ARIBIAN MEDICINE

This Syrian stamp issued in 1964, commemorating the Fourth Arab Congress of Dental and Oral Surgeons, honors Albucasis, the great tenth century Arabic surgeon.

After the turbulent Bedouin tribes, united into a cohesive strong nation by the caliph Omar, successor to caliph Abu Baker and Prophet Mohamed, they moved out of the land known nowadays as the Saudi Arabia around year 635. This result in a profound changes in the character of world politics, culture and learning. By the end of the seventh century all the middle east, and north Africa and almost most of Spain had come under the Arab sway.

One of the most important achievement of the Arabs at that time was the preservation and translation into Arabic the works of classical writers as Aristotle, Galen and Pliny. The earliest European medical schools, at Salerno in Italy and Montpellier in France, relied on these texts which had been translated back from Arabic into rude Latin. In fact, the translation of Greek works into Arabic was one of the most important intellectual ventures carried out under the aegis of caliphs at Baghdad. Without their patronage most of the classical knowledge would have lost during the dark ages.

Very remarkable great caliph at that time was “Harun al-Rashid” how had a passionate interest in foreign learning. He encouraged scholars to make translations into Arabic from Greek, Latin, Assyrian and the Indian languages. He appointed a Syrian Christian, “Yuhanna ibn-Masawah”, to translate ancient medical texts into Arabic. Another compiler was “Hunain ibn-Ishaq” (809-877), who translated into Arabic from original Greek the scientific texts of Galen, Paul of Aegina, Hippocrates, Aristotle, as well as, the Old Testament.

Although the body of Islamic literature devoted to health and healing is extensive, it contains no work dealing solely with dentistry. However, one of the oldest surviving texts is “Fidaus al-Hekma” or “Paradise of Wisdom”, written by Ali ibn-Sahl Rabban at Tabari about 850, deals briefly with dentistry. The text offering an explanation for the origin of teeth, treatment for fetid breath, and recipes for dentifrices. It was until the tenth century when we find extensive work on stomatology by the four great scientists of the Islamic medicine, Rhazes, Ali Abbas, Albucasis and Avicenna.

 

A Persian dentist of the late eighteenth century extracts a tooth. The text that fills this hand-painted page is derived from the Koran and stressed on the need to deal kindly with one’s fellow man.

Richard of Acerra was wounded in the siege of Naples in 1194. He is shown in this illustration with an arrow still embedded in his check. He is being treated by a surgeon assisted by two nurses, who bears slaves and dressings. Wounds of the face and mouth were very common at that time during the battle field since these areas are not protected by armor.

Chales I, who ruled the Kingdom of the two Sicilies from 1266 to 1285, asked the price of Tunis for a manuscript of the compendious work by the Arabic doctor Rhazes entitled “Ketab al-Hawi”. In this three parts initial capital from a south Italian manuscript written in 1282, the story of translation and delivery of the book is dedicated. At upper right, the prince is consigning the manuscript to the Neapolitan envoys. At upper left, the envoys deliver it to Charles. Below, in the upper section of the initial letter E, Charles hands the manuscript to the Jewish scholar “Faraj bin-Salim”, who is seen below working hard in the translation.