Translation of medicat texts

Medical translation is the most widespread and old sphere of academic translations due to ubiquitous distribution of medicine and because this area of scientific knowledge is elucidated down the centuries. That fact that practically all terminology in medicine is of a Greek-Latin origin considerably facilitates the translator's job. Advantage of such area as "medical translation" over that sphere of "technical translation" is that the body structure is identical for all people worldwide, and indeed a variety and richness of reference materials on any subject will please any translator. Therefore, translation of medical texts, translation of the reference or clinical record will not cause difficulties for a skilled translator, but will require time and efforts.

In consequence of that fact that medicine is one of three most ancient sciences – the other two were theology philosophy and astronomy geography – translation of medical texts represents a number of advantages which are not available during work in other spheres of translation. First of all, it is a structure of a human body and its functions. Secondly, extensive availability of reference materials, well and thirdly, lexical equivalence is so widespread, especially in the western languages that it actually borders on such concept as terminological uniformity. Exactly these three factors minimize the probability of misunderstanding and allow to render with extreme preciseness the meaning while translating the source language text with the target language means. On the other hand translators of medical texts are constantly plying between Scylla and Charybdis. Scylla is deceptive homonyms, and Charybdis is old eponymic terms which are widely used in medicine to call diseases, structures, medicines etc. in name of the person who discovered them or was the first to describe. Therefore, the imprudent and inexperienced translators of medical texts can find themselves in unlucky situation. But before speaking about difficulties of translation of medical texts it is worth mentioning the history of medicine against the background of medical translation.

From Homer's poems it is clear that the medicine has its own history, but it is not clear whether the medicine was subordinated to religion as in Egypt or India. Hippocrates who later was referred to as "The father of medicine", was not only the representative of vast minds of Greece, in the medicine sphere he became the same luminary as his compatriots – the great philosophers in other spheres. About four hundred years later Galen from Pergamum (Claudius Galen) expanded Hippocrates's doctrine which ultimately became a perennial spring of information not only for physicians, but also for medical translators. It is necessary to mention Aristotle and although none of his works have purely medical character, these are his researches in the field of anatomy and physiology which have considerable impact on advancement of medicine.

While medical literature began to appear in Alexandria and Pergamum, there was a necessity of translation of these primary sources of medical doctrine and practice, first of all translation into Latin, and also Arab and Hebrew were necessary. It has been proven that the Greek medicine started to develop in Rome exactly due to translators, many of whom were doctors themselves. Asclepius was the most renowned among Greek doctors who worked in Rome. All medical literature from Hippocrates until times of Alexandria was linked together in Latin by Aulus Cornelius Celsus in 1 century AD. For his style of a presentation he received a christen "Cicero of medicine" and became the first medical translator who rendered Greek terms into Latin. The description of surgeon skills in his performance is urgent even nowadays: a surgeon has to be young, or at least not so old; his hands should be firm, reliable and must never shiver; he should be able to operate his left hand with the same dexterity as with his right one; the eye must be sharp and clear; mind must be fearless...

From the viewpoint of translation, it is necessary to pay attention to that fact that teaching for medical students was carried out in Greek in Rome in the 3rd century AD. Also they were required a certificate from police about good conduct, they were forbidden to enter illegal societies, visit brothels, take long vacation, and they were supposed to finish training until 20.

As far as the rise of Islam in the 7th century and formation of the Unified Islamic Empire in the 9th century, strong medical schools were created in Baghdad and Damascus which gave rise to high demand of translations from Greek into Arab. Gradually all Greek literature was translated into Arab and the Greek medicine dissipated throughout the Muslim world. Until present scientists consider that translators played the most important role in development of the Islamic world in this period. Heroes of that time were Syrian and Coptic families of translators – Bahtishi and Meezues, and Hyunayn who in the Western world was called Hyunnayn, "the king of translations".

Caliph al-Mansur founded school of translators in Baghdad for implementation of translation of Greek manuscripts received in Asia Minor and in Egypt. The school of translators was headed by doctor Johannes Masawayh (777-857) that sets thinking on the main scope of translations: the medical one. Hyunayn was the best pupil of school and the one who enriched the Arabic language with many scientific terms. It is at this school of translators where many works of Hippocrates and Galen were translated. The most prominent doctor of those times was Rhases, Persian by origin (865-925) who was in charge of hospital in Baghdad and the author of more than 140 academic works, further translated into Latin by the Jewish scientist Faraj ben Salim. One more Persian, Avicenna (980-1037) who was called "Galen of the Islamic world", compiled the medical encyclopaedia which was translated into Latin and used by the Western world as the authoritative publication up to the 17th century. Avicenna's name was remembered as the main representative of the Arab medicine in Spain (10th-13th century), in development of which the Jewish scientists played a significant role.

After the glory of Greece Rome was wiped off from the face of the earth and fell into oblivion, the only information which could fill a gap of scientific knowledge up to the Renaissance period were translations of medical texts into Arabic.  Works of the Arab physicians of the prosperity of medicine period (9th-12th centuries) were translated into Latin by Christian Gerard from Cameron (1114-1187) and the Jewish scientist Faraj ben Salim. Faraj ben Salim's translations were an excellent example of a transculturation. These translations induced a sleeping mind of Europe and became the main sources of information in university libraries of the Middle Ages in the Western world.

In the Middle Ages the medical school gained incredibly high recognition in Salerno and even William the Conqueror was treated there. Works of this school were further translated into several European languages. This school is considered the bridge between ancient and modern medicine since many find that exactly with its help the works in Arabic of Hippocrates and Galen who came to Europe through Byzantium, Baghdad, Alexandria and Cordoba at last became available in Latin. The Arab medicine itself became available to the European world only due to translations from Rhases to Avicenna into Latin. Soon this rich heritage enlarged owing to emergence of printed literature.

After conquest of Toledo where the archbishop Raymond founded the college of translators, the western scientists started to study works of the Spanish Moors since their medical treatises were translated into Latin. At the beginning of the 12th century in Montpelye the Jewish scientists founded medicine school as a result of very vigorous activity in the sphere of translation of medical texts.

In the 15th century more accurate and exact translations from Greek started to appear and humanists suggested to replace available literature with Hippocrates's and Galen's primary sources to return medicine to primary sources. But because very few doctors had and have a good command of Greek, it was necessary to translate the Greek medical literature into Latin anew. New high-quality translations led to prosperity of medicine and to new treatment of Hippocrates's doctrines. Among new translations are distinguished works of the humanist and doctor Thomas Linacre who further founded the Royal College of Physicians in London.

After colonization of the New World many exotic plants were discovered: ipecacuanha, cinchona tree and tobacco which resulted in appearance of many new medicines. The work of Nicolas Monardes is of great interest for medical translation – the first book on medicine which was written not in Latin, but rather in Spanish and further translated into English. This is a momentous event – national languages were included into medical translation and began to be widely used in medical circles.

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