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Ibn Sina, the great Persian polymath and physician, never demanded money from his patients

Brad Smithfield

One of his 450 written books (about 240 are remaining) includes Al-Qanun, or “the Canon”, a large encyclopedia of medicine that holds the entire medical knowledge at that time. By all means, it has been used by scholars as a fundamental textbook until 1650, even though being put through some criticism by the Renaissance.

The Persian handwriting copy of The Canon of Medicine in Museum and Mausoleum of Avicenna, Hamedan, Iran. Photo Credit

The Persian handwriting copy of The Canon of Medicine in Museum and Mausoleum of Avicenna, Hamedan, Iran. Photo Credit

Equally important is his philosophical book, The Book of Healing (Kitāb al-shifā). Ibn Sina’s most important work and a milestone in the history of science. The book is divided into categories about mathematics, science, logic and metaphysics. It is an attempt to generalize common knowledge and sort the different aspects of knowledge and science into acesssible themes.

The opening decoration and invocation to Allah from a 16th century manuscript of Avicenna's Canon.

The opening decoration and invocation to Allah from a 16th century manuscript of Avicenna’s Canon.

General logic was viewed by Avicenna as the main tool for philosophy. On the other hand, Avicenna’s flaw was his belief of “celestial hierarchy,” mentioning God as a key factor. While he was generally within the tradition of al-Fārābī and al-Kindī, he clearly dissociated himself from the Peripatetic school of Baghdad. Instead, he was using the concepts of the Platonic doctrines, as well as the ideas of the Stoics.

page from one of the oldest copies of the second volume of "Canon Of Medicine" by Avicenna (980-1037). The Institute of Manuscripts of Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences "The Institute's version of the manuscript was copied in 1143, a little more than 100 years after the text was written. It is one of the oldest Avicenna manuscripts in the world and is considered to be the most reliable."

A page from one of the oldest copies of the second volume of “Canon Of Medicine”. The Institute’s version of the manuscript was copied in 1143, more than 100 years after the text was written. It is one of the oldest Avicenna manuscripts in the world and is considered to be the most reliable.

There are speculations as to how Avicenna died. One theory is that when he served Alā al-Dawla (the Kakuyid military commander) on his march to Hamadan, a slave poisoned him with opium. Others claim that Ibn Sina died as a result of excess herbal medications and overeating, consequently weakening his digestive system. His last years were nevertheless withering.

He could barely stand because of severe colic, perhaps caused by overeating. Refusing to take the regimen of medicine required for his cure, he resigned himself to his fate. He stated that: “I prefer a short life with width to a narrow one with length”. He died in June 1037, in his fifty-eighth year and was buried in Hamadan, Iran. Although decrepit in the early years, Ibn Sina’s tomb in Hamadan is now refurbished and restored. A historical museum and mausoleum, it also has a library that contains 8,000 volumes. The tomb depicts the life and times of Ibn Sina and is a frequently visited location for tourists in the region.

Avicenna's tomb in H. Photo Credit

Avicenna’s tomb in Hamadan, Iran. Photo Credit

Ibn Sina’s life was rather fulfilling, despite his scientific and political duties. He was also known for his love of life, strong drink, and many women. His wisdom and worldview won him many friends and enemies as well. Either way, Ibn Sina is remembered as one of the greatest polymaths of all time.