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Arabian Drugs in Early Medieval Mediterranean Medicine.

Arabian Drugs in Early Medieval Mediterranean Medicine. By ZOHAR AMAR and EFRAIM LEV. Edinburgh Studies in Classical Islamic History and Culture. Edinburgh: EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2017. Pp. xiv + 290, ills. $125, [pounds sterling]80.

The general theme of this volume is the expansion of the ancient pharmacopoeia in medieval times. The authors thus grapple with two interrelated subjects: how the "new" substances, mostly from South and Southeast Asia, ended up in the Near East and how Islamicate pharmacology facilitated their spread within the Mediterranean world. By attempting to collapse both subjects into one book, the authors may not have done full justice to either; nevertheless, the book has value in that it calls attention to the importance of the Islamicate role in the development of Western pharmacology and provides an overview of the new materia medico and associated problems. Photographs of many of the substances are a welcome addition.

The authors have made many contributions to the ethnobotany and ethnopharmacology of the Middle East, and the book under review contains much that has appeared in their earlier publications. The most significant overlap is with Practical Materia Medica of the Medieval Eastern Mediterranean (Brill, 2008). To offer one example, in their treatment of myrobalan, which in Arabian Drugs in Early Medieval Mediterranean Medicine (henceforth Arabian Drugs) is discussed as the first "Arabian" substance (pp. 83-88), some phrasing is taken over verbatim, or almost verbatim, from the Brill publication (pp. 218-21); both discussions contain different elements, however. The Brill work gives a lengthy list of documentations of myrobalan in Geniza documents--this is absent in Arabian Drugs, which, however, draws on a more extensive range of Islamic medical and pharmacological literature. At the same time, the presentation of main pharmaceutical uses in the work under review does not systematically compare to the uses attested in the Geniza documents mentioned in the previous volume. Arabian Drugs also gives a far more detailed survey of the different varieties of myrobalan. In short, both books are necessary to appreciate the authors' understanding of the substances. Overlap can be found with several of their papers as well, such as "Watermelon, Chate Melon and Cucumber: New Light on Traditional and Innovative Field Crops of the Middle Ages" (Journal asiatique 299 [2011 ]: 193-204). which material is repeated on pp. 51-57 of Arabian Drugs; "Trends in the Use of Perfumes and Incense in the Near East after the Muslim Conquests" (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 3rd ser., 23 [2013]: 11-30), cf. pp. 129-61; and "Most-Cherished Gemstones in the Medieval Arab World" (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 3rd ser., 27 [2017]: 377-401), cf. pp. 162-90.

The phrase "Arabian Drugs" used throughout leads one to expect that the discussed drugs will be from Arabia, but, of course, this is not true for the vast majority of them. The words new and Arabic are qualified by quotation marks sometimes, e.g., "new 'Arabic' substances" (p. 49). The authors remark on the relative contribution of the different cultural components in early medieval pharmacology. For them, the "Greek medical heritage" and "Indian medical heritage" are cornerstones. They characterize Islamic pharmacology as a "melting pot" in which "the physicians of the Galenic school versus those of the Indian and Zoroastrian schools" participated. When they address the Iranian tradition, they frequently collapse the Indian tradition into it. Both the Indian tradition and its adaptation in Iran deserve far more attention than given, both in the early chapters and in their treatment of individual substances. For India, in particular, there is a vast corpus of medical literature that can illuminate the pharmacological uses of materia medica introduced into Islamicate medicine and allow for comparison and the tracing of pharmacological and medical influences; yet no serious attempt has been made in Arabian Drugs to incorporate it. On p. 228 the authors plead that the documentation for the influence of Indian medicine is "very vague," but recent work such as Oliver Kahl's The Sanskrit, Syriac and Persian Sources in the Comprehensive Book of Rhazes (Brill, 2015) (listed in the bibliography, but scarcely used in the text) shows just how much information is available.

The introduction (pp. 1-47), covering Islamic science and its antecedents, is a concise overview of the subject. This chapter also addresses the trade routes and commercial enterprise that brought the new substances into the Islamic world. It is a readable and useful survey.

The second chapter, "Agricultural and Pharmaceutical Innovations: Milestones in Research and Case Studies" (pp. 48-81), contains a critique of Andrew Watson's thesis (Agricultural Innovation in the Early Islamic World [Cambridge, 1983]) and an account of the two most convenient enumerations of the new substances as given by Ibn Juljul and Ibn Rushd (both of which are based on earlier articles by the authors). The problem of chronology is crucial. Amar and Lev rightly note that many of the "new" substances are attested before the rise of Islam. Failure to pay sufficient attention to pre-Islamic usage is a fault that the authors, and earlier scholars, have found with Watson's book. In addition, Amar and Lev note Watson's lack of attention to Jewish halachic literature, which in previous works they have used to illustrate the pre-Islamic nature of some of the "new" substances. But if a "new" substance was used pre-Islamically, then its introduction and potentially the development of its use in the Near East has nothing to do with the Arab conquests.

Next comes a chapter with the useful catalog of "Arabian" substances--forty of them--including drugs, spices, "industrial substances," perfumes and incenses, and gemstones. At 108 pages (not counting pages of endnotes) this chapter makes up about half of the text. Amar and Lev treat the identity of the substances, their history, and their uses, drawing on a wide range of Arabic literature, as well as other sources, to compose these entries.

Within this catalog, greater attention to etymology would have helped clarify an introduction to the substances. The authors often do not mention etymology even when it is clear and agrees with their claims. For example, taranjubin on p. 118 is said to be "imported from the Persian region," but there is no mention of the well-known Persian origin of the word. R. A. Donkin's detailed account of "Tarangubin," in Manna: An Historical Geography (The Hague: Junk, 1980), 18-26, gives a more detailed account in this regard than the present work, despite his not being a specialist in Islamic pharmacology, and discusses the etymology. Claudia Ciancaglini's Iranian Loanwords in Syriac (Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2008) and Philippe Gignoux's Lexique des termes de la pharmacopee syriaque (Paris: Association pour l'avancement des etudes iraniennes, 2011), which are invaluable for the etymology of these substances, are missing from the bibliography, and sometimes even the etymologies from Albert Dietrich's edition of Ibn Juljul are not cited. For Sanskrit triphala (p. 87), appearing in Arabic as itrifal (with various vocalizations), we are told that "Levey believes that it is the Arabised' form of the Indian name." This is well known now; the discussion of its identity and properties would have benefitted from Kahl's up-to-date discussion in The Sanskrit, Syriac and Persian Sources (pp. 123-24 n. 107). In the account of bamboo (actually the so-called bamboo chalk or bamboo sugar, Eng. tabasheer), we read that tabashir "may derive from the Sanskrit tavak-ksina" [sic], with a footnote to pp. 765-99 (!) of Kas's Die Mineralien. On pp. 768-69, Kas says, "Zur Etymologie des Wortes ist festzustellen, dass das arabische Wort aus persischem tabasir... entlehnt ist, das seinerseits auf das Sanskritwort tvakksira zuruckzufuhren ist." This etymology was already known to Yule and Burnell (Hobson-Jobson, new ed. [1903], 887), if not earlier, and needs no skepticism. Likewise, qinbil (pp. 119-20), kamala, is treated as uncertain when the identification is fairly secure; cf. Meyerhof/Maimonides no. 327, Schmucker no. 599, Dietrich Juljul no. 50, and Schonig pp. 153-54 (all in Amar and Lev's bibliography). Jawz jundum (p. 120) is stated to be "half Persian and half Arabic," but it has a perfectly good Persian etymology, goz gandum, the components of which are well attested in Pahlavi. On p. 57 we read: "Al-Biruni certifies that khiyar is a common name for the cucumber in Iraq; however, in Khurasan its name is khiyar bazhrnag." Amar and Lev's incomprehensible bazhrnag cites H. M. Said's translation (Karachi, 1973, which reads both bazrang and badrang, Persian for "a species of cucumber," per Steingass); Amar and Lev's passage appears almost verbatim on p. 204 of their 2011 JA article, cited above, where they have badhrnak--with the same citation to Said's translation. The Arabic text in both Said's and 'A. Zaryab's (Tehran, 1991) editions reads badhrang for the former. No discussion of the word is given.

Amar and Lev's handling of the historical geography of the new substances is sometimes problematic. Of the clove we read: "The clove is a tropical evergreen tree that grows in Madagascar, Indonesia, the Muluk Islands, and the islands of the West India" (p. 100). Apart from what "the islands of the West India" might be (the islands of the western Indian Ocean'?), by "Muluk Islands" must be intended the Maluku Islands or Moluccas, the original homeland of the clove. Cloves were introduced into Mauritius (and subsequently into Zanzibar and Madagascar) only in the eighteenth century by the Frenchman Pierre Poivre in his attempt to break the Dutch monopoly; the story is one of the most famous tales of the spice trade. Thus, in the early medieval period, they were exclusively an import from Southeast Asia, yet the reader may not come away with that impression from this description. The difficulty is compounded on p. 101 with the statement that cloves were imported in Islamic times, citing Levey's translation of Ibn Masawayh's Kitab Jawahir al-tib al-mufrada, inter alia from "Sofala (South Africa)." But Ibn Masawayh uses sufala as shorthand for sufalat al-hind ("the lower region of India"); he gives the full expression the first time he mentions the place in his account of aloeswood (P. Sbath's ed., p. 13), and he mentions sufala repeatedly as a source of Southeast Asian substances such as nutmeg, mace, cardamom, and cubeb, none of which is South African. For the source of cloves at "Shalheh Island" on p. 101, Ibn Khurradadhbih's Shalahit, the lands surrounding the Strait of Malacca, is intended. The "Arabic source" that provides the attestation of cloves from the Nicobar Islands turns out to be Marco Polo. The story of silent trade in cloves at Bartayil comes not from p. 69 of De Goeje's edition of Ibn al-Faqih, but from the edition by Yusuf Hadi (Beirut, 1996--it derives from a quotation in al-Qazwini's Kitab Athar al-bilad), which is not listed in the bibliography.

It is laudable to provide the Arabic terminology for the reader, but sometimes Amar and Lev do so inconsistently and without explanation. On p. 107, for example, in a passage from Ibn Rushd, sandalwood (sandal) is left in the Arabic with no translation, but in the paragraph below, quoting al-Nuwayri, it is translated "sandalwood" with no gloss. On p. 97 no explanation of dar sini (written as two words) is given in a translation from Ibn Rushd; on p. 74 it is explained (but written as one word). Those not familiar with the Arabic terminology may find this vacillation confusing. The volume does not have a glossary, athough it includes indices of English, Arabic, and scientific names.

There are serious typographical errors that better proofreading might have caught. To note a few: chandn (p. 10) for chandan; "Asyrian plam, Cordia myxia" (p. 63) for Assyrian plum, Cordia myxa; "of Tralles" with Alexander omitted (p. 73 1. 7); "the islands of the Indian Ocean, that is, Madagascar and Zanzibar" (p. 73) should read "such as" for "that is"; "Ibn Rushed" (p. 87); same page sir for sir (as Dietrich) or shir (this error again obscures the etymology: Pers. shir "milk"); "Dioscordies" (p. 93); "rhizom" for rhizome (p. 97). Errors in referencing and documentation are also present. On p. 268 of the bibliography there are two different entries, with different titles, for Hannelore Schonig's Schminken, Diifte und Raucherwerk der Jemenitinnen (Beirut/Wurzburg, 2002). In the notes, Dietrich's edition of Ibn Juljul is cited with page numbers, but these numbers sometimes either refer to entry numbers (e.g., Ibn Juljul, Die Erganzung, p. 7, when entry no. 7 on p. 32 is meant) or are completely off the mark (e.g., Ibn Juljul, Die Erganzung, p. 17, when entry no. 37 on p. 53 is meant). In two places in chapter three the notes lead to confusion about two works by Martin Levey: in n. 3 the reference to "Levey, The Medical Formulary, p. 342" is to his 1966 edition of al-Kindi's Aqrabadhin, but in n. 60 "Levey, The Medical Formulary, pp. 69-70" refers to his and Nouri al-Khaledy's 1967 edition of al-Samarqandi's Aqrabadhin. Both of the referenced books do appear in the bibliography.


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Author:King, Anya
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2019
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