Post-classical history

§ The Marvels of Frankish Medicine

Here is an example of the marvellous nature of their medicine. The lord of al-Munaytira234 wrote to my uncle to request that he send him a physician to treat some of his companions who were ill. So my uncle sent him a native Christian physician called [133] Thabit. He was barely gone ten days when he returned to Shayzar. So we said to him, ‘My, you healed your patients so quickly!’ He explained:

They brought before me a knight in whose leg an abscess had formed and a woman who was stricken with a dryness of humours.235 So I made a small poultice for the knight and the abscess opened up and he was healed. For the woman, I prescribed a special diet and increased the wetness of her humours. Then a Frankish physician came to them and said, ‘This fellow don’t know how to treat them.’ He then said to the knight, ‘Which would you like better: living with one leg or dying with both?’ ‘Living with one leg,’ replied the knight. The physician then said, ‘Bring me a strong knight and a sharp axe.’ A knight appeared with an axe – indeed, I was just there – and the physician laid the leg of the patient on a block of wood and said to the knight with the axe, ‘Strike his leg with the axe and cut it off with one blow.’ So he struck him – I’m telling you I watched him do it – with one blow, but it didn’t chop the leg all the way off. So he struck him a second time, but the marrow flowed out of the leg and he died instantly.

He then examined the woman and said, ‘This woman, there is a demon inside her head that has possessed her. Shave off her hair.’ So they shaved her head. The woman then returned to eating their usual diet – garlic and mustard. As a result, her dryness of humours increased. So the physician said, ‘That demon has entered further into her head.’ So he took a razor and made a cut in her head in the shape of a cross. He then peeled back the skin so that the skull was exposed and rubbed it with salt. The woman died instantaneously. So I asked them, ‘Do you need anything else from me?’ ‘No,’ they said. And so I left, having learned about their medicine things I had never known before.

Now, I have observed in their medicine a case exactly the opposite of this. Their king236 named as treasurer one of their knights, called Bernard (may God curse him), one of the most accursed and filthy Franks around. A horse kicked him in his leg and his lower leg started to fester and open up in fourteen different places. Every time these wounds [134] would close in one place, another would open somewhere else. I prayed that he would just perish. But then a Frankish physician came and removed all the ointments that were on him and had him washed with strong vinegar. The wounds closed up and he was well and up again, like the very devil.

Here is another wondrous example of their medicine. We had at Shayzar an artisan called Abu al-Fath, who had a son on whose neck scrofula sores had formed. Every time one would close in one place, another would open up in another place. Once Abu al-Fath went to Antioch on an errand and his son accompanied him. A Frankish man noticed him and asked him about the boy. ‘He is my son,’ Abu al-Fath said.

The Frank said to him, ‘Do you swear to me by your religion that, if I prescribe for you some medicine that will cure your boy, you will not charge money from anyone else whom you yourself treat with it?’

Our man swore to that effect. The Frank then said, ‘Take him some uncrushed leaves of glasswort, burn them, then soak the ashes in olive oil and strong vinegar. Treat him with this until it eats up the pustules in the affected area. Then take some fire-softened lead and soak it in butter. Then treat the boy with this and he will get well.’

So our man treated the boy as he was told and the boy got well. The wounds closed up and he returned to his previous state of health. I have myself treated people afflicted by this ailment with this remedy, and it was beneficial and removed all of their complaints.

§ Newly Arrived Franks are the Roughest

Anyone who is recently arrived from the Frankish lands is rougher in character than those who have become acclimated and have frequented the company of Muslims. Here is an instance of their rough character (may God abominate them!):

Whenever I went to visit the holy sites in Jerusalem, I would go in and make my way up to the al-Aqsa Mosque,237 beside which stood a small mosque that the Franks had converted into a church. When I went into the al-Aqsa Mosque – where the Templars, who are my friends, were – [135] they would clear out that little mosque so that I could pray in it. One day, I went into the little mosque, recited the opening formula ‘God is great!’ and stood up in prayer. At this, one of the Franks rushed at me and grabbed me and turned my face towards the east, saying, ‘Pray like this!’

A group of Templars hurried towards him, took hold of the Frank and took him away from me. I then returned to my prayers. The Frank, that very same one, took advantage of their inattention and returned, rushing upon me and turning my face to the east, saying, ‘Pray like this!’

So the Templars came in again, grabbed him and threw him out. They apologized to me, saying, ‘This man is a stranger, just arrived from the Frankish lands sometime in the past few days. He has never before seen anyone who did not pray towards the east.’

‘I think I’ve prayed quite enough,’ I said and left. I used to marvel at that devil, the change of his expression, the way he trembled and what he must have made of seeing someone praying towards Mecca.238

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