contributor.author: Tamás Visi

title.none: Bos, Maimonides (Tamás Visi )

identifier.other: baj9928.0805.011 08.05.11

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Tamás Visi , Kabinet Judaistiky, Olomouc, Czech Republic, visi.tamas@gmail.com

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Bos, Gerrit. Maimonides: Medical Aphorisms Treatises 6-9. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, distr. by University of Chicago Press, 2007. Pp. xxvii, 160. $39.95 (hb) ISBN-10: 0-8425-2664-1; ISBN-13: 978-0-8425-2664-7 (hb). ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.05.11

Bos, Gerrit. Maimonides: Medical Aphorisms Treatises 6-9. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, distr. by University of Chicago Press, 2007. Pp. xxvii, 160. $39.95 (hb) ISBN-10: 0-8425-2664-1; ISBN-13: 978-0-8425-2664-7 (hb). ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Tamás Visi
Kabinet Judaistiky, Olomouc, Czech Republic
visi.tamas@gmail.com

Moses Maimonides (1137 or 1138 [not 1135], Cordoba1204, Fustat) was known by most of his contemporaries not only as a philosopher and jurist but also as a physician. Most of his medical works were written in the last period of his life, from 1191 to 1204, in Fustat, when healing became Maimonides' chief occupation. Unlike his philosophical and halakhic works which were intended solely to the Jewish readers, the medical writings reached a wider, non-Jewish public within the Arabic world. Most of the medical books were translated into Hebrew during the Middle Ages, some of them circulated in several different Hebrew versions, and many of them were translated into Latin as well.

Careful exegesis of the authoritative medical texts was an integral part of Maimonides' healing practice. In a private letter written around 1190 in Fustat Maimonides stated that he spent his evenings with studying what was pertinent to his cases in the medical literature. "For you know how long and difficult the medical art is for one who is faithful and precise and wishes to say nothing without knowing a proof of what he says and without knowing where the proof is stated and what the reasoning underlying is" (quoted in Davidson, Moses Maimonides, Oxford, 2005, 68).

The Medical Aphorisms, Maimonides' longest and most significant medical work, can be seen as a by-product of his medical practice. It is a handbook to facilitate finding "the proof" and "where the proof is stated" and "what the reasoning underlying is" in the medical literature, or more precisely, in the Galenic corpus as it was known to the Arabs. Referring to Tzvi Langermann's recent research the translator of this volume, Gerrit Bos, emphasizes that Medical Aphorisms is "nothing other than a notebook" and "it cannot be characterized as a medical equivalent of the Mishneh Torah," the latter being Maimonides' magnificent restatement of Jewish law ("Translator's Introduction," xvii).

By an "aphorism" a shorter or longer paragraph summarizing an observation, an argument, or a point is meant. Most of Maimonides' "aphorisms" are, in fact, taken from Galen's works: they are sometimes verbatim quotations, sometimes paraphrases or summaries of Galen's text or mixtures of all the three genres. They are indexed with a reference to the title and the chapter of that Galenic work from where the paragraph has been taken. The quotations or paraphrases are thematically arranged by Maimonides into twenty five "treatises." Thus a practising medieval physician could easily find the necessary information in Maimonides' compendium with a reference to the source in the Galenic corpus.

Although a Latin translation was printed as early as 1489, one of the medieval Hebrew translations was edited by Sssmann Muntner in 1959, and an English translation based on Muntner's edition by Fred Rosner was published in 1989 (Maimonides' Medical Writings, vol. 3, Haifa, 1989), the Arabic original has not been printed until the twenty-first century except for some short excerpts. This situation is addressed by a new project initiated at University College London to provide critical editions in the original Arabic together with English translations of Maimonides' medical works that are still in manuscript. The twenty-five treatises of Medical Aphorisms will be published in five volumes. The book under consideration now is the second volume containing treatises 6 to 9.

Readers of the Brigham Young University series of Arabic-English bilingual publications will not be disappointed by this volume. The Arabic text is established on the basis of two early manuscripts following principles clearly stated by the editor. The format of the book accords with the previous volumes of the series; thus, the readers familiar with the series will know where to find what. The "Translator's Introduction" is a brief and concise summary of the most relevant information about the work and its transmission including a description of the extant Arabic manuscripts. The critical apparatus offers a selection of variant readings considered most important by the editor. The footnotes provide further information especially concerning the history and meaning of the medical termini technici used by Maimonides. A separate supplement corrects the numerous mistakes of Mutner's Hebrew edition and Rosner's English translation--anybody who wants to use the aforementioned publications should consult these corrections.

Thus, the reader should not expect an in-depth study extending to hundreds of pages about the Medical Aphorisms as an "Introduction" nor a monstrous critical apparatus taking more space than the text itself on every page. What we do find is a user-friendly product which contains perhaps less than some scholars would like to see but conveys more information about the essentials and makes the results of this field of study accessible to the wider academic community of medievalists. You do not have to be able to read Arabic to find this book interesting. On the other hand, any student of the Arabic language who wants to extend his competence to the direction of medical literature will find this publication very useful.

Finally, to show the importance of the Medical Aphorisms for medieval studies in general I would like to indicate a context outside of the history of medieval medicine in which Maimonides' work fits in a very interesting way. The Medical Aphorisms can be described as a "book of memory" in the sense that Mary Carruthers has given to this phrase (cf. Carruthers, The Book of Memory, Cambridge, 1990, and The Craft of Thought, Cambridge, 1998).

When a medieval physician treated a patient he was supposed to recall a body of knowledge learnt from books. Therefore, healing was a situation in which the doctor's memory was tested. The explicit purpose of Maimonides' compendium was to prepare the physician for this test. As he writes in Treatise 7, aphorism 8 about preventing and healing syncope, which was of central concern for any healing strategy in his opinion, "since this affliction, namely syncope, is such a serious one and is a partner and associate of death, which it [often] precedes, a physician should have a comprehensive knowledge of all the causes of syncope and should always keep them in mind" (25; italics added). In the next paragraph Maimonides remarks: "I thought it a good thing to classify the [various] causes of syncope and to describe its classes and species so that it will be easy to learn them and know them by heart" (ibid; italics added).

These remarks clearly indicate that memorizing the content of medical books was a major consideration for Maimonides in composing the Medical Aphorisms. Writing a florilegium in which several texts taken from various sources were put together in a new order was a basic technique of ad rem memory in Latin culture (cf. Carruthers, The Book of Memory, 174-185). Although it is not unproblematic to apply the concepts of Latin Christendom to medieval Islamic civilization, the explanatory force of these concepts cannot be excluded a priori either. Perhaps, the Medical Aphorisms was Maimonides' own "book of memory" edited for the benefit of other physicians. Through this book we can have a glimpse of the intellectual work that occupied the mind of physicians in medieval Islamic societies.

In sum, Medical Aphorisms is a very important document of medieval intellectual history and a critical edition of the original Arabic has been a desideratum for a long time. Gerrit Bos' edition and English translation of Treatises 6-9 meets the highest standards of scholarship. Besides congratulating Gerrit Bos and his team for this wonderful achievement we are looking forward to the subsequent volumes of Medical Aphorisms together with other volumes promised by the editor.