Ibn Sina is often known by his Latin name of Avicenna, although most references to him today have reverted to using the correct version of ibn Sina. We know many details of his life for he wrote an autobiography which has been supplemented with material from a biography written by one of his students.
The autobiography is not simply an account of his life, but rather it is written to illustrate his ideas of reaching the ultimate truth, so it must be carefully interpreted. Ibn Sina’s father was the governor of a village in one of Nuh ibn Mansur’s estates.
He was educated by his father, whose home was a meeting place for men of learning in the area. Certainly ibn Sina was a remarkable child, with a memory and an ability to learn which amazed the scholars who met in his father’s home.
By the age of ten he had memorised the Qur’an and most of the Arabic poetry which he had read. When ibn Sina reached the age of thirteen he began to study medicine and he had mastered that subject by the age of sixteen when he began to treat patients.
He also studied logic and metaphysics, receiving instruction from some of the best teachers of his day, but in all areas he continued his studies on his own. In his autobiography ibn Sina stresses that he was more or less self-taught but that at crucial times in his life he received help.
On his father’s death, when Ibn Sina was twenty-two years old, he left Bukhara and moved to Jurjan near Caspian Sea where he lectured on logic and astronomy. Here he also met his famous contemporary Abu Raihan al-Biruni. Later he travelled to Rai and then to Hamadan, where he wrote his famous book Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb. Here he also cured Shams al-Daulah, the King of Hamadan, for severe colic.
Ibn Sina made astronomical observations and we know that some were made at Isfahan and some at Hamadan. He made several correct deductions from his observations.
For example he observed Venus as a spot against the surface of the Sun and correctly deduced that Venus must be closer to the Earth than the Sun. This observation, and other related work by ibn Sina, is discussed. Ibn Sina invented an instrument for observing the coordinates of a star.
The instrument had two legs pivoted at one end; the lower leg rotated about a horizontal protractor, thus showing the azimuth, while the upper leg marked with a scale and having observing sights, was raised in the plane vertical to the lower leg to give the star’s altitude.
Another of ibn Sina’s contributions to astronomy was his attempt to calculate the difference in longitude between Baghdad and Gurgan by observing a meridian transit of the moon at Gurgan.
From Hamadan, he moved to Isfahn, where he finished many of his epic writings. Nevertheless, he continued to travel and the too much mental exertion as well as political chaos spoilt his health.
The last ten or twelve years of his life, he spent in the service of Abu Ja’far ‘Ala Addaula, whom he accompanied as physician and general literary and scientific consultant. He died during June 1037 A.D and was buried in Hamedan, Iran.