Never Insult a Priest
from the book, "Petrified Lightning"

Petrified Lightning

Never Insult a Priest

A Persian physician by the name of Rhazes (c. 854—925), drawing on his own experience, wrote the first accurate description of measles and smallpox. He experimented with animal gut and found it worked well for suturing, and he recommended the use of plaster of Paris for casts. He was also the first physician to realize that fever was a natural defense mechanism, the body's way of fighting disease.

Rhazes learned, practiced, taught, and wrote about medicine and surgery with great authority. Having journeyed through much of Africa and the Arabian peninsula, he became an unchallenged teacher of the healing arts merely by saying, "According to my own experience . . ." He wrote over 200 treatises on medicine; his short, concise works and those with well—arranged topics were used for centuries as medical textbooks. One of his works, Continens Liber ("The Continent of Medicine"), was a compendium of everything known about the art of medicine. Without method or arrangement, it was a vast undigested mass of information in huge folios. Only two complete copies of the bulky manuscript were ever reproduced. No doubt the cost was as prohibitive for any buyer as the amount of time a calligrapher would have spent copying it.

Continens Liber made Rhazes immediately famous, but it terminated his practice of medicine. The book thoroughly offended a mullah, a learned Muslim priest who was able to interpret theology without fear of contradiction. Apparently somewhere in his massive book Rhazes managed to contradict the mullah. The infuriated wise man ordered the doctor beaten over the head with the manuscript until one of them broke. Unfortunately Rhazes' head broke while the ponderous manuscript remained intact. The result was permanent blindness for Rhazes and the end of his medical career.