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A short history of Anatomy

A short history of Anatomy

Probably the first medical information on anatomy came to Muslims by translation of Galen’s works. But Galen himself believed that Hippocrates was more skillful than him in anatomy (Inb Ishaq Risalah, p. 95). Galen, in addition to writing a lot of medical books, introduced principles of anatomy as a branch of medicine and theology for future physicians and it seems that his ideas was fully accepted by physicians after him for many years. Based on the historical writings, a total of 12 books and articles on anatomy were remained from Galen, and were used by medical physicians after him. Hunayn bin Ishaq who translated some of Galen’s books on anatomy for Yuhana bin Masuyeh from Greek to Seryani believes that Galen’s principles of anatomy include 14 parts

Arms’ muscles and ligaments

Legs’ muscles and ligaments

Nerves and veins of the arms and legs

Muscles moving two cheeks, two lips, lower chin, head, neck and the two shoulders

Muscles of the chest, belly and back

Digestion organs (stomach, entrails, liver, spleen, …)

Breathing organs

Heart organs

Nose and spinal cords

Eyes, tongue and esophagus

Larynx and hyoid

Reproductive organs

Pulsing and non-pulsing arteries

Nasal nerves

Spinal nerves

In spite of this strong background and valuable works in the past, and also the existence of universities and advanced medical centers and hospitals in the old times, anatomy did not grow beyond Galen’s works and writings and we may say that it stopped in those first steps. Regardless of the cause of this decline, preventive role of religions, particularly the religious beliefs of Church authorities and then Muslim leaders should account for it. Even Gondi Shapur University which was the greatest center of medical studies in ancient Iran could not do much and make any progress in this field because it was administered by Nestorians and based on Christian principles and rituals. Therefore, in spite of outstanding professional physicians of Gondi Shapur, we can’t find any known anatomist graduated from this university (Elgood, p 365).

In the early centuries of Islam, following the decline of medical sciences, anatomy as a branch of medical sciences stopped as well and there was no progress on this subject. As we know, one of the most ambiguous and dark periods of Iranian history is the one and a half century of Omavis' domination. There is little knowledge of what happened in social, cultural and scientific fields in this era and indeed we can say that there is no valid resource and references to study the history of science in this period. As A S Kenedi says: “Actually our knowledge about science during sassanids is more than what we know about science in the first 100 years of Arab’s domination” (Cambridge 1381, p. 218).

The shadow of this darkness is over all aspects of Iranian history in this era and has caused various and sometimes controversial discussions among historians; so that some call Arabs an illiterate nation who had no care about science; even called them enemy of science and knowledge and believe that Muslims killed scientists and destroyed libraries wherever they went. Some others consider the Islamic advices on the necessity of learning sciences and developing knowledge and called Muslims the supporters of knowledge and science.

As resources imply, we can say for sure that Muslims did not killed, destroyed or burned books when they entered Gondi Shapur, but they behaved very nicely towards people and left medicine school in the hands of Christian professors. Some writers such as Seyed Husein Nasr even believe that the scientific movement of Gondi Shapur continued and developed in a wider range (ibid, p. 330). It is obvious that after the Arab conquest of Iran there are a period of silence in scientific activities especially medical sciences. We have no information about whatever we can call scientific activity during Omavis' ruling era in Damascus and regarding medical sciences, although we know that Gondi Shapur School existed and its activities continued, we have no information about how it continued and how its scientific movements went on. As Elgood says there is not even one name in the history of that era showing the school activity within the time from Hareth bin Kaldah’s return to Prophet until the invitation of First Georgis by Mansur Davaniqi (Elgood, p. 91).

What is the reason for this silence and darkness? Did the scientific activities continued and developed the same way as it was during sassanids, but there is no valid document about it because they are lost? Or did the scientific activities slow down and eventually stop after the domination of Arabs and therefore there is a silence on the scientific movement of this era especially in the field of medical sciences?

It seems that the second hypothesis is closer to reality based on what happened during this period of 150 years. There are several reasons for this. First, it is obvious that the conquring Arabs had nothing in the field of science and culture to offer to the Iranian civilization. There are few resources about the condition of science and medicine in Arabia at the time when Islam emerged. And if there was any, it is lost now and we have no access to it. If we put away the medical works wrote afterwards, there is nothing except scattered hints in Arab poetry and in Quran (Ibid, p. 83). The second reason is the relation between conquerors and defeated nation in this field. If we accept that development of scientific activities during the history has always been through the support of governments and local rulers, and that such activities have not been possible without their financial help and encouragement, and if we accept that we Iranians were defeated even if we don’t like it- and Arabs were looking at us with the eyes of a conqueror, we should not expect the blossoming of knowledge and science, especially medical sciences in this period. Throughout Omavi era, Iran was involved in various wars and rebels, each of which could cause scientists and physicians to care for their lives and belongings and even their social status rather than scientific activities. Since Iran was a defeated land, Arabs were looking at Iran as a place to expand Islam and use as a wealth resource for their government’s expenses and a potential center in which rebellions and those unhappy with Islamic government could find shelter. Therefore, with such a viewpoint, there was no room for developing knowledge and sciences. In this regard Victor Danner says: “At first (Omavi era) there was little attention to the Iranian part of Islamic world, because the main lands where the leaders were included first in Hijaz and later in Damascus and Baghdad. This was to some extent due to the emergence of Islam in Hijaz and then changing the capital and moving the cultural centers to other areas” (Cambridge, 1381, p. 320).

Considering above points and accepting that in that era Iran was not an independent country, but was a part of Islamic government, which was out of the central part, we can justify the cause of these 200 years of scientific decline, cultural silence, historical ambiguity or as Zarinkub says two centuries of silence.”

When the Omavi government collapsed and Abasid came to power, the propagation of the attitude they created on social class and nobility of Arabs over Persians was weakened and Muslim rulers had more interest in presence of non-Arabs in their government. One of the obvious examples of this interest is the presence of Iranian physicians in the caliphate system from Mansur time on. This presence was so strong that some writers believe that the position of ministry formed in the beginning of Abasid era was often that of physicians (Elgood, p. 92). But this author might not have noticed that in those times scientists were not limiting themselves to one or some branches of science and usually were knowledgeable in all sciences of the time particularly medicine.

Anyway in this era we can see new changes in the field of science especially medicine. Anatomy as a branch of medical sciences, also get out of isolation and the first practical move in anatomy was carried out in the Islamic era, but not on human being. Yuhana bin Masuyeh was maybe the first physician who studied anatomy in the Islamic era and for this reason, he brought up a monkey and did the anatomy on it and wrote a book based on that, which even though was the most famous and important book of the time, there is no trace of it now (Tabaqat al-Atebba, v 1, p 178). After Yuhana’s activities, there was no more activity on the field for centuries and it remained in the same spot. Although anatomy was a connecting point of medicine and theology and some philosophers were also interested in it because of explanation of divine wisdom, outstanding philosophers and physicians such as Ali bin Abbas Ahvazi and Ibn Sina couldn’t add anything to it and just mentioned the information they got from their formers. The main cause of this downward can be found in an introduction that Ibn Nafis wrote to Ibn Sina’s book. He believes that religious prohibition of anatomy and our affectionate feeling for dead people are the two obstacles for progress of anatomy (Elgood, p. 368).

Mansur bin Mohammad and the Shift in anatomy

The stop of anatomy, because of the obstacles mentioned above, continued for centuries. Although in these years, once in a while we can find some writings on the topic and some physicians such as Faqih Najm al-Din Mahmoud Shirazi wrote some books on anatomy, none of these works brought an outstanding progress in the field until the time Mansur bin Mohammad bin Ahmad bin Yusef bin Elyas Shirazi wrote the first picture book in Farsi and presented to Amir Pir Mohammad Bahador, the grandson of Amir Teimur Gurkan and for the first time made a big shift in the science of human anatomy. This work was so unique in Islamic world because not only had a variety of topics and innovative method of categorization and presentation of anatomy, but also added pictures to it. The author ignored some religious regulations on the prohibition of drawing human picture and benefited from the art of drawing to produce a beautiful picture book. Although scientists and physicians used very simple drawings to explain anatomy, some believe that the first person who made a shift in human anatomy using drawing art was Leonardo DaVinci who lived in 1452-1519. However, it is not explained yet that within the Islamic world, Mansur bin Mohammad was the first person who could put away religious regulations both in human anatomy and drawing human picture to create the first picture book of anatomy with a new style. Meanwhile, considering that he lived 100 years before DaVinci, he was the pioneer in this task.

This famous physician was grandson of Moulana Jalal al-Din Ahmad bin Yusef bin Elyas Shirazi and a great grandson of brother of Najm al-Din Mahmoud bin Elyas, who was a famous physician in Shiraz. It seems that he was born in a famous family of outstanding physicians and enjoyed this family treasure for education and learning. According to the writer of Ganjineh Baharestan, the family tree of Mansur in the introduction to Ghiyathiyeh Book is as follow:

Their great grandfather was called Mohammad who had a son called Shir-barik whose son was Sayen al-din Elyas. Sayn al-din had not only a religious and mystical position, but was famous in medical science as well, according to the writings of his children. Sayen al-Din had two sons, Najm al-Din Mahmoud the author of famous book of Ghiyathiyeh and Yusef. Yusef had a son called Jalal al-Din Ahmad who was perfect in medicine and Sufism according to the author of Ganjineh Baharestan. One of Ahmad’s son was Mohammad and he was the father of Mansur the author of this book (Ganjineh Baharestan, p. 35).

There is a disagreement between authors about the number of books Mansur wrote. The author of book History of Iranian Medicine and Eastern lands of Caliphate, there are 3 books known from Mansur titled: “Ghiyathiyeh”, “Kefayah Mojahediyah” and the anatomy book. He believes that there is a unique volume of Ghiyathiyeh in Kalkatah (Elgood, p. 390). But some others think that Ghiyathiyeh is written by Najm al-Din Mahmoud and Mansure’s book is called “Chinese Wood Book” (Monzavi, p. 3375). Kefayah is written by the name of Mojahid al-Saltanah va al-Din Soltan Zein al-Abedin bin Shah Shoja who was the ruler of Fars between 786 to 793 Hijrah calendar and that is why it is called Mohahediyah (Mir, p. 155). This book was printed by stone printing in Lekenhu India in 1873. Another book by him which seems to be famous as “Tashrih al-badan” or “Tashrih al-abdan” is the present book of which just a few volumes are available. Mohammad Taqi Mir in the book Famous physicians of Pars writes about Mansur bin Mohammad that:

“In the list of Bochet, second volume, under the manuscripts in National Museum of Paris, there is a book entitled Tashrih al-Badan (human anatomy) by Mansur bin Mohammad bin Ahmad bin Yusef bin Elyas Shirazi and also in India Office Library in London, I saw another volume of this book entitled “Tashrih Mansuri” (anatomy by Mansur) which was presented to Amir Zahed Pir Mohammad Bahador Khan (Mir, p. 233).

According to Ahmad Monzavi, there are some other volumes of this book in Iran, Turkey and India (Monzavi, p. 3376) with different dates of copying, which shows that this book has been a formal reference of anatomy studies for years.

Based on the existing information, this book is corrected, compared and printed in Iran twice so far. One in 1383 solar calendar by the Institution of Islamic Studies under the title of Anatomy of Human body, and the other in 1385 by Collection of Islamic treasures Publications under the title of Tashrih al-abdan. Considering this issue, and considering the significant progress of anatomy, and that these books nowadays has no scientific values, and just have historical and artistic values, it might be unnecessary to reprint these books by correction. But a while ago, my dear friend Dr Esfandyari showed me a manuscript of Anatomy from his private library. Since that copy had no date and title, after reading the introduction I found that it was a copy of Tashrih by Mansur bin Mohammad with some special features. It was of high artistic values because of writer’s beautiful hand writing and also the book had an Arabic writing in margins by a physician called Mohsen Kashi about whom we couldn’t find any information. Considering the artistic and historical value of this copy, we decided to print it in the same beautiful look and in limited numbers to be used by researchers and artists.

This book includes a presenting explanation and 7 chapters. In the presenting explanation, the author first thanks and worships God, then introduce himself as Mansur bin Mohammad bin Ahmad and presents the book to Sultan bin Sultan Zia al-haqq va al-Saltanah va al-Donya va al-Din Morzadeh Pir Mohammad Bahador. After this, the first part comes, which is an introduction and in this part we find a long discussion about the wisdom of creating human being in which the ideas of old sages in this regard. After this introduction, the first chapter is about anatomy of skeleton system, explaining the number of bones in body, which is mentioned as 248 bones. Second chapter entitled “about nerves and its types”, explains the nerve system and explicates nerves which start from brain and there are 7 of them and spinal nerves which he knows 31 pairs of them. The third chapter of the book entitled “about muscles and how they are” introduces the structure of muscles and their different forms as well as the number of muscles in body. Fourth chapter is called “about veins and arteries” and discusses sets of veins and various parts of them. It is interesting that in that time because the blood system was not known, they believed that the origin of veins was liver and they deliver the natural substance of body from liver to other parts of the body. The fifth chapter entitled “about arteries and their types” explains the arterial system and introduces the task of heart and arteries to deliver air and life substance to various parts of the body. The titles of the last chapter is “about organs and how a fetus is born” and it shows that in old medicine embryology was part of anatomy. This chapter of the book explains pregnancy and embryology and is a complicated long discussion.

At the end, I should express my appreciation and thank to Dr Adibi the vice-president of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences in research and Dr Keivanara, the Head of Research Center of Health and Humanities who supported this work.

Masoud Kasiri

MD and PhD of History

Winter 2008-09


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