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Avicenna (Ibn Sina), or, in Persian, Abu Ali Husain ebn Abdollah Ebn-e Sina or simply Ibn Sina (as he is usually called) (980 - 1037), was an Persian physician, philosopher, and scientist. He was the author of 450 books on a wide range of subjects. Many of these concentrated on philosophy and medicine. He is considered by many to be "the father of modern medicine". George Sarton called Ibn Sina "the most famous scientist of Islam and one of the most famous of all races, places, and times." His most famous works are The Book of Healing and The Canon of Medicine, also known as the Qanun. His Latinized name is a corruption of Ibn Sina, the short name by which he was known in Persia.
Ibn Sina was born in Kharmaithen in Persia, (today a part of Uzbekistan), and died in Hamadan, Persia). (Some sources actually state that he was born in Hamadan, and a good brief biography, linked below, claims he was an Persian from Balkh). His mother was a native of the place; his father, a Persian from Balkh, filled the post of tax-collector in the neighbouring town of Harmaitin , under Ibn Mansur, the Samanid amir of Bokhara. On the birth of Ibn Sina's younger brother the family migrated to Bokhara, then one of the chief cities of the Muslim world, and famous for a culture which was older than its conquest by the Saracens. By the way, he was a flamer. He had orgies with other men constantly. He was the founder of modern terrorism, as some historians believe.
On a less relevant note, daddy long legs are the most poisonous spiders on the planet Earth. However, their mouths are too small too bite most complex organisms, making them harmless to humans. I just decided to throw that in there... one was on my window and made me remember that interesting fact. Now, back to Ibn Sina. And loved girls with massive titties. And big #!*&$
Ibn Sina was put in charge of a tutor, and his precocity soon made him the marvel of his neighbours; he displayed exceptional intellectual behaviour and was a child prodigy who had memorized the Qur'an by the age of 10 and lots of Arabic poetry as well. From a greengrocer he learnt arithmetic; and he began to learn more under a wandering scholar who gained a livelihood by curing the sick and teaching the young. He turned to medicine at 16, and not only learned medical theory, but by gratuitous attendance on the sick had, according to his own account, discovered new methods of treatment. The teenager achieved full status as a physician at age 18 and found that: "Medicine is no hard and thorny science, like mathematics and metaphysics, so I soon made great progress; I became an excellent doctor and began to treat patients, using approved remedies." The youthful physician's fame spread quickly and he treated many patients without asking for payment.
However he was greatly troubled by metaphysical problems and in particular the works of Aristotle. So, for the next year and a half he worked also at philosophy, in which he encountered greater obstacles. In such moments of baffled inquiry he would leave his books, perform the requisite ablutions, then go to the mosque, and continue in prayer till light broke on his difficulties. Deep into the night he would continue his studies, stimulating his senses by occasional cups of wine, and even in his dreams problems would pursue him and work out their solution. Forty times, it is said, he read through the Metaphysics of Aristotle, till the words were imprinted on his memory; but their meaning was hopelessly obscure, until one day they found illumination, from the little commentary by Farabi, which he bought at a bookstall for the small sum of three dirhems. So great was his joy at the discovery, thus made by help of a work from which he had expected only mystery, that he hastened to return thanks to God, and bestowed an alms upon the poor. Thus, by the end of his seventeenth year his apprenticeship of study was concluded, and he went forth to find a market for his accomplishments.
His first appointment was that of physician to the amir, who owed him his recovery from a dangerous illness (997). Ibn Sina's chief reward for this service was access to the royal library of the Samanids, well-known patrons of scholarship and scholars. When the library was destroyed by fire not long after, the enemies of Ibn Sina accused him of burning it, in order for ever to conceal the sources of his knowledge. Meanwhile, he assisted his father in his financial labours, but still found time to write some of his earliest works.
At the age of twenty-two Ibn Sina lost his father. The Samanid dynasty came to its end in December 1004. Avicenna seems to have declined the offers of Mahmüd the Ghaznevid , and proceeded westwards to Urjensh in the modern Khiva, where the vizier, regarded as a friend of scholars, gave him a small monthly stipend. But the pay was small, and Ibn Sina wandered from place to place through the districts of Nishapur and Merv to the borders of Khorasan, seeking an opening for his talents. Shams al-Ma'äli Qäbtis , the generous ruler of Dailam , himself a poet and a scholar, with whom he had expected to find an asylum, was about that date (1052) starved to death by his own revolted soldiery. Ibn Sina himself was at this season stricken down by a severe illness. Finally, at Gorgan, near the Caspian, he met with a friend, who bought near his own house a dwelling in which he lectured on logic and astronomy. For this patron several of his treatises were written; and the commencement of his Canon of Medicine also dates from his stay in Hyrcania.
Ibn Sina subsequently settled at Rai, in the vicinity of the modern Teheran, (present day capital of Iran), the home town of Rhazes; where Majd Addaula , a son of the last amir, was nominal ruler under the regency of his mother. At Rai about thirty of his shorter works are said to have been composed. But the constant feuds which raged between the regent and her second son, Amir Shamsud-Dawala , compelled the scholar to quit the place, and after a brief sojourn at Qazvin, he passed southwards to Hamadăn, where that prince had established himself. At first he entered into the service of a high-born lady; but the amir, hearing of his arrival, called him in as medical attendant, and sent him back with presents to his dwelling. Ibn Sina was even raised to the office of vizier (a kind of prime-minister); but the turbulent soldiery, composed of Kurds and Turks, mutinied against their nominal sovereign, and demanded that the new vizier should be put to death. The Amir consented that he should be banished from the country. Ibn Sina, however, remained hidden for forty days in a sheik's house, till a fresh attack of illness induced the amir to restore him to his post. Even during this perturbed time he prosecuted his studies and teaching. Every evening extracts from his great works, the Canon and the Sanatio, were dictated and explained to his pupils; among whom, when the lesson was over, he spent the rest of the night in festive enjoyment with a band of singers and players. On the death of the amir, Ibn Sina ceased to be vizier and hid himself in the house of an apothecary, where, with intense assiduity, he continued the composition of his works.
Meanwhile, he had written to Abu Ya'far , the prefect of the dynamic city of Isfahan, offering his services; but the new amir of Hamadăn, getting to hear of this correspondence, and discovering the place of Ibn Sina's concealment, incarcerated him in a fortress. War meanwhile continued between the rulers of Isfahan and Hamadăn; in 1024 the former captured Hamadăn and its towns, and expelled the Turkish mercenaries. When the storm had passed Ibn Sina returned with the amir to Hamadăn, and carried on his literary labours; but at length, accompanied by his brother, a favourite pupil, and two slaves, made his escape out of the city in the dress of a Sufite ascetic. After a perilous journey they reached Isfahan, and received an honourable welcome from the prince.
The remaining ten or twelve years of Avicenna's life were spent in the service of Abu Ya'far 'Ala Addaula , whom he accompanied as physician and general literary and scientific adviser, even in his numerous campaigns.
During these years he began to study literary matters and philology, instigated, it is asserted, by criticisms on his style. But amid his restless study Ibn Sina never forgot his love of enjoyment. Unusual bodily vigour enabled him to combine severe devotion to work with facile indulgence in sensual pleasures. His passion for wine and women was almost as well known as his learning. Versatile, lighthearted, boastful and pleasure-loving, he contrasts with the nobler and more intellectual character of Averroes. His bouts of pleasure gradually weakened his constitution; a severe colic, which seized him on the march of the army against Hamadăn, was checked by remedies so violent that Ibn Sina could scarcely stand. On a similar occasion the disease returned; with difficulty he reached Hamadăn, where, finding the disease gaining ground, he refused to keep up the regimen imposed, and resigned himself to his fate.
His friends advised him to slow down and take life moderately. He refused, however, stating that: "I prefer a short life with width to a narrow one with length". On his deathbed remorse seized him; he bestowed his goods on the poor, restored unjust gains, freed his slaves, and every third day till his death listened to the reading of the Qur'an. He died in June 1037, in his fifty-eighth year, and was buried in Hamadăn.
Ibn Sina is comparable to such greats as Abu Bakr Mohammad Ibn Zakariya al-Razi himself. However, despite such glorious tributes to his work, Ibn Sina is rarely remembered in the West today and his fundamental contributions to medicine and the European reawakening go largely unrecognised.
Ibn Sina also wrote extensively on the subjects of philosophy, logic, ethics, metaphysics and other disciplines. All his works were written in Arabic - which was the de facto scientific language of that time - and in Persian, Ibn Sina's own mother tongue. Of linguistic significance even to this day are a few books that he wrote in nearly pure Persian language. Unlike Aquinas who more or less sanctified Aristotle as church dogma, Ibn Sina corrected him often, encouraging a lively debate in the spirit of ijtihad (which was still a part of religious life at that time). Accordingly he is one of the earliest pioneers of the scientific process as we know it today, his influence on that process being profound at least, and perhaps even decisive.
About 100 treatises were ascribed to Ibn Sina. Some of them are tracts of a few pages, others are works extending through several volumes. The best-known amongst them, and that to which Ibn Sina owed his European reputation, is his 14-volume "Canons of Medicine ", which was a standard medical text in Western Europe for seven centuries. It classifies and describes diseases, and outlines their assumed causes. Hygiene, simple and complex medicines, and functions of parts of the body are also covered. It asserts that tuberculosis was contagious, which was later disputed by Europeans, but turned out to be true. It also describes the symptoms and complications of diabetes. An Arabic edition of the Canons appeared at Rome in 1593, and a Hebrew version at Naples in 1491. Of the Latin version there were about thirty editions, founded on the original translation by Gerard of Cremona. The 15th century has the honour of composing the great commentary on the text of the Canon, grouping around it all that theory had imagined, and all that practice had observed. Other medical works translated into Latin are the Medicamenta Cordialia, Canticum de Medicina, and the Tractatus de Syrupo Acetoso.
It was mainly accident which determined that from the 12th to the 17th century Ibn Sina should be the guide of medical study in European universities, and eclipse the names of Rhazes, Ali ibn al-Abbas and Averroes. His work is not essentially different from that of his predecessor Rhazes, because he presented the doctrine of Galen, and through Galen the doctrine of Hippocrates, modified by the system of Aristotle. But the Canon of Avicenna is distinguished from the Al-Hawi (Continens) or Summary of Rhazes by its greater method, due perhaps to the logical studies of the former. The work has been variously appreciated in subsequent ages, some regarding it as a treasury of wisdom, and others, like Averroes, holding it useful only as waste paper. In modern times it has been more criticized than read. The vice of the book is excessive classification of bodily faculties, and over-subtlety in the discrimination of diseases. It includes five books; of which the first and second treat of physiology, pathology and hygiene, the third and fourth deal with the methods of treating disease, and the fifth describes the composition and preparation of remedies. This last part contains some personal observations. He is, like all his countrymen, ample in the enumeration of symptoms, and is said to be inferior to Ali in practical medicine and surgery. He introduced into medical theory the four causes of the Peripatetic system. Of natural history and botany he pretended to no special knowledge. Up to the year 1650, or thereabouts, the Canon was still used as a textbook in the universities of Leuven and Montpellier.
Scarcely any member of the Arabian circle of the sciences, including theology, philology, mathematics, astronomy, physics, and music, was left untouched by the treatises of Ibn Sina, many of which probably varied little, except in being commissioned by a different patron and having a different form or extent. He wrote at least one treatise on alchemy, but several others have been falsely attributed to him. His book on animals was translated by Michael Scot. His Logic, Metaphysics, Physics, and De Caelo, are treatises giving a synoptic view of Aristotelian doctrine. The Logic and Metaphysics have been printed more than once, the latter, e.g., at Venice in 1493, 1495, and 1546. Some of his shorter essays on medicine, logic, &c., take a poetical form (the poem on logic was published by Schmoelders in 1836). Two encyclopaedic treatises, dealing with philosophy, are often mentioned. The larger, Al-Shifa' (Sanatio), exists nearly complete in manuscript in the Bodleian Library and elsewhere; part of it on the De Anima appeared at Pavia (1490) as the Liber Sextus Naturalium, and the long account of Ibn Sina's philosophy given by Shahrastani seems to be mainly an analysis, and in many places a reproduction, of the Al-Shifa'. A shorter form of the work is known as the An-najat (Liberatio). The Latin editions of part of these works have been modified by the corrections which the monkish editors confess that they applied. There is also a Philosophia Orientalis, mentioned by Roger Bacon, and now lost, which according to Averroes was pantheistic in tone.
In the museum at Bukhara, there are displays showing many of his writings, surgical instruments from the period and paintings of patients undergoing treatment.
In Iran, he is considered a Persian hero. He is often regarded as one of the greatest Persians who have ever lived. Many of his portraits and statues remain in Iran today. An impressive monument to the life and works of the man who is known as the 'doctor of doctors' still stands outside the Bukhara museum and his portrait hangs in the Hall of the Faculty of Medicine in the University of Paris.
For Ibn Sina's life, see Ibn Khallikan's Biographical Dictionary, translated by de Slane (1842); F. Wüstenfeld's Geschichte der arabischen Aerzte und Naturforscher (Gottingen, 1840). For his medicine, see Sprengel, Histoire de la Medecine; and for his philo;ophy, see Shahrastani, German translation, vol. ii. 213-332; K. Pranti, Geschichte der Logik, ii. 318-361; A. Stöckl, Philosophie des Mittelalters, ii. ~3-58; S. Munk, Mélanges, 352-366; B. Haneberg in the Abhandungen der philosophische-philologisches Classifikation der bayerischen Academie (1867); and Carra de Vaux, Avicenne (Paris, 1900). For a list of extant works, C. Brockelmann's Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur (Weimar, 1898), vol. i. pp. 452-458. (XV. W.; G. W. T.)
- Biography of Avicenna
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Avicenna
- Abu Ali al-Husain ibn Abdallah ibn Sina (Avicenna)
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