Arabic Commentaries on the Hippocratic Aphorisms

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Project Director

  • Peter E. Pormann


From the project website (accessed 2016-01-12):

Professor Peter E. Pormann is currently pursuing a major research project entitled ‘Arabic Commentaries on the Hippocratic Aphorisms’, funded by the ERC (€1.5m). The project aims to examine the entire Arabic commentary tradition on the Aphorisms, from the ninth to the sixteenth century. The Hippocratic Aphorisms had a profound influence on subsequent generations; they not only shaped medical theory and practice, but also affected popular culture. Galen (d. c. 216) produced an extensive commentary on this text, as did other medical authors writing in Greek, Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew. The Arabic tradition is particularly rich, with more than a dozen commentaries extant in over a hundred manuscripts. These Arabic commentaries constituted important venues for innovation and change, and did not merely draw attention to scholastic debates. Moreover, they had a considerable impact on medical practice, as the Aphorisms were so popular that both doctor and patient knew them by heart.

The present project breaks new ground by conducting an in-depth study of this tradition by approaching the available evidence as a corpus, to be constituted electronically, and to be analysed in an interdisciplinary way. We are currently surveying the manuscript tradition of the Arabic commentaries on the Hippocratic Aphorisms, beginning with Ḥunayn ibn ʾIsḥāq's (d. c. 873) Arabic translation of Galen's commentary. On the basis of this philological survey, we shall produce provisional electronic XML editions of the commentaries. The project will examine this textual corpus, some 600,000 words long, by employing the latest IT tools to address a set of interdisciplinary problems: textual criticism of the Greek sources; Graeco-Arabic translation technique; methods of quotation; hermeneutic procedures; development of medical theory; and social history of medicine. Both in approach and scope the project aims to bring about a paradigm shift in the study of exegetical cultures in Arabic, and the role that commentaries played in the transmission and transformation of scientific knowledge across countries and systems of belief.