The outstanding rabbinic authority and philosopher of the Middle Ages, Maimonides, was also a physician. After writing The Guide of the Perplexed, his great philosophical treatise, he turned his attention to composing works of medicine. He produced ten: On Hemorrhoids, On Cohabitation, On Asthma, On Poisons and Their Antidotes, Regimen of Health, On the Causes of Symptoms, Extracts from GalenMedical Aphorisms, Commentary on Hippocrates’ Aphorisms, and a Glossary of Drug Names.

In all of these, Maimonides is preoccupied with organizing, clarifying, simplifying vast expanses of text into usable guidelines. That’s one reason why the production of and instruction in aphorisms was so important for him—they were designed to be easy for physicians and their patients to remember. And there was a lot to remember. According to Maimonides, a doctor must know all about anatomy, symptoms, the health and sickness of the body and its parts, how to restore health when a person is sick, and food and diets, medicines, bathing, bandaging, and the various instruments that a medical doctor would need to use.

To get a sense of all this, the Maimonides expert Yehuda Halper sits down with host Jonathan Silver to focus on one particular medical work, Maimonides’s Commentary on Hippocrates’ Aphorisms. Many now will be familiar with Hippocrates because the popular Hippocratic oath that inducts physicians into their profession is attributed to him. But in Maimonides’ time, medical research often took the form of commentary on the ancient writings of Hippocrates. One of Hippocrates earliest and most authoritative commentators was Galen, an ancient Roman doctor, and in his commentary, Maimonides applies his reason and empirical experience in the medical field to both of them. Along the way, Halper, in the fourth and final episode in their mini-series on Maimonides, explains how Maimonides thinks about the nature of authority, about the role and also the limits of tradition, and about the domain of reason and observation in human life.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.