Entekhab, Daily Newspaper, No. 991, Sep. 30th, 2000, Page 5
Author : Bita Mahdavi
Word Count: 2752
A while ago the very first medical and therapeutic encyclopedia in the world history written in 12 volumes by an Iranian was published. The encyclopedia, which is quite unique in its own type, covers the background of the medical science on the basis of available local and foreign medical documents. Many untold facts about the medical science revealed in the encyclopedia are of great appeal. The encyclopedia has, meanwhile, been translated into other languages. An interview has been conducted with the author and researcher of the encyclopedia, Mohammad Taqi Sarmadi, the full text of which follows.
Q: What made you compile the encyclopedia?
A: The condition of the disabled across the country and their being deprived of many things made me think about compiling a book on their status. As the number of books gradually boosted and the field of my research broadened they were converted into an encyclopedia.
In old times, disabilities were not distinguished from one another. In those days, physically and mentally disabled patients were kept in the same ward along with the blind and those infected with thalassemia. The disabled needed special care and they had to be distinguished from other patients.
In 1984 in a congress held on the various ranges of disabilities, we called for their separation from other patients and attempted to change the approach of the community towards them in order to be in a better position to help them. That's why it was decided to take care of them at various sites.
Given that I am a publisher, I took on to collect and survey the ancient and new local and foreign books, articles, treatises and documents on the history of medicine and therapy. It took me 15 years to do research and compile the world history of medicine and therapy since early days to the modern era.
Q: What are the particular issues brought up in the encyclopedia?
A: The most significant developments made in the course of the history of the medical science have been covered in the encyclopedia, and the role of culture, magic, illusions and superstitions have been surveyed in terms of medical expressions. The very first specialized physicians across the world, initiators of the medical researches, medicinal herbs and their therapeutic properties are covered in the encyclopedia. The medical diagnosis of the epidemic diseases by physicians, the corpses mummification method and the application of each medical expression are among the special issues covered by the encyclopedia.
It is comprised of 12 volumes titled, "The period marked by the pioneers of medicine up to the Islamic era", "Medicine in Iran between the reign of Mongols and the present era", "Medicine in Europe up to late 15th century", "Medicine in Europe", "Medicine during the Renaissance", "Medical Achievements in Europe", "Medicine in the American Continent", "Medicine in Africa and Oceania", "Prominent world Physicians", "Directory", "Persian and English Indices".
Q: Has the encyclopedia been translated into other languages?
A: The first volumes of the encyclopedia have been translated (into English) by Professor Kan'ani in the United States. Meanwhile, he has also declared his readiness to translate other volumes as well. Besides we have received a proposal for its translation from a US university of high reputation. The published encyclopedia, which has been welcomed in Germany, especially by private parties, is to be translated into German by Dr. Mojdari.
The encyclopedia's translation is a general step towards the identification of Iran's medicine. A variety of medical fields have been surveyed worldwide, but it has never been from historical point of view. In the published encyclopedia, special attempt has been made to cover the historical background of medical fields as well. We hope that such translations will be materialized with the sponsorship of the scientific centers. It is briefly comprised of the documents, travel accounts, medical publications in Persian, English, French, German, Arabic and (Istanbuli) Turkish as well as statistics, many pictures, illustrations, diagram and charts.
Q: What is the special feature of your encyclopedia?
A: Given that no information is available on the very old days, especially on the invention of scripts, I started my research as of the third era. Once the civilization of the third era was created, other civilizations were developed across the Middle East, Asia and Greece. Among the developed civilizations, the Greek achieved remarkable success as compared to others, while many physicians of high knowledge and expertise started practicing. Once a great part of the world was conquered by Alexander the Great from Macedonia, Greek became known as the scientific language so that the scholars and physicians in other countries not only learned to read and write Greek, but even studied their lessons in this language. Then Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) appeared and called the public to righteousness, honesty and cleanliness. Once Islam was generally accepted, Greek was gradually replaced by the Arabic language. Later on the Greek sciences were studied by Muslims, who stared translating their written works from Greek into Arabic. Muslims succeeded to make great achievements in various sciences, especially in medicine.
Q: Who were the first world-known physicians?
A: Around 5,000 years ago, Imhotep initiated rational medicine in Egypt. That's why his name has been registered as the first physician. Then Hippocrates appearing in Greece around 2,500 years ago became known as the world father of medicine. Later on Serotos appearing in Italy discovered the blood circulation, for which he was prosecuted and burned. Then the famous French Chemist, Louis Pasteur, proved the connection of the microbes with fermentation, decay and epidemics.
Q: What countries are mentioned in your encyclopedia?
A: I started the course of medical history from Egypt and went on to China and Greece. Chapter 7 deals with medicine and treatment in Rome and Alexandria. Meanwhile, I have introduced the most renowned Greek physicians such as Galenus, Hippocrates, Discorides as well as their methods of practice and their written works.
Chapter 8 is about medicine and treatment in Iran during the reign of Pishdadiyan, the treatment methods practiced by the Aryans, medicine and medication in rural areas, names of various diseases, medicine as a branch of study, medical schools and the old methods of medication and the medicine commonly used in those days.
In Chapter 10, Gondishapour University and Hospital have been introduced as one of the reputable scientific centers of that period. Chapter 11 covers medicine and medication practiced by the Arabs, while Chapter 12 is about the Islamic medicine.
Q: Would you elaborate on the medicine practiced in ancient Iran?
A: It might be said that the cornerstone of medicine and treatment in Iran was laid concurrent with the migration of the Aryan tribes to Iran.
Before the arrival of Aryans, the indigenous tribes inhabiting Iran practiced their own methods of medication.
According to Zoroastrians, the first Iranian physician called Trita, managed to treat various diseases, wounds, fevers and convulsions. No trace of health and medication is witnessed in the world before 500 BC. Among Zoroastrians, training on medication and treatment was provided by the clergy.
In ancient times, Iranians blamed the enemies and their vices for their diseases and pains. However, later on when they realized that physical disorders were connected with natural factors they came up with the idea of medication.
In those days the Iranian physicians were classified into three categories:
2) Herbal physicians
Besides opticians and veterinarians appeared under the reign of Achaemenids and Sassanids. Health was considered as one of the most significant religious rites among Zoroastrians. Disinfections of water and bathhouses, personal health, washing the clothing and body, respecting the hygiene of the earth, residential areas and foodstuff, keeping infectious patients away from the public, taking precautionary health measures are among the valuable recommendations listed in the Zoroastrian holy book (Avesta).
A plenty number of diseases are listed in Avesta, among which one may refer to the following: fever, sunburn fever, delirium, intermittent fevers, vitiligo, baldness, scabbiness, dirt, leprosy, burns, snake bites and back hunch.
Q: Is it clear when did medicine appear for the first time?
A: According to an interpretation written by Galenus on Hippocrates book titled `Belief', "It is not easy to indicate who has initiated medicine and to find out its founder amongst the ancient scholars."
George Sarton believes, "Medicine is an unknown science which appeared quite by chance and kept on developing. The new discoveries in medicine were passed on from generation to generation. Nonetheless, it is evident that our predecessors of the prehistoric era, similar to primitive man - samples of whom may still be witnessed - experimented various herbs and other materials and classified them into various categories based on their properties (benefits and damages). Nomads who bred cattle were familiar with simple orthopedic skills and treating bone fractures. Moreover, in those days, midwifery was in common practice out of necessity and skilled midwives used to provide young apprentices with their know-how. Meanwhile, man has been accompanied and guided all along the way by the best and strictest teacher, namely `the need'.
Besides the medical herbs, man has been familiar with the properties of various spices and used them to alleviate the pain, while harmful herbs were most likely used in surgery. Poisonous medicine and diverse poisons such as "korar" used to plate their spearhead as well as different narcotics such as hempseed, opium and camphor were known to them. They also had access to anesthetics obtained from coca (cocaine). A variety of man-made surgical tools were used by surgeons in their operations. Bone fractures and wounds were, meanwhile, treated with great skill. Diverse knives made of flint and volcanic stones or fish bones were used in phlebotomy after being bathed in liquor or wine.
Q: Would you elaborate on the history of Islamic medicine as well?
A: Once Iran was overtaken by the Arabs no scientific achievements were made in Iran and other occupied lands for the next two centuries. Under the reign of the Omavids, the physicians were generally Roman and Christian. Omavid Caliphs (Muslim rulers) didn't pay much attention to science and intellectual measures and believed rather that except fluency in Arabic language everything else is of no use. When the famous physicians and masters arrived in Baghdad from Gondishapour, it gradually became the scientific hub of the oriental Islamic countries.
Under the reign of Haroun al-Rashid and his son, Ma'moun, a number of authentic books were translated, which later laid the foundation of the Islamic medicine.
The cornerstone of the Islamic medicine started to be laid firmly by the Iranian physicians and scholars as of 9th century. Since then valuable written works on medicine were presented to the world of Islam and West as well as the entire world. Its first stone was laid down by Ibn-e Tabari who wrote "Ferdows al-Hakameh" and eleven other books. Mohammed Zakariyaye Razi laid the second stone. In addition to his great book titled "Havi", he compiled around 272 long and medium books, articles and treatises in Arabic, out of which about 100 are about medicine. The third scholar contributing to the development of Islamic medicine was Ali ibn-e Abbas Majousi Ahvazi Azjani. Avicenna was the fourth founder, who wrote 250 books in Persian and Arabic languages, the most well-known of which is "Law in Medicine".
Q: How about the illusions and superstitions prevailing Europe?
A: Until recent centuries, especially in the Middle Ages, Europe was greatly influenced by legends, mythology, magic, weird beings, the vicious spirits, astrological decrees, predictions and prescience. Given that the Europeans were preoccupied with an ocean of superstition and illusion, sciences and rational philosophy, especially medicine, medication and anatomy had to be developed under such circumstances.
People were so highly impressed by superstitions and illusions that even the scholars and scientists had a share in such simplistic beliefs.
They were, after all, under the constant grip of superstitions and illusions and they were handed over to next generations. Thus the entire environment was dominated by tiny and gigantic devils, demons, angels and vicious spirits, while Germany, Scandinavia and Ireland were resided by the bloodsucking venomous serpents.
The transfer of illusions and superstitions from the Orient to Europe reached its climax concurrent with the crusades and the Europeans became more superstitious than the Orientals. Such beliefs were annexed to the religious decrees and regulations in order to formalize them.
Given that the church was against superstitious and illusive beliefs and they were in general considered harmful and inauspicious for the Christian and human communities, punishments and ransoms were indicated for every one of them.
Q: Were there any hospitals in the post-Islamic era? Who treated the patients in that era?
A: There were some hospitals in the Islamic era, where the patients went under care. The Persian equivalent for the word "hospital" (bimarestan and marestan) means a place where the patients are kept, while in Arabic it was known as "dar ol-shafa".
A number of physicians used to practice medicine in every hospital, known as general physicians who were specialized in regulating the patient's blood, respiration, darter, bile and phlegm. Others took care of the wounds and surgeries. Another group of medical specialists were orthopedists. Besides the medical staff working in the hospital included nurses and nursing aids.
Two categories of patients were taken care of at hospitals: the ones coming for a brief consultation who were examined and left after some medicine was prescribed and the patients who needed special care and had to be hospitalized in the related ward and underwent treatment. Particular days were set for treatment of such patients by the physicians.
Q: How were the diseases diagnosed by the physicians in those days?
A: The patient was examined by the physician by taking his/her pulse and tested the urine, which was usually taken along by the patient. The physician first glanced at the urine and then tasted it to find out whether its content of sugar, acid and other ingredients is normal. Then he examined the patient's pulse with high precision. The Islamic physicians diagnosed the patient's heart by taking the pulse, while by tasting the urine he could examine the patient's liver and mucus.
Q: Who issued the order for the construction of the first hospital in the Islamic era?
A: The first hospital was founded by Valid ibn-e Abdolmaled Omavid in Damascus, in the year 88 AH, where various patients including the disabled, blind, wretched, paralytics, lepers and lunatics were nursed. As a matter of fact, given that the hospital housed the needy, lepers and disabled it just served as a center for the poor.
The budget for the hospital, whose staff was comprised of a number of physicians and nurses, was provided by the ruling Caliph. Before the ouster of the Omavid caliphs, it served as the only post-Islamic medical center.
Q: Would you talk about acupuncture practiced in ancient China?
A: Acupuncture has been used by the Chinese to treat some sicknesses such as migraine, articulation inflammations and skin diseases for 4,000 years. The Chinese believe that everything occurs as a consequence of the contradiction between the two opposing energies in man's body, known as "yang" and "yin". Yang as a male energy provides light and is stable and constructive, while yin as a female energy is soft, dark and empty. Based on the Chinese beliefs, man's health, in general, depends on the balance established between the two energies.
The Chinese believed that the pains appearing at the patients various internal organs were associated with the special points at the surface of their bodies, ranging from 250 to 400 in number. By inserting needles into the said points, the Chinese attempted to reestablish the lost balance between the yang and yen. A variety of nine needles in different shapes including trilateral and egg-shaped as well as dull and sharp and a few other types were used to this effect. Once the disease was diagnosed by the acupuncture specialists they inserted special needles into the patient's body at the proper point and held it for five to 15 minutes.
By pricking the needles not only the nerves of those points were excited but also the adjacent blood vessels were meanwhile compressed, which speeded up the blood flow at the point. If the proper points are excited properly and skillfully, it might end up in curing and soothing some pains.