This is an extremely rare and early manuscript of volume three from Ibn Sina’s Qanun fi’l-tibb, 'The Canon of Medicine'. One of the pillars of Medieval medicine, the importance of this compilation was so immense that it was used throughout the Middle East and Europe as the standard medical textbook for a period of seven centuries. Given the nature of the paper and calligraphy, combined with numerous inscriptions giving the date of the manuscript as 1143-44 AD (as well as a carbon test supporting this date), we can confidently assert this to be one of the earliest manuscripts of the Qanun ever to be offered at auction.
Ibn Sina was born in 980 AD in Afshana near Bukhara, in Greater Khurasan. His native language was Persian, but, like the majority of scholars of the period, he wrote in Arabic. Thanks to his father's position as an official in the Samanid government, Ibn Sina was given a fine education and his precocity is said to have been such that he quickly surpassed his teachers in knowledge and problem-solving skills. At the young age of eighteen, he became a qualified physician and was hailed for curing the Amir of Khurasan of a severe illness. As a most precious reward he was given access to the extensive library of the Samanid princes, where he would spend countless hours immersed in scholarly work.
Known as Avicenna in the West, Ibn Sina can be regarded as the most influential writer in the history of medicine. His unparalleled al-Qanun fi'l tibb or 'The Canon of Medicine', completed circa 1025 AD, gathered the totality of medical knowledge at the time. A dedicated intellectual, he spent the latter part of his life at Isfahan, unexpectedly dying during an expedition to Hamadan in 1037 AD.
Al-Qanun fi'l tibb gathered the totality of medical knowledge available in the early eleventh century. Ibn Sina’s clear style in listing diagnoses and cures has been the key to the popularity of this text. Combining and abridging doctrines of Hippocrates, Aristotle, Galen and other Oriental physicians, the Canon was the most complete medical encyclopaedia of the time. It was translated in its entirety into Latin by Gerard of Cremona between 1150-87 AD and a total of eighty-seven translations were subsequently made. It formed the basis of medical teaching at all European universities and appears in the oldest known syllabus of teaching, that of the Medical School of Montpellier in 1309 AD. It was printed in Arabic at Rome in 1593 and several eminent western physicians learned Arabic solely to read Avicenna in the original. He specifically influenced such luminaries as Henrik Harpestraeng, the royal Danish physician who died in 1244 AD, Arnold of Villeneuve, William of Saliceto, Lanfranc, the founder of surgery in France, and Guy of Chauliac. His ubiquity is well manifested by the fact that Chaucer, in the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, mentions that no good doctor should be ignorant of his work. In the last thirty years of the fifteenth century, sixteen editions were issued. During the sixteenth century it was re-issued more than twenty times. It was not until Vesalius and Harvey had revolutionised medicine that Ibn Sina's influence began to wane.
The corpus is divided into five volumes dealing with different aspects of the human body and its cure: the first kitab talks generally about medical principles, anatomy and the effects of the environment on human health; the second volume lists alphabetically several medicines and simple drugs, with their properties and side-effects; the third one (which the present manuscript represents) is divided into twenty-two funun (sections) and concerns specific pathology and diseases of various parts of the body, from head to toe; the fourth is on more general diseases which affect the whole body (for examples fevers, leprosy and fractures), and the last kitab deals with medical recipes and therapeutic drugs.
Very few copies of the Qanun from the twelfth century or earlier have survived. The earliest known copy of the Qanun was sold in these rooms, 17 October 1983, lot 365, dated 466 AH/1073 AD. The Muzah-i Kilisa-yi Araminah Library in Isfahan contains a copy listed as eleventh century, but does not bear a date, and we do not know if it is a fragment or incomplete (Roper 1992, vol.1, p.476). The Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine in London has two copies dated to the thirteenth century. For a comprehensive list of other copies, see A new catalogue of Arabic manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, vol.I, p.220, entry no.54. See also Brockelmann GAL I 457 (597) no.82 and GAL S i 823-4 no.82. A complete copy of all five volumes of the Qanun fi'l-Tibb, dated 626 AH/1229 AD, was sold in these rooms, 12 October 2000, lot 50, whilst volumes three to five, dated 899-904 AH/1494-98 AD, were sold 3 May 2001, lot 32.
This lot is accompanied by a carbon dating test which confirms a date of production in the first half of the twelfth century.