Ibn Abi Usaibia in French in the Journal Asiatique

A correspondent has written and let me know that French translations exist of chunks of Ibn Abi Usaibia’s History of Physicians.  They were done by Sanguinetti in the Journal Asiatique, with the chunks starting in 1854.  I’ve seen five bits so far.  The first chunk is here (1854, series 5, tome 3, p.230 f.), and includes a useful biography of Ibn Abi Usaibia.  The second part is here (1854, series 5, tome 4, p.177 f.), mostly from the second chapter of the book, about Asculapius.   The third part is here (1855, series 5, tome 5, p.401 f.), extracts from chapter 7.  Unfortunately the BNF does not have 1855 series 5, tome 6 online, which must contain the fourth part — tome 7 does not contain it. [Update: it's here at Google books, p.129]  The fifth part is here (1856, series 5, tome 8, p.175 f.), extracts from chapter 4 (Hippocrates).

That seems to be all, as the next tome (9) contains an article also by Sanguinetti, on p.392, headed Biographical notices of various physicians, taken from an Arabic work by Assafedy: French translation with notes.

All this material is useful to have.   I thought that I would translate chunks of Sanguinetti’s introduction, which also includes a biography of Ibn Abi Usaibia.  Note that I have not attempted to change his transcription of Arabic names from the older French style into those used today.

The purpose that I had in view, in the present work, is to contribute to make known a work whose complete publication would render much service to all those who are busy with the history of sciences in general, and particularly to those who study the history of medicine and philosophy.  The fragment that follows is composed of the preface of the Arab author, then the first chapter of the work, which deals with the origin of medicine.  In his introduction Ibn Abi Usaibia develops the subjects which he intends to include in his book.  He then indicates the plan and mentions the content. I will refrain from dwelling on these different points.  The manner in which the author treats the difficult subject of the origin of medicine seems to me more complete than that of authors who preceded him; … in the citations which the author makes from earlier works, from the beginning of his work on, he makes known to us passages of books which are lost to us, and may, perhaps, sometimes help us to look for them.  …

In order to carry out this work, I had on my desk three manuscripts of Ibn Abi Usaibia, belonging to the Bibliotheque Imperiale, one of which is merely an abridgement of the complete work:

1.  No. 674 of the Supplement arabe, drawn up by Reinaud, quarto manuscript, 150 folios, but incomplete and only containing the first 8 chapters.  It is in very good condition, containing here and there marginal glosses which are sometimes interesting, and is, in my opinion, the best of all the manuscripts of this work in the Bibliotheque imperiale.  This in particular allowed me to establish the text of the extract I give here.  Part of this text is in rhymed prose, and is far from easy, and is ready for printing.  I think that reading and studying it would offer more than one kind of interest and utility, and I would hope that a favourable occasion will present itself to publish it.

2.  No. 756, ancient fonds arabe; it is likewise in quarto, is composed of 138 folios, and also contains only the first 8 chapters.  This ms. is somewhat mediocre, and certainly not as good as the preceding one.

3.  No. 873, ancient fonds arabe: this is a small volume, small quarto, of 111 folios, and is an abridgement of the whole work.  Its condition would be very good, but unfortunately it has so suffered from damp and from other causes that it is often illegible.

Finally, as may be seen below, I also made use of the manuscript of this work which is in the Bibliotheque imperiale, Supplement arabe 673, and which is the only one that is complete.  This is a folio volume, of 273 folios, modern and mediocre.

I cannot avoid saying something about the Arab author and his works.  Some details on this may be found in the work of Abou’l mahacin, under the year 668 AH, at the end [1], in Hadji Khalfah[2], Reiske [3], Wustenfeld [4], etc, but particularly in the last two chapters of Ibn Abi Usaibia’s own work, where the author speaks several times about his family and himself[5].  I will content myself with giving, in summary, a small number of the most important facts.

The name of our author was Mouwaffik eddin Abou’l’abbas Ahmed, son of Abou’lkacim, son of Khalifah Alkhazradjy [6], but he is better known under the name of Ibn Abi Usaibia.  He was born at Damascus, late in the year 600 AH (1203 AD) and he learned medicine from his uncle Rachid eddin ‘Ali, son of Khalifah, practitioner of medicine and director of the hospital at Damascus for eye problems.  He also studied under his father, who was above all a surgeon and oculist.  His teacher of philosophy was the jurisconsult and philosopher Radhy eddin Aldjily (i.e. of Ghilan).  He had connections with Ibn Albaithar, who gave him some lessons on botany, with ‘Abdallathif and others among his famous contemporaries.  In the year 634 AH (1236-7 AD)  Ibn Abi Osaibia went to Cairo, where he practiced medicine, and was even employed in a hospital.  About a year later he went to Sarkhad, in Syria, and entered the service of the commandant ‘Izz eddin Aidemir, son of Abdallah, whose first doctor he became.  He died in the month of djoumada I, in the year 668 AD (January 1270 AD).  He was then almost a septugenarian, and indeed older than that according to Abou’l mahacin.

The principal work of Ibn Abi Usaibia is, without question, his History of physicians, as the real title indicates: “Sources of information on the subject of the classes of physicians”[1], and which was regarded as a classic in its genre.  He also left another book of practical medicine, entitled “Useful experiences and observations” [2].  He also had begun a third work, which he did not finish, but which he intended to call “Monuments of the nations and histories of the wise” [3]  Finally Ibn Abi Usaibia was the author of various pieces of verse, one of which, among many, was  the eulogy of the emir Amin Addaoulah, and Abou'; mahacin gives a fragment of this.

  1. [1] BNF, ancien fonds arabe, 661, f. 219 r and v.
  2. [2] From BNF ms. ancien fonds arabe 875.
  3. [3] Opuscula medica ex monumentis Arabum et Hebraeorum, Grunier, p.55-6.
  4. [4] Geschichte der arabischen Aertze und Naturforscher, p.132.
  5. [5] See, among others, the biography of Ibn Albaithar, that of Abdallail, and notably the biography of his uncle Rachid eddin ‘Aly.
  6. [6] And therefore belonged to the tribe of the Khazradj.

6 Responses to “Ibn Abi Usaibia in French in the Journal Asiatique”


  1. jose

    Roger,

    The 1855 series 5, tome 6 of Journal Asiatique is available online at
    http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015024510763

    The fourth part of chunks of Ibn Abi Usaibia’s History of Physicians (by Sanguinetti) starts on pag. 129.

    Best regards

  2. Roger Pearse

    Thank you very much! This is great news. I will update the page.

    I’m not sure what the “Hathi” site is — which demands you “log in” before they will allow you to download: must be state-funded, for no-one else tries to put passwords around the internet — but the page indicates that they have just offered the file from Google Books. The item is here.

    The quality is also rather better than the Gallica ones, nice as a nearly complete run is at the latter.

  3. Maureen

    Part of the Hathi Trust is a free site run by a consortium of universities, into which Google Books sticks the universities’ various public domain scans for more convenience.

    But Phase 2 of Hathi is to enable folks _in_ those universities to “lend out” electronic versions of books that are still in copyright, instead of physically shipping interlibrary loans and risking theft or damage. This is currently driving a lot of people nuts, but that’s why the passwords — it’s library card numbers, I think.

  4. Maureen

    US universities and colleges, I should say. Although maybe some Canadian ones are in on the fun.

  5. Roger Pearse

    Useful – thank you. Although whether people like you or I will benefit I don’t know. Let’s hope so!

  6. Maureen

    That link comes up with no problem, here. The only login I see, is to store links under one’s account.

    So it may be that non-US people can’t access, unless they have a library card from a US university? But it may just be that only some books are behind a wall.

    http://www.hathitrust.org/access_use might be helpful.



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