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Ali Abbas

Rhazes lived well on into the tenth century. His successor in prestige,
though not his serious rival, was Ali Ben el-Abbas, usually spoken of in
medical literature as Ali Abbas, a distinguished Arabian physician who
died near the end of the tenth century. He wrote a book on medicine
which, because of its dedication to the Sultan, to whom he was
body-physician, is known as the Liber Regius, or Royal Book of
Medicine. This became the leading text-book of medicine for the Arabs
until replaced by the Canon of Avicenna some two centuries later. The
Liber Regius was an extremely practical work and, like most of the
Arabian books of the early times, is simple and direct, quite without
many of the objectionable features that developed later in Arabian
medicine. It is valuable mainly for its contributions to diet and the
fact that Ali Abbas tested many of his medicines on ailing animals
before applying them to men. Of course, it owes much to earlier writers
on medicine, and especially to Paul of AEgina.

An example of its practical value is to be found in his description of
the treatment of a wound of the brachial artery, when, as happened often
in venesection from the median basilic vein, it was injured through
carelessness or inadvertence. If astringent or cauterizing methods do
not stop the bleeding, the artery should be exposed, carefully isolated,
tied in two places above and below the wound, and then cut across
between them. He has many similar practical bits of technique. For
instance, in pulling a back tooth he recommends that the gums be incised
so as to loosen them around the roots, and then the tooth itself may be
drawn with a special forceps which he calls a molar forceps. In ascites
he recommends that when other means fail an opening should be made three
finger-breadths below the navel with a pointed phlebotomy knife, and a
portion of the fluid allowed to evacuate itself. A tube should then be
inserted, but closed. The next day more of the fluid should be allowed
to come away, and then the tube removed and the abdomen wrapped with a
firm bandage.

It is easy to understand that Ali Abbas' book should have been popular,
and the more we know of it the easier it is to explain why Constantine
Africanus should have selected it for translation. It contains ten
theoretic and ten practical books, and gives an excellent idea of the
medical knowledge and medical practice of the time. Probably the fact
that Constantine had translated it led to its early printing, so that we
have an edition of it published at Venice in 1492, and another at Lyons
in 1523. During the Middle Ages the book was often spoken of as Regalis
Dispositio, the Royal Disposition of Medicine.

Next: Moorish Physicians

Previous: Rhazes

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