The Life of Avicenna.

Abn Ali Al Hosain Ibn Abdallah Ibn Sina, or in Latin abbreviated to Avicenna. Arabian physician and philosopher, born at Kharmaithen, in the province of Bokhara, 980; died at Hamadan, in Northern Persia, 1037.
The life of Avicenna is well documented in the book the "Life of Avicenna", which is based on his autobiography, written by his disciple Jorjani (Sorsanus), and which was published in the early Latin editions of his works.

Avicenna's lived during a period of great political instability, which profoundly influenced his life. The Samanid dynasty, the first Iranian native dynasty to arise after the Muslim Arab conquest, controlled Transoxania and Khorasan from about 900. 
Bukhara their capital, together with another of their great cities, Samarkand, were the cultural centres of the empire. By the middle of the 10th century, however, the power of the Samanids began to weaken. By the time Avicenna was born, Nuh ibn Mansur, the Sultan in Bukhara, was struggling to retain control of his empire. Avicenna's father was the governor of a village in one of Nuh ibn Mansur's estates and was a respected and learned man, whose home was a meeting place for other men of learning in the area. Avicenna was therefore, as was the custom of the time educated by his father.

Avicenna was a very precocious youth; by the age of ten he had memorised the Koran and most of the Arabic poetry which he had read. When Avicenna reached the age of thirteen he began to study medicine and by the age of sixteen he commenced treating patients.
Avicenna also studied logic and metaphysics, in which he received instruction from some of the best teachers of his day, but also continued to study a wide variety of subjects on his own. Avicenna stresses in his autobiography that he was more or less self-taught but received assistance in his studies at crucial times in his life.

Avicenna's skill in medicine proved to be of great value to him; his reputation caused the Samanid ruler Nuh ibn Mansur to seek him out to treat an illness that the court physicians had been unable to deal with. After Avicenna's treatment proved successful, he was, as a reward, allowed to use the Royal Library of the Samanids (books were very precious before the advent of printing, as they had to be hand copied). This was a unequalled opportunity for Avicenna and assisted him in the development of his great diversity of learning.
Unfortunately civil strife commenced in the empire and city after city of the Samanid empire fell. Bukhara was finally taken in 999, which effectively spelled the end of the reign of the Samanids. These events, and another traumatic event, the death of his father, changed Avicenna's life completely. Without either his father or a patron to support him, he began a life of wandering from town to town in Khorasan, acting as a physician and administrator by day and a teacher during each evening. He served as a jurist in Gurganj, was in Khwarazm, then was a teacher in Gurgan and next an administrator in Rayy. Despite these upheavals, this remarkable man continued to produce the highest standards of scholarship.

After this period of wandering, Avicenna moved to Hamadan in west-central Iran, where he worked for a while as a court physician. He so impressed the ruling Buyid prince, Shams ad-Dawlah, that he appointed him twice as vizier.
Although Avicenna commenced writing his major literary works in Hamadan, his life was far from easy. The difficult polical scene of the time and rival jealousies forced Avicenna to go into hiding for a while and he also spent some time as a political prisoner from which he escaped to Isafan, disguised as a Sufi.

After his flight to Isafan in 1022, Avicenna entered the court of the local prince Ala al-Dwla and spent the last years of his life in comparative peace. At Isfahan he completed the literary works that he had begun at Hamadan and also wrote many other works on philosophy, medicine and the Arabic language. It was customary for a court physician to accompany his patron on military campaigns and many of Avicenna's works were composed on these campaigns. It was on one such military campaign that he took ill and, despite his efforts to save himself, died of a mysterious illness, reportedly a colic. He may, however, have been poisoned by one of his servants.

The two most important works of Avicenna are The Book of Healing and The Canon of Medicine, both of which he commenced in Hamadan. The Book of Healing is a scientific encyclopaedia which covers logic, the natural sciences, psychology, geometry, astronomy, arithmetic and music. The Canon of Medicine is the most famous single book in the history of medicine, which remained the principal authority in medical schools in both Europe and Asia until the late 18th. century.
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In all, Avicenna wrote about 450 works, of which around 240 have survived. Of the surviving works, 150 are on philosophy while 40 are devoted to medicine, the two fields in which he contributed most. He also wrote on psychology, geology, mathematics, astronomy, and logic. His most important work as far as mathematics is concerned, however, is his immense encyclopaedic work, the Kitab al-Shifa' (The Book of Healing). One of the four parts of this work is devoted to mathematics and Avicenna includes astronomy and music as branches of mathematics within the encyclopaedia. Another of his works is "Al Nadja" (Deliverance)

Avicenna also made a number of discoveries related to astronomy. For example, he deducted from his observation of Venus crossing the surface of the Sun that Venus must be closer to the Earth than the Sun. He also correctly postulated that light travels at a finite velocity.

Avicenna sought to integrate all aspects of science and religion in a grand unified philosophy. With this philosophy he attempted to reconcile the natural science of the day with religious law, the organisation of state and metaphysics and to answer the question of the ultimate destiny of man.


 Copyright Traditional Medicine Network 2002