First World-Famous Iranian Physician: Pur Sina

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M. Saadat Noury
by M. Saadat Noury
12-Sep-2012
 

 

Originally published online on August 23, 2005


The first day of Shahrivar (the sixth month of the Iranian Calendar) is designated as the Physician’s Day (in Persian: Rooz-e-Pezeshk). It coincides with August 23 or 24, and marks the birth anniversary of the world-famous Iranian physician Pur Sina.

It should be noted that the title of the first Iranian physician may be maintained for Borzouyeh who was the court physician during Khusrow Anushiravan (ruled 531-579) of Sassanid dynasty. In this article the life story and the various scientific and cultural works of Pur Sina, the First World-Famous Iranian Physician, are studied and discussed.

HIS OTHER NAMES
The other names of Pur Sina are Prince of Physicians (Farman Rawaayeh Pezeshkaan), Leader among the Wise Men (Shaikh-o-Rais), Ibn Sina (Pur Sina), Bu Ali (Bouali in Hamadan) and Bu Ali Sina (BAS). In the Western Literature, he is mostly referred to by his Latinized name as Avicenna.

 HIS LIFE

BAS was born in Bukhara, Iran, in 980 AD when Nuh II (ruled 976-997) of Samanid Kingdom was in power. (Bukhara is now in Uzbekistan). His father was from Balkh and his mother was from a village near Bukhara. In his early life, his mentor was his father who was one of the leaders of the Ismailite faith. (The Ismailite faith is a sect of the Shiite branch of Islam, and it came into existence after the death of the sixth imam, Jafar-e-Sadegh, in 765, and his son Ismail was accepted as successor only by a group of people, who became known as Ismailis). Young BAS never pursued his father’s faith, but to a large extent he benefited from the fact that many learned people often gathered to chat and debate in his father’s abode. It has been reported that at 9, BAS learned the foreign language of Arabic and when he was only 10 years old, he had already memorized the Koran, many Persian poems and other literary works.

An early thirst for knowledge, soon took BAS to prominent professors of Logic and Philosophy. He turned his attention to Medicine at the age of 17 and found it, in his own words, "Not Difficult". He was, however, greatly troubled by philosophical problems and in particular by the works of Aristotle (Arasstoo). By chance, he got a manual on this subject written by the celebrated philosopher Farabi, and that manual could solve his difficulties.

At 18, BAS found his professors not needed any longer and decided to carry on his studies by himself. He acquired profound knowledge in Medicine, Jurisprudence, and Philosophy. By the age of 19 he had built up a reputation as a physician and was asked to attend the court of Samanid King, Nuh II, to cure him of an illness in which all the well-known physicians had given up hope. On his recovery, the King wished to reward him, but the young BAS only requested to have free access to the royal library, which contained many rare and very unique books. Endowed with great powers of absorbing and retaining knowledge, BAS got through the contents of the library and at the age of 21, he was in a position to edit his own first book.

BAS was now an established physician and political administrator, professions he continued to practice in the courts of various Iranian rulers that emerged during the collapse of the Abbasids. On his father's death, BAS left Bukhara and traveled to Gorgan (presently known as Golesstaan) where Khaarazm Shah welcomed him. At Gorgan, BAS lectured on logic and astronomy and wrote the first part of his famous book of The Canon of Medicine, TCM, (Ghaanoon-e-Pezeshki).

He then moved to Ray (Shahr-e-Ray), near modern Tehran and established a busy medical practice. He then moved to Hamadan, where he wrote the second part of TCM. In Hamadan, BAS treated Shams-o-Dowleh (SHD) for severe renal colic, which is a pain in the flank, characteristic of kidney stones. SHD was the Buwayhid (Booyeh) ruler of Hamadan, and he ruled there from 997 to 1021. BAS was then appointed as the Court Physician and also as a Minster (in Persian: Vazeer) to the government of SHD. At one point, an insurgence of soldiers against BAS caused his dismissal and imprisonment, but subsequently SHD, being again suffered from the renal colic, called him back with an apology and reinstated him. From Hamadan, he moved to Isfahan, where he completed TCM and many of his monumental writings. He spent his final years in the services of the ruler of the city, Alaa-o-Dowleh (also from Booyeh family) whom he advised on scientific and literary matters and accompanied on military operations. His colleagues and friends advised him to slow down and take life in moderation. BAS refused, however, maintaining that, “I prefer a short life with width to a narrow one with length”.

Worn out by hard work and hard living, BAS died in 1037 at a comparatively early age of 58. He was buried in Hamadan.

HIS WORKS
Throughout his life, BAS wrote about 450 works of which only around 240 have survived. From his works in existence today, 150 are on philosophy while 40 are devoted to medicine, the two fields in which he contributed most. He also wrote on psychology, geology, mathematics, astronomy, and logic. His two famous books, which are written in Persian, are the Encylopedia of Philosophical Sciences (Daneshnameh-e-Alaaii), and a small treatise on the Pulse (Nabz). Daneshnameh-e-Alaaii is a very professional literary work dedicated to Alaa-o-Dowleh, the Buwayhid ruler of Isfahan.

Around 12th century, the complete TCM appeared in Europe. TCM became the undisputed medical authority for several centuries, granting the scholar a place of honor equaled only by the early Greek physicians Hippocrates and Galen. The fame of the book was such that its author became known as the “Prince of Physicians” in the West. In fact, TCM is the most famous single book in the history of medicine in both East and West. It is a study encompassing and systematizing the achievements of Greek physicians as well as the entire medical knowledge available from Persian and Arabic sources. It is divided into five books. The first contains a general description of the Human Body, Diseases, Health and General Treatment and Therapeutics. The second book contains the Pharmacology of Herbs and a section on Experimental Medicine. The third book is all about the subject of Special Pathology. The fourth book follows with its famous treatise on Fevers and with a treatise on Signs, Symptoms, Diagnostics and Prognostics, Minor Surgery, Tumors, Wounds, Fractures and Bites, as well as a chapter on Toxics. The fifth book contains the Pharmacopoeia, with a description of some 760 drugs. In addition to bringing together the then available knowledge, the book is rich with the author's original findings. BAS’s important contribution includes such advances as recognition of the contagious nature of TB or Tuberculosis, Communicable Diseases, and interaction between Psychology and Health. The first study to describe Meningitis and to make rich contributions to Anatomy, Gynecology and Child Health, TCM became a popular classic and was used at many medical schools until as late as 1650.

Known as Shaikh-o-Rais (Leader among the wise men), a title given to him by his students, BAS also contributed significantly to the field of Astronomy. He made astronomical observations firstly in Isfahan and later in Hamadan. These studies produced a number of deductions, which proved to be true centuries later. For example, he observed Venus as a spot against the surface of the Sun and correctly deduced that Venus must be closer to the Earth than the Sun. He also invented an instrument for observing the coordinates of a star.

In Physics, his contribution comprised the study of different forms of energy, heat, light and mechanical energy, as well as such concepts as force, vacuum and infinity. He made the important observation that if the perception of light is due to the emission of some sort of particles by the luminous source, the speed of light must be finite. He propounded an interconnection between time and motion, and also made investigations on specific gravity and used an air thermometer.

In Geology, his treatise on Minerals was one of the main sources of geology of the European Encyclopedia of the thirteenth century.

Probably the largest work of its kind ever written by one person, the Philosophical Book of Healing (in Persian: Ketaab-e-Shafaa) embodies a vast field of knowledge and scientific experiences. In the 12th century BAS’s Ketaab-e-Shafaa was translated partially into Latin. BAS divided Philosophy, which he claimed to be the general name for all knowledge, into two major parts. One was Speculative Philosophy and the other one was Practical Philosophy. Speculative Philosophy was divided into four parts itself, which were interestingly categorized. They were Physics or the inferior science, Mathematics or the middle science, and Metaphysics and Theology or the superior sciences. Practical Philosophy on the other hand was divided into Ethics, Economics, and Politics. These divisions are of essential importance on account of their influence on the arrangement of sciences in the schools where the philosophy of BAS preceded the introduction of Aristotle’s works. Ketaab-e-Shafaa is also BAS’s most important work as far as Mathematics is concerned, as one of the book’s four parts is solely dedicated to that subject. BAS divided Mathematics into another four branches as Geometry, Astronomy, Arithmetic, and Music, and he then subdivided each of these topics even further.

BAS also contributed to the field of Persian Poetry and according to some researchers he was the reported author of Persian Quatrains and Short Poems. Here is the English version of his quatrain on Through the Seventh Gate (in Persian:Taa Oaj-e-Zohal) translated by Edward Fitz Gerald

Up from Earth’s Center through the Seventh Gate
I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate
And many Knots unraveled by the Road
But not the Master-Knot of Human Fate

The Persian texts of above poem and a part of BAS’s Poetry Anthology can be viewed online here

HIS FAMOUS QUOTATIONS
Here is a list of some famous quotations attributed to BAS:
1. Now it is established in the sciences that no knowledge is acquired save through the study of its causes and beginnings, if it has had causes and beginnings; nor completed except by knowledge of its accidents and accompanying essentials.
2. An ignorant doctor is the aide-de-camp of death.
3. And whatsoever Self has in it a mental form is an essence, other than a body, and not within a body, and standing of itself.
4. As to the mental essence, we find it in infants devoid of every mental form.
5. If the notion of necessary existence is divided into a multitude, it must be divided in one of the following two ways: either it is divided according to the manner of its division by differentiae or according to the manner of its division by accident.
6. It is evident that everything which does not exist at first and then exists is determined by something other than itself.
7. Medicine considers the human body as to the means by which it is cured and by which it is driven away from health.
8. That whose existence is necessary must necessarily be one essence.
9. The knowledge of anything, since all things have causes, is not acquired or complete unless it is known by its causes.
10. The world is divided into men who have wit and no religion and men who have religion and no wit.
11. Therefore in medicine we ought to know the causes of sickness and health.
12. Wherefore the rational soul shall surely depart (migrate, travel) taking along the kernels of the other powers after death ensues.
13. I prefer a short life with width to a narrow one with length.
14. God, the Supreme Being, is neither circumscribed by space, nor touched by time; he cannot be found in a particular direction, and his essence cannot change.

HIS POPULARITY IN IRAN AND ELSEWHERE
In Iran, BAS is considered as a National Titan. Many portraits and statues of BAS remain in various cities in Iran today. The Main Hall of the Faculty of Medicine in the University of Tehran is named after him. Many people visit his Tomb in Hamadan and pray there. Hamadanians are very proud of their old history, and a good part of their pride is Bouali (as he is called in Hamadan). In Hamadan, one can find primary schools, high schools, colleges, and the main universities named after BAS. Also, there are many stores and businesses named after him. The main street of Hamedan is also named Bouali.

Many hospitals have been also named after BAS in different cities of Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Kuwait, Iraq, and other countries in the Middle East and Central Asia. The famous General Hospital of Sina (in Persian: Bimaarestan-e-Sina) in Iran is located in downtown (the heart of the city) of Tehran, which also acts as a Teaching Hospital of the School of Medicine of “Tehran University of Medical Sciences”. This hospital was firstly established when Reza Shah Pahlavi (ruled 1925-1941) was in power, and it has been always staffed by professional physicians, nurses, and various technical workers, and also equipped with modern surgical instrumentations and medical facilities.

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 in France.

In Central Asia, the Revolution Peak, formerly known as Dreispitz, has been recently renamed as either Independence Peak or Abu Ali Sina (Avicenna) Peak, and it is the fourth highest mountain in the Pamir range of Tajikistan.

On the occasion of the different anniversaries of BAS’s birth, his various images have been appeared in the official Postage Stamps of Iran, and many countries such as Pakistan, Poland, Dubai, Mali, Tunisia, Russia, Egypt, Kuwait, Germany, Tajikistan, Turkey, France, Hungary, Syria, etc.

There is also a crater on the moon named after his Latinized name of Avicenna.

BU ALI SINA, THE NATIONAL TITAN OF IRAN, DESERVES HIGH PRAISE FOR ALL HIS HARD WORK AND FOR REACHING OUT TO SO MANY DIVERSE INTERESTS.

Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD 

REFERENCES

Ahmed, M. (1990): Online Article on “Ibn Sina (Avicenna): Doctor of Doctors”.
Barkeshli, M. (2001): The Contributions of Ibn Sina to Music, ed. (in Persian).
Brown, E. G. (1924): A Literary History of Persia, ed., vols. 1-4, Cambridge University Press.
Farhangsara (2006): Online Articles on “Ibn Sina or Avicenna” (in Persian and English).
Nafissi, S. (1954): Pur Sina, His Life & His Works, ed. (in Persian), Danesh Publications, Tehran, Iran.
Nick, M. (2003): Online Article on “Ibn Sina” by Martin Nick.
Quotations (2006): Online Articles on “Avicenna Quotes”.
Rahimzadeh Safavi, A. (1957): Saadi, Hafez, & Ibn Sina, ed. (in Persian), Elmi Publications, Tehran, Iran.
Saadat Noury, M. (2005): Online Article on “First Iranian Academic Site”.
Saadat Noury, M. (2005): Online Article on “First Iranian Expert in the Art & Science of Music”.
Saadat Noury, M. (2006): Online Poetry on “The God of Love”.
Wikipedia Free Encylopedia (2006): Online Articles on “Avicenna”.
Zargari, O. (2003): Online Article on “Physician’s Day”.

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