The Canon of Medicine by Hakim Ibn Sina
Book I: Principles of medicine, assessment, regimen in health and disease.
Book II: Materia Medica. English/Latin plant name index.
The significance of the five-volume Canon of Medicine in world medicine cannot be overestimated. The medical historian William Osler described the Canon as “the most famous medical textbook ever written,” and stated that it remained as a “medical bible” for a longer time than any other work.” The Encyclopedia Britannica has described it as the most influential medical book in history. From the time of its writing, it spread throughout Europe and the Islamic world, becoming the most important text for clinical medicine from England to the borders of China. The loss of access to this book has caused a wound in the development of Western medicine, and specifically the fields known today as alternative medicine. We have had access to all the key texts of Chinese medicine and Indian Ayurvedic medicine, and both these systems have affected the development of alternative systems of dietetics and herbal medicine in the English speaking world. The two volumes presented here cover the basic principles of medical theory, assessment including pulse and urinalysis, lifestyle prescriptions in health and disease (regimen), and, in Book II, a comprehensive materia medica on the
Four Humors model.
It may be hard to comprehend the level of scholarly work that went into this translation, or the labors involved. Until the time of this work, the only copy of the Canon available in a Western language (Latin – 13th Century) contained many errors of copying between the time of the original writing and through its many transcriptions. This flawed copy made the basis for further translations into other European languages, with only Book I previously translated into English, based on Latin versions. The Hamdard scholars (who were themselves medical practitioners in the Four Humors system of medicine) began with an Arabic text which, according to its footnotes, was copy from a copy of the Ibn Sina original text, and thus less prone to transcription errors than later versions. This was then compared to four other version of the Canon, transcribed at various later times times. Discrepancies were adjusted and corrected, and a complete critical Arabic version of all five books of the Canon was compiled. This was then translated into English, marking the first time in history than an authentic copy of the full Canon was available in English. To facilitate their work, the translators compiled a comprehensive glossary of the Canon, with about 15,000 Arabic terms and their 50,000 English equivalents, which they published separately. Their work was completed in 1993. Unfortunately, although translated into English, the actual texts of the books have generally not been available outside of Pakistan and India. In recent years, several of the books of the Canon, edited by Laleh Bakhtiar, have also
become available. Bakhtiar gives credit to the Hamdard scholars for setting the foundation of her work on Book II, the materia medica.
We offer thanks to the Hamdard scholars who completed this work, and may they be blessed in this life and in the next for their contributions to humanity.
North American Institute of Medical Herbalism