A Medieval Medical Textbook Transmitting Greek, Byzantine and Arabic Traditions

Outi Kaltio, Matti Haltia and Heikki Solin

Constantine the African's Liber Pantegni: Transmission of Greek Medical Tradition to the Latin West via Byzantium and the Arabic World. An interdisciplinary symposium sponsored by the Academia Europaea, the Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation, the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters, and the Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters. Helsinki, Finland, 4–6 June 2009

The tradition of classical Greek medicine reached medieval Europe largely through Latin translations of Greek and Arabic medical literature. The Arabs had been exposed to Greek medical culture preserved in the lands conquered from the Byzantine Empire. The first wave of such translations was connected with the Salerno School of medicine and its central figure Constantine the African. He moved from North Africa to Southern Italy at around 1070 and worked at the Benedictine monastery of Montecassino until his death (before 1098/9). The most influential of his many translations was Liber Pantegni, based on the famous book al-Malakî of the Persian physician Haly Abbas. Liber Pantegni was the first comprehensive treatise of medical science in the Latin language and rapidly became the leading textbook of medicine at the first European universities and medical schools. Despite its pivotal role in the early development of European medicine, no modern editions or translations of Liber Pantegni into any modern language exist.

Our symposium was prompted by a manuscript on parchment in the collections of the National Library of Finland, which turned out to be one of the earliest preserved manuscripts of Theorica Pantegni (the important theoretical part of Liber Pantegni), written during the late twelfth century, probably in Germany, France or Belgium. The manuscript eventually ended up in St. Petersburg, in the collection of old medical books of Joseph von Rehmann, actual state counsellor and personal physician of Tsar Nicholas I. After von Rehmann's death, the Tsar acquired the collection and in 1832 donated it to the Helsinki University Library (currently the National Library of Finland).

Research on the manuscript is now in progress with the final aim of producing a Latin edition and English translation of Theorica Pantegni. Distinguished scholars from various disciplines and different countries were invited to the symposium to discuss subjects related to the transmission of Greek and Arabic medical tradition to the medieval Latin West, with particular emphasis on the role of Constantine the African and his Liber Pantegni in this process. The symposium was accompanied by a workshop concentrating on practical problems and open questions related to the editorial work of Theorica Pantegni.

After the fancy welcome reception at the Villa Gyllenberg, hosted by the Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation, the scientific programme of the symposium started next morning with addresses by Thomas Wilhelmsson, Rector of the University of Helsinki, and Jürgen Mittelstrass, Past President of the Academia Europaea. Two sessions with seven presentations were held on the Greek medical tradition and its transmission to the Latin West. The topics concerned were Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Arabic medicine, Latin translations of Arabic medical texts, the Jewish contribution to the transmission process, and reflexions of Hellenistic medicine in the Nordic Renaissance. (The complete programme of the symposium is available here)

The symposium also included a joint meeting and reception with the Friends of the National Library. The event took place at the Cupola Hall of the National Library of Finland where the 12th century manuscript of Constantine the African's Theorica Pantegni was on display. Two lectures were given: Professor Heinrich von Staden (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton) spoke on migrations of Greek medicine from antiquity to the early modern period, and MA Outi Kaltio (University of Helsinki) presented Constantine the African's Theorica Pantegni and the manuscript in the collections of the National Library.

The next day of the symposium concentrated on the Salerno School of medicine and Constantine the African's Liber Pantegni with five presentations. In the first lecture the evidence for and against the existence of a medical school at Salerno already in Roman times was critically evaluated. Two presentations dealt with codicological aspects of certain manuscripts of Liber Pantegni, one in the National Library of Finland, and another two in English libraries. The subsequent speaker discussed the relation of Practica Pantegni (the second part of Liber Pantegni) to the Arabic original by Haly Abbas and to other source texts. Finally, a comparison was made between different textual versions of Theorica Pantegni, and the relation of the manuscript in the National Library of Finland to other preserved manuscripts was examined.

The programme ended with a workshop and round table discussion with the speakers. Outi Kaltio presented her work in progress, the editing of the fifth book of Theorica Pantegni. Practical problems, such as choice of manuscripts, correcting of the base text, orthography, punctuation etc., were covered in a lively discussion. The future editing of the whole body of Theorica Pantegni was also brought out, and many of the speakers expressed their willingness to participate in the project.

The symposium gathered together outstanding scholars to discuss the roots of modern European medicine and Constantine the African's Liber Pantegni, Europe's first comprehensive textbook of medicine. Their contributions and continuous support and advice will be of great value for the editing and publishing process of Theorica Pantegni.

The papers presented at the symposium will be published in European Review (the official journal of the Academia Europaea) in 2010.

Outi Kaltio is a doctoral student at the Department of Classical Philology (University of Helsinki)
Matti Haltia is a professor emeritus of Neuropathology (University of Helsinki)
Heikki Solin is a professor emeritus of Latin Philology (University of Helsinki)


Hibolire Doctoral Summer School - Tampere June 4-5 2009

Ilkka Mäkinen

It was a cold (+5 degrees Celsius), wet and rainy early June 2009 in Tampere, Finland (hard to imagine now, a couple of weeks later, when it is +25 degrees). I had advised the participants of the HIBOLIRE Doctoral Summer School that this time of year was usually nice and warm: but now “rough winds” did “shake the darling buds of June”. Happily, leaving the cold winds outside, the 25-person group gathered at the new faculty building of the University of Tampere to create their own warmth. The participants, all members of HIBOLIRE, came from different Scandinavian and Baltic countries.

The mood was enthusiastic since, among the senior members and the doctoral students, were new faces some of whom were to speak before an international audience for the very first time: true “darling buds”. An item of news that also inspired was that our HIBOLIRE member Henrik Horstbøll had been installed as the new professor of Book and Library History at the University of Lund, on that very day. Unfortunately, because of that event, he could not participate in our summer school.

HIBOLIRE, the Nordic-Baltic Research Network on the History of Books, Libraries and Reading, is a multinational and multidisciplinary network of scholars from Scandinavian and Baltic countries. We also wish to improve our cooperation with scholars in northwestern Russia. The activities of HIBOLIRE are supported by Nordforsk, an independent institution operating under the Nordic Council of Ministers for Education and Research. Our intitial three-year funding covered the period from 2006 to 2009, while an extension will enable further activities from 2009 to 2010. The network organises annually at least one doctoral seminar, in addition to other events. Next year, our main goal will be to co-organize the annual SHARP conference in Helsinki. Minna Ahokas, a member of the organizing committee, informed us of the present status of planning.

The first keynote speaker, Dr. Lotte Hellinga from UK, former Deputy Keeper at the British Library, opened the summer school with her speech titled Histories of the book, old and new, and what they have in common, where she touched upon many important themes. What especially struck me was the importance she laid on the popularization of book history. Why doesn’t someone write a “Gutenberg Code” or a “Schoeffer Code”? Book history is full of good stories. The popularization theme is closely connected with another matter she raised, namely, the importance of lifting one’s eyes from details and over the national boundaries in order to see and talk about the larger context.

Dr. Hellinga’s coments about popularization reminded us that our network had listed popularization as one of the initial aims of HIBOLIRE. Popularization in a manner that is both exacting and appealing is difficult to do, but in our own way we shall try, by publishing in July a popular book on the library histories in the region that our network covers; indeed covering a large part of the globe from Greenland to Finland. The book will be titled Library Spirit in the Nordic and Baltic Countries. Historical Perspectives. Not a “Library Code” (perhaps a “Dewey Code”?) but hopefully more accessible than ordinary treatises on library history.

The theme of the summer school, Books as material objects, books in space, books in movement, was deliberately unrestrictive, since all doctoral students of the network irrespective of the subject of their dissertation should have a chance to receive feedback. The theme was intended also to involve jointly both book and library historians. Nevertheless, one theme, books in space, was so successful in gathering speakers that the theme earned its appearance in the title of the summer school. One of the keynote speakers, Prof. Alistair Black of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, spoke about Books, Buildings and Social Engineering. Early Public Libraries in Britain from Past to Present based on the newly-published book co-authored by himself, Simon Pepper and Kaye Bagshaw. His presentation was as richly documented with images as the book itself. I believe it was fortunate that the somewhat trite term “social concept” was replaced by “social engineering”.

A senior member of the network, Nan Dahlkild from the Royal School of Library and Information Science, Copenhagen, entered the history of library buildings from the Scandinavian angle, and a doctoral student, Pentti Mehtonen, from the University of Tampere presented his dissertation project on the discourse on library buildings in the Finnish professional press. The trio was completed by the presence of Ms. Hanna Aaltonen, who has written an extensive article on Finnish public library buildings in the recent Suomen yleisten kirjastojen historia (History of Finnish public libraries) published just after the summer school. Such a congregation of themes is very welcome, even if it is not possible always to achive, since research themes in the fields covered by the network are so varied.

There were additional senior researcher papers by Wolfgang Undorf (Royal Library, Stockholm) challenging a number of concepts that we take as self-evident in book history, and Alma Braziniune (Vilnius University, Lithuania) about the private library as an object of research in book science and librarianship. Both subjects also have a contemporary importance given the current digitisation of books and even whole libraries. These papers should surely be published as articles or books.

It is impossible to provide summaries of every doctoral students’ paper at the summer school. And, fortunately, there is no reason to do so. Students will be presenting the results of their work in due course themselves: the entire workshop program becoming available at here.

We were successful in gathering people from different levels of scholarship, from different countries and with different disciplinary backgrounds. The mix created a fruitful opportunity for getting to know people and exchanging information and opinions. A problem was the different rhythm of universities in the Nordic countries that prevented people from certain countries from participating. This fact must be taken into account when future events are planned.

Doc. Ilkka Mäkinen is a lecturer at the Department of Information Studies, University of Tampere, and the treasurer of HIBOLIRE.