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A Compendium on the Soul

A Compendium on the Soul
Title: A Compendium on the Soul
Release Date: 2018-10-28
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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«E l’anima umana la qual è colla nobiltà dellapotenzia ultima, cioè ragione, participa delladivina natura a guisa di sempiterna Intelligenza;perocchè l’anima è tanto in quella sovranapotenzia nobilitata, e dinudata da materia,che la divina luce, come in Angiolo,raggia in quella; e però è l’uomo divino animaleda’ Filosofi chiamato.»[1]

(Dante, Convito, III, 2.)

S. Salvatore Corte Regia, 10


Abû-'Aly al-Husayn Ibn 'Abdallah Ibn Sînâ:
Grateful Acknowledgement of the Substantial Help
From Dr. S. Landauer’s Concise German Translation,
James Middleton
MacDonald’s Literal English Translation;
For the Use of Pupils and Students of Government Schools
Cairo, Egypt.

[Pg 7]


Several sources out of which to draw informationand seek guidance as to Ibn Sînâ’s biographyand writings, and his systems of medicineand philosophy, are nowadays easily accessibleto nearly every one. Among such sources the followingare the best for Egyptian students:

  1. Ibn Abi Uçaybi´ah’s “Tabaqât-ul-Atib-ba,”and Wuestenfeld’s “Arabische Aertzte.”
  2. Ibn Khallikân’s “Wafâyât-ul-A´ayân.”
  3. Brockelmann’s “Arabische Literatur.”
  4. F. Mehren’s Series of Essays on IbnSînâ in the Periodical “Muséon” from theyear 1882 and on.
  5. Clément Huart’s Arabic Literature, eitherin the French Original or in the English Translation.
  6. Carra de Vaux’s “Les Grands Philosophes:Avicenna,” Paris, Felix Alcan, 1900,pp. vii et 302.
  7. T. de Boer’s “History of Philosophy inIslâm,” both in Dutch and in the English translation.

[Pg 8]

The “Offering to the Prince in the Formof a Compendium on the Soul,” of which thepresent Pamphlet is my attempt at an EnglishTranslation, is the least known throughout Egyptand Syria of all Ibn Sînâ’s many and able literaryworks: indeed I have failed, after repeatedand prolonged enquiry, to come across so muchas one, among my many Egyptian acquaintances,that had even heard of it.

Doctor Samuel Landauer of the Universityof Strassburg published both the Arabic text,and his own concise German translation, of thisResearch into the Faculties of the Soul, in volume29 for the year 1875 of the Z.d.D.M.G.,together with his critical notes and exhaustivelyerudite confrontations of the original Arabic withmany Greek passages from Plato, Aristotle, AlexanderAphrodisias, and others, that Ibn Sînâ hadaccess to, it would appear, second hand, i.e.through translations. Doctor Landauer made usealso of a very rare Latin translation by AndreasAlpagus, printed at Venice in 1546; and of theCassel second edition of Jehuda Hallévy’s religiousDialogue entitled Khusari, which is in rabbinicalHebrew, and on pages 385 to 400 of whichthe views of “philosophers” on the Soul are setforth, Doctor Landauer having discovered to hisagreeable surprise that those 15 pages are simplya word for word excerpt from this Research byIbn Sînâ. For the Arabic text itself, he had at[Pg 9]his command only two manuscript copies, the one,preserved in the Library at Leyden, being veryfaulty; and the other, in the Biblioteca Ambrosianaat Milan, being far more accurate andcorrect.

This text was reprinted talis qualis, but withomission of every kind of note, in 1884 at Beirût,Syria, by Khalîl Sarkîs: this reprint is very hardto find.

James Middleton MacDonald, M.A., madea studiedly literal English translation or rathera construe of it in 1884, of which he got a smallnumber printed in pamphlet form at Beirût, andby Khalîl Sarkîs also: this English Version toois very rare, and almost unknown.

My present English rendering of this Essayby Avicena on the Powers of the Soul has beenmade directly and finally from the Arabic Originalas given in the Landauer Text, with constantconsultation however of both the Landauer Germantranslation and the MacDonald Englishconstrue: it has been made not for Europeanscholars and Arabists but solely for pupil studentsin Egypt, which circumstance called in a greatmeasure for the use of two or more nearly synonymouswords where the Arabic original oftenhas but one only. Indeed I am not ashamed tosay further that in some places I have failed to[Pg 10]follow the drift and understand the purport ofIbn Sînâ’s argument; so that in such passages Iam only too conscious of how far my renderingmay perhaps have wandered from the right andtrue sense. But the author himself declares thatpsychology is one of the deepest and darkest ofstudies; and he relates of himself in his autobiographythat he had read one of Aristotle’s writingsforty times over, until he had got it by heart,and yet had failed to see the point. And he goeson to tell of how it was that he one day stumbledacross and then read over al-Fârâbî’s “MaqâçidAristotle,” whereupon mental light dawned uponhim as to the purport of that writing.

Those for whom I have made it now knowwhy this my English version is often timid andwavering, nay sometimes even wordy and hazy.

The end of the next year’s session will inall likelihood bring with it the cessation of myconnection with the Khedivial School of Law.More than this: I am getting well on in life, sothat this translation will most likely be the lastserious work that I shall ever perform in theservice of Young Egypt. Such reflections awakenin my inmost soul all sorts of feelings and thoughtsabout the shortness and fleetingness of thisearthly life, the happiness of childhood and youth,the darkness of the grave, and the utter despair[Pg 11]that will surely engulf the soul at the last hours,unless—mark my words—unless the strongarm of our Heavenly Father lay hold upon thissoul that is now within me, and take it off andup, to be joined unto the millions of souls ofall, all those who have gone before, whither tooshall follow so many, many other millions; in aword, unless GOD have mercy upon me, even asHe has had mercy upon my forefathers and motherssince many generations. This hope in Hismercy and grace is my ever-strengthening propand stay, the older and feebler I get. Nor willany of those for whom I write these lines everfind a stronger or a better. And the time willvery soon come when each and every one of them,however long may be his life here below, willsurely need it, to save him from sinking intothe black nothingness of doubt, indifference, anddespair.


Verona, August, 1906.

Wer fertig ist, dem ist nichts recht zu machen:
Ein werdender wird immer dankbar sein.[2]

[Lustige Person, in Goethe’s Faust]

[Pg 12]


[1] Note added by transcriber:From the translation of Dante's Il Convito (The Banquet) by Elizabeth Sayer Price (in Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/12867):

And the Human Soul possessing the nobility of the highest power, which is Reason,participates in the Divine Nature, after the manner of an eternal Intelligence:for the Soul is ennobled and denuded of matter by that Sovereign Power in proportionas the Divine Light of Truth shines into it, as into an Angel; and Man is thereforecalled by the Philosophers the Divine Animal.

[2] Note added by the transcriber:From the translation of Goethe's Faust by Bayard Taylor (in Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14591):

A mind once formed, is never suited after;
One yet in growth will ever grateful be.

[Funny Person, in Goethe’s Faust]

[Pg 13]


In the Name of GOD, the Merciful, the Compassionate:May GOD bless our Lord Muhammadand his Kinsfolk, and give them peace. O myGod facilitate [this undertaking]; and make [it]end in good, O Thou Bounteous Being!

Abu-´Aly, Ibn Sînâ, the chief elder, learnèdand erudite leader, the precise and accurateresearcher, Truth’s plea against mankind, thephysician of physicians, the philosopher of Islâm,may the Most High GOD have mercy upon him,saith:—

The best of beginnings is that which isadorned with praise to the Giver of strength forpraising Him; and for invoking blessing and peaceupon our Lord Muhammad, His prophet and servant,and upon his good and pure offspring afterhim. And after this beginning, he saith further:—

Had not custom given leave to the small andlow to reach up to the great and high, it wouldbe most difficult for them ever to tread thosepaths in going over which they need to lay holdof their upholding arm[3] and seek the help of[Pg 14]their superior strength; to attain to a position intheir service, and join themselves to their socialcircle; to pride themselves on having becomeconnected with them, and openly declare theirreliance upon them. Nay, the very bond whichjoins the common man to the man of élite wouldbe severed, and the reliance of the flock upon itsshepherd would cease; the frail would no longerbecome powerful through the strength of themighty, nor the low-born rise through the protectionand countenance of the high-born; thefoolish would not be able to correct his folly andignorance by intercourse with the prudent andwise; nor the wise draw nigh to the ignorantand foolish.

And whereas I find that custom has trodalong this highroad, and prescribed this usage,I avail myself of such a precedent and excuse towarrant my reaching up and aspiring to thePrince, GOD give him long life, with an offering[an acceptable present]; and I have given prevalenceto the thought that my choice ought to fallupon an object which will at once be most acceptableto him, and best calculated to attain myaim of ingratiating myself into his favor; andthis, after coming to the certain conclusion thatthe chief virtues are two, namely 1. Love ofwisdom as to the Articles of Faith, (i.e., Loveof Philosophy in theoretical principles); and2. Choice of the most honest of deeds as to in[Pg 15]tention(i.e., the preference of pure purposes inpractical life).

And in this connection I find the Prince,God prolong his days, to have given to his intrinsicallyworthy character so much of the polishand lustre imparted by wisdom that he far outstripshis rivals among the princes, and overtops allsuch as are of his kind. And hence I clearlyperceive that of all presents the one he willappreciate most is such as conduces to the mostprecious of the virtues, to wit wisdom. I had,however, so far profitted from a careful perusalof the books of the learnèd as to find theirresearches into the spiritual faculties among themost abstruse and refractory against the mind’sgrasping what they mean, and the most bewildering,obscure and misleading as to their results.And yet I have seen it reported about a numberof wise men (philosophers) and pious[4] saintsthat they agree in this dictum (motto), viz:“Whoso Knoweth himself, Knoweth his Lord”;and I have also heard the Chief of the Philosopherssay, in agreement with their saying: “Whosofaileth to Know himself, is still more likely (apt)to fail of Knowing his Creator”; and “How shallhe, who is trusted as a reliable authority in ascience, be deemed to have any views at all,when he is ignorant of himself?” I see furtherthe Book of the Most High GOD pointing to themeasure of truth of this, where He says, when[Pg 16]mentioning the distance separating the Erringfrom His mercy: Surah 59, al-Hashr, v. 19: “theyforgot God, and He made them forget themselves”;is not His making the forgetting of self to dependupon forgetting Him done so as to awaken theattention to His closely binding the remembranceof Him with the remembrance of self, and theknowledge of Him with the knowledge of self,scilicet of one’s own soul? Furthermore, I haveread in the books of the ancients that the hardtask of going deeply into the knowledge of selfhad been enjoined upon them by an oracle thathad descended upon them at one of the templesof the gods, which says: “Know thyself, O man,so shalt thou know thy Lord.” I have also readthat this saying was engraved in the façade ofthe temple of Aesculapius, who is known amongthem as one of the prophets, and whose mostfamous miracle is that he was wont to heal thesick by mere loud supplication; and so did allpriests who performed sacerdotal functions in histemple. From him have philosophers got thescience

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