Maimonides (Greek name) is also known as Rambam (Hebrew name). Volumes have been written on Rambam’s life and works (1135–1204). All I offer is a very brief bird’s–eye view of this truly great man, with a special emphasis on his medical contribution to society.
Rambam lived in dangerous times and through many persecutions and personal tragedies. Nonetheless, he became a world-renowned expert in the subjects of theology, law, medicine, philosophy, psychology, mathematics, languages, and astronomy.
Rambam was a prolific author and wrote many comprehensive sets of books, which include every area of thought. Each one of his works was brilliant enough to have secured him a prominent place in the pages of history. His style of precision, depth, clarity, and “‘simplicity” is unparalleled.
Most of his works on law, philosophy, and ethics are well known and studied today. However, his many medical writings are not as well known and are more difficult to access. Rambam placed great emphasis on the subject of medicine. One of the many examples is found in his Eight Chapters: Medical knowledge is an extremely important prerequisite for intellectual and personal development… Its study and practice should be considered among the great duties. Medical knowledge directs our conduct and leads to genuine personal development.
Rambam wrote ten known medical works. These works comprise extracts from Hippocrates, Galen, and later medical experts such as Avicenna and Rhazes. His medical writings are lucid and demonstrate his systematization, characteristic of all his writings. They also offer his unique perspective on health, treatment of disease, and psychology.
Rambam was held in high regard by Saladin and his son al-Malik al-Afdal. He became court physician to Saladin’s son after the latter ascended to the throne. It is said that at around the same time, he was invited to be the personal physician to the famous Richard the Lion Heart. In his later years, he was considered to be the greatest physician of his time. As the world-renowned physician Sir William Osler so aptly said, “Maimonides was the Prince of Physicians.”
There was a time in history when Rambam’s medical works enjoyed extreme popularity throughout the world. In the twelfth century his medical writings were studied to understand hygiene. During the Middle Ages, his Regimen of Health was used as a textbook in academies and universities. In 1477, only a few years after the invention of printing, a Latin edition was published in Florence. It was the first medical book to appear in print there. Many other editions followed. To this day, many academic and medical institutions are named after Maimonides/Rambam throughout the western world.
Ibn Abi Ozeibia (1203–1270), the most famous physician and historian of Cairo, concludes his biography of Rambam with a famous poem describing him as a healer of the body and the mind, in contrast to Galen who was only a physician of the body. Abd al-Latif, a famous physician at that time, traveled specifically to Cairo to see Rambam with his own eyes.
Waldmer Schweiseheimer, a mid–twentieth-century historian, said of Rambam’s medical writings, “Maimonides’ medical teachings are not antiquated at all. His writings, in fact, are in some respects astonishingly modern in tone and contents.”
Rambam often referred to as the “Great Eagle,” deals with the issues of his time, many of which are still very relevant today. To this day, Rambam’s name stands for the highest intellectual and spiritual accomplishments. The famous adage, which is engraved on his tombstone, sums up the greatness of the man: From Moses to Moses there never arose a man like Moses.
After his death, all sects of religion mourned Rambam throughout the world. In fact, there was a general three-day mourning period in Egypt.