Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-Ibadi

Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-Ibadi (809 – 873) was an influential Arab Nestorian Christian translator, scholar, physician, and scientist. Born to a Nestorian druggist in al-Hira near BabyIon Hunayn ibn-Ishaq followed in the footsteps of his father. In his lifetime, he devoted himself to working on a multitude of writings; both translations and original works. He and his students transmitted their Arabic and Syriac translations of many classical Greek texts throughout the Islamic world, during the apex of the Islamic Abbasid Caliphate.

Ibn-Ishaq became famous in medieval Europe by his introduction to the Ars Parva Galeni, which was translated into Latin under the title Isagoge Johannitii. His greatest success among Asians came by his Questions on Medicine and Ophthalmology. Other books covered diverse subjects such as the diet of the old, the diet of convalescent patients, different remedies, symptoms, pulse, fever, urine, bath, hygiene, veterinary medicine, anecdotes of ancient philosophers and medical men, colors, actions of the sun and moon, the reason why seawater is salty, etc. 

Perhaps Hunayn ibn-Ishaq's greatest achievements were in Ophthalmology. He authored many books, some of which are still preserved today. A few of the titles are: The Ten Treatises on the Eye, The Questions on the Eye, On the Structure of the Eye, The Book of Colours, The Divisions of Eye-Diseases, The Choice of Remedies for Eye-Diseases, and The Operative Treatment of Eye-Diseases. His achievements were certainly the starting point for Arab ophthalmology.

Hunayn ibn Ishaq’s many contributions enriched the field of ophthalmology. His developments in the study of the human eye can be traced through his innovative book, “Ten Treatises on Ophthalmology.” This textbook is the first known systematic treatment of this field and was most likely used in medical schools at the time. Throughout the book, Hunayn explains the eye and its anatomy in minute detail; its diseases, their symptoms, their treatments. Hunayn repeatedly emphasized that he believed the crystalline lens to be in the center of the eye. Hunayn may have been the originator of this idea. The idea of the central crystalline lens was widely believed from Hunayn's period through the late 1500s. He discusses the nature of cysts and tumors, and the swelling they cause. He discusses how to treat various corneal ulcers through surgery, and the therapy involved in repairing cataracts. “Ten Treatises on Ophthalmology” demonstrates the skills Hunayn ibn Ishaq had not just as a translator and a physician, but also as a surgeon.

Hunayn ibn-Ishaq was also regarded as one of the greatest and most productive of all translators. He did many original translations as well as revisions of many others done by his predecessors as they were inaccurate and many of them had transliterated the Greek with Syriac or Arabic letters. According to his own list, he translated into Syriac 95 and into Arabic 39 books of Galen. In one of his manuscripts entitled al-Sina'ah al-Saghirah preserved in the Garrett collection of Arabic and Persian manuscripts in Princeton University, seven books of Galen's anatomy which were lost in the original Greek are fortunately preserved in Arabic through the translations of ibn-Ishaq.