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Ibn Al-Bayṭ

Ibn Al-Bayṭār Al-Mālaqī, Ḍiyāʾ Al-Dīn Abū Muḥammad ʿAbdllāh Ibn Aḥmad

b. Málaga, Spain, ca. 1190; d. Damascus, Syria, 1248)

pharmacology, botany.

Ibn al-Bayṭār may have belonged to the Bayṭār family of Málaga, on which considerable information is available in the biographical dictionaries of the period. His Hispano-Roman ancestry, suggested by Francisco Javier Simonet, has not been proved. He studied in Seville, and while there he gathered herbs with his teachers Abu’l-ʿAbbās al-Nabātī, ʿAbdallāh ibn Ṣāliḥ, and Abu’l-Hajjāj. We know he preferred to study the works of al-Ghāfiqī, al-Zahrāwī, al-Idrīsī, Dioscorides, and Galen.

Around 1220 Ibn al-Bayṭār migrated to the Orient, crossing North Africa and possibly sailing from there to Asia Minor and Syria in 1224. He finally settled in Cairo, where the Ayyūbid Sultan al-Kāmil named him chief herbalist, a post he continued to occupy under the sultan’s successor, al-Ṣāliḥ. He traveled sporadically through Arabia. Palestine, Syria, and part of Iraq, accompanied most of the time by his disciples. The most outstanding of his followers was Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa, who in his ʿUyūn has left us a euolgistic passage about his teacher.

Ibn al-Bayṭār’s Al-Mughnī fi’l-adwiya al-mufrada is dedicated to Sultan al-Ṣāliḥ and deals with the simple medicines appropriate for various illnesses. Al-Jāmiʿ li-mufradāt al-adwiya wa’l-aghdhiya enumerates alphabetically some 1,400 animal, vegetable, and mineral medicines, relying on his own observations as well as some 150 authorities, including, besides those already mentioned, al-Rāzī and Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna). The main contribution of Ibn al-Bayṭār was the systematization of the discoveries made by Arabs during the Middle Ages, which added between 300 and 400 medicines to the thousand known since antiquity. One must also point out his preoccupation with synonymy (technical equivalents between Arabic and Persian, Berber, Greek, Latin, Arab dialects, and Romance, taken in part from the Sharḥ asmāʾ al-ʿuqqār by Maimonides, which he knew well because he had translated it).

Meyerhof and Sobhy have cast doubt on the originality of this work, suspecting that it is a plagiarism of the pharmacopoeia of al-Ghāfiqī, which Ibn al Bayṭār quotes more than 200 times. This hypothesis is difficult to prove, because the concept of intellectual property was very different among the medieval Arabs from what it is now and because al-Ghāfiqī’s work has been preserved only in a résumé by Barhebraeus. The Jāmiʿ had great influence upon later pharmacopoeias in the Near East, both in and out of the Islamic world—as, for example, on the Armenian Amir Dowlat. On the other hand, his influence in the West was less, for the era of great translations from Arabic to Latin ended in the middle of the thirteenth century. Nevertheless, Andrea Alpago used the Jāmiʿ in his works on Ibn Sīnā, and later it was the object of attention by such Arabists as William Portel and Antoine Galland, who published both a résumé and a manuscript in French.

The other works of Ibn al-Bayṭār have received much less attention than the aforementioned two. They are Mīzān al-ṭabīb; Risāla fi’l-aghdhiya wa’l-adwiya; Maqāla fi’l-laymūn, also attributed to Ibn Jumac, which exists in a Latin version by Alpago; and Tafsīr kitāb Diyusqūrīdis, a commentary on Dioscorides, a manuscript of which has recently been found. In it he inventories 550 medicines that are to be found in the first four books of Dioscorides, and frequently gives synonyms for them.


I. Original Works. An inventory of the MSS is in C. Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen Literature, I, 492, and Supp. I, 896; and Albert Dietrich, Medicinalia Arabica (Göttingen, 1966). p. 147. Ibn al-Bayṭār’s second work, the al-Jāmiʿ, is not available in a good edition, although there is a defective German translation by J. Sontheimer, 2 vols. (Stuttgart, 1840–1842), and a very useful French edition by Lucien Leclerc in the series Notices et Extraits, XXIII, XXV, and XXVI (Paris, 1877–1883).

II. Secondary Literature. Arabic sources for the biography of Ibn al-Bayṭār may be found in César E. Dubler, “Ibn al-Bayṭār en armenio,” in Al-Andalus, 21 (1956), 125–130; Max Meyerhof, “Esquisse d’histoire de la pharmacologie et botanique chez les musulmans d’Espagne,” ibid., 3 (1935), 31–33; George Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science, II. pt. 2 (Baltimore, 1931), 663–664; and Ziriklī. Aʿlām, IV (Cairo, n.d.), 192.

A résumé of the work by al-Ghāfiqī may be found in The Abridged Version of the “Book of Simple Drugs” of... al-Ghāfiqī by Gregorius Abu-l-Farag, (Barhebraeus). Max Meyerhof and G. P. Sobhy, eds., fasc. I (Cairo, 1932), 32–33. An article on the Tafsīr kitāb Diyusqūrīdis is M. al-Shihābī, in Majallat Maʿhad al-Makhṭūṭāt al-ʿArabiyya, 3 , no. 1 (1957), 105–112.

J. Vernet

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