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467
ARABIAN AND MEDIEVAL SURGERY

ARABIAN AND MEDIEVAL SURGERY[1]
By Dr. JOHN FOOTE

WASHINGTON, D. C.

AFTER the conquest of Alexandria, when the victorious Mohammedans were feeding the fires of the city baths with the priceless treasures of the Alexandrian library, a young man who had been a student at the now dismantled university was writing a medical work, the sixth volume of which dealt with surgery. Little work has been done by the Byzantine authors other than the copying of preceding works which might otherwise be lost to us, and the works of Oribasius and Ætius on surgery and the medical writings of Alexander of Tralles have little more than their Greek contact to commend them. But the work of Paul, called from his birthplace, Paul of Ægina, was more than a mere copy. The rough, untutored Arabs who conquered Asia Minor, were not long in being, in turn, conquered by Greek culture and Greek science. Rapidly as this was assimilated, it is well to remember that an important text-book on surgery had been written by one of the conquered before the Hellenization of the Arab had taken place. Gurlt considers this a momentous work, and it describes among other things original treatment for foreign bodies in the esophagus, the operation for tracheotomy, and has an article on hernia. Of course this surgeon had an operation for the radical cure, which included peritoneal suture and drainage in its technique. Paul devised a gynecological speculum, was credited with special knowledge of women's diseases, and indeed was known as "The obstetritician."

The Nestorian monks had christianized many Arabs and these Christian Arabs figure most prominently in the first period of Arabian medicine as both translators and practitioners. The Bachtischua family, the name being derived from Bocht Jesu, servant of Jesus, had several illustrious members, the first, George, being physician to the caliph El Mansur at Bagdad, and his son, as well as his grandson Gabriel, serving Haroun' al Raschid in a like capacity. This physician claimed to have received over $10,000,000 in fees, and the largest single fee on record, $125,000, is credited to him. Perhaps the best known writers of this period were Serapion, the Elder, who lived during the ninth century, and Honein Ben Ischak, or Johannitius, whose accurate translations of the old authors caused him to be called the Erasmus of the Arabian renaissance. Serapion describes an operation for stone in the kidney in which

  1. Read before the Medical History Club of Washington, D. C, December 27, 1913.