (1, page 158)
So he gathered as much medical knowledge as he could obtain, which included the books of his Arabic contemporaries and the same ancient books they used in writing their books, and created, in 400,000 words, "a well organized medical encyclopedia of medical knowledge in the tenth century."
 (1, page 158)

Historian Thomas Bradford said he called the book Almaleki (the Royal Book), although he also referred to it as Liber totius medicinae (the whole book of medicine) (4, page 69)

In the past many physicians obtained all their wisdom from books, and Abbas preached against this:
It is incumbent that the student of this Art should consistently attend hospitals and sick houses; pay unremitting attention to the conditions and circumstances of their inmates, in company with their most acute professors of Medicine; and enquire frequently as to the state of the patient and the symptoms apparent in them, baring in mind what he has read about these variations, of what they indicate of good or evil."  (1, page 158)
Historian Thomas Bradford said of him:
His reputation for learning was so great that he was named the sage, and so almost supernatural were his powers and skill in healing that he was also called the magician.  It is (he) who left us the fullest account of medicine among the Arabians, and the names of their medical writers. (4, page 64)
He wrote about many diseases in his book, and he also wrote about asthma, which is where our interest lies.  Since his book is difficult to come by unless you have $2,000 to spare, we'll allow Paulus Aegineta to describe his views regarding asthma.  He said:
"Haly Abbas, like Galen, refers to asthma as a collection of gross phlegm about the cells in the lungs. His remedies are of an attentuant and incisive nature, and he particularises the vinegar of squills. He cautions asthmatics to be aware of indigestion, and, therefore, forbids exercise after food, but recommends it before a meal. After exercise he enjoins hard friction, no doubt with the intention of favouring the cutaneous perspiration." (3, page 479)
Not a bad analysis for asthma considering the era.  He lived most of his life in Baghdad and died around 982-994 A.D. 

  1. Robinson, Victor, "The Story of Medicine," 158-60
  2. Fourgeaud, V.G., "Medicine Among the Arabs: Historical Sketches, XIV, Haly Abbas, Avicenna, Albucasis, Avenzoar, and Averrhoes," volume 7, edited by V.G. Fourgeaud and , pages 193-4
  3. Aegineta, Paulus, "The Seven Books of Paulus Aegineta," translated by Francis Adams, volume I, 1844, The Snydenham Society,
  4. Bradford, Thomas Lindsley, writer, Robert Ray Roth, editor, “Quiz questions on the history of medicine from the lectures of Thomas Lindley Bradford M.D.,” 1898, Philadelphia, Hohn Joseph McVey

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