Showing posts with label History of science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label History of science. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Smallpox MS in Sanskrit

MS R.15.86 in the library of Trinity College Cambridge is a tract in Sanskrit in the Bengali script about smallpox.  To the right is the description of this MS in Aufrecht's 1869 catalogue of the Trinity collection (click to enlarge).
The work is described as Rājasiṃhasudhāsaṃgrahanāmni granthe Masūrikācikitsādhyāyaḥ, meaning "The chapter on therapies for smallpox in the book called The Collection of Nectar of Rajasinha."  Aufrecht says it's by a Mahādeva.  It's hard to know who either Mahādeva or Rājasiṃha might be.  A work called Siṃhasudhānidhi "Collected Nectar of the Lion" was composed by one Prince Devīsiṃha of the Bundela dynasty in the 17 century (Meulenbeld, History of Indian Medical Literature, v. IIA, p. 299), but that's a long shot.  Rājasiṃha is a bit of a generic name, "King-Lion".  All Sikhs have "siṃha" (=Singh) as part of their names.  Could be anyone, really.  The MS collection comes from John Bentley (d.1824), who was a historian of astronomy in early 19 cent Calcutta (he wrote A historical view of the Hindu astronomy (1825)).  The MS has written on it in a copper-plate script on the last leaf, "The Forgery of the Hindu respecting the Cowpock-innoculation."  Probably Bentley's hand, though I'm not certain.  The verses on p.25 that Aufrecht says "are open to the suspicion of modern authorship" say,
There are plukes (grantha, knot, lump) on the breasts of cows, with discharge.
One should collect the pus from them, and protect it carefully.
Preceded by
the illnesses of Śītalā, having placed on the surface (pratīka?) of a child,
with a small knife a wound like the wound of a mosquito,
having made it enter into the blood, with the pus itself,
and with the bloods on a little brush, the wise person to what is cured.
The very best physician fearlessly approaches (m-? upaiti) on the child _ _ _

My translation is a bit incoherent, because the original is too.  Maybe if I thought about it longer, I might come up with something better, but probably not.  The vocabulary is a bit strange: pratīka for a limb or the surface of the body is unusual; the stuff about a brush may be wrong. Any suggestions gratefully received.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Well-mannered Medicine published

I'm ever so proud about the publication this month of Dagmar's new book, Well-Mannered Medicine: Medical Ethics and Etiquette in Classical Ayurveda.

Please note that there are now two different "D. Wujastyk"s publishing on the history of science and medicine in South Asia. :-)

Here's the blurb:
Well-Mannered Medicine explores the moral discourses on the practice of medicine in the foundational texts of Ayurveda.

The classical ayurvedic treatises were composed in Sanskrit between the first and the seventh centuries CE, and later works, dating into the sixteenth century CE, are still considered strongly authoritative.  As Wujastyk shows, these works testify to an elaborate system of medical ethics and etiquette. Physicians looked to the ayurvedic treatises for a guide to professional conduct. Ayurvedic discourses on good medical practice depict the physician as highly-educated, skilled, moral, and well-mannered. The rules of conduct positioned physicians within mainstream society and characterized medical practice as a trustworthy and socially acceptable profession. At the same time, professional success was largely based on a particular physician's ability to cure his patients. This resulted in tension, as some treatments and medications were considered socially or religiously unacceptable. Doctors needed to treat their patients successfully while ostensibly following the rules of acceptable behavior.
Wujastyk offers insight into the many unorthodox methods of avoiding conflict while ensuring patient compliance shown in the ayurvedic treatises, giving a disarmingly candid perspective on the realities of medical practice and its crucial role in a profoundly well-mannered society.

Editorial Reviews

"Dagmar Wujastyk's thorough study of medical ethics in classical Ayurvedic texts adds substantially to our knowledge of Ayurveda as a medical system. Ethics here includes the moral attributes required of a physician, personal presentation, medical education, the doctor-patient relationship, medical deception, and much more. In this first rate study, Wujastyk avoids the danger of evaluating Ayurveda from the standpoint of Western medicine. This is required reading for everyone with an interest in Indian medicine or cross-cultural medical history."--Frederick M. Smith, Professor of Sanskrit and Classical Indian Religions, University of Iowa

About the Author

Dagmar Wujastyk is a postdoctoral research fellow at Zurich University in Switzerland and co-editor of Modern and Global Ayurveda - Pluralism and Paradigms. She has taught Sanskrit at the University of Bonn and Cambridge University.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Early Indian MS evidence for "zero"

Early Indian document with ref. to zero

The Bakhsālī manuscript was unearthed by a peasant in 1881 in the village of Bakhshālī about eighty kilometers north-east of Peshawar. The scribe wrote it in the Śāradā script on birch-bark using a pen with a flat, rectangular tip. The most recent research shows that this is the earliest Śāradā manuscript ever discovered, and suggests that it may be datable to as early as AD 700, although a date of 1200 has been proposed in the past. The mathematical work recorded in the manuscript is probably from the seventh century, and appears to have been composed in the Gandhāra
district. The manuscript describes the foundations of arithmetic, including approximations of square roots, rules of inversion and proportion, the rule of three, various forms of equations, and a series of example problems on fiscal, taxation, travel, and geometrical topics (Hayashi 1995). It also uses a dot to symbolize zero, possibly making it the earliest written occurrence of this sign in India.

T Hayashi, The Bakhshali manuscript : An ancient Indian mathematical treatise (Groningen, 1995).

The Origins of Zero

In 1998, I wrote the following letter to the editor of the New Scientist magazine, in response to an article that appeared on 25 April 1998 by Ian Stewart, entitled Zero, Zilch and Zip.

---------- cut -------------

From Sun May 3 15:28:53 1998
Date: Sun, 3 May 1998 15:28:52 +0100 (BST)
From: Dominik Wujastyk
Subject: Ian Stewart: Zero, Zilch and Zip

Dear Sir,

Ian Stewart writes engagingly about the origin of the mathematical zero and place-value notation ("Zero, zilch and zip", 25 April, p 41), but he suggests that these two concepts are connected, when they are in fact both logically and historically separate. You can count reasonably successfully with place-value notation but no explicit zero, and vice versa.

Ian Stewart is also quite wrong in saying that "place notation was born probably in India, maybe with Arab help, not too long after AD 200".

Three key elements -- a decimal base, place-value, and zero (I abbreviate this to "DPZ") -- occurred separately at earlier times both in India and in other parts of the ancient world. In particular, the Babylonians were using a place-value system, with a space for the null value, in the second millennium BC, but their base for counting was sixty, not ten. By the time of Alexander the Great, they were even using a special symbol for this null value. From perhaps as early as the third century AD the Mayans also used place-value and zero, but with the base twenty. But it does indeed seem to have been the Indians who first combined these key elements together to form the basis of the arithmetic system that has come down to the modern world.

The Arabs did not have anything to do with the invention, and indeed Arabs only arrived in India about five hundred years later than Stewart suggests. The Arabs (or rather, the Muslims of the Middle East) certainly did transmit knowledge about zero and the place-value notation to Europe, but they learned it all from the Indians. We call our numerals "Arabic", it is true, but Arabic writers called them "Hindu", meaning "Indian".

The Indian numerals are first mentioned outside India in the year 662, when the Syrian bishop Severus Sebokt, annoyed by the intellectual arrogance of immigrant Greek scholars, reminded them pointedly that other nations were also very learned, such as the Hindus with their admirable systems of astronomy and arithmetic, including calculating with nine symbols.

Indian works on arithmetic, translated from the original Sanskrit in to Arabic (perhaps through Persian or Syriac), began to reach the Islamic world in about the eighth century. The first book known to us from outside India that demonstrates Indian methods of calculating with nine digits and zero was composed in the ninth century, probably in Baghdad, by al-Khwarizmi (whose name, through the medieval Latin and Old French, gives us "algorism" and "algorithm"). From about AD 950 on, many Arabic works demonstrating these new Indian methods of working out arithmetical problems, including fractions, were circulated under the name "al-Hisab al-Hindi', or "Indian calculation". After 1100, Latin translations of Al-Khwarizmi's work spread throughout the centres of medieval learning in Europe, which is how the the Indian DZP system ultimately reached us today.

The earlier history of this number system in India is not perfectly clear, but the Indian astronomer Aryabhata, born in 473, was the first to describe the decimal place-value system explicitly, in a chapter of a work in which he also discusses algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. Before him, the third-century author Sphujidhvaja seems to be the first author to describe the use a symbol for zero in the decimal place-value system.

It is often claimed that the adoption of the DPZ system was a great epistemological change heralding the opening of vast new mathematical horizons, and a leap forward in knowledge generally. I do not see why a notational change of this type should be seen as so important, and there
is little actual historical evidence of such an effect. The counting system that has become second nature to us may seem consummate, but surely that is only a matter of what we are used to, what we have been taught from childhood. The Babylonians, using a non-DZP system, constructed vast tables of astronomical and arithmetical parameters which required extraordinary amounts of calculation, but we see no evidence that they were hampered by having a sexagesimal (60-based) and not a decimal system. Early Greek arithmetic was decimal, but was conducted without recourse to the use of zero. Sometimes a non-DZP notation can be positively helpful: to add ten and ten in Roman (X + X = XX) does not even require knowledge of another symbol, nor any notational manipulation beyond writing the symbols more closely together. What could be easier? That quintessence of modernity, the digital computer, abandons the internal use of decimals entirely, using only binary digits, or bits. The feeling that the DZP combination is in some way "better" than any other system is surely no
different in principle from any other chauvinistic belief, such as that that one's own mother language -- whatever it may be -- is the easiest, best, and most expressive language in the world.

In areas where sexagesimal (60-based) counting still lurks in our own mathematics, such as in the 360 degrees in a circle, we suffer no epistemological harm. That a right angle has ninety degrees has not held our civilization back in any obvious way, though measurement in radians is of course routine in higher maths.

If some future government, politically desperate for a "British Sausage" issue, decides to go for total, all-out decimalization and legislates that a circle shall have ten degrees, there may be a leap in learning, but it may in a direction of five degrees.

Yours faithfully,

Dominik Wujastyk

Dr Dominik Wujastyk, FAX/voice: +44 171 611 8545/8467
Wellcome Institute for URL:
the History of Medicine, Email:
Wellcome Trust, 183 Euston Road, Trust URL:
London NW1 2BE, England.

First Rule of History:
History doesn't repeat itself -- historians merely repeat each other.