History of Medicine


An Open Access Journal

Galen as Read and Perceived in Medieval Islamic Medicine

H. Ebrahimnejad, Doctor of Philosophy, Professor

University of Southampton, UK

The influence of Galen in Islamic countries is associated with the extensive contribution of Greek scientific knowledge in the pre-Islamic and Islamic periods. Islam as a religion and a political force, competing with Christianity and the Byzantine Empire, was instrumental in spreading the heritage of Greek medicine. It originated in a geographical and cultural sphere close to the Hellenistic civilization, and for its development and distribution «non-Islamic» science and knowledge were needed. It appears that the dominance of Greek medical thought in Islamic culture was possible due to the fact that integration of Greek intellectual heritage was part of the ideological process during the formation of Islam itself. However, Greek medicine as it was perceived by Islam was no longer a body of knowledge that could develop independently: it now needed to be interpreted in a special way – as Islam required it. While theoretical teaching in Hellenistic medicine was based on anatomical observations, which after a period of neglect that lasted from the second half of the third century BC was taken up by Galen in the second century AD, theoretical innovation based on anatomy did not actually occur in Islamic medicine. A lack of clear understanding of the practical relevance of anatomy for the development of medical knowledge led to it becoming exclusively descriptive in medieval Islam. However, an underestimation of the practice by the medical community did not explain why dissection and surgery did not develop in Islamic medicine. Religious and theoretical factors were a more important cause. The author attempts to show how Galen was perceived in the Islamic world and, based on an analysis of Islamic reading of his works, reveals the reasons for the gap between the Christian West and the Islamic East in their approaches to ancient Greek medicine.

Keywords: Galen, Islam, Greek medicine, Islamic medicine, anatomy, history of medicine

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Published in Vol. 2. №1, 2015


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