Azerbaijan International

Autumn 2005 (13.3)
Page 73

Baku's Medical Manuscripts

Registered in UNESCO's Program "Memory of the World"
by Dr. Farid Alakbarli

In July 29, 2005, UNESCO officially entered three of Azerbaijan's medieval medical manuscripts into the registry of the Memory of the World Program. Dr. Koichiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, personally presented the certificate in Baku at the Institute of Manuscripts of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences.

Inclusion into the UNESCO list came after a long, involved process that confirmed the authenticity of specific documents and manuscripts. The Memory of the World Program is administered by a secretariat based at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. The program's goal is to represent the diversity of languages, peoples and cultures, and to hold up a mirror to the world reflecting the knowledge and wisdom of collective memory. UNESCO's mission is especially exemplary, given the fragility of world memory, as everyday some of these invaluable documents are lost, only to be forever erased from the face of the earth.

UNESCO seeks to discover and protect the most important, rare and unique written documents which are crucial and which can never be replaced, not only for separate regions, states or nations, but also for humankind as a whole. Now three medieval manuscripts from Azerbaijan have been added to this prestigious list of invaluable resources.

Avicenna Canon
One of the rarest treasures in Baku's Institute of Manuscripts is the oldest copy of the second volume of The Canon of Medicine (1030) by Ibn Sina, who became known in the West as Avicenna (980-1037).

Avicenna Canon, Medical ManuscriptsLeft: A rare copy of Avicenna's Canon (Arabic), copied in 1143 about 100 years after the physician's death. This work is valued as the most famous Medical Canon in medical history in both East and West. This is one of the three Medical Manuscripts from Baku's Institute of Manuscripts that have been registered in UNESCO's prestigious program, "Memory of the World".

Baku's copy dates from 1143 about a hundred years after the physician's death. This manuscript is considered to be the most reliable that exists in the world.

Avicenna was born in the town of Afshana near Bukhara (Uzbekistan) and later went on to do much of his medical observation in Persia and Azerbaijan. Canon, an encyclopedic work in Arabic, is considered to be the single, most famous treatise in medical history - both in the East and the West.

In the 12th century, the Canon was translated from Arabic to Latin by Gerard of Cremona (1140-1187) and used as a medical textbook in European universities. The book was so highly revered that Michelangelo once said: "Better to be mistaken following Avicenna, than to be correct following others."

Kashani's Souls
Arvah al-Ajsad (Souls Of Bodies) by Shamsaddin bin Kamaladdid Kashani is not found in any other known collection or catalogue in the world except Baku's. The book consists of 34 chapters (fasl) with each chapter divided into paragraphs (bab). The text is written in the elegant Nastalik script in Persian on cream-colored European paper edged with gold filigree.

In this volume, Kashani provides an exhaustive explanation of all kinds of medicine and diseases - from the simplest to the most complex. Before writing the book, Kashani carefully studied the works of his predecessors, including ancient and medieval physicians such as Hippocrates, Galen, Zakaria Razi, Ismayil Gurgani and Ibn Baitar.

This unfinished manuscript does not contain a colophon - an inscription typically placed at the end of a book, providing facts about the publication such as the name of the copyist and date. However, by analyzing other details, the manuscript can be dated to the 17th century.

Zakhravi's Surgery
The Book of Surgery and Instruments by Abulkasim Zakhravi dates to the 13th century. Zakhravi, an Arabian physician known in medieval Europe as Abulcasis (Latinized form of Abulkasim), was born in Andalusia (Spain) when it was ruled by Arabs.

Medical Manuscripts, Zakhravi's surgery
Left: Zakhravi's Surgery with sketches of medical instruments dating back to the 13th century. This is one of the three Medical Manuscripts from Baku's Institute of Manuscripts that have been registered in UNESCO's prestigious program, "Memory of the World".

For many centuries Zakhravi's book was the most authoritative textbook on surgery in both the East and the West. The manuscript provides descriptions of various types of surgical treatments and sketches of hundreds of surgical instruments, which were in use 700 years ago.

The Institute of Manuscripts of the Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences in Baku has a collection of 390 early medical documents of which 363 manuscripts date from as early as the 9th century. Most of them were written in Arabic - the literary script of the day. Of these, 70 are in the Arabic language, 71 in Turkic languages, and the remainder in Persian.

Dr. Farid Alakbarli serves as Chair of the Department of Information and Translation at the Institute of Manuscripts in Baku. His own specialty is Medieval Medical Manuscripts in the Arabic script. Contact Dr. Farid Alakbarli at:

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