Maimonides, Moses (1135-1204)

maimonidesAphorismi secundum doctrnam Galeni. [With other tracts]. Bologna: Franciscus (Plato) de Benedictus, for Benedictus Hectoris, 1489.


Like many medieval physicians in the Arab world, Maimonides was a philosopher as well.  This trend was encouraged by Galen’s study of philosophy and its permutations into his medical writings.  As a result, translations of the classical texts preserved by the Arabs were full of Aristotelian and natural philosophy, a characteristic that dominated medicine of the Middle Ages (Cambridge 73).  Maimonides is a typical representative of this trend.  Originally from Spain, he was a student of another famous Spanish physician-philosopher, Averroes.  However, Maimonides left Spain in response to an edict forcing out all citizens who would not convert to Muslim.  Being Jewish, he emigrated with his family and eventually settled in Egypt (ca. 1166) where he became court physician to Sultan Saladin.  He spent the rest of his life in Egypt and produced most of his work there.  Maimonides is famous for his codification of the Talmudic law and for his Judeo-Aristotelian philosophy.


Just as he codified law, Maimonides did the same for the works of Galen.  Though clearly unafraid of criticizing Galen, pointing out his contradictions and the flaws in his philosophy, Maimonides still recognized the authority of Galen’s work (Dict. Sci. Bio., Vol. 9, 31).  In fact, the most important and most popular of his medical writings, Aphorismi secundum doctrnam Galeni, is devoted to the ideas of Galen.  The Aphorismi classifies Galen’s words by medical headings, such as surgery, pharmacy, gynecology, and so on, presenting the vast writings of Galen in a systematic way for practical usage.  The Reynolds Library holds a copy of the first edition Latin text, published in 1489.


Cambridge. Illus. Hist. Med., pp. 68-69, 73; Dict. Sci. Bio. Vol. 9, pp. 27-31; Garrison, Hist. Med., 4th Edition, pp. 132-133; Garrison & Morton, Med. Bib., 5th Edition, 53, 6495.7; McGuinn, Pen, Press, and Physick, p.12; Reynolds Historical Library, Rare books and coll…, 18; Oxford Comp. to Med., Vol. I, pp. 686-687; A catal. of  printed books in the Wellcome Hist. Med. Libr., Vol. I, 3989.

Image: Moses Maimonides, Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.