Avicena’s Offering To The Prince

by Avicenna

Had not custom given leave to the small and low to reach up to the great and high, it would be most difficult for them ever to tread those paths in going over which they need to lay hold of their upholding arm[3] and seek the help of[Pg 14] their superior strength;

to attain to a position in their service, and join themselves to their social circle; to pride themselves on having become connected with them, and openly declare their reliance upon them.

Nay, the very bond which joins the common man to the man of élite would be severed. The reliance of the flock on its shepherd would cease.

The frail would no longer become powerful through the strength of the mighty, nor the low-born rise through the protection and countenance of the high-born.

The foolish would not be able to correct his folly and ignorance by intercourse with the prudent and wise; nor the wise draw nigh to the ignorant and foolish.

I find that custom has trod along this highroad, and prescribed this usage.

I avail myself of such a precedent and excuse to warrant my reaching up and aspiring to the Prince, GOD give him long life, with an offering [an acceptable present]; and I have given prevalence to the thought that my choice ought to fall upon an object which will at once be most acceptable to him, and best calculated to attain my aim of ingratiating myself into his favor.

I have concluded that the chief virtues are 2:

  1. Love of wisdom as to the Articles of Faith, (i.e., Love of Philosophy in theoretical principles)
  2. Choice of the most honest of deeds as to intention (i.e., the preference of pure purposes in practical life).

Many philosophers and pious[4] saints agree that: “Whoso Knoweth himself, Knoweth his Lord”.

The Chief of the Philosophers said in agreement:

  • “Whoso fails to Know himself, is still more likely (apt) to fail of Knowing his Creator”
  • “How shall he, who is trusted as a reliable authority in a science, be deemed to have any views at all, when he is ignorant of himself?”

The Quran points to the measure of truth of this, where Allah mentions the distance separating the Erring from His mercy: Surah 59, al-Hashr, v. 19: “they forgot God, and He made them forget themselves”.

Is not His making the forgetting of self to depend upon forgetting Him done so as to awaken the attention to His closely binding the remembrance of Him with the remembrance of self, and the knowledge of Him with the knowledge of self, scilicet of one’s own soul?

I have read in the books of the ancients that the hard task of going deeply into the knowledge of self had been enjoined upon them by an oracle that had descended upon them at one of the temples of the gods.

He says: “Know thyself, O man, so shalt thou know thy Lord.”

I have also read that this saying was engraved in the façade of the temple of Aesculapius, who is known among them as one of the prophets, and whose most famous miracle is that he was wont to heal the sick by mere loud supplication; and so did all priests who performed sacerdotal functions in his temple. From him have philosophers got the science of medicine.

Thus I have thought fit to make for the Prince[5] a book on the soul, in the form of a compendium.

I have arranged the Book in 10 sections:

  1. The Existence of the Faculties of the Soul
  2. Division and Classification of the Primary (Primitive) Faculties of the Soul, and Definition of the Soul at large (or as a whole).
  3. None of the Faculties of the Soul originates from the Combination (Blending) of the 4 Elements, but on the contrary comes upon them from outside.
  4. The Vegetable Powers (faculties) and the Need for Each One of them
  5. The Animal Faculties (powers) and the Need for Each One of them
  6. The External (Apparent) Senses, How they perceive, the Disagreement [of researchers] as to How Seeing is performed.
  7. The Internal (Hidden) Senses, and the Body Moving Power.
  8. Memoir on the Human Soul from the Stage of its Beginning to the Stage of its Perfection.
  9. The Proofs necessary for affirming the Essentiality of the Speaking (Rational) Soul, by the logical method.
  10. The Existence of an Intellectual Essence

This essence is distinct from Bodies, standing to the Rational (speaking) Faculties in the stead of a Fountain, and in the stead of Light to Sight; and Showing that Rational (speaking) Souls remain united with It after the death of the body, secure and safe from corruption and change; and It is what is called Universal (generic) Intelligence.


[3]The figure of speech in the Arabic is «loopholes»; compare Surah 2:257, and 31:21, and Beydâwi’s Commentary.

[4]The «waly» performs miracles only, whereas the «naby» performs miracles, and also foretells future events.

[5]Who was this prince; and why did the author stand in such need of his countenance as to dedicate to him this booklet in the humble and lengthy terms of apology which run through the greater part of the Introduction? It is Doctor S. Landauer’s opinion that, with this Essay, Ibn Sînâ began his career as a writer. After he had completed the sixteenth year of his age, he was summoned to the bedside of the suffering Sâmânid prince, Nûh ibn Mançûr, who resided at Bukhâra (See Ibn Khallikân’s Biographies), and succeeded in curing him. Then, followed a long period during which Ibn Sînâ removed from the Court of one Ruler to that of another, and was successively engaged in the service of various Petty Dynasties in Khurasân. If then this Essay was his maiden production—as Doctor Landauer assumes—the author was still quite young, and stood in need of the patronage he so earnestly implores. Furthermore there is a manuscript in Leyden, marked Codex 958, and numbered 1968 in the Catalogue, which is a small treatise on the soul by Ibn Sînâ, closing as follows:

«I had produced a short essay on the exposition of the knowledge of the soul, and what is connected therewith, at the beginning of my career forty years ago, after the purely philosophical method of investigation. Whoso wishes to know that method, let him peruse it, for it is adapted to the seekers of research.»

The «40 years ago» fit exactly, if students one assumes that the literary production referred to is the one he dedicated to «the Prince.» Now, the first prince he came in contact with was Nûh ibn Mançûr (ruled from 366–387 H. = 976–997 A.D., the Eighth of the Sâmânid Dynasty). Ibn Khallikân relates that Ibn Sînâ, at the age of 16 years, had begun to have a great reputation as a physician. Moreover the Latin translation in Florence of this essay bears in express words the dedication to Nûh. Result:

Ibn Sînâ born in 370 H. = 980 A.D. Earliest Age as Treating Physician 386 H. = 996 Death of Nûh in Month of Ragab 387 H. = 997 Jule Death of Ibn Sînâ 428 H. = 1036 Between 386 and 428 lie the 40 years.

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