views updated

Isḥāq Ibn Ḥunayn, Abū Ya‘qūb

(d. Baghdad, 910 or 911)

medicine, scientific translation.

The son of Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq, and like him a physician, Isḥāq was trained under his father’s supervision in the Greek science and the discipline of translation. A Nestorian Christian from al-Ḥīra (Iraq) and probably of Arab descent, his first language was Syriac, but he knew Greek and al-Qifṭī considered his Arabic to be superior to that of his father,1 who, although bilingual, preferred to write in Syriac. Isḥāq’s brother, Dāwūd ibn Ḥunayn, was a physician. Of his two sons, Dāwūd ibn Isḥāq became a translator and Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq ibn Ḥunayn a physician.

Isḥāq is associated with the translation movement in Baghdad, which continued to flourish after the decline of the academy founded by the Caliph al-Ma’mūn for the purposes of scientific translation. Both Ishāq and his father were court physicians; Ishāq found special favor with the caliphs al-Mu’tamid (who reigned from 870 to 892) and al-My’tamid (892-902) and with the latter’s vizier, Qasim IBN ‘Ubaydallāh. He is sometimes connected with the group of scholars who met with the Shi‘ite theologian al-Ḥasan ibn al-Nawbakht, and al-Bayhaqī is among those who claim he converted to Islam.2

Isḥāq’s original works are few. His books On Simple Medicines and Outline of Medicine are not extant. His History of Physicians, which does survive, is based, as Ishāq indicates on the work of the same name by John Philoponus. Ishaq supplements the original author’s list with the names of the philosophers who lived during the lifetime of each physician, adding very little chronological matter. The account of medical practitioners is not continued beyond Philoponus’time. The epitome of Aristotle’s De Anima, although attributed to Ishaq, is unlikely to be his.3

Isḥaq’s most notable contributions are his translations from Greek and Syriac. Here his work is associated with his first cousin Hubaysh ibn al-Ḥasan al-A’ṣam and with ’Īsā ibn Yaḥyā (neither of whom knew Greek), but especially with his father, with whom he translated medical works, and with Thābit ibn Qurra, who independently revised several of Isḥāq’s translations, particularly those of matermatical treatises. Ḥunayn credits Isḥāq with the translation of several of Galen’s books, mostly into Arabic but also into Syriac; he translated epitomes of Galenic works as well.4

Among Isḥāq’s translations of philosophical works are Galen’s The Number of the Syllogisms and On Demonstration, books XII-XV; three books of the epitome of Plato’s Timaeus, and the Sophist (with the commentary by Olympiodorus). He translated into Arabic Aristole’s Categories, On Interpretation, Physics, On Generation and Corruption, On the Soul, book α and other parts of the Metaphysics (with Themistius’ commentary on book Λ), Nicomachean Ethics and perhaps On Sophistical Refutations, Rhetoric, and Poetics. His Syriac translations include part of the Prior Analytics, all of the Posterior Analytics, and the Topics (with Ammonius’ commentary on books I-IV and the commentary of Alexander of Aphrodisias on the remainder, with the exception of the last two chapters of book VIII). Other translations are Alexander of AphrodisiasOn the Intellect; Nicholas of Damascus’ On Plant (revised by Thābit ibn Qurra); and Nemesius of Emesa’s On the Nature of Man (Kitāb al-Abwāb ′alā Ra‵y al-Ḥukamā′ wa′l-falāsifa), which is not a work by Gregory of Nyssa as is sometimes stated.

Of special consequence are Isāq’s mathematical translations: Euclid’s Elements, Optics, and Data; Ptolemy’s Almagest; Archimedes’ On the Sphere and the Cylinder; Menelaus’ Spherics; and works by Autolycus and Hypicles. The Elements, Optics. and Almagest were revised and presumably improved mathematically by Th′bit ibn Qurra. The influence of the several versions and recensions of the Arabic Elements and Almagest is a basic and virtually unstudied problem in the history of Islamic mathematics and astronomy. Because so few texts have been established, the sorting out of separate traditions is not yet possible.


1. Ibn al-Qifṭi, p.80.

2. ’Alī ibn Zayd al-Bayhaqī, p.5.

3. See M. S. Hasan, in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1956), p. 57; R. Walzer, in Oriens, 6 (1953), 126; and R. M. Frank, in Cahiers de Byrsa, 8 (1958-1959), 231 ff. The text is in A. F. al-Ahwānī, pp. 125-175.

4. On the question of attribution for the medical translations, see the articles on Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq listed in the bibliography.


I. Original Works. For information on Isḥāq’s MSS, see the works by C. Brockelmann and F. Sezginm (listed below); see also H. Suter, “Die Mathematiker und Astronomen der Araber und ihre Werke,” in Abhandlungen zur Geschichte der Mathematik, 10 (1900); and “Nachtrage und Berichtigungen,” ibid., 14 (1902); cf. H. J. P. Renaud,”Additions et corrections a Suter, ’Die Mathematiker...,’"Lsis, 17 (1932), 166-183; and M. Krause, “Stambuler Handschriften islamischen Methematiker,” in Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte der Mathematik, Astronomie und Physik, Sec. B. Studien, 3 (1936), 437-532.

Works by Isḥāq are in F. Rosenthal, ed. and translator, “Isḥāq b. Ḥunayn‘s ’Ta‘rīkh al-Aṭibbā’,” in Oriens, 7 (1954) 55-80; and A. F. al-Ahwāni, Talkhiṣ Kitāb al-Nafs l’Ibn Rushd (Cairo, 1950).

II. Translations. Isḥāq’s translations of Galen’s works are bound up with those of Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq. For the Arabic versions of Galen’s medical books, see the bibliography in G. Strohmaier,”Ḥunayn b. Ishak,” in B. Lewis et al., eds., Encylopaedia of Islam, new ed. (LeidenLondon, in press); cf.”Djālīnūs,” ibid. The translations of Galen’s mathematical works and the work of Plato are in “Galeni compendium, Timaei Platonis,” in P. Kraus and R. Walzer, eds., Plato Arabus, vol. I (London, 1951). The Arabic translations of the Greek physicians are to be included in the Corpus Medicorum Graecorum: Supplementum Orientale (in press). For Isḥāq’s translations of Aristotle, see F. E. Peeters, Aristoteles Arabus: The Oriental Translations and Commentaries of the Aristotelian Corpus (Leiden, 1968).

For the trans. of Nicholas of Damascus’ On Plants, see A. J. Arberry,” An Early Arabic Tanslation From the Greek,” in Bulletin of the Faculty of Arts (Cairo University), 1 (1933), 48 ff.; 2 (1934), 72 ff.; and R. P. Bouyges,” Sur le de Plantis d’Aristote-Nicolas à propos d’un manuscrit arabe de Constantinople,” in Mélanges de la Faculté orientale, Université St.-Joseph, 9 (1924), 71 ff. Isḥāq’s trans. of Alexander of Aphrodisias’ work is in J. Finnegan, “Texte arabe de ’peri nou d’Alexandre d’Aphrodise,’ ibid., 33 (1956), 157 ff.

III. Secondary Literature. Medieval biobibliographies are included in ’Alib. Zayd al-Bayhaqi, Tatimmat Ṣiwān al-Ḥikma, M. Shafi’, ed. (Lahore, 1935); Ibn Juljul, Ṭabaqāt al-Aṭibbā’ wa’l-Ḥukamā’, F. Sayyid, ed. (Cairo, 1955); Ibn Khallikān, Wafayāt al-A’yān, F. Wüstenfeld, ed., 2 vols. (Göttingen, 1835-1843), English trans. by MacGuckin de Slane as Ibn Khallikan’s Biographical Dictionary4 vols. (Paris, 1842-1871); Ibn al-Nadīm, Al-Fihrist, G. Flügel, ed., 2 vols (Leipzig, 1871-1872), English trans. by B. Dodge as The Fihrist of al-Nadim, 2 vols. (New York, 1970); Ibn al-Qifṭī, Ta’rikh al Ḥukamā’, J. Lippert, ed. (Leipzig, 1903); Sā‘id al-Andalusī, Ṭabaqāt al-Umam, L. Cheikho, ed. (Beirut, 1912), French trans. by R. Blachère as Livre des Catégories des Nations (Paris, 1935); and Ibn Abī Uṣaybi‘a, ‘Uyn al-Anba’ fi Tabaqāt al-Atibbā’, A. Müller, ed., 2 vols. (Cairo-Königsberg, 1882-1884). see also three works by Barhebraeus: Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, J. B. Abbeloos and T. J. Lamy, eds. (Louvain, 1872-1877); Chronicon Syriacum, P. Bedjan, ed. (Paris, 1890), Latin trans. by P. J. Bruns and G. Kirsch (Leipzig, 1789); and Ta’rikh Mukhtasar al-Duwal, A. Sālhānī, ed. (Beirut, 1890).

Modern biobibliographies are in A. Baumstark, Geschichte der syrischen Literatur (Bonn, 1922); C. BrockelMann, Geschichte der arabischen Literatur, 2 vols. and 3 suppl. vols. (Leiden, 1937-1949); G. Graf, Geschichte der christlichen-arabischen Literatur, 5 vols. (Rome, 1944-1953); G. Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science, 3 vols. (Baltimore, 1927-1928); F. Sezgin, Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums, vol. I (Leiden, 1967); M. Ullmann, “Die medizin im Islam,” in B. Spuler, ed., Handbuch der Orientalistik (Leiden, 1970), sec. 1, suppl. vol. VI, 119, 128;and the article on Ishāq in T. Houtsma et al., eds., Encyclopaedia of Islam, 4 vols. (Leiden-London, 1913-1938), and in new ed. (in press).

Literature on the translations is in M. Steinschneider, Die arabischen Ūbersetzungen aus den Griechischen (Graz, 1960), repr.: G. Bergsträsser, Hunain b. Ishâq u. seine Schule (Leiden, 1913); and “Hunain über die syrischen und arabischen Galenübersetzungen,” in Abhandlungen fur die Kunde des Morgenlandes, 17 (1925); M. Meyerhof, “New Light on Hunain b. Ishāq and his Period,” in Isis, 8 (1926), 685-724; J. Kollesch, “Das ’Corpus medicorum graecorum’—Konzeption und Durchfuhrung,” in Medizinhistorisches Journal, 3 (1968), 68-73; M. Plessner, “Diskussion über das ‘Corpus Medicorum, Graecorum ’speziell das ‘Supplementum Orientale.’ Einleitendes referat,” in Proceedings. International Congress of the History of Medicine, 19 (1966), 238-248; F. Rosenthal, “On the Knowledge of Plato’s Philosophy in the Islamic World,” in Islamic Culture, 14 (1940), 387 ff. (cf. “Aflātūn,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed. [in press]); H. Gätje, “Studien zur Überlieferung der aristotelischen Psychologie im Islam,” in Annales Universitatis saraviensis, 11 (1917); J. Murdoch, “Euclid: Transmission of the Elements,” in C. C. Gillispie, ed., Dictionary of Scientific Biography, IV (New York, 1971), 437-459; M. Clagett, Archimedes in the Middle Ages (Madison, 1964), I, “The Arabo-Latin Tradition”; and the Ptolemy article in the Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed. (in press).

For additional information, see A. Badawi, La transmission de la philosophie grecque au monde arabe (Paris, 1968); F. E. Peters, Aristotle and the Arabs (New York, 1968); and F. Rosenthal, Das Fortleben der Antike im mittelalterlichen Islam (Zurich-Stuttgart, 1965).

Nabil Shehaby