On Sleep

Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā)
Canon of Medicine, ‘On Sleep’
Paper, rubricated headings, Egypt, 11th–13th century.
T-S Ar. 11.19

This Judaeo-Arabic fragment preserves a section of the Third Book of the Canon, which is devoted to the treatment of sleep disorders. In particular, this page focusses on cures for lethargy and heavy sleep in patients affected by fevers. This section of the Canon also deals with insomnia and melancholy (from the Greek words for ‘black bile’), a sullen and gloomy state caused by the aggravation of the earthly element and the consequent unbalancing of the four humours of the human body. The presence of a large number of fragments of Judaeo-Arabic versions of Avicenna’s Canon in the Genizah – together with a vast number of other Greek and Arabic scientific works – shows the intellectual liveliness of the Jewish communities of Egypt during the Middle Ages. Al-Fusṭāṭ (Old Cairo) was an outstanding centre of intellectual production that flourished particularly between the tenth and the first half of the thirteenth centuries, when Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars engaged in an outstanding exchange of scientific knowledge.

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