COLLOQUIUM: Aileen Das, Michigan, "Breaking the Seal: ʿAlī ibn Riḍwān (5th/11th C.) and his Hippocratic Lineage"

Thursday, September 8, 2016 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm

402 Cohen Hall

Labeled a scholastic and even a plagiarist, the Egyptian doctor ʿAlī ibn Riḍwān (388/998–c. 453/1061) has not fared well in medieval and modern scholarship. Evaluations of Ibn Riḍwān’s work tend to stress his antiquarianism, particularly his dependence on classical Greek writings, and his ‘contentious’ personality. I will argue that medieval criticisms of Ibn Riḍwān stem from a broader disapproval of his autodidacticism in medicine. From a poor background, Ibn Riḍwān writes in his autobiographical Useful Book on the Quality of Medical Education that he could not afford oral instruction in medicine and so trained himself in the art by reading the texts of Hippocrates and Galen. Lacking a teacher, Ibn Riḍwān was a problematic figure for medieval biographers because he could not be placed in a ‘chain of authority’ (isnād), which would establish his legitimacy in the medical tradition. My paper will contend that Ibn Riḍwān, aware of this perceived failure in his education, attempted to fashion an isnād which situated him in the medical tradition as the student of Hippocrates. While Ibn Riḍwān emphasizes in his writings his connection to Hippocrates, I will show that his Hippocratic self-fashioning is a legacy of Galen, who was described as the ‘seal’ of the medical tradition.