Healing with Mercury: The Uses of Mercury in Arabic Medical Literature

and Natalia Bachour

Abstract

Three textual traditions can be discerned in Arabic medical literature: the early translations from Greek, Syriac and Indian sources; the autochthonous tradition, which reached its height between the tenth and thirteenth centuries; and the translations from Latin sources, beginning in the seventeenth century. This study traces the medical use of mercury and its derivatives within these traditions. The Greek works translated into Arabic like those of Galen or Paul of Aegina did not prescribe mercury as a remedy for human beings because of its toxicity. However, many scholars of the second period, including Rhazes (d. 925), Ibn al-Jazzār (d. 979), Avicenna (d. 1037), Abū l-ʿAlāʾ Zuhr (d. 1131) and Muḥammad al-Idrīsī (d. 1166), described the external application of mercury. Many terms were used to describe these varieties of mercury – the living (ziʾbaq ḥayy), the dead (ziʾbaq mayyit), the murdered (ziʾbaq maqtūl), the sublimated (ziʾbaq muṣaʿʿad) and the dust of mercury (turāb al-ziʾbaq). To reconstruct the meaning of these terms, I examine various recipes for mercurial preparation given in these works. The internal use of mercury is documented in the sixteenth century in a work by Dawūd al-Anṭākī (d. 1599), who used the term sulaymānī to refer to a sublimated derivative of mercury. I attempt to reconstruct the modalities of knowledge transmission from the Indian and Persian East into Arabic medicine, and from the Arabic world into the Latin West. I also address the impact of translations into Arabic of Latin works in the seventeenth century, such as the Practicae medicinae and Institutionum medicinae by Daniel Sennert (d. 1637), the Antidotarium generale et speciale by Johann Jacob Wecker (d. 1586) and the Basilica Chymica by the Paracelsian Oswaldus Crollius (d. 1608).

  • al-Anṭākī, Dāwūd b. ʿUmar (s. a.): Tadhkirat ūlī l-albāb wa-l-jāmiʿ li-l-ʿajab al-ʿujāb, Wa-bi-hāmishih ī an-Nuzha al-mubhija fī tashḥīdh al-adhhān wa-taʿdīl al-amzija li-l-muʾallif ayḍan. Two Parts in one volume. Bayrūt: al-Maktaba al-Thaqāfiyya.

  • Bahāʾ al-Dawla, Rāzī (2008): Khulāsat al-tajārib. Edited by Muḥammad Riẓā Shams Ardakānī, intr. ʿAlī Akbar Wilāyatī. Tihrān: Rāh-i Kamāl.

  • Al-Bīrūnī, Abū Rayḥān Muḥammad b. Aḥmad (1936): Kitāb al-jamāhir fī maʿrifat al-jawāhir. Ḥaydarābād: Maṭbaʿat Jamʿiyyat Dāʾirat al-Maʿārif al-ʿUthmāniyya.

  • Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa, Aḥmad b. al-Qāsim (1998): ʿUyūn al-anbāʾ fī ṭabaqāt al-aṭibbāʾ. Edited by Muḥammad Bāsil ʿUyūn al-Sūd. Beirut: Dār al-kutub al-ʿilmiyya.

  • Ibn al-Bayṭār, Ḍiyāʾ al-Dīn Abū Muḥammad ʿAbdallāh b. Aḥmad al-Andalusī al-ʿAshshāb (1874): Kitāb al-jāmiʿ li-mufradāt al-adwiya wa-l-aghdiya. 4 parts in 2 volumes. [Bayrūt]: Dār al-Madīna [s. a.].

  • Ibn al-Jazzār, Abū Jaʿfar Aḥmad b. Ibrāhīm b. Abī Khālid (1985): Kitāb al-iʿtimād fī’l-adwiya al-mufrada (The Reliable Book on Simple Drugs). (Publications of the Institute for the History of Arabic-Islamic Science, Series C, Facsimile edition, 20). Frankfurt a. M.: Institut für Geschichte der Arabisch-Islamischen Wissenschaften.

  • Ibn al-Jazzār, Abū Jaʿfar Aḥmad b. Ibrāhīm b. Abī Khālid (1996): Zād al-musāfir wa-qūt al-ḥāḍir = Provisions for the traveller, and sustenance for the resident. Edited by Fuat Sezgin. (Publications of the Institute for the History of Arabic-Islamic Science. Series C, Facsimile editions; vol. 59). Frankfurt am Main: Institute for the History of Arabic-Islamic Science.

  • Ibn Sallūm, Ṣaliḥ b. Naṣrullāh al-Ḥalabī (1664): Ghāyat al-bayān fī tadbīr badan al-insān [Ottoman-turkish version]. Ms. of the Köprülü library in Istanbul (Köprülü 1/975, KK 975, copied 8. Jumādā II 1075 H.).

  • Ibn Sallūm, Ṣaliḥ b. Naṣrullāh al-Ḥalabī (1676a): al-Ṭibb al-kīmiyāʾī al-jadīd. Ms. of the Süleymaniye library in Istanbul (Ayasofya 3671, fol. 1v-31v, copied 16 Aylūl 1087 H.).

  • Ibn Sallūm, Ṣaliḥ b. Naṣrullāh al-Ḥalabī (1676b): al-Kīmiyāʾ al-malakīya. Ms. of the Süleymaniye library in Istanbul (Ayasofya 3671, fol. 31v-52v, copied 16 Aylūl 1087 H.).

  • Ibn Sallūm, Ṣaliḥ b. Naṣrullāh al-Ḥalabī (1681): Tarjamat al-Aqrābādhīn al-jadīd. Ms. of the Süleymaniye library in Istanbul (Bağdadlı Vehbi 1374, fol. 1r-55v, copied in Ramadan 1092 H.).

  • Ibn Sallūm, Ṣaliḥ b. Naṣrullāh al-Ḥalabī (1722): Ghāyat al-itqān fī tadbīr badan al-insān. Ms. of the Süleymaniye library in Istanbul (Ayasofya 3682, fol.I-311r, copied 10 Rabīʻ al-awwal 1135 H.).

  • Ibn Sallūm, Ṣaliḥ b. Naṣrullāh al-Ḥalabī (2013): Ghāyat al-bayān fī tadbīr badan al-insān [translated Arabic version]. Edited by Muḥammad Yāsir Zakkūr. Damascus: al-hayʾa al-ʿāmma li-l-kitāb.

  • Ibn Sīnā, Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī (1593): Kitāb al-qānūn fī l-ṭibb. 5 volumes. Rome: Typographia Medicea. http://almashriq.hiof.no/ddc/projects/saab/avicenna/index.html (18. July 2014).

  • Ibn Sīnā, Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī (1987): al-Qānūn fī l-ṭibb taʾlīf al-Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī Ibn Sīnā. Edited by Idwār al-Qashsh. Foreword by ʻĀlī Zīʻūr. 4 volumes. Beirut: ʿIzz al-Dīn.

  • Ibn Taghrībirdī, Jamāl al-Dīn Abū al-Maḥāsin Yūsuf al-Atābakī (1992): al-Nujūm al-zāhira fī mulūk Miṣr wa-l-Qāhira. 16 volumes. Edited by Muḥammad Ḥusayn Shams al-Dīn. Bayrūt: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmīya.

  • Ibn Zuhr, Abū l-ʿAlāʾ (1994): Kitāb al-muŷarrabāt (Libros de las experiencias médicas). Edited by Cristina Alvarez Millán. (Fuentes arábico-hispanas 17). Madrid: CSIC (Instituto de cooperación con el mundo árabe).

  • Al-Idrīsī, Abū ʿAbdallāh Muḥammad b. Muḥammad b. ʿAbdallah b. Idrīs (1995): Kitāb al-jāmiʿ li-ṣifāt ashtāt al-nabāt wa-ḍurūb anwāʿ al-mufradāt (Compendium of the properties of diverse plants and various kinds of simple drugs). Edited by Fuat Sezgin. 3 volumes. Frankfurt a. M.: Institut für Geschichte der Arabisch-Islamischen Wissenschaften.

  • ʿImād al-Dīn, Maḥmūd b. Masʿūd b. Naḥmūd al-Ṭabīb (1569): Risāla-i atishak.Ms. Tehrān (Majlis 6307, P.l-48, copied 2. Rabīʻ al-thānī 977 H.).

  • Al-Qazwīnī, Zakariyā b. Muḥammed b. Maḥmud (1848-l849): Kosmographie: die Wunder der Schöpfung. Edited by Ferdinand Wüstenfeld. Göttingen: Verlag der Dieterichschen Buchhandlung.

  • Al-Rāzī, Abū Bakr Muḥammad b. Zakarīyāʾ (1955–1970): Kitāb al-ḥāwī fī l-ṭibb. 23 parts in 19 volumes. Ḥaydarābād: Dāʾirat al-Maʿārif al-ʿUthmānīya.

  • Al-Rāzī, Abū Bakr Muḥammad b. Zakaraiyā (1987): Al-Manṣūrī fī l-ṭibb. Edited by Hāzim al-Bakrī al-Ṣiddīqī. Kuwait: Institute of Arab Manuscripts.

  • Ruska, Julius (1912): Das Steinbuch des Aristoteles: mit literargeschichtlichen Untersuchungen nach der arabischen Handschrift der Bibliothèque nationale. Heidelberg: Winter.

  • Al-Ṣuḥārī, Abū Muḥammad ʿAbdallāh b. Muḥammad al-Azdī (1996): Kitāb al-māʾ: awwal muʿjam ṭibbī lughawī fī l-tārīkh. Edited by Hādī Ḥasan Ḥammūdī. 3 volumes. ʿUmān: al-Maṭbaʿa al-Sharqiyya.

  • Al-Ṭabarī, Abū l-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Sahl Rabban (1928): Firdaws al-ḥikma fī l-ṭibb. Edited by Muḥammad Zubayr al-Ṣiddīqī. Barlīn: Maṭbaʿ Āftāb.

  • Yūsufī, Mujīb Ibn Muḥammad Ibn Yūsuf (2010): Ṭibb-i Yūsufī: Jāmiʿ al-fawāʾid. Edited by Ḥusayn Khayrandīsh. Qum: Ibtikār-i Dānish (Reprint/Muʾassasa-i Taḥqīqāt Ḥajāmat).

  • Adams, Francis (1844–l847): The Seven Books of Paulus Aegineta: Translated. From the Greek With a Commentary. 3 volumes. London: Sydenham Society.

  • Bachour, Natalia (2012): Oswaldus Crollius und Daniel Sennert im frühneuzeitlichen Istanbul: Studien zur Rezeption des Paracelsismus im Werk des osmanischen Arztes Sālih b. Naṣrullāh Ibn Sallūm al-Ḥalabī. (Neuere Medizin- und Wissenschaftsgeschichte, vol. 23. Quellen und Studien). Freiburg im Breisgau: Centaurus.

  • Dozy, Reinhart (1927): Supplément aux dictionnaires arabes. 2nd edition. Paris: Maisonneuve.

  • Dubler, César E./Terés, Elias (1952–l957): La Materia Médica de Dioscorides: transmision medieval y renacentista, 2. vol., La versión árabe de la Materia Médica de Dioscórides (texto, variantes e indices). Tetuán and Barcelona: Dār al-ṭibāʿa al-maghribiyya.

  • Elgood, Cyril (1931): “Translation of a Persian monography on Syphilis entiteled Risála-i-átishak by Imád-ul-Dín Maḥmúd bin Mascúd bin Maḥmúd-ul-Ṭabíb”. Annals of Medical History 3: 465–486.

  • Friedrich, Christoph/Müller-Jahncke, Wolf-Dieter (2005): Geschichte der Pharmazie. Band II: Von der frühen Neuzeit bis zur Gegenwart. Eschborn: Govi.

  • Eulenburg, Albert (1885–l890): Real-Encyclopädie der gesammten Heilkunde: medicinisch-chirurgisches Handwörterbuch für praktische Aerzte. 22 vols. Wien: Urban & Schwarzenberg.

  • Galotta, Aldo (2012): “Ḵẖayr al-Dīn (Ḵẖı̊ḍı̊r) Pas̱ẖa”. Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Brill Online. http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopaedia-of-islam-2/khayr-al-din-khidir-pasha-SIM_4258 (21 July 2014).

  • Jawad, Jamil (1994): Neue Aspekte zur alchemistischen Theorie bei ar-Rāzī: Textstellen von ar-Rāzī in den alchemistischen Werken von al-Majrīṭī und al-Jildakī. Dissertation im Fachbereich Mathematik an der Universität Hamburg, 1994.

  • Haarmann, Ulrich (2012): “Ḵẖumārawayh”. In: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Brill Online. http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopaedia-of-islam-2/khumarawayh-SIM_4328 (19 July 2014).

  • Hinz, Walther (1955): Islamische Masse und Gewichte: umgerechnet ins metrische System. (Handbuch der Orientalistik, 1, Der Nahe und der Mittlere Osten, Ergänzungsband 1, Heft 1). Leiden: Brill.

  • Hunnius, Curt (1998): Hunnius pharmazeutisches Wörterbuch. 8th edition. Edited by Artur Burger and Helmut Wachter. Berlin: de Gruyter.

  • İhsanoğlu, Ekmeleddin/Şeşen, Ramazan/Bekar, M. Serdar et al. (2008): Osmanlı Tıbbi Bilimler Literatürü Tarihi (History of the Literature of Medical Sciences during the Ottoman Period). 4 volumes. Edited by Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu. (İlim tarihi kaynakları ve araştırmaları serisi 14). Istanbul: İslam Tarih, Sanat ve Kültür Araştırma Merkezi (IRCICA).

  • Kahl, O. (2012): “Ziʾbaḳ”. In: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Brill Online. http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopaedia-of-islam-2/zibak-SIM_8164 (7. July 2014).

  • Käs, Fabian (2010): Die Mineralien in der arabischen Pharmakognosie: Eine Konkordanz zur mineralischen Materia medica der klassischen arabischen Heilmittelkunde nebst überlieferungsgeschichtlichen Studien. 2 vols. (Veröffentlichungen der orientalischen Kommission/Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur (Mainz), Bd. 54). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

  • Keil, Gundolf (2002): “Serapion”. In: Lexikon des Mittelalters. 7. vol. Edited by Gloria Avella-Widhalm et al. München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1775–l776.

  • Kraus, Leopold Gottlieb (1872): Die Behandlung der venerischen Krankheiten, nach eigenen Erfahrungen und Beobachtungen an den beiden Abtheilungen für Syphilis im K. K. allgemeinen Krankenhause zu Wien. Wien: Jakob Dirnböck’s Buchhandlung.

  • Lesky, Erna (1959): Quecksilber. Sonderabdruck aus der CIBA-Zeitschrift, Nr. 96/1959. Wehr/Baden: F. Bruckmann KG, München.

  • Pormann, Peter E. and Emilie Savage-Smith (2007): Medieval Islamic medicine. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

  • Ruska, Julius (1973 [1937]): Al-Rāzī’s Buch Geheimnis der Geheimnisse. (Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften und der Medizin; Band 6, Ed. 1973). Würzburg: Jal-Reprint.

  • Sanguinetti, B. R. (1866): Quelques chapitres de médicine et de thérapeutique arabes: texte arabe by Chihâb Eddîn Ahmed Alkalyoûby; publ., trad., suivi d’une liste de termes techniques. Paris: Impr. impériale.

  • Schmucker, Werner (1969): Die pflanzliche und mineralische Materia Medica im Firdaus al-Ḥikma des Ibn ʿAlī ibn Sahl Rabban aṭ-Ṭabarī. (Bonner Orientalistische Studien). Bonn: Selbstverlag des Orientalischen Seminars der Universität Bonn.

  • Serjeant, Robert Bertram (1965): “Notice on Frankish chancre (Syphilis) in Yemen, Egypt, and Persia”. Journal of Semitic Studies 10: 241–252.

  • Shefer-Mossensohn, Miri (2009): Ottoman Medicine: Healing and Medical Institutions, 1500–1700. Albany: State University of New York Press.

  • Siggel, Alfred (1951a): Die indischen Bücher aus dem Paradies der Weisheit über die Medizin des ʿAlī b. Sahl Rabban al-Ṭabarī. (Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaftliche Klasse 1950, Nr. 14). Mainz: Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur.

  • Siggel, Alfred (1951b): Decknamen in der arabischen alchemistischen Literatur. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag.

  • Spies, Otto (1968): “Der erste Auftritt der Syphilis in Ägyten im Jahre 1498”. Sudhoffs Archiv: Vierteljahrsschrift für Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften der Pharmazie und der Mathematik 52: 382–384.

  • Sudhoff, Karl (1912): Aus der Frühgeschichte der Syphilis: Handschriften- und Inkunabelstudien, epidemiologische Untersuchung und kritische Gänge. (Studien zur Geschichte der Medizin, H., 9). Leipzig: Verlag von Johann Ambrosius Barth.

  • Ullmann, Manfred (1970): Die Medizin im Islam. (Handbuch der Orientalistik. Abt. 1, Der Nahe und Mittlere Osten, Ergänzungsband 6, Abschnitt 1). Leiden: E. J. Brill.

  • Ullmann, Manfred (1972): Die Natur- und Geheimwissenschaften im Islam. (Handbuch der Orientalistik. Abt. 1, Der Nahe und der Mittlere Osten, Ergänzungsband 6, Abschnitt 2). Leiden: Brill.

  • Ullmann, Manfred (2004): “Quecksilber”. In: Words, Texts and Concepts Cruising the Mediterranean Sea: Studies on the sources, contents and influences of Islamic civilization and Arabic philosophy and science: Dedicated to Gerhard Endress on his sixty-fifth birthday. Edited by Rüdiger Arnzen and Jörn Thielmann. Leuven: Peeters, 113–l29.

  • Voigtels, Friedrich Gotthilf (1817): Vollständiges System der Arzneymittellehre. 4. vols. Edited by Carl Gottlob Kühn. Leipzig: Carl Cnobloch.

  • Wujastyk, Dagmar (2013): “Perfect Medicine: Mercury in Sanskrit Medical Literature.” Asian Medicine – Tradition and Modernity 8: 15–40.

Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
$42.00
Price including VAT
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.


Journal + Issues

Asian Studies is a forum for the publication of academic research reports on the past and present cultures and societies of Asia and the Far East. The journal is intended for international professionals and a broad readership. It will be edited by the Asia Society Switzerland (SAG).

Search