Take Note

An exploration of note-taking in Harvard University Collections
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Interactive Exhibition

13. Canon medicinae

The first medical treatise printed in Hebrew


Naples, Italy, 1463

The Canon medicinae, a compendium of medical knowledge and a guide to clinical teaching, was derived from Galenic writings and infused by Avicenna with Arabic medical lore. The first three books were printed in Latin in 1472 and a complete edition appeared the following year (see a page from an early Latin edition below). The text itself was read in the medical schools at Montpellier and Louvain as late as 1650, and Arnold C. Klebs described it as “one of the most significant intellectual phenomena of all times.” Avicenna’s Canon was translated into Hebrew in 1279. The edition here is the first appearance of the Canon in print in Hebrew as well as the first printing of a medical treatise in Hebrew—and the only one produced during the fifteenth century. The index mark (or manicule)—the small diagram of the hand with pointing finger—was commonly used in the margins of books and manuscripts from the 12th through the 18th century to mark passages of particular note or interest.

Paper and vellum.
HOLLIS Catalog: 009414505



ryanski1@aol.com's picture
Submitted by ryanski1@aol.com on

The denotations and markings made on the side of each written column from a page of the Hebrew translation of Avicenna's Canon from Naples, Italy, 1463 can suggest how informative medical journals like the Canon were published, read and discerned by readers. The Canon includes a standard model in how the literature is presented in both versions featured in the interactive exhibition, each consisting of two columns on each page; this style of publishing had to have served as a useful design for its readers to understand its text.

Brendan Ryan

The Brendan Ryan Company
Houston, Texas

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