Born into a scholarly family in what is now Cordoba, Spain in 1135, Maimonides was one of the most preeminent physicians and surgeons of the Middle Ages. He is credited with writing over fifteen treatises on medicine, including a glossary of drug names, a volume on asthma, sexual intercourse, and a list of hygenic regulations for leading a healthy life. He was very well respected, appointed as the royal physician and surgeon of the Grand Vizier Alfadhel and of the royal family. He was also a very committed physician, serving patients nearly to the point of exhaustion. In a Washington Post article by Philip Kennicott, he is quoted as having written, “I converse and prescribe for them while lying down from sheer fatigue, and when night falls, I am so exhausted that I can scarcely think.”
For Maimonides, medical health was completely tied to spiritual health. Kennicott cites him as writing that, “One who is ill has not only the right but also the duty to seek medical aid,” because, “we maintain the body to support our spiritual quest to know God.” One scholar argues that Maimonides demanded the same logic and certainty for spiritual truths as he did for scientific truths. Maimonides is also very well known and respected for his writings on philosophy and the jewish religion.
In terms of his Medical knowledge, Maimonides was largely building on Galen, who believed that illness was caused by an imbalance of “humors,” blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm, so many of his prescriptions would have had little more than a placebo effect. However, there were certain areas where he shone. “His description of clinical depression could be in a modern psychiatry textbook,” Kennicott quotes. And though his view of religion and medicine as intrinsically linked may seem foreign to us today it may highlight what was his greatest contribution to the field of medicine. Sherwin Nuland, who wrote a book on Maimonides, says in The Washington Post article that,“The notion that medicine is more than just a job or a career, that it brings with it a deeper moral obligation, is no longer a specifically Jewish attribute of medicine, he said, but it is one of the Jews’ great contributions to the field.”