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Diet as Culture. On the Medical Context of Food Consumption in the Medieval Middle East


  • Paulina B. Lewicka

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Warsaw
    • Correspondence to: Paulina B. Lewicka, Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Warsaw, Ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście 26/28 00-927 Warsaw, Poland. Email:

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Greco-Arabic medicine was based on ancient Greek foundations, or more precisely, on the Galenic doctrine of humoral pathology, which conditioned both the preventive and curative proper diet. This doctrine had been imported into the Arabic-Islamic world in the course of the eighth and ninth centuries, when Nestorian Christians, sponsored by the elites of early-Abbasid Baghdad, translated the ancient Greek legacy into Arabic. With time, Galenic thought spread all over the Islamic world, where it became the prevailing medico-dietetic-philosophical system. As the humoral doctrine was taken for granted by most cultured people, it shaped their thinking on medicine, health, illness, diet, food, and drink.

A large number of studies over the past decades were devoted to both Graeco-Arabic medicine and the culinary culture of the medieval Arabic-Islamic world. But although the Galenic doctrine had an immense influence on dietary consciousness and thus on daily food choices of those who inhabited that world, contemporary scholarship rarely recognized the medico-dietary culture as a separate subject. The present paper is a review of the questions involved in its study.