Avicenna


Commonly known as Ibn Sina or by his Latinized name Avicenna. Avicenna was born in 980 near Bukhara, present day Uzbekistan and was a Persian polymath and extensively involved in medicinal studies.

Avicenna studied medicine under a physician named Koushyar. He wrote almost 450 treatises on a wide range of subjects, of which around 250 have survived. In particular, 70 percent of his surviving treatises concentrate on philosophy and 30 percent on medicine. His most famous works are The Book of Healing, a vast philosophical and scientific encyclopedia, and The Canon of Medicine, which was a standard medical text at many medieval universities. The Canon of Medicine was used as a text-book in the universities of Montpellier and Louvain as late as 1650. Avicenna's Canon of Medicine provides a complete system of medicine according to the principles of Galen and Hippocrates.

Avicenna was also an astronomer, chemist, geologist, psychologist, Islamic scholar, theologian, logician, mathematician, teacher, physicist, poet, and scientist. He is regarded as the most famous and influential polymath of the Islamic Golden Age. 

Avicenna's first appointment was that of physician to the emir, who owed him his recovery from a dangerous illness in 997. Avicenna's main 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 Avicenna accused him of burning it, in order for ever to conceal the sources of his knowledge. Meanwhile, he assisted his father in his financial labors, but still found time to write some of his earliest known works. 

At the age of 22, Avicenna lost his father, who he was very close to. The Samanid dynasty came to its end in December 1004. Avicenna seems to have declined the offers of Mahmud of Ghazni, and proceeded west towards Urgench which is modern day Turkmenistan, where the vizier, regarded as a friend of scholars, gave him a small monthly stipend. The pay was little, however, Avicenna wandered from place to place through the districts of Nishapur and Merv to the borders of Khorasan, seeking an opening for his talents. Qabus, the generous ruler of Dailam and central Persian, himself a poet and scholar, with whom Avicenna had expected to find an asylum, was about starved to death by his troops in 1012 as a result of a revolt. Avicenna himself was at the same time stricken down by a severe illness. Finally, at Gorgan, near the Caspian Sea, Avicenna met with a friend, who bought a dwelling near his own house in which Avicenna lectured on logic and astronomy. 

Avicenna subsequently settled at Rai, in the vicinity of modern day Tehran which is the capital of Iran. About thirty of Avicenna's shorter works are said to have been composed in Rai. Constant feuds which raged between the ruling families compelled the scholar to quit the place and move on. After a brief sojourn at Qazvin, he passed southwards to Hamadan where Shams al-Daula, another Buwayhid emir, had established himself. At first, Avicenna entered into the service of high-born lady; but the emir, hearing of his arrival, called him in as a medical attendant and then sent him back with presents to his dwelling. Avicenna was even raised to the office of vizier. The emir consented that he should be banished from the country but Avicenna had other ideas. He remained hidden for forty days in the sheikh Ahmed Fadhel's house, until a fresh attack of illness induced the emir to restore him to his post. Even during this perturbed time, Avicenna persevered with his studies and teaching. Every evening, extracts from his great works, the Canon and Sanatio, were dictated and explained to his pupils. On the death of the emir, Avicenna 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. The new emir of Hamadan, hearing of this correspondence and discovering where Avicenna was hidden, captured and incarcerated him in a fortress. War meanwhile continued between the rulers of Isfahan and Hamadan; in 1024 the former captured Hamadan and its towns, expelling the Tajik mercenaries. When the storm had passed, Avicenna returned with the emir to Hamadan, and carried on his literary labors. Later, however, accompanied by his brother, a favorite pupil, and two slaves, Avicenna escaped out of the city in the dress of a Sufi ascetic. After a perilous journey, they reached Isfahan, receiving an honorable welcome from the prince. 

The remaining ten or twelve years of Avicenna's life were spent in the service of Abu Ja'far Ala Addaula, whom he accompanied as physician and general literary and scientific adviser, even in his numerous campaigns.

The medical use of Egyptian mummies was first recorded in the tenth century A.D. and trade in therapeutic mummy dust was a thriving business from the twelfth to the nineteenth centuries. Avicenna, recommended the use of ground mummy as a cure for rashes, coughs, constipation, paralysis, diseases of the spleen and liver, and a host of other ailments. Mummies were ground into powder and made into a tincture, elixir, treacle, or balsam, and even taken straight. It is not known when exactly mummies were first used medicinally on a commercial scale, but it likely began with Jewish traders in twelfth-century Alexandria. 

Mummies were collected and shipped across the Mediterranean and became the staple cure-all of apothecaries. Mummies were especially popular in France. Catherine of Medici's chaplain raided tombs at Saqqara. Francis I of France didn't leave the house without a packet of mummy dust, every day, he took a pinch of mummy with rhubarb, in the belief that it would make him invulnerable to assassins. However, the practice was not without its detractors, including the leading sixteenth-century French surgeon Ambroise Pare, who argued, "this wicked kind of Drug doth nothing help the diseased... but it also interferes (causes) many trouble-some symptoms, as the pain of the heart or stomach, vomiting and stink of the mouth. 

During these years he began to study literary matters and philology, instigated, it is asserted, by criticisms on his style. A severe colic, which seized him on the march of the army against Hamadan, was checked by remedies so violent that Avicenna could scarcely stand. On a similar occasion the disease returned; with difficulty he reached Hamadan, 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 read through the Qur'an every three days until his death. He died in June 1037, at the age of fifty seven, in the month of Ramadan and was buried in Hamadan, Iran.




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