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A Note on ‘Arabic’ r/zāmhrān

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[Abstract This article deals with the reception and the etymology of the term r/zāmhrān, a ‘foreign’ drug name occasionally occurring in medieval Arabic pharmacological literature. The argument rests on the sources and focuses on philological documentation., Abstract This article deals with the reception and the etymology of the term r/zāmhrān, a ‘foreign’ drug name occasionally occurring in medieval Arabic pharmacological literature. The argument rests on the sources and focuses on philological documentation.]

1. FN11 Al-Ṭabarī, ʿAlī b. Sahl Rabban, Firdaws al-ḥikma fī l-ṭibb, ed. Muḥammad Zubayr al-Ṣiddīqī, Berlin, Sonnen-Druckerei, 1928, p. 560, l. 2-8; for a German translation of the passage see Alfred Siggel, Die indischen Bücher aus dem Paradies der Weisheit über die Medizin des ʿAlī ibn Sahl Rabban aṭ-Ṭabarī, Wiesbaden, Steiner (“Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, Abhandlungen der Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaftlichen Klasse”, 14), 1950, p. 19.
2. FN22 Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ, ʿAbd Allāh, [Kalīla wa-Dimna] La version arabe de Kalîlah et Dimnah d’après le plus ancien manuscrit arabe daté, ed. Louis Cheikho, Beirut, Imprimerie catholique, 1905, p. 118, l. 12 to p. 119, l. 7; for a French translation of the passage, based on ʿAbd al-Wahhāb ʿAzzām’s edition of the Arabic text (Cairo, 1941), see André Miquel, Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ: le livre de Kalila et Dimna, Paris, Klincksieck (“Études arabes et islamiques, textes et traductions”, 1), 1957, p. 122. Several other modern editions, translations and ‘re-narrations’ of Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ’s popular work exist, but most of them are of little or no critical value.
3. FN33 Calila et Dimna, ou fables de Bidpai, en arabe, ed. Silvestre de Sacy, Paris, Imprimerie Royale, 1816.
4. FN44 The principal characters in the Indian version(s) of the Pañcatantra, two jackals called Karaṭaka and Damanaka, lent their names to the titles of most subsequent recensions.
5. FN55 For a summary of the Near Eastern reception of the work see Carl Brockelmann, “Kalīla wa-Dimna”, EI², IV, p. 503-6; on the textual and literary genesis of the work see the detailed, masterful study by François de Blois, Burzōy’s Voyage to India and the Origin of the Book of Kalīlah wa Dimnah, London, Royal Asiatic Society (“Prize Publication Fund”, 23), 1990.
6. FN66 For a close reasoning see de Blois, Voyage, p. 14.
7. FN77 Sābūr b. Sahl b. Sābūr al-Kawsaǧ, [al-Aqrābād̠īn al-ṣaġīr] Dispensatorium parvum, ed. Oliver Kahl, Leiden, Brill (“Islamic Philosophy, Theology and Science”, 16), 1994, p. 69-70; it is worth reproducing here a full English translation of the early form of this remedy (after Oliver Kahl, Sābūr ibn Sahl: the Small Dispensatory, Leiden, Brill [“Islamic Philosophy, Theology and Science”, 53], 2003, p. 58-9):The preparation of the rāmhrān—an Indian remedy which is useful against putrid cold humours, putridity of the stomach, coldness of the body, senility, black bile, sorrow and pensiveness, premature delivery, putridity of the menstrual blood, and it increases sexual potency. Take sweet flag, bitter alecost, ‘long’ birthwort and ‘rolled’ birthwort 60g of each; long pepper and ginger 100g of each; celery seeds, visnaga, caraway, fennel seeds, lucerne seeds, purslane seeds, rocket seeds, applemint, forget-me-not, Kerman cumin and dill seeds 120g of each; clove, usnea, lemon grass and balm twigs 60g of each; melilot, wormwood, orache, balm seeds, cassia, mace, grains of paradise and canella 80g of each; yellow myrobalan, beleric myrobalan and the ‘milk’ of emblic 160g of each; dried mandrake, white hellebore, myrtle, wild marjoram, the seeds of wild henbane, the seeds of garden henbane, garden caltrop, Indian garden cress, the white kind of wild marjoram, peeled citron seeds, hawthorn, Indian sandarac, white and red sea lavender and common ash 62g of each; thirty nutmegs; the roots of wild serpent melon and the seeds of agnus castus 60g of each; carrot seeds and grape ivy 19g of each; opium, spurge and castoreum 9g of each; stoneless black myrobalan 12g; Indian laurel, fenugreek, spignel, parsley and Chinese rhubarb 19g of each. These ingredients are brought together by pounding and straining. [Then] take white candy in a weight [equalling] all of the described ingredients, cow’s ghee [equalling] the combined weight of the ingredients and the candy, and combfree honey [equalling] the total weight. [This] is worked up according to the [following] instruction, and used. Mixing instruction: take the candy, cut it, add 1.2l of water, and cook until it melts and gains the consistency of honey; then add to it the honey; next [take] the cow’s ghee and moisten with it the pounded and strained ingredients; then get the cooked honey and candy into a large mortar, spread on it the buttered ingredients, knead [that] into an even [paste], put it in a receptacle which held honey for a long time, store it for six months, and after that a potion [may be made] by using it for three days at the beginning and end of the month [in a quantity of] just one gallnut with hot water and one of the wines.
8. FN88 Ibn Sīnā, Abū ʿAlī l-Ḥusayn b. ʿAbd Allāh, al-Qānūn fī l-ṭibb, Beirut, Dār Ṣādir, n.d. [reprint of the edition Būlāq 1294/1877], III, p. 322-3 (large) and p. 323 (small).
9. FN99 Irene Fellmann, Das Aqrābād̠īn al-Qalānisī: quellenkritische und begriffsanalytische Untersuchungen zur arabisch-pharmazeutischen Literatur, Beirut, Steiner (“Beiruter Texte und Studien”, 35), 1986, p. 237.
10. FN1010 Not though in the dispensatories of al-Kindī and Ibn al-Tilmīd̠, nor in the pharmacological sections of al-Maǧūsī’s encyclopedia.
11. FN1111 On Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ’s broad literary ambitions and spiritual interests see Francesco Gabrieli, “Ibn al-Muḳaffaʿ”, EI², III, p. 883-5.
12. FN1212 Namely the Saṃhitā of Suśruta, that of Caraka, the Aṣṭāṅgahṛdaya-Saṃhitā of Vāgbhaṭa, and the Nidāna of Mādhava.
13. FN1313 See e.g. Lutz Richter-Bernburg, “Gondēšāpur: History and Medical School”, Encyclopædia Iranica, Online Edition, available at
14. FN1414 Ignazio Guidi, Studii sul testo arabo del libro di Calila e Dimna, Rome, Spithöver, 1873, p. 44. The substitution in the Greek version is a freak, for ἀδίαντος is “maidenhair” (Adiantum capillus-veneris), see Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon with a Revised Supplement, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1996, p. 22; the Persian (and thence Arabic) equivalent is baršiyāwušān, see Albert Dietrich, Dioscurides triumphans: ein anonymer arabischer Kommentar (Ende 12. Jahrh. n.Chr.) zur Materia medica, Göttingen, Vandenhoeck<Ruprecht (“Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen, Philologisch-Historische Klasse, Dritte Folge”, 173), 1988, II, p. 639; besides, “maidenhair” does not even feature among the ingredients of the r/zāmhrān.
15. FN1515 Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ, Version, p. 52.
16. FN1616 Miquel, Livre, p. 122 with note 54.
17. FN1717 William Wright, The Book of Kalīlah and Dimnah or the Fables of Bidpai: translated from Arabic into Syriac, being the Later Syriac Version (Eleventh Century), Oxford, OUP, 1884, p. 142-3 with note 1. The Syriac form ܢܪܗܡܪ appears to be an hapax legomenon, judging from the circuit entry in Robert Payne Smith, Thesaurus Syriacus, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1901, II, p. 3929.
18. FN1818 Siggel, Bücher, p. 19 with note 2.
19. FN1919 Werner Schmucker, Die pflanzliche und mineralische Materia Medica im Firdaus al-Ḥikma des Ṭabarī, Bonn, Selbstverlag des Orientalischen Seminars (“Bonner Orientalistische Studien”, 18), 1969, p. 211. Schmucker here also repeats his criticism of a habit of Siggel and other Arabists who vocalize unidentified Sanskrit words willfully with ‘a’; Schmucker’s gibe is generally justified but, as we shall see, in this particular case not necessarily appropriate.
20. FN2020 Kahl, Dispensatory, p. 58, n. 59—we will return to the name Mihrān in what follows.
21. FN2121 See Johann August Vullers, Lexicon Persico-Latinum Etymologicum, Bonn, Adolph Marcus, 1864, II, p. 9 and Monier Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1899, p. 877. Incidentally Vullers, Lexicon, p. 107 throws up, albeit sine exemplo, the lemma زامهرون, vocalized by him “zāmahrūn” (?).
22. FN2222 See Ferdinand Justi, Iranisches Namenbuch, Marburg, Elwert, 1895, p. 214 and Arthur Christensen, L’Iran sous les Sassanides, Copenhagen, Ejnar Munksgaard, 1944, p. 103-5.
23. FN2323 For drug names evoking similar connotations of the Iranian past see e.g. Schmucker, Firdaus, p. 182 (“Khosrow’s remedy”); Kahl, Dispensatory, p. 34 (“the remedy of king Kavadh”); and ibid., p. 129 (“the stomachic of Sasanian nobles”). Into this category also fall certain drug names from the Greco-Aramaic tradition, like the remedy called βασιλικόν (calqued ܐܝܐܟܠܡ) “belonging to a king”, see e.g. Oliver Kahl, The Dispensatory of Ibn at-Tilmīd̠, Leiden, Brill (“Islamic Philosophy, Theology and Science”, 70), 2007, p. 261. On the general principles of drug naming in Arabic pharmacy and for a list of typical generic drug names see ibid., p. 27, n. 58 and p. 340-2 respectively.
24. FN2424 See Monier-Williams, Dictionary, p. 1053.
25. FN2525 See Monier-Williams, Dictionary, p. 1289.
26. FN2626 The representation of श by ز requires an ambiguous Pahlavi intermediate grapheme (such as ś → š/ž or č/z → z); Schmucker, Firdaus, p. 211 got stuck because he worked on the assumption of a direct transliteration from Sanskrit into Arabic.

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Affiliations: 1: University of Manchester


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