Metacommentary in the Medieval Islamic Medical Tradition: Galen, Mu?ammad ibn Zakar?y? al-R?z?, Fa?r al-D?n al-R?z?

By Kamran Karimullah
Submitted to Session P4877 (The Exegetical Tradition of Avicenna's Canon of Medicine, 2017 Annual Meeting
Islamic World;
7th-13th Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Focusing on primarily on Fa?r al-D?n’s al-R?z?’s (d. 1210) commentary on Avicenn’s (d. 1037) Pointers and Reminders (al-Iš?r?t wa-t-tanb?h?t), Ayman Shihadeh and others have documented the ways in which Fa?r al-D?n al-R?z?’s exegetical method was one of his most innovative contributions to post-classical Islamic philosophy. These scholars have suggested that Fa?r al-D?n’s approach to commentary in Pointers and Reminders is in part inspired by Avicenna’s (d. 1037) approach to philosophy. Shihadeh has identified the various precursors to Fa?r al-D?n’s exegetical method, highlighting the importance of what he terms the “aporetic“ and “exegetical” commentary genres that predated Fa?r al-D?n’s commentary on Pointers. In this paper, I shall argue that the exegetical method that Fa?r al-D?n uses in his commentary on the Canon of Medicine shares many of the attributes with the exegetical method he employs in his commentary on Pointers. Next, I shall attempt to show how innovative Fa?r al-D?n’s exegetical method must have appeared to twelfth- and thirteenth-century medical commentators. I do this by comparing Fa?r al-D?n’s method with Galen’s (d. ca. 216) scattered remarks about how interpretation should be done. The passages on Galen’s thoughts about “metacommentary,” which have been briefly discussed by scholars such as Jonathan Barnes, Rebecca Flemming and Jaap Mansfeld, are preserved in Galen’s Hippocratic commentaries, many of which were translated into Arabic and whose insights would have been valued highly by physicians as well as philosophers after the ninth century. Finally, I shall compare Fa?r al-D?n’s exegetical method in his Canon commentary with the method that Ab? Bakr Mu?ammad ibn Zakar?y? al-R?z? (d. ca. 925) employs in his Doubts on Galen. I conclude that commentaries had always included both aporetic, demonstrative and exegetical elements. Yet, for Greek and early Islamic physician-philosophers such as Galen and Mu?ammad ibn Zakar?y?, activities such as engaging in aporetic debate and elaborating demonstrative deductions were not part of the commentator’s proper business. By including such elements into the norms of exegetical best-practice, Fa?r al-D?n’s commentary method constitutes a decisive break from exegetical conventions in medical discourse prior to the twelfth century.