Monday, April 2, 2012

The Original Guide To Health and Wellness, From Iraq

By Stephen J. Gertz

In 1531, the first printed edition of what had originally been an eleventh century Arabic guide to good health was published.

Purification [enema].

The book, Tacuini Sanitatis (Tables of Health, i.e. Health Maintenance), in Latin, had been circulating in manuscript copies during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, providing encyclopedic counsel on health, hygiene, and well-being.

Constipation. Sexual Intercourse. Sperm.

Originally written by ibn Butlan, a Christian physician born in Baghdad (d. 1068) also known as Elluchasem Elimithar, the book lays out the six elements necessary for good health and avoiding stress: food and drink; air and climate; activity and rest; sleep and wakefulness, the secretion and excretion of humors; and states of mind, i.e. the emotions. Illness, according to ibn Butlan, was the result of an imbalance of these elements. A life lived in harmony with nature was the cure for what ailed you.

Health Building. Drunkenness.  Fires.

Sexual activity was considered an essential part of a well-balanced life, and ibn Butlan offers advice, i.e. eating the eyes of animals will increase sperm count (though nausea is noted as a potential side effect).

The healing properties of various plants are listed. Onions, for example, will soften the character, act as a diuretic, facilitate sexual intercourse, and sharpen vision. The abuse of lettuce, however, is harmful to sexual activity. Beyond over-consumption, however, it is not clear what constitutes abuse of lettuce,  though extreme foodies may consider anything more than a splash of balsamic vinegar to be a capital offense leading to depressed libido, if not appetite.

Drunkenness. Vomiting.

The book, known as Taqwim al-Sihha in Arabic, was first translated into Latin, 1258-1266, by order of Manfred, King of Sicily. Illustrated manuscript editions began to appear in the late fourteenth century. The first printed edition was published in Strasbourg in 1531 bearing woodcuts that, in many cases, are models of candor, matter-of-factly depicting the honest realities of our basic animal functions and activities.

Radish. Sleep. Conversation.

Tacuini Sanitatis was, until the seventeenth century brought rationalism to the study of science and medicine, the most popular guide to health and wellness among the European lay readership.

To speak in form. Vigilance.

Though fairly represented in library holdings worldwide the book is scarce in the marketplace, with only two copies coming to auction within the last thirty-seven years. The most recent, a complete copy in a modern binding by Sangorski & Sutcliffe, sold at Sotheby's May 7, 2009 for £11,000 ($17,710).

A defective copy, disbound and lacking the final two signatures, is being offered at Bloomsbury-London's Antiquarian Books: The Property of a Collector, Part I, sale Wednesday, April 4, 2012, lot 343. It is estimated to sell for £1000 - £1500 ($1600 - $2400). 

ELIMITHAR (Elluchasem) aka Ibn Butlan, Abul Hasan al Muchtar ibn Botlan - Abu Ali Yahya ibn Isa ibn Guzlah al Baghdadi. Tacuini Sanitatis. Elluchasem Elimithar medici de Baldath, de sex rebus non naturalibus, earum naturis, operationibus, & rectificationibus, publico omnium usui, conseruandæ sanitatis, recens exarati. : Albengnefit De uirtutibus medicinarum, & ciborum. Iac. Alkindus De rerum gradibus. Argentorati (Strasbourg): Apud Ioannem Schottum Librarium, 1531.

Editio princeps. Folio. 163, [9] pp. Title page and text in red and black. Woodcut panel strips at foot of leaves.

Adams I11. Wellcome I, 1996. BL German Books, p. 365. Durling 2520 & 4774. Heirs to Hippocrates 69. Vicaire 323. Waller 2740.

Images courtesy of Bloomsbury, with our thanks.

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