Avicenna, Arabic Ibn Sina, in full Abu Ali al-Ḥusayn ibn Abd Allah ibn Sina, (born 980, near Bukhara, Iran [now in Uzbekistan]—died 1037, Hamadan, Iran), Muslim physician, the most famous and influential of the philosopher-scientists of the medieval Islamic world. He was particularly noted for his contributions in the fields of Aristotelian philosophy and medicine. He composed the Kitab al-shifa (Book of the Cure), a vast philosophical and scientific encyclopedia, and Al-Qanun fī al-ṭibb (The Canon of Medicine), which is among the most famous books in the history of medicine.
Avicenna did not burst upon an empty Islamic intellectual stage. It is believed that Muslim writer Ibn al-Muqaffa, or possibly his son, had introduced Aristotelian logic to the Islamic world more than two centuries before Avicenna. Al-Kindi, the first Islamic Peripatetic (Aristotelian) philosopher, and Turkish polymath al-Farabi, from whose book Avicenna would learn Aristotle’s metaphysics, preceded him. Of these luminaries, however, Avicenna remains by far the greatest.
According to Avicenna’s personal account of his life, as communicated in the records of his longtime pupil al-Juzjani, he read and memorized the entire Quran by age 10. The tutor Natili instructed the youth in elementary logic, and, having soon surpassed his teacher, Avicenna took to studying the Hellenistic authors on his own. By age 16, Avicenna turned to medicine, a discipline over which he claimed “easy” mastery. When the sultan of Bukhara fell ill with an ailment that baffled the court physicians, Avicenna was called to his bedside and cured him. In gratitude, the sultan opened the royal Samanid library to him, a fortuitous benevolence that introduced Avicenna to a veritable cornucopia of science and philosophy.
Avicenna began his prodigious writing career at age 21. Some 240 extant titles bear his name. They cross numerous fields, including mathematics, geometry, astronomy, physics, metaphysics, philology, music, and poetry. Often caught up in the tempestuous political and religious strife of the era, Avicenna’s scholarship was unquestionably hampered by a need to remain on the move. At Esfahan, under Ala al-Dawlah, he found the stability and security that had eluded him. If Avicenna could be said to have had any halcyon days, they occurred during his time at Esfahan, where he was insulated from political intrigues and could hold his own scholars’ court every Friday, discussing topics at will. In this salubrious climate, Avicenna completed Kitab al-shifa, wrote Danesh Nameh alayi (Book of Knowledge) and Kitab al-Nejat (Book of Salvation), and compiled new and more-accurate astronomical tables.
While in the company of Ala al-Dawlah, Avicenna fell ill with colic. He treated himself by employing the heroic measure of eight self-administered celery-seed enemas in one day. However, the preparation was either inadvertently or intentionally altered by an attendant to include five measures of active ingredient instead of the prescribed two. That caused ulceration of the intestines. Following up with mithridate (a mild opium remedy attributed to Mithradates VI Eupator, king of Pontus [120–63 BCE]), a slave attempted to poison Avicenna by surreptitiously adding a surfeit of opium. Weakened but indefatigable, he accompanied Ala al-Dawlah on his march to Hamadan. On the way, he took a severe turn for the worse, lingered for a while, and died in the holy month of Ramadan.