Folio from an Arabic translation of the Materia Medica by Dioscorides; recto: Physician and an Ill Man; verso: text. Iraq, 1224
The ‘Abbasid court in Baghdad famously sponsored the translation of a lot of Greek scientific, mathematic, and medical texts into Arabic, and our only knowledge today of many Greek works comes through their Arabic transmission. This isn’t one of those books, though. The Materia Medica stayed in constant circulation in Arabic, Greek, and Latin straight through the Middle Ages, and annotations and commentaries sometimes made their way from Arabic back to Latin and Greek. Usually people talk about the ‘Abbasid preservation of Greek texts to make a point about how Europe fell away from its own history, and lost touch with the knowledge that the Islamic world kept alive, and had to rediscover it all during the Renaissance. That’s not totally untrue! But this particular book’s history is an example of how those two worlds, in some ways, never stopped being in conversation with each other all along.