The Physician as a Rebellious Intellectual

The Book of the Two Pieces of Advice or "Kitāb al-Naṣīḥatayn" by c Abd al-Laţīf ibn Yūsuf al-Baghdādī (1162-1231) - Introduction, Edition and Translation of the Medical Section

by N. Peter Joosse (Author)
©2014 Others 214 Pages
Series: Beihefte zur Mediaevistik, Volume 18


The medical section of the Kitāb al-Naṣīḥatayn or Book of the Two Pieces of Advice by the medieval author cAbd al-Laţīf ibn Yūsuf al-Baghdādī (1162-1231) challenges the idea that Arabic-Islamic medicine declined after the twelfth century A.D. Moreover, it offers some interesting insights into the social history of medicine. cAbd al-Laţīf composed his work as a diatribe directed against false knowledge, and employed the framework of Greek medical epistemology to criticize the rationalist physicians of his day and age. He argued that female and itinerant practitioners, relying on experience, were superior to some rationalists, and decried the wickedness and incompetence of certain medical practitioners of his time. In addition, he lambasted contemporaneous medical education because it put too much faith in a restricted number of textbooks such as the Canon of Medicine by the celebrated physician Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna), or chiefly relied on imperfect abridgments. The medical section of the Book of the Two Pieces of Advice is translated here for the first time in a modern language. It is preceded by a lengthy introduction that highlights cAbd al-Laţīfs complicated relation to both medicine and alchemy. The present study also contains the first full bibliography on cAbd al-Laţīf ibn Yūsuf al-Baghdādī and his milieu.

Table Of Contents

← 6 | 7 → The Physician as a Rebellious Intellectual: The Book of the Two Pieces of Advice or Kitāb al-Naṣīḥatayn by ‘Abd al-Laṭīf ibn Yūsuf al-Baghdādī (1162-1231)1 : Introduction, Edition & Translation of the Medical Section

History of Research

In 1962 Samuel Miklos Stern presented the scholarly community with the first ever description of the Book of the Two Pieces of Advice or Kitāb al-Naṣīḥatayn by the well-known grammarian, lexicographer, philosopher, and physician ‘Abd al-Laṭīf ibn Yūsuf al-Baghdādī.2 A couple of years later, the German scholar Albert Dietrich gave a very short description of the Kitāb al-Naṣīḥatayn without referring thereby to Stern’s prior publication.3 Eight years later, in the year 1972, the physicians and medical historians Paul Ghalioungui and Said Abdou presented us with a brief ← 7 | 8 → description of the Kitāb al-Naṣīḥatayn in the Arabic language.4 Although the initial section of the book must be regarded as one of the forgotten masterpieces of Arabic-Islamic medicine, it took 35 years, until 2007, before the next publication on the subject announced itself in the form of the present author’s English translation of a lengthy passage dealing with the untimely death of the prince al-Malik al-Ẓāhir Ghāzī ibn Yūsuf of Aleppo,5 which in the same year was followed by his elaborate description of the Kitāb al-Naṣīḥatayn in the Dutch language.6 In the year 2008, the present author and Peter E. Pormann co-authored a brief article on the so-called “mathematical fragment”.7 This publication was soon followed by another article, likewise co-authored by Joosse and Pormann, which challenges the idea that Islamic medicine declined after the twelfth century A.D. Moreover, the article also sheds important new light on questions regarding the social history of medicine, and discusses a number of quotations from the Book of the Two Pieces of Advice.8 Dimitri Gutas recently has published a study on the philosophical contents of the treatise,9 and is in the course of preparing an edition and translation of the autobiography of ‘Abd al-Laṭīf as present in the philosophical section of the Kitāb al-Naṣīḥatayn in which he inter alia shall comment on the linguistic peculiarities of ← 8 | 9 → the treatise and on the philological details concerning the readings of the Bursa MS. Cecilia Martini Bonadeo’s recent study (2013) on ‘Abd al-Laṭīf’s philosophical thought contains amongst others a partial English translation of the philosophical section of the Kitāb al-Naṣīḥatayn as well as an extensive commentary on it.

Dating the Manuscript & Principle of Edition

The medical section of the Kitāb al-Naṣīḥatayn has been preserved only in the unique manuscript: Bursa (Turkey), Hüseyin Çelebi 823, fol. 62r-78r. This MS is a so-called majmū‘a, a collection of texts, which contains nine more treatises on a variety of subjects by ‘Abd al-Laṭīf and another one by the Greek philosopher Alexander of Aphrodisias on the differentia specifica. It is stated in the colophon of the manuscript that it was copied in the Anatolian city of Erzinjān, in the country of the Rūm Saljūqs,10 in the year 622 A.H./1225 A.D. The title page refers to the fact that text no. 2: Qaul li-‘Abd al-Laṭīf b. Yūsuf ‘alā ḥāl Ibn Khaṭīb ar-Raiyī fī tafsīr sūrat al-ikhlāṣ was written in Aleppo in the year 613 A.H./1216 A.D. The Kitāb al-Naṣīḥatayn, or Bursa no. 5, must have been written in Aleppo after the death of the prince al-Malik al-Ẓāhir Ghāzī ibn Yūsuf that is, after the month of October 1216 A.D.

The medical section of the Kitāb al-Naṣīḥatayn as presented by the single manuscript Bursa 823 is entirely intact. It is completely undamaged and very well legible. Its text was, moreover, written by an exceptionally careful scribe. The editor only had to make a single major correction to it (cf. fol. 77r in the ed. and trl.). The original Arabic manuscript of the medical section of the treatise has been attached as an appendix. It mainly serves as a control mechanism to my edition of the Arabic text (cf. pages 95-112).

The principle of edition used for the medical section of the Kitāb al-Naṣīḥatayn is as follows: The manuscript’s reading of hamza, madda has been adapted to Classical Arabic [CA] standards. The manuscript’s reading of shadda is omitted, except for isolated cases. The diacritical dots, where lacking, are supplied. The dots of tā’ marbūṭa, where lacking, are likewise supplied. The vocalization of the text is generally omitted, but is provided in those instances where this is deemed necessary in illustration of a specific form. The use of deviating forms of verbs, irregular plurals of nouns and full writing of long vowels in words which according to CA require short vowels, is not maintained.

← 9 | 10 → Brief Survey of the Contents

‘Abd al-Laṭīf al-Baghdādī composed his Kitāb al-Naṣīḥatayn as a diatribe directed against false knowledge, which according to the author is worse than ignorance. As the title suggests, it is divided into “two pieces of advice”, that is, “advice” for would-be physicians and would-be philosophers, respectively.11 Both incur ‘Abd al-Laṭīf’s scathing criticism and find themselves lambasted in no uncertain terms. The first part, rebuking the doctors of his day, contains four main themes:

1.medical epistemology;

2.medical deontology: the discussion of the methods and practices of charlatans and quacks, called “spongers (mustarziqa)” by ‘Abd al-Laṭīf;

3.the idea that book-learning is not sufficient for practising medicine; and

4.the danger of prescribing and using purgatives without having the necessary skills and the full knowledge of the facts.

‘Abd al-Laṭīf laments the pitiful state of medicine. He does not tire to extol the virtues of the ancient Greek doctors such as Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and Galen of Pergamon. Their skills and know-how form a stark contrast to the inability of his contemporaries. The medical section of the work thus is intended to advise and recommend to physicians and students of medicine to abandon the medicine of those who do not fully master the medical art and are moreover frequently motivated by money more than the welfare of their patients. ‘Abd al-Laṭīf also criticises the medical education of his day: according to him students rely too much on a restricted number of textbooks such as the Canon by Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna, d. 1037 A.D.) or imperfect abridgments. Students should therefore master the writings of the ancient Greek doctors in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of medicine.12

‘Abd al-Laṭīf’s Kitāb al-Naṣīḥatayn without any doubt belongs to the genre of advice-literature and therefore may well represent a so-called ‘multiple mirror’: a mirror for physicians, a mirror for philosophers and a mirror for princes [lege: rulers]. The latter aspect becomes clear from the fact that the treatise strives to ‘give sincere advice and to (also) bring guidance…to kings of faraway regions, governors and princes, and furthermore to everyone who wishes the best for himself, and desires happiness. To all these people it [this treatise] brings love, solidarity, rejection of blind authority and fanaticism, by way of using insight, contemplation and consideration’ (fol. 62v, lines 2-7).

← 10 | 11 → Abd al-Laṭīf’s Life and Medical Work

The polymath ‘Abd al-Laṭīf ibn Yūsuf al-Baghdādī (1162-1231 A.D.) was largely active in Iraq, Syria, and Egypt. He was born in Baghdād in the aftermath of the Second Crusade (1147-49 A.D.) and lived through the Third, Fourth and Fifth Crusade. He grew up in an upper class Shāfi‘ī family that possessed strong links with the Niẓāmīya College [madrasa]in his hometown. He continued to move in fashionable and influential circles all his life and maintained a close relationship with the Ayyūbid rulers of his time (for instance with Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn and his sons) whose patronage he enjoyed and by whom he was supplied with ample means of sustenance and employment in high positions. The generous patronage that he enjoyed allowed him to devote his life to research and study, without having to worry about the material aspects of his private and professional existence.

He passed away in Baghdād on Sunday 12 Muḥarram 629 A.H. [9 November 1231 A.D.], where he intended to present a collection of his works to the Abbasid Caliph al-Mustanṣir b. al-Zāhir (1226-42 A.D.). He became sixty-nine years old, and was buried next to his father Yūsuf in the Wardīyah cemetery in his beloved hometown.

Some of ‘Abd al-Laṭīf’s more famous students included the biographer and chronicler Ibn Khallikān (d. 1282 A.D.); the historian and statesman Ibn al-‘Adīm (d. 1262 A.D.); the botanist Ibn al-Sūrī (d. 1242 A.D.); the judge al-Tīfāshī (d. 1253 A.D.), noted for his works on magic, precious stones, sexual hygiene and eroticism; and the ḥadīth scholar al-Birzālī (d. 1239 A.D.).13 One of his lesser known pupils was the medical student al-Marāġī.14


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (March)
Alchemy Alchemie Arabische Sprache Islam Medizinische Ausbildung Sozialgeschichte der Medizin Medicine (hist.)
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2013. 181 pp., 32 b/w fig.

Biographical notes

N. Peter Joosse (Author)

N. Peter Joosse was a fellow-in-residence at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences, and a senior research fellow at the universities of Frankfurt am Main and Leiden. In 2010, he joined the Department of Classics & Ancient History of the University of Warwick as a Wellcome Trust research fellow to work on cAbd al-Laţīf ibn Yūsuf al-Baghdādī Arabic commentary on the Hippocratic Prognostic. In 2013 he joined the University of Oxford based project on Ibn abī Uṣaybica.


Title: The Physician as a Rebellious Intellectual