New Medieval Books: The Doctors’ Dinner Party by Ibn Butlan

Doctors’ dinner party

By Ibn Butlan, edited and translated by Philip F. Kennedy and Jeremy Farrell

New York University Press
ISBN: 9781479818778

Al-Muḫtār ibn al-Ḥasan ibn Buṭlān (d.1066) was one of the most famous physicians of the Middle Ages, responsible for several important works on medicine and health care. However, this work is fictional – a satire he wrote that tells the story of a young doctor who goes to a dinner party with a group of older doctors.


Plotted off Doctors’ dinner party is simple in that it belies the sophistication of the work. The narrator, a young man, appears in the town of Mayyafariqin in the Diyar Bakr region spanning western Anatolia and northern Syria. He has traveled there on foot from Baghdad, destitute and seeking work as a doctor. He soon encounters an elderly man in the marketplace, who welcomes him eloquently and politely and, after a brief discussion, invites him home for a meal. The younger stranger claims he has a bad stomach and won’t be able to eat. This is central to the old fellow’s invitation, for he turns out to be a cruel miser, and a dinner guest who cannot consume food is a glorious find for a miser in search of company.

Who is this book for?

One does not often see works of satire from the Middle Ages, so this will be of interest to those who want to know more about medieval humor. However, its entertainment value is greatly aided by how much is already known about 11th century medical practice. This book is part of the Library of Arabic Literature series from New York University Press, which has published many excellent works.

The editors:

Philip F. Kennedy is Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies and Comparative Literature at New York University. Click here to see his university website. Jeremy Farrell has a Ph.D. from Emory University and works with pre-modern Islamic societies. Click here to view his page.

You can learn more about this book from publisher’s website.

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