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Shabbetai Donnolo

(913 - 942)

Shabbetai Donnolo was born in 913 in Oria, Italy. Captured by Saracen raiders at the age of 12, he was ransomed by relatives and spent the rest of his life in southern Italy. Donnolo studied medicine, pharmacology, astronomy, and astrology. He was well-versed in Talmud and knew Hebrew, Aramaic, Italian, Greek, and Latin.

It appears that Donnolo was the first person to write about medicine in Christian Europe. His work, Sefer HaMirkachot, "the Book of Remedies" is a summary of his forty years of medical experience. He included more than 100 remedies with specific instructions for making the compounds. It does not appear that he was familiar with Arab medicine because he made no mention of it in his work.

His medical reputation has overshadowed his cosmological writings, the most important of which is his Sefer Hakhmoni, a title implying Wisdom. As pharmacy and medicine in the tenth century were inextricably interwoven with astrology and cosmology Donnolo sets out his idea of a divinely created universe, with man in the image of God, based on a synthesis of contemporary thought. Donnolo wrote in Hebrew, which was very unusual for his time. He died in 982, respected and honored for his contributions to medicine.

Sources: Gates to Jewish Heritage