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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 February 2015

Gerrit Bos*
Martin-Buber-Institut für Judaistik, Universität zu Köln, Albertus-Magnus-Platz 50923 Kön, Germany
Y. Tzvi Langermann*
Dept of Arabic, Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel


Galen's On the Elements according to Hippocrates is an important source for physical doctrines circulating in late antiquity. The variety of atomistic doctrines that Galen brings into the discussion, as well as his arguments aimed at refuting them, were closely studied by the early kalām atomists. Of particular interest are the summaries of this text, which seem to have been written many centuries after Galen; some of them are products of early Islamicate culture. In this paper, we present an edition, translation, and study of a hitherto unknown summary, extent in a unique manuscript where it is attributed to Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq. Like the other summaries, it presents a doxography of physical doctrines, not always repeating precisely what Galen says, but rather reflecting the discourse of its period.


L'ouvrage galénique Sur les Éléments selon Hippocrate est une importante source d'information concernant les théories physiques de l'antiquité tardive. Les diverses doctrines atomistes discutées par Galien ainsi que les arguments employés par lui pour les réfuter ont été étudiés de près par les premiers Mutakallimūn. Les abrégés de cet ouvrage, qui semblent avoir été écrits plusieurs siècles après Galien, et dont certains remontent aux débuts de la culture islamique, présentent un intérêt particulier. Dans cet article, nous donnons une édition, une traduction et une étude d'un abrégé inconnu jusqu'ici, conservé dans un unique manuscrit, qui l'attribue à Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq. Comme les autres abrégés, il s'agit en fait d'une doxographie de théories physiques qui ne reproduit pas toujours précisément ce que Galien a dit, mais qui reflète le discours de l'époque où elle a été rédigée.

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1 Ed. Bergsträsser, Gotthelf, Ḥunain ibn Isḥāq: über die syrischen und arabischen Galen-Übersetzungen, Abhandlungen für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, hrsg. von der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, XVII, Band 2 (Leipzig, 1925)Google Scholar.

2 See Bergsträsser, Gotthelf, Neue Materialien zu Ḥunain ibn Isḥāqs Galen-Bibliographie, Abhandlungen für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, hrsg. von der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, XIX, Band 2 (Leipzig, 1932)Google Scholar; see as well Käs, Fabian, “Eine neue Handschift von Ḥunain ibn Isḥāqs Galenbibliographie”, Zeitschrift für Geschichte der arabisch-islamischen Wissenschaften, 19 (2011): 135–93Google Scholar.

3 Cf. Bergsträsser, Ḥunain ibn Isḥāq, no. 122.

4 Cf. Bergsträsser, Ḥunain ibn Isḥāq, no. 124a.

5 Cf. Ullmann, Manfred, Die Medizin im Islam, Handbuch der Orientalistik I, Ergänzungsband VI, 1 (Leiden/Köln, 1970), pp. 115–19Google Scholar; Endress, Gerhard, “Die Entwicklung der Fachsprache”, in Grundriss der arabischen Philologie. Band III: Supplement, hrsg. von Wolfdietrich Fischer (Wiesbaden, 1992), pp. 47Google Scholar; Strohmaier, Gotthard, “Der syrische und der arabische Galen”, Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt, hrsg. v. W. Haase u. H. Temporini, Teil II, Band 37,2 (Berlin, New York 1994), pp. 19872017Google Scholar; reprinted in Hellas in Islam, Interdisziplinäre Studien zur Ikonographie, Wissenschaft und Religionsgeschichte, Diskurse der Arabistik, hrsg. von Hartmut Bobzin und Angelika Neuwirth, Band 6 (Wiesbaden, 2003), pp. 97–8; id., art. “Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq al-ʿIbādī”, E.I. 2, vol. 3, pp. 578b–580a.

6 Ed. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Badawī (Kuwait, 1985).

7 Cf. Ullmann, Die Medizin im Islam, p. 117.

8 Sālim, Muḥammad Salīm, Kitāb Jālīnūs fī al-usṭuqussāt alā raʾy Abuqrāṭ (Cairo, 1986)Google Scholar.

9 Graham, Daniel, The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy: the Complete Fragments and Selected Testimonies of the Major Presocratics (Cambridge, 2010)Google Scholar.

10 Die Milesier: Anaximander und Anaximenes, Traditio Praesocratica. Zeugnisse frühgriechischer Philosophie und ihres Fortlebens, Band 2, hrsg. von Georg Wöhrle mit Beiträgen von Oliver Overwien (Boston-Berlin, 2011).

11 La connaissance des Présocratiques à l'aube de la philosophie et de l'alchimie islamiques”, in Viano, Cristina (ed.), L'alchimie et ses racines philosophiques (Paris, 2005), pp. 155–70Google Scholar; briefer English version, The Pre-Socratics in Arabic philosophical pseudo-epigraphia”, in Akasoy, Anna, Montgomery, James E., and Pormann, Peter E. (eds.), Islamic Crosspollinations: Interactions in the Medieval Middle East (Oxford, 2007), pp. 155–65Google Scholar.

12 The authors take this opportunity to thank Prof. Walbridge for sharing with us an advanced draft of his study.

13 On the Elements according to Hippocrates, trans. Phillip De Lacy (Berlin, 1996), pp. 90–3.

14 See preceding reference to Galen.

15 Cornford, Francis Macdonald, Plato's Cosmology (London, 1937), p. 178Google Scholar.

16 Rist, John, “Monism: Plotinus and some predecessors”, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 69 (1965): 329–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar, has useful discussion of the basic issues.

17 For a full discussion of this topic, see Langermann, Y. Tzvi, “Islamic atomism and the Galenic tradition”, History of Science, 47 (2009): 277–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 See Pseudo-Plutarch, cited by Kirk, Geoffrey S., Raven, John E., Schofield, Malcolm, The Presocratic Philosophers. A Critical History with a Selection of Texts, 2nd edn (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 151–2Google Scholar.

19 Goichon, Anne-Marie, Lexique de la langue philosophique d'Ibn Sīnā (Avicenne) (Paris, 1938)Google Scholar.

20 Luc Brisson, “La théorie de la « matière » dans le Timée de Platon et sa critique par Aristote dans la Physique”, in Viano (ed.), L'alchimie, pp. 15–36; see especially the final section. The anonymous reviewer of this article suggests that the Arabic term mawḍūʿ stands for the Greek ὑποκείμενον. Though that term is not used in the Timaeus to refer to matter, it appears often in the doxographical accounts of Plato's χώρα. See also Tim. Locr. 97E: ὡς… ὑποκείμενον ἁ ὕλα. We thank him for raising this interesting possibility.

21 There is no entry in the Index Arabico-Graecus in the edition of Kraus, Paul and Walzer, Richard, Galeni Compendium Timaei Platonis Aliorumque Dialogorum Synopsis Quae Extant Fragmenta (Plato Arabus, ed. Walzer, R., vol. 1) (London, 1951)Google Scholar.

22 See the index of books cited, and note 2 to paragraph 24 on p. 168 of Najjar, Fawzi M. and Mallet, Dominique, L'harmonie entre les opinions des deux sages (Damascus, 1999)Google Scholar. The current debate over the true authorship of the “Harmonization” does not bear directly upon the issues of concern to us here.

23 Arnzen, Rüdiger, “On the contents, sources and composition of two Arabic Pseudo-Platonica: Multaqaṭāt Aflāṭūn al-ilāhī and Fiqar ultuqiṭat wa-jumiʿat ʿan Aflāṭūn”, Oriens, 37 (2009): 752CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

24 Ḥunayn may be the translator of the Galenic compendium, which would then likely be the text referred to in the list of his translations.

25 Note that the “Alexandrian” summary of Galen's On Critical Days treats the Pythagorean theory with far more respect than Galen does; see Langermann, Y. Tzvi, “The astral connections of critical days: some late antique sources preserved in Hebrew and Arabic”, in Akasoy, Anna, Burnett, Charles and Yoeli-Tlalim, Ronit (eds.), Astromedicine, Astrology, and Medicine, East and West (Firenze, 2008), pp. 99118Google Scholar, at pp. 112–13. In the early Islamic era, the attitude towards Pythagoreanism seems to have been much more receptive than it was for Galen.

26 Gottschalk, Hans B., “Boethus’ psychology and the Neoplatonists”, Phronesis, 31.3 (1986): 243–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

27 Cf. Speca, Anthony, Hypothetical Syllogistic and Stoic Logic (Leiden, 2001), p. 36Google Scholar: “Among later Peripathetics only Boethus of Sidon has any sure connection with the subject (i.e. the hypothetical syllogistic); reportedly, he examined the relationship between hypothetical and categorical syllogistic, which suggests that hypothetical syllogistic was already fairly sophisticated by the first century B.C., when he lived”; cf. Galen, Institutio logica 7.2.

28 A garbled and basically senseless version of this argument looks to be found in the third chapter of the Alexandrian epitome, paragraph 14 in the translation of Walbridge; see his note ad loc.

29 On the Elements, trans. De Lacy, p. 111, 29–30; and again on p. 127, 11–12.

30 See paragraph 20, chapter five in Walbridge.

31 On the Elements, trans. De Lacy, p. 127.

32 This is missed by Glen Cooper in his recently published translation; see Langermann, Y. Tzvi, “Critical notes on a study of Galen's On Critical Days in Arabic, or a study in need of critical repairs”, Aestimatio, 9 (2012): 220–40Google Scholar, at p. 238.

33 Gaon, Saʿadya, Commentary to Sefer Yeṣira, ed. Qafih, Yosef (Jerusalem, 1972), p. 59Google Scholar. Indeed, Saʿadya asserts that “what we call abā, ummahāt, uṣūl, hayulā, ʿanāṣir, and usṭuqussāt all mean the same thing.”

34 Goichon, Lexique, p. 97: “celui qui occupe le ḥayyiz, qui est localisé”; see also p. 6.

35 GAL; i.e. A Greek and Arabic Lexicon (GALex). Materials for a Dictionary of the Mediaeval Translations from Greek into Arabic, Edited by Gerhard Endress and Dimitri Gutas, Volume I, Compiled by Rüdiger Arnzen, Gerhard Endress, Dimitri Gutas. (Leiden-New York-Cologne, 2002).

36 Wolfson, Harry A., “Arabic and Hebrew terms for matter and element with especial reference to Saadia”, The Jewish Quarterly Review, 38 (1947): 4761, p. 56CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

37 The present state and future tasks of Graeco-Arabic studies: remarks apropos Hans Daiber's Aetius Arabus”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 114.2 (1982): 113–23, p. 121Google Scholar.

38 The Physical Theory of Kalām: Atoms, Space, and Void in Basrian Muʿtazili Cosmology (Leiden, 1994), esp.pp. 62–3Google Scholar.

39 Goichon, Lexique, p. 95: “espace, zone, au propre et au figuré – Le sens est plus général que celui de makān, lieu”.

40 “Islamic Atomism and the Galenic Tradition”.

41 Lameer, Joep, Al-Fārābī and Aristotelean Syllogistics. Greek Theory and Islamic Practice, Islamic Philosophy and Science. Texts and Studies. Edited by Daiber, Hans and Pingree, David, vol. XX (Leiden-New York-Cologne, 1994), p. 42Google Scholar.

42 al-Aʾasam, Abdul-Amir, La terminologie philosophique chez les Arabes, 2nd edn (Cairo, 1989), p. 222Google Scholar.

43 Cf. Liddell, H.G. and Scott, R., Greek-English Lexicon. Revised and augmented throughout by H.S. Jones a.o. With a supplement (Oxford, 1968; repr. Oxford, 1989), pp. 1346–7Google Scholar: “… to be affected in a certain way… to be ill, suffer… in later Stoic Philos.: to be acted upon by outward objects, take impressions from them”.

44 “inert”: literally “not affected”, “not receptive to being acted upon”. See the introduction, “note on translations”. See also the following note.

45 The final phrase in this title, mutanāh inbi-al-infiʿāl, does not make sense, and it is not found at the head of chapter five (see below). Moreover, this very short chapter says nothing at all about finitude.

46 The title found at the beginning of the chapter, “On the Refutation of those who say that the elements are limited in number, and that they are more or less than four”, is a more accurate reflection of its content.

47 The combination, as part of a long construct formation, of wijdān ḥaqīqa, is very unusual. Ḥaqīqa is a common philosophical term, not easy to translate, which means something like “real existence” or “true reality”. So this leaves wijdān to be translated, and it would seem, based on the context, that the author means “discovery”. In this chapter, we will discover or reveal how the elements really exist, what their true nature is.

48 Cf. Aristotle, On the Heavens 3.3, ed. and trans. William K. C. Guthrie, Loeb Classical Library, pp. 282–3: ἔστω δὴ στοιχεῖον τῶν σωμάτων, εἰς ὃ τἆλλα σώματα διαιρεῖται, ἐνυπάρχον δυνάμει ἢ ἐνεργείᾳ (Let us then define the element in bodies as that into which other bodies may be analyzed, which is present in them either potentially or actually). See following note.

49 Cf. Metaphysics 3.6; edition and trans. Hugh Tredennick, Loeb Classical Library, pp. 144–5: “ἐι δ᾽ ἔστι δυνάμει τὰ στοιχεῖα, ἐνδέχεται μηθὲν εἶναι τῶν ὄντων (On the other hand, if the elements exist potentially, it is possible for nothing to exist). The passages cited here in Arabic are not identical with the known translations of these Aristotelian writings. (We thank Prof. Gerhardt Endress for his prompt response to our query.)

50 Cf. Galen, On the Elements according to Hippocrates 1.1 (K1. 413); edition De Lacy, p. 56: Ἐπειδὴ τὸ στοιχεῖον ἐλάχιστόν ἐστι μόριον οὗπερ ἂν ᾖ στοιχεῖον, ἐλάχιστόν δὲ οὐ ταὐτὸν αἰσθήσει τε φαίνεται καὶ ὄντως ἐστί—, ἔυδηλον, ὡς οὐκ ἂν εἴη τῶν φύσει τε καὶ ὄντως ἑκάστου πράγματος στοιχείων ἡ αἴσθησις κριτήριον; idem translation p. 57: “Since an element is the least part of the thing of which it is an element, but what appears least to sense-perception and what is truly least are not the same – for many things go unperceived because of their small size –, it is evident that sense-perception would not be the judge of each thing's natural and true elements.” See as well De Lacy's commentary on p. 160ff.

51 Cf. Galen, On the Elements according to Hippocrates 1.8 (K1. 414, ll. 12–16); trans. De Lacy, pp. 56, 58: “If we say that what appears to each one as the least and first part (of a thing) is its natural element, then the elements as they appear to eagles and to Lynceus and to any other man or irrational animal with very keen eyesight will be different from the elements as they appear to each of us.”

52 Note our emendation of the Arabic text; the manuscript displays kayfiyya, “quality”. Cf. Galen, On the Elements according to Hippocrates 2.1–8 (K 1.415-416); Aristotle, Physics 1.2.

53 Melissus of Samos; cf. Galen, On the Elements 4.16-5-6; K1.447–449; Aristotle, Physics 185a10.

54 Cf. Aetius Arabus, ed. and trans. Daiber, 3.9.4: “Xenophanes glaubte, daß die Erde von ihrem unteren bis zu ihrem oberen (Teil) dicht ist und daß ihre Substanz aus Luft und Feuer besteht, welche sich beide verdichtet haben.”

55 The occurrence of this term in a philosophical-medical text, is noteworthy. See the note on translations at the end of the introduction.

56 Since the elements are infinite in number, there is no need for a chemical reaction in order to produce new compounds.

57 Ibtidāʾ rather than the expected mabdaʾ.

58 More literally, “they are disgusted by [the concept of] nature”.

59 The text seems indeed to an adaptation and summary of texts derived from Aristotle, Physics 1.2–6.

60 Hippocrates, On the Nature of Man 2, in Hippocrates with an English translation by W. H. F. Jones, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass.-London, 1931; repr. 1979), pp. 4–8; cf. Galen, On the Elements 2.18–22 (K1.419–421). Galen expounded this argument at length in 2.23–3.42, K 1.421–36. The argument from the phenomenon of pain is Galen's strongest empirical argument for atomism, and it is referred to frequently in our treatise. The connection between atomism and pain is evident in the writings of the earliest Islamic theologians, and indicates that Galen was an important source for their atomistic doctrines; see Langermann, “Islamic atomism”.

61 This statement is excruciatingly long but the argument is clear: if we have both an infinite number of atoms and a vacuum, then, according to Galen's argument, if a pin pricks the skin, it will meet up either with an insensitive and inert atom, or empty space. In neither case would pain be felt. But we do feel pain. Q.E.D.

62 The syntax of the Arabic sentence is horrid but we see no alternative to the translation that we offer.

63 “Something responsive” is the contextualized translation of munfaʿil. In a different context, “effect” would be a possible translation of this Arabic word, as for example in Adamson, Peter and Porter, Peter, The Philosophical Works of al-Kindī (Oxford, 2012), p. 88Google Scholar, n. 138.

64 Cf. Galen, On the Elements 3.31-37 (K1.434–436).

65 Cf. Galen, On the Eements 2.22-32 (K1.420–421).

66 Emending the sentence from a positive statement to a negative one is indeed a severe intervention, but it is mandated by the context in this case.

67 Cf. Galen, On the Elements 4.1-2 (K1.442–443).

68 See our discussion of the Arabic term, its possible sources and meaning, in the introduction. Cf. Galen, On the Elements 4.5 (trans. De Lacy p. 89): “To be sure, Plato too in the Timaeus spoke of their change into each other when he wanted to prove that a single common matter underlies them all” (i.e the elements); Plato, Timaeus, 56d1–57b7 and also De Lacy, ibid., p. 180.

69 See the “Notes to the Translation” at the end of the introduction for a discussion of ʿunṣur as the term is employed in the texts relevant to this study.

70 Cf. Aetius Arabus 1.3.20 (ed. Daiber, pp. 104–5).

71 Cf. Aetius Arabus 1.3.8 (trans. Daiber, p. 101): “Die Natur der Zahl laufe auf die Zehn hinaus; denn bei allen Griechen und bei allen Barbaren laufe die Zahl auf die Zehn hinaus; und dann wenn sie zu ihr (der Zehn) gelangen, kehren sie zu der Eins zurück.”

72 See our discussion of this chapter in the introduction. The copyists has added or omitted negative particles, and we have corrected as best we can according to the context and the dictates of the arguments. The Arabic text has not been corrected.

73 I.e. the remote elements common to all composite corporeal bodies; i.e. fire, air, water, and earth?

74 This last sentence, as emended, must be the conclusion drawn for the elements of the human organism, not the universal elements. Our author glides smoothly from general physics to the specific features of the human body. Alternatively, one may interpret the passage, without emendation, to mean “But it has been denied that it is reactive and insentient”. In this reading, one should add, or at least presume, a concluding sentence: “But we have disproven that, Hence it is reactive and insentient.”

75 Concerning this Boethus of Sidon, see the introduction.

76 See the usage of this term in chapter one, passage 6.

77 Cf. Galen, On the Elements 9.4–20 (K1.481–486).

78 Ḥunayn quietly introduces here a new criterion. Plants and animals consist of units, each an entire organism which comes to be, undergoes a lifetime of change and alteration, and then passes away. Though minerals also are susceptible to generation and corruption, they do not go through the process or cycle as individual, independent units, the way plants and animals do.

79 Cf. Galen, On the Elements 5.26–32 (K1.455–457).

80 The notion that serpents feed on earth is very ancient; see Isaiah 65:25.

81 Cf. Galen, On the Elements 1.1 (K1.413).

82 Cf. Galen, On the Elements 14.1 (K1.506–507), where Galen argues that the opinion of those who hold that the generation of the fetus is from blood alone must be commended, but that Hippocrates understands nature better and that his view – that is, that the fetus is generated from all four humors – is actually the correct view.

83 The Arabic is here unclear; but in the corresponding passage in Galen, the example is an external wound that causes bleeding. See On the Elements 13, 4–5, “‘And if’ he says ‘you pierce some part of his body so as to produce a wound his blood will flow’” (trans. De Lacy).

84 Cf. Galen, On the Elements 13.12-15 (K1.504); Hippocrates, Nature of Man 6.

85 The sentence is a bit awkward but the meaning is clear. Nature guards the bodily fluids, above all the blood. Thus when a purgative attempts to withdraw fluids from the body, Nature makes every effort to offer fluids other than blood. If the purgative is a strong poison, eventually Nature will succumb and yield up blood as well.

86 Cf. Galen, ibid., Hippocrates, ibid.

87 Cf. Galen, On the Elements 6.1–25 (K1.457–464).

88 Cf. Hippocrates, On the Nature of Man 3, Galen, On the Elements 8.1-10 (K1.476-479).

89 Cf. Galen, On the Elements 8.1 (trans. De Lacy, p.123): “Hippocrates' own words will make it clear to you that in the treatise On the nature of man he often refers to the elements by the names of their qualities, signifying by hot neither the quality itself nor (the body) that is called hot homonymously by virtue of the dominance of that (quality), but in the body that possesses extreme heat, and signifying by cold the body in which there is extreme cold, by dry the body in which there is extreme dryness, and by wet the body in which there is humidity in its extreme”.

90 Less literally, but in clearer English: The quantity of heat (for example) that suffices to dominate in a given body so that that body is called “hot” varies indefinitely: there are an infinite number of quantities of heat that suffice to have the body in which they reside be called “hot”.

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