The ‘Arabic Commentaries on the Hippocratic Aphorisms’ Project invites abstracts for a conference to be held 9-11 April 2015. The project investigates the rich tradition of Arabic interaction with this particular medical text (as outlined below), and the conference will tackle a range of themes, to be addressed in five panels. We welcome abstracts falling within any of these categories. The conference offers a unique opportunity to interact with the materials being studied several years before the project’s completion, since participants will be granted access to our materials. Please send your abstract, and direct any enquiries, to the project’s research administrator, Dr Steven Spiegl, at email@example.com. The deadline for abstracts is: 31 May 2014.
The ‘Arabic Commentaries on the Hippocratic Aphorisms’ Project
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, which we are currently transcribing and which will ultimately be rendered into electronic XML format. The project will employ 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 of the role that commentaries played in the transmission and transformation of scientific knowledge across countries and systems of belief.
1. Hippocratic Aphorisms between Greek, Syriac and Arabic: the Role of Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq
Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq played a crucial role in the transmission of Greek medical works into Arabic, with his translation of Galen's Commentary on the Hippocratic Aphorisms occupying an important place in this process. In addition, he also produced numerous Syriac translations of Greek science, of which the surviving Syriac translation of the Hippocratic Aphorisms may represent a rare survival. More than just a translator, Ḥunayn demonstrated an understanding of the Aphorisms that led him to change Galen’s wordings or even to add extra sentences according to his opinion. Thus the Aphorisms offer a window into Ḥunayn’s own beliefs and medical knowledge.
This session focuses on Ḥunayn’s role in the transmission of the Aphorisms to the Islamic world. By analysing the abundance of material found both in his Arabic translation of Galen's Commentary as well as the Syriac translation of the Aphorisms we shall further specify the importance of Arabic and Syriac translations and translators in the history of science.
2. The Hippocratic Aphorisms in Literature
The lines between literature and medicine were not always as clear as they may seem today. The Hippocratic aphorisms can be found rendered in poetry or repurposed in various forms of gnomological literature. The famous first aphorism in particular, "Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting, experience treacherous, and judgement difficult," has had a rich and varied life in literature, and the Arabic commentaries on this aphorism tend to veer into the philosophical and belletristic in tone. This panel considers in what sense these commentaries can be regarded as adab (a word commonly translated as belles lettres, but which, over the centuries, has had a much broader significance). When might we hear echoes of these aphorisms outside of medical literature proper? What is their relationship to gnomological, erotological, historical, philosophical, or comic literatures of the Middle East and beyond?
3. Aphoristic Theory, Aphoristic Practice
Aphorisms are widely recognized as an important genre in political, ethical, and ṣūfī discourse in the Medieval Islamic world. Studies have highlighted their role in modifying specific types of human action, often habitual, moral, and therapeutic. However, in the Medieval Islamic world collections of aphorisms were popular objects of commentary, to be expounded, justified, or refuted. Aphorisms were incorporated into scientific discourse and became loci for scientific debate.
This session explores uses of aphorisms in the Islamic world. What is aphoristic speech, and how does it fit into contemporary speech-act theory? What makes aphorisms a good discursive means for modifying practice and a locus for scientific debate? What types of practice are suited to aphoristic discourse? What social and political conditions existed in the Medieval Islamic word that afforded aphorisms wide popularity? How were aphorisms used by individuals in the Medieval Islamic world? What kinds of ethical, medical, and spiritual subjectivity does aphoristic discourse presuppose? Finally, how did changes in political and social conditions in the late Medieval and early modern Islamic world affect the popularity of aphoristic forms?
4. Topics in the Arabic Commentaries on the Hippocratic Aphorisms I: Gynaecology.
The Arabic commentaries on the Hippocratic Aphorisms, written by male medieval Arab physicians for didactic purposes, comprise a fascinating exegetical tradition.
The focus of this workshop will be on the gynaecological aphorisms that deal with issues such as the physics of the female body, menstruation, childbirth, lactation and infertility. This session will explore selections from the commentaries, with a view to understanding how the Arab writers engaged with the Greek material and interpreted this key text for their audience. The intended outcome is to gain deeper insights into the content, style and language of the Arabic discourse and to locate the works in a wider context of medieval scientific inquiry.
5. Topics in the Arabic Commentaries on the Hippocratic Aphorisms II: Mental Disorder and the Body
The Hippocratic aphorisms suggest a close correlation between mental and physical illness. According to Hippocrates, certain mental disorders are the result of an imbalance in bodily humors: paranoia and depression, for example, being linked to an excess in melancholic humors. On the other hand, a sound mind points to a positive prognosis of certain bodily ailments, such as fevers, and vice versa. The onset of physical illness can, in some cases, even cure mental illness: varicose veins and hemorrhoids, for instance, are said to bring about the cessation of madness. Arab commentators of the Aphorisms developed Hippocrates' ideas about the physiological origin of mental disorders. In particular, they expounded on the etiology, diagnosis and treatment of melancholy, examined cases of alteration of the mind due to fever, intoxication, age or seasonal changes and discussed the healing from madness upon the onset of changes in the body.
This panel will explore how the Arabic commentaries on the Hippocratic aphorisms interpreted the correlation between madness and bodily function, furthering the study of mental illness along the lines established in the Aphorisms.
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