Another important article on medieval pharmacy

For those who puzzle over the apparent discrepancy between Panofsky’s evaluation of the manuscript in 1931, and his later comment that he believed it written by a father for his son, we have what could prove a vital connection – not only reconciling those views, but linking again to the manuscript’s internal evidence which indicates some level of connection to Egypt and to communities of  eastern Jews whose designation appears in early medieval texts as ‘al-Isra’ili’ and who are regularly found associated with superior knowledge of pharmacy and medicine. In an important article by Leigh Chipman and Efraim Lev, a text discovered in the Cairo Geniza was recognised as part of a pharmaceutical manual written in medieval Cairo by a father for his son. The father’s name is otherwise unknown, but is recorded as Abu ’l-Muna Dawud b. Abi Nasr al-Kuhin al-‘Attar al-Haruni al-Isra’ili,* and the text is entitled  – in English translation –  ‘The management of the [pharmacist’s] shop and the rule for the notables on the preparation and composition of medicines beneficial to Man’). The date of composition is given as  658/1260. If indeed Dr. Leon Mosconi studied under an Egyptian in early fourteenth century Cairo, it is conceivable that he studied this same text, which apparently became a standard work from the first. To quote from Chipman and Lev,

This was a very popular book, which survives in about 30 manuscripts, and according to Goitein, continued to be in use by ‘traditional druggists’ in Cairo until the twentieth century, and according to Levey, writing in the 1960s, ‘is still very popular mainly outside the large cities’.

Leigh Chipman has now very kindly downloaded this paper to, so that those without other access to it will be able to have sight of the original, its transcription and translation. * the orthography for the medieval author’s name is given in Chipman’s article, but a number of the ‘special characters’ cannot be reproduced in this blog format. A chapter on Syrups is the focus of the article by Chipman and Lev.  Those recipes frequently employ exotic (i.e. non-Mediterranean) ingredients, the text often specifying the wanted type by nominating the place of origin.  Some are plants which I have already identified in the botanical or ‘pharma’ imagery of MS Beinecke 408.  As instance of ‘exotic’, or more exactly non-Mediterranean ingredients in the syrups, we have:- Indian aloe-wood (referenced, in my opinion, in f.16v) musk Chinese rhubarb possibly Citrus medica, (the citrus specified for the Lulav which I have noted as probable subject in more than one section of MS Beincke 408). Gourds (here, for their seeds). I noted the double gourd pictured in MS Beinecke 408 on f.4v, where it appears  in conjunction with what I read as the eastern narrow-leaved Asian clematis). Sandalwood Tamarisk (native to Egypt) Myrobalan (I have identified the three types of Myrobalans as subject of folio 22r) Rose ( I follow Dana Scott in identifying the subject of folio 19v as ‘the Rose’. The identification should be credited to Scott, regardless of who may since have adopted the identification). Galingale. (I have identified this in the ‘pharma’ section). ‘Chinese’ cinnamon ‘Lesser’ cardamom and Indian nard There are numerous Mediterranean plants included too, of course, including violets of an unspecified type. See: Leigh N. Chipman and Efraim Lev, ‘Syrups from the Apothecary’s Shop: A Geniza Fragment containing one of the earliest manuscripts of Minhaj al-Dukkan’, Journal of Semitic Studies, Vol. 51, No. 1, Spring (2006) pp. 127-168. At, the article was uploaded by the first author anmed, to whom again my most sincere gratitude.


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