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Al-Fārābī and Maimonides on Medicine as a Science

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2008

Sarah Stroumsa
The Annenberg Institute, 420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106, U.S.A.


In his commentary on the first Aphorism of Hippocrates Maimonides lists the seven parts of medicine. Scholars have studied the relation of this text to the work of al-Fārābī. In particular, they have focused on the Iḥṣāʼ al-ʼulῡm, which in its present form does not contain a discussion of medicine, and on al-Fārābīʼs Risāla fi al-ţibb. The article examines the medieval Hebrew versions of the Iḥṣāʼ al-ʽūlum (versions made by Falaqera, Qalonimos and Rieti). On the basis of these versions, it is argued that there existed a version of the Ihşāʼ al-ʽulūm which did contain a section on medicine; that the Risala fi al-ţibb could have originated in such a fuller version of the Ihsa' al-'ulum; and that Maimonides's ultimate source for his classification of medicine was probably the Iḥṣāʼ al-ʽulūm. An appendix to the paper examines Maimonides's references to Galen and to Abū Bakr al- Rāzī. These references show Maimonides's perception of al-Fārābīʼs view of physicians who claim to be philosophers.

Dans son commentaire sur le premier aphorisme d'Hippocrate, Maïmonide décrit les sept parties de la médecine. Dans le passé, les chercheurs ont étudié le rapport de ce texte avec l'œuvre d'al-Fārābī, surtout le Iḥṣāʼ al-ʼulῡm (qui, dans sa forme présente, ne contient pas de section sur la médecine) et la Risāla fi al-ţibb. L'article examine les traductions hébraïques médiévales du Iḥṣāʼ al-ʽulūm (dues à Falaqera, Qalonimos et Rieti). Ces traductions suggèrent l'existence d'une version, aujourd'hui disparue, du Iḥṣāʼ al-ʼulῡm, contenant une section sur la médecine. II est possible que la Risāla fi al-ţibb trouve son origine dans cette version, et il semble que la taxonomie de la médecine offerte par Maïmonide est issue, en dernière analyse, du Iḥṣāʼ al-ʼulῡm. Un appendice examine les références faites par Maïmonide à Galien et à Abū Bakr al-Rāzī, et prend note de ce que Maïmonide croyait être l'opinion d'al- Fār¯bī sur les médecins qui se prennent pour des philosophes

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1993

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1Wa qad dhakara Abū Naṣr al-Fārābī anna al-ajzā' allatī talta'imu bima ‘rifatihā ṣinā ʽat al-ṭibb sabʽa ajzāʼ’”, see Plessner, M., “Al-Farabi's introduction to the study of medicine,” in Stern, S. M. et al. (eds), Islamic Philosophy and the Classical Tradition: Essays presented by his friends and pupils to Richard Walzer on his seventieth birthday (Oxford, 1972), pp. 307–14Google Scholar (henceforth: Plessner), p. 310:4–5. For the medieval Hebrew translation of this text see Maimonides' Medical Writings, ed. S. Muntner, 3 vols. (Jerusalem, 1961), Vol. III, pp. 8–10.

2 The modern terminology used here follows the one suggested by Moritz Steinschneider, in his summary of Maimonides's text. See Steinschneider, M., Al-Farabi, des arabischen Philosophen Leben und Schriften, Mémoires de l'Académie Impériale des Sciences de Saint-Pétersbourg, VIIe série, t. XIII, 4 (1869), pp. 248 b249 a.Google Scholar

3 Berman, Lawrence V., “Maimonides, the disciple of Alfarabi”, Israel Oriental Studies, 4 (1974): 154–71.Google Scholar

4 See Steinschneider (note 2 above); idem, Die hebräischen Übersetzungen des Mittelalters und die Juden als Dolmetscher (Berlin, 1893; repr. Graz, 1956), p. 293.

5 Plessner, p. 307. The treatise was first discovered and published by Sezgin, Fuat, “üc maçmūʽat ar-rasāʼil,” Review of the Institute of Islamic Studies, Publications of the Faculty of Letters, Istanbul University II, 2–4 (1958, published 1960): 231–3Google Scholar, and published again, with minor changes, by Plessner, pp. 312–14. (Plessner had previously presented a German translation of this text at the XXIst International Congress of History of Medicine held in 1968 in Siena, the Acts of which, published in 1970, I was unable to consult. From Plessner, p. 308, it appears that he reiterated in his second, English paper, the same opinions presented in the first). Sezgin, F., Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums (Leiden, 1970), vol. III, p. 300Google Scholar, suggested that the short text is the introduction to a work on theoretical medicine, a suggestion which was accepted by Plessner (p. 308).

6 Plessner, p. 312.

7 Plessner, p. 309.

8 Schramm, M., “Theoretische und praktische Disziplin bei al-Fārābī”, Zeitschrift für Geschichte der arabisch-islamischen Wissenschaften, 3 (1986): 155.Google Scholar

9 Lit.: arts, ṣanāʼiʽ.

10 Iḥṣāʼ al-ʽulūm, p. 45; and see also p. 106:1. (Unless specified otherwise, references to the text of Iḥṣāʼ al-ʽulūm in this paper are to Amīnʼs 1939 edition; see below, note 19).

11Ṣināʽat al-manṭiq,” Iḥṣāʼ al-ʽulūm, p. 53.

12Bi-hādhā al-ʽilm…” and shortly thereafter: “wa bi-hādhihi al-ṣinā'a…”: ibid, p. 80.

13Ṣinā'at al-naḥw,” ibid, p. 54.

14 Iḥṣāʼ al-ʽulūm, p. 77 (“ṣināʽa ʽamaliyya”).

15 It is worth noting that ṣināʽat al-ṭibb is actually mentioned in the Arabic text of the Iḥṣāʼ al-ʽulūm, although only en passant. Al-Fārābī mentions it as one of the examples for the hidden potentialities in artificial bodies, see Iḥṣāʼ al-ʽulūm, p. 94:7–12, and also p. 104:3–8.

16 Plessner, p. 311:43.

17 Majallat al-ʽIrfān, 4 (1921): 11–20, 130–43, 241–57.

18 Al-Fārābī, Catálogo de las ciencias (Madrid, 1932 and 1953).

19 Iḥṣāʼ al-ʽulūm li-l-Fārābī (Cairo, 1931 and 1939).

20 See, for instance, Kraus, Paul, Der Islam, 22 (1935): 82–5Google Scholar; Mauro Zonta “LʽIḥṣāʼ al-ʽUlūm in ambiente ebraico 1. Il Ṭabb al-nufūs di Ibn ʽAqnin,” Henoch, 12 (1990): 53–75, esp. p. 56; and see the remark of Gutas, D., “Paul the Persian on the classification of the parts of Aristotle's philosophy: a milestone between Alexandria and Bagdad,” Der Islam, 60 (1983): 231–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar, p. 255, note 60.

21 Also published by Gonzales Palencia (above, note 18). On the various translations of the Iḥṣāʼ al-ʽulūm, see also Najjar, Fauzi M., “Alfarabi, The Enumeration of the Sciences,” in Lerner, R. and Mahdi, M. (eds.), Medieval Political Philosophy: a Sourcebook (Ithaca, 1963), pp. 22–3.Google Scholar

22 See Sarfati, G., “The Hebrew translations of Alfarabi's ‘Classification of Sciences’,” Bar-Ilan Yearbook, 9 (1972): 413–22Google Scholar (in Hebrew). I am indebted to Professor Sarfati for making the text of Qalonimos's translation available to me. (The text is based on MSS Parma, De Rossi 458/6 and 776/4; Milano, Ambrosiana Sup. X 161; and Munich 308). And see now Zonta, Mauro, La “Classificazione delle scienze” di al-Fārābī nella tradizione ebraica (Torino, 1992).Google Scholar

23 Falaqueras, Schemtob ben Josef ibn, Propädeutik der Wissenschaften Reschith Chokmah, ed. David, Moritz (Berlin, 1902).Google Scholar

24 See, for instance, Kraus's appreciation of the translation of Gerard of Cremona (note 20 above), p. 84; M.Zonta (above, note 20), pp. 56–7.

25 Compare Badawi's, A. comment, concerning the irrelevance of Falaqera's translation for establishing the text of al-Fārābī's “Philosophy of Plato”, in Platon en pays d'İslam (Paris and Tehran, 1973), p. 29.Google Scholar

26 For example Iḥṣāʼ al-ʽulūm, p. 54, note 2; p. 103, note 2.

27 For example Iḥṣāʼ al-ʽulūm, p. 105, note 4.

28 As in the discussion of arithmetics, where Qalonimos's text differs considerably from the attested Arabic manuscripts; or at the end of the section on the political sciences (Amīn, p. 107), where Qalonimos adds a paragraph which is not found in the Arabic text.

29 Plessner, p. 308.

30 See Uṣaybi'a, Ibn Abī, ʽUyūn al-anbāʼ fi ṭabaqāt al-aṭibbāʼ, ed. Riḍā, N. (Beirut, 1965) p. 604Google Scholar; Bergsträsser, Gottheil, “Ḥunain ibn Isḥāq über die syrischen und arabischen Galen-übersetzungen,” Abhandlungen für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, 27 (1925): 148Google Scholar see on p. 18; and see Stroumsa, S., “Al-Fārābī and Maimonides on the Christian philosophical tradition: a re-evaluation,” Der Islam, 68 (1991): 263–87, esp. pp. 274–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

31 Plessner, p. 307.

32 Plessner, p. 314, note 4.

33 Falaqera, p. 53.

34 This is not surprising, since Reshit Ḥokhma is not intended as a straightforward translation of the Iḥṣāʼ, and Falaqera draws freely from the latter as well as from other sources.

35 Raphael Jospe has recently suggested that Falaqera's source here was a passage from al-Ghazālī's Tahāfut al-Falāsifa [see Jospe, R., Torah and Sophia: The Life and Thought of Shem Tov Ibn Falaquera (Cincinnati, 1988), note 360, pp. 147–8].Google Scholar According to Jospe (p. 155) it is not clear how al-Ghazālī's additional sciences could be reconciled with Falaqera's other classification. In fact, it seems more likely that Falaqera drew his information not from al-Ghazālī, but directly from the latter's source. As is well known, al-Ghazālīʼs refutation of the philosophers was founded upon his outline of their “intentions” (Maqāṣid), the prototype for which was Avicenna. Avicenna also wrote a small treatise on the classification of sciences, in which Falaqera's “branches of physics” appear almost word for word [see al-Ghazālī's Tahafot al-falasifat, ed. Bouyges, M. (Beirut, 1927), pp. 269–70Google Scholar; Sīnā, Ibn, “Risāla fi aqsām al-'ulūm al-'aqliyya,” in Tis‘ Rasā’il fi al-ḥikma wa al-ṭabīʽiyyāt (Constantinople, 1258 H.), p. 75Google Scholar; Falaqera, Reshit Ḥokhma, p. 52]. It is easy to understand how Falaqera could add to al-Fārābī's classification of sciences a passage which was written by another author, in a book devoted to the same subject. We may, of course, continue our quest and look for al-Fārābī's influence on Avicenna in this matter, but this could carry us too far afield.

36 The phenomenon of a translation preserving a version that differs considerably from the manuscripts of the original is not unknown: the same phenomenon is attested in Judah ibn Tibbon's translation of Judah Halevi's Kuzari, see the Introduction to Kitāb al-radd wa al-dalīl fī al-dīn al-dhalīl, al-kitāb al-khazarī, ed. D.H.Baneth and H. Ben-Shammai (Jerusalem, 1977), p. IX.

37Ve-hine yitpardu mi-zot ha-ḥokhma ḥokhmot u-melakhot ve-taḥbulot”. One may conjecture that the Arabic original spoke of “ʽulūm wa ṣināa ʽāt wa ḥiyal.” See Zonta's edition (note 22 above), pp. 27–8, and translation, pp. 92–4. Zonta regards the discussion that follows in Qalonimos's text as an “appendix” inserted into al-Fārābī's text, see his introduction, pp. XXV–XXVI.

38 Both pharmacology and the requirement to acquire experience appear, in another context, in the Arabic text. See above, note 15.

39 Miqdash-Meʽaṭ, ed. J. Goldenthal (Vienna, 1851), and see art. “Rieti, Moses ben Isaac Da,” Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem, 1971), vol. XIV, p. 14.

40 See above, section IIIa.

41 See note 45 below.

42 Compare, for instance their terminology for anatomy (Qalonimos: harkavat eivarav ve-nituḥam; Rieti nituʼaḥ ha-eivarim) or for preventive medicine (Qalonimos: ha-maḥala asher yekhaven le-hasira; Rieti: hasarat ha-ḥoli. Falaqera, as mentioned above, does not list the parts of medicine). The similarity is even clearer in the section on alchemy, where Rieti's technical terminology for the tools and material used by the alchemist (kur, anbiq, sidim) is the one used by Qalonimos. (Here, too, Falaqera's summary is very brief, and does not contain these details at all).

43Ve-la ʽanaf ḥokhrnat ha-refuʼa / asher to 'aloteiha sefurim / ve-shivʽa derakhim le-moṣʼa / yediʽat nituʼaḥ ha-eivarim / ha-beriʼut u-maḥalot ha-gufot / ve-ha-otot asher bam nikarim / ve-samim u-mezonot mitḥalfot / u-shemirat benʼut nimshaḥ raṣuf / ve-hasarat ha-ḥoli bi-terufot”. Miqdash-Meʽat, pp. 19–20. Compare H.A. Wolfson, “The classification of sciences in Medieval Jewish philosophy,” Hebrew Union College Jubilee Volume (1925): 263–315, esp. pp. 299 and 304.

44 He even wrote a commentary on Fuṣūl Mūsā, see S. Muntner's introduction to his edition of the text, p. XXII.

45 As for instance, in the third chapter (Iḥṣāʽ al- ʽulūm, p. 90, between lines 11 and 12; Rieti, pp. 277–91), where Rieti, like Qalonimos, includes a paragraph on witchcraft and astrology which does not appear in the Arabic text, and of course is not included in al-Fārābī's Treatise on Medicine.

46 Compare, for instance, the chapter on Kalām in the Iḥṣāʼ al-ʽulūm and in The Guide for the Perplexed (I, 74), and see Stroumsa, above note 30.

47 Pines, S., The Guide of the Perplexed (Chicago and London, 1963), p. 292Google Scholar; Dalālat al-ḥāʼirīn, ed. Joel (Jerusalem, 1931), P. 203: “istakhaffa bi-Jālīnūs kull al-istikhāf.” In the twenty fifth chapter of his “Fuṣūl Mūsā” Maimonides deals in detail with Galen's agnostic position concerning the creation of the world, see Ben Maimon, Rabbi Moshe, Iggerot - Letters, ed. and trans. Kafih, J. (Jerusalem, 1987), appendix II, pp. 148–67Google Scholar, esp. pp. 162ā–3.

48Lammā lam yahtadi Jālīnūs al-ṭabīb ilā ṭarīq al-burhān ʽalā hādhā al-maṭlūb khāṣṣatan, ẓanna annahu lā burhān ʽalayhi,” see Vajda, G., “A propos d'une citation non identifiée d'al-Fārābī dans le Guide des égarés,” Journal asiatique, 253 (1965): 4350Google Scholar; also al-ʽAjam, Rafiq (ed.), al-Manṭiq ʽinda al-Fārābī, vol. III: Kitāb al-jadal (Beirut, 1986), p. 82.Google Scholar

49 See Marx, A., “Texts by and about Maimonides,” Jewish Quarterly Review, N.S. 25 (19341935): 371428, see pp. 379–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

50 Or “the philosopher”: (an yunqal ʽan laqab al-ṭabīb ilā laqab al-ḥakīm).

51 fa-tahazza'ū bihi.

52 Rowson, Everett K., A Muslim Philosopher on the Soul and Its Fate: Al-ʽĀmirīʼs Kitāb al-Amad ʽalā l'Abad (New Haven, 1988), p. 74 (text) and p. 75 (translation).Google Scholar

53 Hadhayān, compare Maimonides's reference to the ravings (hadhayān) of Rāzī, Guide III, 12. Rāzī was painfully aware of this kind of criticizm, see his Kitāb al-sīra al-falsafiyya, in Rasā'il falsafiyya, ed. P.Kraus (repr. Beirut, 1982), p. 109: 15–16.

54 For al-ʽĀmirī's sources for this specific passage and for his quotation by others, see Rowson's commentary, p. 216, and also the Introduction, p. 29.

55 I wish to thank Professor G. Sarfati, Professor F. Sezgin, Dr. Z. Langermann, and the anonymous reader, for their critical remarks on an earlier version of this paper.

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