Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi

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ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Baghdādī (Arabic: عبداللطيف البغدادي‎, 1162 Baghdad–1231 Baghdad), short for Muwaffaq al-Dīn Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Laṭīf ibn Yūsuf al-Baghdādī (Arabic: موفق الدين محمد عبد اللطيف بن يوسف البغدادي‎), was a physician, philosopher, historian, Arabic grammarian and traveler, and one of the most voluminous writers in the Near East of his time.[1]

Biography[edit]

Many details of ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Baghdādī's life are known from his autobiography as present in Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿah's literary history of medicine. As a young man, he studied grammar, law, tradition, medicine, alchemy and philosophy. He focused his studies on ancient authors, in particular Aristotle, after first adopting Avicenna [Ibn Sīnā] as his philosophical mentor at the suggestion of a wandering scholar from the Maghreb. He traveled extensively and resided for a while in Mosul (in 1189) where he studied the works of al-Suhrawardi before traveling on to Damascus (1190) and the camp of Saladin outside Acre (1191). It was at the latter location that he met Baha’ al-Din Ibn Shaddad and ‘Imad al-Din al-Isfahani and acquired the Qadi al-Fadil's patronage. He went on to Cairo, where he met Abu'l-Qasim al-Shari'i, who introduced him to the works of al-Farabi, Alexander of Aphrodisias, and Themistius and (according to al-Latif) turned him away from Avicenna and alchemy.[2]

He met Saladin himself in 1192 in Jerusalem and enjoyed his patronage, then went to Damascus again before returning to Cairo. In later years he again journeyed to Jerusalem and to Damascus in 1207-8, and eventually made his way via Aleppo to Erzindjan, where he remained at the court of the Mengujekid Ala’-al-Din Da’ud [Dāwūd Shāh] until the city was conquered by the Rūm Seljuk ruler Kayqubād Ibn Kaykhusraw [Kayqubād II]. ‘Abd al-Latif returned to Baghdad in 1229, travelling back via Erzerum, Kamakh, Divriği and Malatya. He died in Baghdad two years later.[2]

Account of Egypt[edit]

ʿAbd al-Laṭīf was undoubtedly a man of great knowledge and of an inquisitive and penetrating mind. Of the numerous works (mostly on medicine) which Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿah ascribes to him, one only, his graphic and detailed Account of Egypt (in two parts), appears to be known in Europe.[3]

Archeology[edit]

ʿAbd-al-Laṭīf was well aware of the value of ancient monuments. He praised Muslim rulers for preserving and protecting pre-Islamic artifacts and monuments, but he also criticized them for failing to do this. He noted that the preservation of antiquities presented a number of benefits for Muslims:[4]

  • "monuments are useful historical evidence for chronologies";
  • "they furnish evidence for Holy Scriptures, since the Qur'an mentions them and their people";
  • "they are reminders of human endurance and fate";
  • "they show, to a degree, the politics and history of ancestors, the richness of their sciences, and the genius of their thought".

While discussing the profession of treasure hunting, he notes that poorer treasure hunters were often sponsored by rich businessmen to go on archeological expeditions. In some cases, an expedition could turn out to be fraud, with the treasure hunter disappearing with large amounts of money extracted from sponsors. This fraudulent practice continues to the present day, with rich businessmen in Egypt still being deceived by local treasure hunters.[5]

Egyptology[edit]

This work was one of the earliest works on Egyptology. It contains a vivid description of a famine caused, during the author's residence in Egypt, by the Nile failing to overflow its banks.[3] He also wrote detailed descriptions on ancient Egyptian monuments.[6]

Autopsy[edit]

Al-Baghdādī wrote that during the famine in Egypt in 597 AH (1200 AD), he had the opportunity to observe and examine a large number of skeletons. This was one of the earliest examples of a postmortem autopsy, through which he discovered that Galen was incorrect regarding the formation of the bones of the lower jaw [mandible], coccyx, and sacrum.[7]

Translation[edit]

The Arabic manuscript was discovered in 1665 by Edward Pococke the orientalist, and preserved in the Bodleian Library {under siglum 230}.[3] He then published the Arabic manuscript in the 1680s. His son, Edward Pococke the Younger, translated the work into Latin, though he was only able to publish less than half of his work. Thomas Hunt attempted to publish Pococke's complete translation in 1746, though his attempt was unsuccessful.[8] Pococke's complete Latin translation was eventually published by Joseph White of Oxford in 1800. The work was then translated into French, with valuable notes, by Silvestre de Sacy in 1810.[9]

Philosophy[edit]

As far as philosophy is concerned, one may adduce that ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Baghdādī regarded philosophers as paragons of real virtue and therefore he refused to accept as a true philosopher one lacking not only true insight, but also a truly moral personality as true philosophy was in the service of religion, verifying both belief and action. Apart from this he regarded the philosophers’ ambitions as vain (Endress, in Martini Bonadeo, Philosophical journey, xi). ʿAbd al-Laṭīf composed several philosophical works, among which is an important and original commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics (Kitāb fī ʿilm mā baʿd al-ṭabīʿa). This is a critical work in the process of the Arabic assimilation of Greek thought, demonstrating its author’s acquaintance with the most important Greek metaphysical doctrines, as set out in the writings of al-Kindī (d. circa 185-252/801-66) and al-Fārābī (d. 339/950). The philosophical section of his Book of the Two Pieces of Advice [Kitāb al-Naṣīḥatayn] contains an interesting and challenging defence of philosophy and illustrates the vibrancy of philosophical debate in the Islamic colleges. It moreover emphasises the idea that Islamic philosophy did not decline after the twelfth century CE (Martini Bonadeo, Philosophical journey; Gutas). ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Baghdādī may therefore well be an exponent of what Gutas calls the “golden age of Arabic philosophy” (Gutas, 20).

Alchemy[edit]

ʿAbd al-Laṭīf also penned two passionate and somewhat grotesque pamphlets against the art of alchemy in all its facets. Although he engaged himself with alchemy for a short while, he later abandoned the art completely by rejecting not only its practice, but also its theory. In ʿAbd al-Laṭīf’s view alchemy could not be placed in the system of the sciences, and its false presumptions and pretensions must be distinguished from true scientific knowledge, which can be given a rational basis (Joosse, Rebellious intellectual, 29-62; Joosse, Unmasking the craft, 301-17; Martini Bonadeo, Philosophical journey, 5-6 and 203-5; Stern, 66-7; Allemann).

Spiritualism[edit]

During the years following the Great War [i.e. the First World War, 1914-18] ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Baghdādī’s name miraculously reappeared within the spiritualistic movement in the United Kingdom. He was introduced to the public by the Irish medium Eileen J. Garrett, the author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the spiritualist R.H. Saunders and became known as Abduhl Latif, the great Persian physician. He is said to have acted as a control of mediums until the mid 1960s (Joosse, Geest, 221-9). The Bodleian Library MS Pococke 230 and the interpretation of the Videans (Zand-Videan, 8-9) may also have prompted the whimsical short-story ‘Ghost Writer’, as told to Tim Mackintosh-Smith, in which ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Baghdādī speaks in the first person.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-18022-2, page 3
  2. ^ a b Leaman 2015, p. 44; Meri 2005, p. 2.
  3. ^ a b c  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Abdallatif". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 30–31.
  4. ^ El Daly 2004, p. 10.
  5. ^ El Daly 2004, p. 36.
  6. ^ El Daly 2004.
  7. ^ Savage-Smith 1996, p. 951.
  8. ^ Toomer 1996, p. 272-273.
  9. ^ Toomer 1996, p. 275.

Bibliography[edit]

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