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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 July 2013

Joep Lameer*
25 Dennenweg, 6891 DL Rozendaal (Gld.), Netherlands


Philosophical and medical excellence notwithstanding, Avicenna was far from being an otherwordly person who buried himself in his books. He had an extraordinarily adventurous life and is reported to have been fond of good food, drink, and lovemaking. This article discusses the wellknown but quite unusual view that he died of having too much sex. A detailed analysis of the sources and a common-sense approach to some of their medical claims will show that this allegation is not supported by any evidence whatsoever. Quite the opposite: it will be argued that the main source on which all later reports must taken to depend has been tampered with in two places to produce the image that we know. Thus, we must assume that people hostile to Avicenna and his philosophy are behind this, their forgery most likely having been committed in the first half of the twelfth century AD.


Nonobstant son excellence en philosophie et en médecine, Avicenne était loin d’être un homme étranger au monde, enterré dans ses livres. Il a eu une vie extraordinairement aventureuse et on dit qu'il était un amateur de bonne chère, de boisson et de plaisirs sexuels. Cet article étudie l'idée bien connue mais plutôt inhabituelle selon laquelle il serait mort par excès d'activité sexuelle. Une analyse détaillée des sources et une approche réaliste de certaines thèses médicales qu'elles contiennent montrera que cette allégation ne repose sur aucune preuve de quelque type que ce soit. Bien au contraire, on soutiendra que la principale source dont s'avèrent dépendre tous les rapports postérieurs a été manipulée à deux endroits en vue de produire l'image que nous connaissons. Il faut alors admettre que ce sont des gens hostiles à Avicenne et à sa philosophie qui sont à l'origine d'une telle manœuvre, cette légende ayant été forgée très probablement durant la première partie du xiie siècle.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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1 Dates given in this article refer to the Common Era unless indicated otherwise.

2 McGinnis, J., Avicenna (Oxford, 2010), pp. 22–3CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 Afnan, S., Avicenna. His Life and Works (Woking and London, 1958), p. 77Google Scholar.

4 Ibid., p. 78.

5 On Abū ʿUbayd Juzjānī, see Wisnovsky, R., “Jowzjāni (Juzjāni), Abu ʿObayd ʿAbd al-Wāḥed”, in Yarshater, I. (ed.), Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. 15, fascicle 1 (New York, 2009), pp. 82–4Google Scholar; al-Rahim, Ahmed H., “Avicenna's immediate disciples. Their lives and works”, in Langermann, Y. Tzvi (ed.), Avicenna and his Legacy. A Golden Age of Science and Philosophy, Cultural Encounters in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Turnhout, 2009), pp. 125Google Scholar, on pp. 4–8.

6 The autobiography and its completion by Juzjānī were published by Gohlman, W. E., The Life of Ibn Sina. A Critical Edition and Annotated Translation (New York, 1974)Google Scholar.

7 Gohlman, The Life of Ibn Sina, pp. 80.8–82.3.

8 Ibid., pp. 81, 83.

9 These faculties are the faculties of nutrition, perception, intellection, and desire, discussed in Aristotle's De anima.

10 Anawātī, G. and Zāyed, S., Ibn Sīnā, al-Shifāʾ, vol. 6: al-Nafs (Cairo, 1975)Google Scholar, pp. 32ff. For the correspondence between Avicenna's quwwa shahwāniyya and Aristotle's epithumētikon, see Goichon, A. M., Vocabulaires comparés d'Aristote et d'Ibn Sīnā (Paris, 1939)Google Scholar, p. 28.

11 Even though for Avicenna the internal senses are important vehicles and repositories of whatever is perceived by the external senses, they are usually not directly associated with the workings of the concupiscible faculty. On the internal senses in Avicenna, cf. e.g. Ibn Sīnā, al-Nafs, ed. Anawātī and Zāyed, pp. 145ff; Black, D., “Psychology: soul and intellect”, in Adamson, P. and Taylor, R. (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 308–26, on pp. 312–16Google Scholar.

12 In answer to the justifiable objection that the masculine suffix hi in yashtaghilu bihi cannot refer back to the feminine quwwat al-mujāmaʿa, I should like to draw attention to the fact that the reference is most likely not to quwwa nor to mujāmaʿa, but rather to the gratification of the desire in the act of copulation or jimāʿ, which is masculine. There is also a possibility that non-corresponding gender in this case reflects a feature of Middle Arabic (cf. e.g. Blau, J., A Handbook of Early Middle Arabic [Jerusalem, 2002]Google Scholar, p. 46, § 82), but then this would be – as far as I can see – the only passage in the whole of Juzjānī's biography to be marked by this phenomenon, which makes such an explanation less plausible.

13 Gohlman, The Life of Ibn Sina, p. 82.1–3.

14 Ibid., p. 83.

15 Cf. e.g. The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals, Index, sub colic, at: (as consulted on 16 March 2012).

16 Avicenna, Risāla fī al-Qawlanj, in Ḥammāmī, Ṣ. M., Kitāb al-Qawlanj li-Abī Bakr Muḥammad Ibn Zakariyyāʾ al-Rāzī. Maʿa dirāsa muqābila li-risālat Ibn Sīnā fī al-Qawlanj (Aleppo, 1983), pp. 143–75Google Scholar, on p. 157.5–6. See also the Introduction to the edition on pages 7–18, and the comparative discussions on pages 177–201.

17 These four kinds are the ones that he concentrates on in his enumeration of the causes of qawlanj in his Risāla fī al-Qawlanj, pp. 166.18–168.10. There are others, less important, mentioned at pp. 166.19–167.1.

18 Cf. ibid., p. 168.9–10, where Avicenna mentions this number at the end of his run-down of the causes of the four major forms of qawlanj.

19 Wisnovsky, “Jowzjāni”, p. 83; al-Rahim, “Avicenna's immediate disciples”, p. 8.

20 Gohlman, The Life of Ibn Sina, p. 50.6–9, and p. 52.7–10, with the English translation on pages 51 and 53.

21 Ibid., pp. 1–10.

22 For a description, cf. ibid., pp. 2–3.

23 Ibid., p. 82, note accompanying line 1.

24 Avicenna, Risāla fī al-Qawlanj, pp. 166.18–168.10.

25 For Ghazālī's opinion of the philosophers, among them Avicenna, cf. e.g. Griffel, F., Al-Ghazālī's Philosophical Theology (Oxford, 2009), pp. 97109CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

26 Gohlman, The Life of Ibn Sina, p. 54.7–9, with 55 (translation), and 78.4–7, with 79 (translation), together with the fragment under discussion here. Of course Avicenna himself tells us also about his wine-drinking in his autobiography, for which see Gohlman, The Life of Ibn Sina, pp. 28.6–30.2, with pages 29 and 30 for the English translation.

27 Tatimmat Ṣiwān al-ḥikma. Ẓahīr al-Dīn Bayhaqī, ed. al-ʿAjam, R. (Beirut, 1994), pp. 71.2172.3Google Scholar; Wafayāt al-aʿyān wa-abnāʾ al-zamān. Li-Abī al-ʿAbbās Shams al-Dīn… Ibn Khallikān, ed. ʿAbbās, I., 8 vols. (repr. Beirut, 1977–78)Google Scholar, vol. 2, p. 159.17–18; Nuzhat al-arwāḥ wa-rawḍat al-afrāḥ fī tārīkh al-ḥukamāʾ. By Shamsuddin Muḥammad bin Maḥmood al-Shahrazūri, (d. after 687 AH/1288 AD), ed. Aḥmed, Syed Khurshīd, 2 vols. (Hyderabad, 1976), vol. 2, p. 117.5–8Google Scholar. Gohlman notes that the account in Ibn Khallikān may depend on Bayhaqī, and that the accounts of Ibn Khallikān and Shahrazūrī are very similar (Gohlman, The Life of Ibn Sina, pp. 1–2).

28 Gohlman, The Life of Ibn Sina, p. 82.1ff.

29 On Bahmanyār, cf. Daiber, H., “Bahmanyār, Kīā”, in Yarshater, I. (ed.), Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. 3, fascicle 5 (New York, 1988), pp. 501–3Google Scholar; al-Rahim, “Avicenna's immediate disciples”, pp. 9–14.

30 Badawī, ʿA., Arisṭū ʿinda l-ʿarab (Cairo, 1947), p. 122.5–7Google Scholar. English translation by Dimitri Gutas in his Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition. Introduction to Reading Avicenna's Works (Leiden, 1988), p. 64. Gutas refers to Bahmanyār as “Kiyā”.

31 Gohlman, The Life of Ibn Sina, p. 86.3ff.

32 This is how yukthir al-mujāmaʿa must be understood. Gohlman's “frequently” is a euphemism.

33 Described in Gohlman, The Life of Ibn Sina, p. 3.

34 For a description, cf. ibid., p. 2. The account in Ibn Khallikān is based on a similar reading of Juzjānī's text. Cf. Abbās, Wafayāt…, vol. 2, p. 159.24.

35 For a description of witness A, cf. ibid., p. 3.

36 Ibid., p. 86, note to lines 5–6.

37 Ibid. A similar representation of things is also found in Shahrazūrī's Nuzhat al-arwāḥ, vol. 2, p. 118.2–3.

38 For which cf. Gohlman, The Life of Ibn Sina, p. 5.

39 Cf. Bayhaqī, Tatimmat ṣiwān al-ḥikma, p. 72.14–17 in which the latter declares about Avicenna's illness in Isfahan (key words underlined):

والشيخ يعالج نفسه […] فقدر الشيخ على المشي وحضر مجلس علاء الدولة لكنّه مع ذلك لا يحتمي ولا يتحفّظ ويكثر التخليط في أمر المعالجة ولم يبرأ من العلّة كلّ البرء […]

“The Master treated himself […], was then able to walk, and attended the court of ʿAlāʾ al-Dawla. But even so he did not protect himself, and not being cautious he completely messed up his [own] treatment while he had not yet fully recovered […]”. It is interesting to note that while Bayhaqī refers to muʿālaja (treatment) Q and Ṣ have mujāmaʿa (intercourse). The reading maʿālaja of al-ʿAjam's edition of the Tatimma is confirmed by the editions of M. Kurd ʿAlī, Tārīkh al-ḥukamāʾ. Taʾlīf Ẓahīr al-Dīn al-Bayhaqī (Damascus, 1946/1365), p. 69.7–10, and M. Shafīʿ, Tatimmat Ṣiwān al-ḥikma of ʿAlī b. Zaid al-Baihaḳī, 2 vols., Arabic-Persian text (Lahore, 1935), vol. 1, p. 58.2–5. I have not yet been able to determine the precise character of the interplay between Bayhaqī and Juzjānī's text in the process of its transmission (witnesses J & N, and Q & Ṣ).

40 Here follow the page and line numbers in Gohlman's edition: 44.4–5, 52.5, 54.6 (2x), 54.7, 54.9, 56.7, 58.5–6 (2x), 66.10–68.1, 68.3–4, 68.4–5 (3x), 72.2–3, 78.7, 80.8–82.1, 82.1–2, 84.1 (2x), 84.3, 86.3–4, 86.6–7 (2x), 88.2 (2x). There are no significant differences between the various witnesses used in the edition.

41 Ibid., pp. 64.1 and 70.4.

42 Ibid., p. 74.2–4.

43 Gohlman, The Life of Ibn Sina, p. 6.

* This is a significantly rewritten version of a lecture given at the Symposium Prince of the Physicians. The Legacy of Avicenna in the Islamic World and the West, held at the University of Leiden, The Netherlands, on 16 January 2012. I should like to thank an anonymous reader and my friend Ronald E. Kon of Mheer for their valuable comments on an earlier draft of this article.

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