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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. Th
s 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.