How and Why Has the Reputation of Ibn Sina’s Canon Changed over Time?

How and why has the reputation of Ibn Sina’s Canon changed over time?

In this essay we will explore how and why the reputation of Ibn Sina’s Canon changed over time. To do this we will look to how the Islamic world developed its medical theory from earlier Greek works and used contemporary information to build on this. We will explore how the reputation of the Canon became widespread throughout the Islamic world and how it came to be the foremost medical text of its time, despite an array of other medical texts also prevalent. We will then move on to discuss how the reputation of the Canon spread to the western world as Islamic medical works were translated in Europe. Finally we look at how the Canon began to fall out of favour as the humanism movement focused on the importance of the classical era.

The principals of Islamic medicine became deeply rooted in the theory of humoural medicine, developed by the Greeks between the fifth century BCE and the third century CE. During this time Greek practitioners (primarily Hippocrates and Galen) developed a systemic explanation of body function which, at the time, was considered comprehensive in its coverage. This theory of medicine, based on four humours: blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm, would remain influential for hundreds of years and travel across continents.

Although the Islamic world had its own notions regarding medical care, treatments at the time were unsophisticated and based on trial and error rather than any comprehensive theory of medicine. During the seventh and eighth century CE, as the Islamic world became more powerful and expanded, great interest was taken in early Greek medical manuscripts; huge numbers of works were translated. These translated texts “provided the basis for a distinctive Islamic culture of medicine, which continued and developed Greek traditions” (Brunton, 2008, p. 161).

Ali ibn Sina’s Al Qanan fil al-tibb (Canon of Medicine), referred to as the...