12.01.13, Di Vincenzo, Kitāb al-'adwiya al-mufrada

Main Article Content

Adam McCollum

The Medieval Review 12.01.13

Di Vincenzo, Eleonora. Kitāb al-'adwiya al-mufrada di 'Abū Ǧa'far 'Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. 'Aḥmad b. Sayyid Al-Ġāfiqī (Xii sec.). Edizione del capitolo 'Alif con indici e apparato critico in nota. Supplemento No. 1 alla Rivista degli studi orientali, nuova serie, volume LXXXI. Pisa and Rome:Fabrizio Serra Editore, 2009. Pp. xxxv, 117. ISBN: 978-88-6227-328-2.

Reviewed by:

Adam McCollum
Saint John's University

This slim volume contains an edition of the preface and the first letter of the pharmaco-botanical dictionary of the Spanish-Arabic scholar Al-Ġāfiqī, with an introduction and an Italian translation of the preface of the Arabic work. The Arabic title may be translated into English as The Book of Simple Drugs. Little is known of Al-Ġāfiqī's life, but he is generally considered to have been active in the first half of the 12th century. Roughly one century thereafter, historian of medicine Ibn Abī Uṣaybi'a (d. 1270) said of him (from the 'Uyūn al-Anbā' fī Ṭabaqāt al-Aṭibbā, my translation):

On the specified level of pharmaco-botany, Al-Ġāfiqī was preceded by Al-Bīrūnī (d. 1048), [1] whose work was apparently unknown to him, and then followed by Ibn Al-Baytār (d. 1248), who made liberal use of Al-Ġāfiqī's book and who authored two books on the subject of simple drugs.

While Al-Ġāfiqī's work has long been known, it has really only been accessible by way of an edition of the 13th-century Syriac polymath Gregory Bar 'Ebrāyā's abridgment, which was published in 1932-40. The present work makes Al-Ġāfiqī's book itself available for the first in print, albeit only partially. Two manuscripts form the basis of the edition: one from the Bibliothèque Générale et Archives, Rabat--which serves as the base manuscript (xx)--and the other from McGill University. Al-Ġāfiqī's book is a kind of dictionary of drug names, and each letter is divided into two sections: qism al-kalām and qism al-tafsīr. The former, "Discussion", cites named authorities, the commonest indicated by abbreviations, and presents what is known about this or that drug in terms of its description, where and how it may be found, what its effects are, etc. Each entry in this section varies from around five lines of text to a full page or more. The other section, "Interpretation", is essentially an etymological dictionary in which Al-Ġāfiqī indicates, sometimes with a brief comment, the language from which a term comes. In this edition, Al-Ġāfiqī's preface (al-muqaddimah) occupies pp. 3-6, the qism al-kalām pp. 7-65, and the qism al-tafsīr pp. 66-97. As mentioned above, the muqaddimah is also translated into Italian, but not anything else of the work. Across the two parts there are 788 entries in all. The editor's introduction discusses what is known of the author and his works, the structure of the Kitāb al-adwiya al-mufrada, the author's sources, and the principles followed in making the edition; it ends with a bibliography. A few words about some of these parts of the introductory material are in order.

The editor helpfully includes a list of authorities that Al-Ġāfiqī names. While not as detailed as the corresponding list in Meyerhof and Sobhy Bey's edition of Bar 'Ebrāyā's abridgment of Al-Ġāfiqī's book mentioned above (Cairo, 1932), it at least serves as a quick reference for readers. The arrangement of the list in this volume is according to "tradition," that is, Greek, Mesopotamian, Indian, and Islamic. This simplistic arrangement is problematic not least because there are at least four Christian authors listed under "Tradizione islamica"! (Merely writing in Arabic does not mean Islamic.) A thorough discussion of sources could quickly overreach the proper limits of an introduction to a critical text, but without further discussion than is given here, a chronological or simply linguistic arrangement of these sources would have been preferable.

To the bibliography should probably be added: S. Hamarneh, "The Pharmacy and Materia Medica of Al-Bīrūnī and Al-Ghāfiqī: A Comparison," Pharmacy in History 18 (1976): 3-12. Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila, The Last Pagans of Iraq: Ibn Waḥshiyya and his Nabatean Agriculture (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2006). Immanuel Löw, Aramaeische Pflanzennamen (Leipzig, 1881). For comparative purposes, mention should be made too, of the works of Sābūr b. Sahl edited and translated by Oliver Kahl (including Arabic and English word indices); these are not in Di Vincenzo's bibliography.

Turning to the edition itself and the apparatus, we find a well typeset Arabic text, although with somewhat too small of a font size. The entries are numbered with the headwords in a bolder font than the rest of the text, and the cited authorities, too, are in bold. The notes to the text form a single apparatus but serve more than one purpose, namely text-critical data and commentary. The commentary is not called such and is generally quite brief and restricted to identifying the non-Arabic terms used in the work, of which there is great number. This kind of data is repeated and searchable in the indices: there are indices for Arabic, Greek, Latin, Spanish (remember that Al-Ġāfiqī was active in Spain) words, and in Arabic there are two more indices, one on authors and works, the other for places. For terms from other languages the editor promises a future study (xxi), but for now indices for them would still have been apropos.

I noted a few typographical errors:

p. xiv, under "Democrito", "British Museum" should be "British Library" p. xvi, "Continents" should be "Continens"

p. xxiii, four lines from the bottom: dirasā should be dirāsa

p. xxviii, accents are missing in the French words.

p. 4, four lines from the bottom of the text, the word ديسقوريدوس should be added immediately after اسم (this seems to be simply an error, not a textual issue)

p. 112 (in index), accent on ἰὸς should be ἰός (also on p. 75, n. 1551) In so complex a text there are almost inevitably at least a few other errors, too, but the Arabic text and apparatus seems to have been carefully put together and checked.

With the publication of this part of Al-Ġāfiqī's work, scholars are finally in a good position to begin more thoroughly investigating his contribution to pharmaco-botany and medical science more generally. Arabists will find here a plethora of material for the study of Arabic lexicography, especially loan words. In addition, due to the cross-cultural and cross-linguistic sharing that took place in the Middle East from late antiquity into the medieval period, scholars working not specifically with Arabic will also find the appearance of this edition significant. For example, just to name Syriac, one might well investigate the exact extent and nature of Bar 'Ebrāyā's abridgment of Al-Ġāfiqī's book, not to mention comparison with the still understudied Syriac Geoponicon published in 1860 by P. de Lagarde, and the Syriac Book of Medicines (ed. Budge, 1913), which has attracted the attention of some scholars, but still deserves the scrutiny of a newer generation of researchers. All in all, we welcome this partial edition of Al-Ġāfiqī's Kitāb al-adwiya al-mufrada and look forward hopefully to its continuation.



1. As Hamarneh ("Al-Bīrūnī and Al-Ghāfiqī" [cited above], p. 9, cf. p. 11) points out, Al-Bīrūnī was more an observant scientist, while Al-Ġāfiqī was in addition a practicing physician.

Article Details

Author Biography

Adam McCollum

Saint John's University