Divine Doctors: The Construction of the Image of Three Greek Physicians in Islamic Biographical Dictionaries of Physicians

Keren Abbou Hershkovits, Zohar Shani Hadromi-Allouche

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This paper examines the way authors of three medieval Islamic biographical dictionaries portrayed the lives, behavior and characteristics of three key figures of Greco-Roman medicine, Asclepius, Hippocrates and Galen. Particular attention was given to the vocabulary and phrasing used in the biographies, and associations with other literary genres or figures. An analysis of these biographies demonstrates a significant resemblance between the portrayal of these Greco-Roman physicians and the lives of prophetic figures in Islam, and especially that of the Prophet Muhammad. In addition, these biographies align with features attributed to pious Muslims. This study demonstrates that Muslim biographers constructed these biographies as part of a general tendency to associate medicine with Islam, and the origins of medical knowledge with
prophetic wisdom. This study mantains that the connotations and use of this particular terminology allows for a positive view of the science of medicine in these Islamic compositions in which they were included.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-63
Number of pages29
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgments: the authors wish to thank Daniella Talmon Heller and Gerald
Hawting for reading a previous draft of this paper and making helpful comments. A shorter version was presented at the “Literature and History: Middle Eastern Perspectives” workshop held at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev between 31 May and 3 June 2010. We would like to express our gratitude to the organisers, Ariel Moriah Sheetrit and Yair Huri, as well as to the panelists Ahmad al-Rahim, Nimrod Hurvitz and Daniella Talmon Heller, and to the workshop participants, who all contributed valuable comments. We would also like to thank Faith Wallis, for giving much valuable advice and many suggestions, and Cristina Álvarez Millán, who generously agreed to translate the abstract into Spanish. Keren Abbou Hershkovits wishes to thank the Transmission Translation and Transformation research group at McGill University for their generous Scholarship. Special thanks are also due to our anonymous readers, for their valuable insights. All mistakes remain our own.


  • Islam
  • medicine
  • Galen
  • Greek
  • Aesclepious
  • Hippocrates
  • biographical literature
  • prophecy
  • Greco-Roman medicine


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