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The Laughable Stories of Bar-Hebraeus, by Bar-Hebraeus, tr. E.A.W. Budge, [1897], at

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The Ninth Chapter


CCCXXV. It is said that Ardashîr, the king of the Persians, never permitted a physician to prescribe for him until he had had him stung by a viper; if he was able to heal himself he gave him his daily food and the physician entered his service.

CCCXXVI. It was said unto a certain physician by a sick man, "I have eaten several chickens," and the physician said to him, "One chicken would have been sufficient for thee." The sick man said, "But chickens do no harm," and the physician answered, "If a man should put on ten silk garments, one over the other, he would imagine that he was clothed in a thick cloak."

CCCXXVII. Dixit medicus alius questo cuidam quia saepe cum feminis coire nequibat, "Carne vescere, vinum bibe, medicamentis utere in Venerem incitantibus, cum petulantibus versare ac lascivis—sic demum virum te praestare poteris."

CCCXXXIII. Medicus quidam cui dixerat aliquis, "Clamosis ventris inflationibus afficior et ructationibus flatuosis," respondit, "Ventrem certe cum strepitu inflant pedita quae nequeunt evadere: de flatuosis tamen ructationibus non adhuc legi quid sint."

CCCXXIX. A physician said, "The food which is

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not digested devoureth him that eateth it; eat then food in moderation that thou mayest have the power to digest it."

CCCXXX. A physician used to say, "He who exerciseth the duty of marriage overmuch multiplieth the destruction of the oil of the lamp of his life; but, however, if he wisheth to increase it let him do so, or if he pleaseth let him diminish it."

CCCXXXI. Another physician said, "It is meet for a physician to heal every sick person with medicines which are strange to him, but his diet must consist of things which he hath been in the habit of taking, because his nature is familiarized with, them and will receive them; for by strange food it is harmed and it revolteth at it."

CCCXXXII. Another physician at the time of his death said unto his disciples, "Behold, he that prolongeth his sleep, and keepeth his stomach soft and his skin moist, his life shall be long."

CCCXXXIII. Another physician said, "That which is rarely used for its injurious qualities is better than that which is frequently used for the benefits [which it giveth]."

CCCXXXIV. Another physician said, "If we had been created from one elemental substance we should never be sick, for there would not have been mingled therewith any other natural element which would work in opposition thereto."

CCCXXXV. A physician said unto a certain man who came to him to be healed, "See now, behold we are three, I, and thou, and the sickness. Therefore if thou wilt take my side we two shall be easily able to conquer the one which is by itself; but if thou forsakest

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me and cleavest thereunto, I by myself shall not be able to overcome the two of you." That is to say, "If thou wilt not take care, and wilt eat meats, and wilt act in other harmful ways which strengthen the disease [I cannot cure thee]."

CCCXXXVI. Medicus olim quidam roganti, "Cathartica sumenti cur corpus sollicitatur?" respondit, "Quia et in conclavi verrendo crescit pulvis."

CCCXXXVII. When a certain physician went to visit a prince who was grievously sick, he felt his windpipe and looked at his urine, but could find in him no sign of bodily disease. Then he began to introduce love stories, and he saw that the beat of his pulse was changed, and he straightway enquired if he had been in the habit of holding converse with the servants out of doors. And the servants said to him, "He hath never been in the habit of going out." Then the physician said, "Let all the handmaidens come forth and pass before him," and they went by one by one, and straightway when a certain handmaiden drew nigh to him a mighty change took place in his pulse and breathing. Thus the physician was confirmed in his opinion, and he told the king his story and the handmaiden was given to him, and he was healed of his sickness.

CCCXXXVIII. Another physician was asked, "Why doth a dead man become heavy?" And he replied, "Because [in the human body] two substances are united; the light substance which beareth, and the heavy substance which is borne. When the light substance departeth the weight of that which is heavy increaseth."

CCCXXXIX. Another physician said, "The waste

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products of the body are these:—That which is in the head, [which is expelled] by means of the hair; that which is in the stomach, by vomiting; that which is under the skin, by perspiration; and that which is deep down and below the arteries, by the door of the blood."

CCCXL. Another physician said, "The seat of the phlegm is in the stomach and its dominion is in the breast; the seat of the blood is the heart and its dominion is in the head; the seat of red bile is in the gall bladder and its dominion is in the liver; and the seat of black bile is in the spleen and its dominion is in the heart."

CCCXLI. Another physician wishing to demonstrate the difficulty of the art of healing said, "Life is short but art is long, time presseth, experimenting is incautious, and finality is difficult [of attainment]."

CCCXLII. Another physician said, "Divide thy days into three seasons:—A season for work, that is to say for visiting the sick; a season for study, that is to say for reading medical books; and a season for bodily recreation."

CCCXLIII. A certain physician had a son who was hard of understanding, and who was incapable of receiving instruction. And his wife said to him, "Since this son was [begotten by] thee how is it that he cannot receive instruction as thou canst?" And he replied, "The mind, that which receiveth instruction, was not from me."

CCCXLIV. When a sick man asked a certain physician, who was wont to jest, about a drug he said to him, "Take an emollient of violet which hath grown as large as a clod of dung, and pour upon it as much

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boiling water as the juice which cometh out from a gourd; macerate them together until the mixture becometh like fat (or oil) and drink it." The sick man said to him, "Perhaps if I were beaten with a hundred stripes I might do the things which thou sayest, but without the stripes I never will."

CCCXLV. Another physician used to say, "Moderation is the friend of Nature and by it is health preserved; therefore let your toils, and meals, and motions, and intercourse with women be in moderation."

CCCXLVI. Another physician said, "The bodies which have not experienced sickness are not remote from danger."

CCCXLVII. Another physician was asked, "What is the aim and end of the art of healing?" He replied, "The preservation of health in [our] equals and friends, and the driving of sickness into [our] adversaries."

CCCXLVIII. Another physician said, "There are three great sins in the art of healing:—The administration of a poisonous drug, the administration of the medicine of barrenness, and the administration of the drug which expelleth the child from the womb."

CCCXLIX. Another physician said, "Nature is the minister of the soul in the formation of the body, and in the depicting of its designs, and in the preparation of its foods; and it draweth in nourishment and keepeth it, though it expelleth therefrom the useless superfluity; and it digesteth it and throweth it into the member which is to be nourished."

CCCL. To another physician it was said, "Beans in their skins easily build up (?) the body." And he replied, "Perhaps in the stomachs of those who are hungry, otherwise they digest better without their skins."

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CCCLI. Another story. When the physicians of the Greek kings became sick the kings did not support them any longer.

CCCLII. [Another] story. When the Arab kings were about to employ a physician and wished to try [his skill], they were wont to bring to him a certain table and to order him to compound therefrom a food which would strengthen the bodies of [their] warriors, and a food which would heal the sick, and a food which would bring sickness and death upon the enemy; if he were able to do [these things] they then employed him.

CCCLIII. [Another] story. When a certain man came to a physician to enquire of him concerning an attack of colic which had come upon him, the physician said to him, "Eat a few thorns." And the man brought out ink and paper to write upon and said to the physician, "What dost thou advise?" And the physician said unto him, "Eat a few thorns, together with a bushel of barley." And the man said, "Thou saidst nothing at all about barley at first," and the physician replied to him, "No, I did not, for I did not know until this moment that thou wert an ass."

CCCLIV. Dixit quidam scurrae urbano, "Matris meae gula assidue aliquid colligit: flagratque et constricta est." Respondit autem scurra, "Si venter uxoris tuae ad matris gulam similitudine accederet, multum proficeres."

CCCLV. A certain actor said unto a jesting physician, "The colic hath got hold of the ends of my hair, and my belly is becoming black." The physician said to him, "Shave thy head and thy beard and thou wilt never again have colic in the ends of thy hair; and

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as for the duskiness of thy belly, paint it with antimony and thou wilt be gratified therewith."

CCCLVI. When a certain jesting physician was passing by the door of a bath he saw a naked man coming out, and he said to him, "Why art thou going forth naked? go in lest thou suffer harm." And the man said, "They have stolen my clothes, and I am going out to seek for them;" and the physician said, "Let me bleed thee, then, that thy affliction may be diminished."

CCCLVII. Unto another physician it was said, "What is the [most] convenient time for eating," and he replied, "To him that hath anything to eat, when he is hungry, and to him that hath nothing, when he findeth [food]."

CCCLVIII. When a physician went in to visit a certain simple man and asked him, "How dost thou think thou art to-day? and what dost thou wish for?" he replied, "I am very well, but I am longing for some snow to eat." The physician said to him, "Snow is not a suitable thing for thee, for it will make thee cough." The sick man said to him, "Only let me suck the water from it, and I will throw away the rest of it even as I do with an apple."

CCCLIX. When a certain physician was sitting at meat at the table of a certain sophist a servant offered him fish and milk, and the physician began to eat one of them. Then the sophist said unto him, "Why dost thou not also eat of this dish which is very good?" and the physician replied, "I am afraid to do so, because the two together are not wholesome." And the sophist said, "This being so thou must, now, perforce solve one of the two following propositions:

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[paragraph continues] —They are either antagonistic to each other when mixed together, or they are equal; now if they be antagonistic it is meet that one of them should be the bane of the other, and if they are equal why are they injurious when mixed together and when separate are not so? the mixture being injurious in each case." With such words did the sophist shut the mouth of the physician. But the truth of the dispute is that when they are gathered together they destroy each other through the properties which they possess, and thus they together become unwholesome, even without being mixed together.

CCCLX. When a certain man with a delicate stomach came to a physician, he asked him the reason why he was sick, and he replied, "I have eaten burnt bread." And the physician said unto him, "Paint thine eyes with stibium or with something that will sharpen thy vision." And the man said, "I did not ask thee about mine eyes, but about my belly;" and the physician said to him, "I know that, but I say unto thee, Paint thine eyes 1 with something that will sharpen thy vision, in order that thou mayest observe the bread which is burnt and mayest not eat of it."

CCCLXI. Another physician said, "It is not right for a man to hold intercourse with fools, because in the place where they sit fever cleaveth to the soul, even as the sitting under the shadow of nut trees inflameth the body."

CCCLXII. While a physician was sitting in the presence of a certain king, a nobleman to whom a child had been newly born, entered, and the king asked him,

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[paragraph continues] "How is the child? and how old is he?" The nobleman replied, "The child is well, but at present he is only seven days old." And the physician said to him, "What manner of understanding hath he?" And the nobleman answered, "Didst thou not hear me tell the king that he is only seven days old? Why dost thou enquire of me concerning his intelligence?" The physician said to him, "The child, whose looks are keen and whose crying is little, evidently hath understanding."

CCCLXIII. A certain man who had once been a painter left off painting and became a physician. And when it was said to him, "Why hast thou done this?" he replied, "The errors [made] in painting [all] eyes see and scrutinize; but the mistakes of the healing art the ground covereth."

CCCLXIV. Another physician was asked concerning [the use of] a certain laxative drug, and he replied, "It is [like] an arrow which is cast into the belly in the darkness. Now, if it falleth upon something which is effete and it expelleth it, then healing followeth its use; but if it doth not fall upon something effete, it must necessarily fall upon something which is in a healthy condition, and then it will do harm and cause disease."

CCCLXV. Another physician on being asked concerning a certain laxative drug, said, "It is like soap, which although it cleanseth also destroyeth things, especially the weak and the old."

CCCLXVI. Another physician when consulted by a certain man because his food did not digest in his stomach, said to him, "Eat it when it hath already been digested," that is to say, "Cook it well."

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CCCLXVII. A physician said to a certain sick man, "Thou must eat neither fish nor flesh," and the man said to him, "If I had eaten them formerly I should not probably have been sick."

CCCLXVIII. A physician, seeing a man who had had a blow on the head about to bind it up with salt and carraway seeds, said to him, "Art thou going to send down thine head to the oven to be baked?"


87:1 For ###, read ###.

Next: The Tenth Chapter: Choice Stories of the Speech of Irrational Beasts