A Literary History of Medicine (ALHOM)

Wellcome Trust Project - A Literary History of Medicine: “The Best Accounts of the Classes of Physicians” by Ibn Abi Usaybi`ah (d. 1270)

In the mid-13th century, a practicing physician in Syria named Ibn Abi Usaybi`ah set himself the task of recording the history of medicine throughout the known world. His book "The Best Accounts of the Classes of Physicians" covers 1700 years of medical practice, from the mythological beginnings of medicine with Asclepius through Greece, Rome, and India, down to the author's day. Written as much to entertain as to inform, it is not only the earliest comprehensive history of medicine but the most important and ambitious of the medieval period, incorporating accounts of over 442 physicians – their training, their practice, and their medical compositions – interlaced with amusing poetry and anecdotes illustrating the life and character of the physicians. The breadth of the book reflects the geographical and cultural reach of the Islamic empire. Written by a man who was himself a medic and a poet, this highly readable history reflects considerable medical experience and lies at the interface of the serious medical practice of the day with society's interest in biography and gossip.

For nearly three hundred years, attempts to translate this monumental work have failed owing to the extraordinary range of skills needed to tackle it. A joint Oxford/Warwick project funded by the Wellcome Trust, led by Professor Emilie Savage-Smith (Oxford) and Professor Simon Swain (Warwick), will assemble for the first time a team of senior and junior scholars to make this remarkable historical source fully available in a reliable and readable form.

Visit the main project site here.

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