The second edition is getting nearer… I am almost done preparing the manuscript, and soon it will be in the capable hands of my wonderful new publisher, 21st Publishing (See http://www.21stpublishing.com/). So just in case you think a biography of a 12th century scholar and philosopher is going to be all dry and serious and boring, you are wrong. Maimonides was the most fascinating, interesting, sophisticated, and (let’s admit the truth) attractive gentleman. His interests and knowledge were amazingly eclectic – as you can see in this a sample from the book. It might amuse you, and it will certainly surprise you…
Many readers might assumethat because Maimonides lived eight hundred years ago, his attitude toward medicine would necessarily have been medieval. Therefore, the degree to which his thought process proved scientific and modern may be a surprise. True, he based much of his work on the ancient Greek doctors' writings and he admired the great Arab doctors, but Maimonides never prescribed a single medication that he didn't test himself. He introduced unexpected innovations, including some most astonishing theories on psychosomatic medicine, and he was a great pioneer of preventive medicine. He declared that the goal of medicine was to prevent disease rather than to cure it, and maintained that as preventive measures one must visit the doctor often, even when well, and live an orderly, well-regulated life. This way, one could avoid sickness before it attacks. It is not surprising then that some of his wealthy and noble patients, who thought very highly of him, asked him to write treatises on specific subjects.
How he found the time to do it is a mystery, but somehow Maimonides obliged these requests. Maimonides was often too sick and the trembling of his hands prevented him from writing, requiring his nephew Abu Alracha to take dictation. But the books were invariably concise and beautifully organized; the busy physicians who read them did not have to waste time looking for specific information. The medical treatises became extremely popular, and were translated into many languages.
Reading his introductions to the medical books and some of the letters associated with them may be irritating to the modern reader because of the praise and compliments Maimonides showered over the sultans or officials. It is important to understand though that this was not servility, but a matter of language. The Arabic language and style of the time were rich, colorful and full of nuances. A well-educated, polite man used every flowery phrase to embellish his writing. Maimonides' contemporaries never considered the language he used as fawning. On the contrary, the noble recipient very likely admired Maimonides for being able to use the language so perfectly, poetically and expressively. This custom went hand-in-hand with the appreciation of poetry.
The nephew of Saladin, Al Malik al Mutsaffar, sultan of Hamat, Syria, requested the first medical treatise in 1190. While the subject matter is treated seriously and respectfully, it is obvious that Maimonides needed all his sense of humor to aid him with the task.
To really appreciate how bizarre the situation was, one must remember that Maimonides considered himself an aging man when he reached the age of forty-five, though most people who knew him disagreed with his aged perception of himself. Ten years later, at the age of fifty-five, he saw himself as a really old man. In addition, he was a rabbi, the nagid of all the Jews, a man of great dignity and a proponent of a conservative and regulated lifestyle. Yet there he sat at his new task, calmly writing a piece of pornography by the name of The Treatise on Cohabitation for a playboy of a sultan who refused to give up his "multitude of young maidens" despite an exaggerated thinness that almost reached a state of emaciation, and severe weakness. Maimonides explained the reasons for the existence of the book in the first chapter.
Apparently, Maimonides begged the sultan to stop his sexual activity, at least for a while; he felt sex was killing the Sultan. Later, in his book, Regimen of Health, we can see how he formed this opinion. He claimed that men do not use sex for the purpose of health, or for the sake of procreation, but entirely for pleasure; they go on until they are fatigued, at any opportunity. Sex, he claimed, is detrimental to all men except for those whose temperament is such that a little does them no harm. But men differ only in the degree of harm they do to themselves. Sex is not dangerous to young men whose temperament is "moist," but it is very harmful to old men, to those whose temperament is "dry," and extremely dangerous to the sick or to convalescents. Some convalescents he knew actually died, Maimonides wrote, when they had sex too early after their illness. In addition, it should be regulated even when not too harmful—it should never be indulged in when a man has just eaten and the food is in the stomach but not yet digested, or when hungry, or when thirsty, or when intoxicated, or after leaving the bath, or following exercise or just before it, or on a day before or after bloodletting.
A most important sentence in this treatise states, "Whoever desires the continuance of health should drive his thoughts from coitus all he can." In the Treatise on Asthma, he later allowed that some people cannot avoid sex because they produce so much semen, and those people benefit from sex, as long as they don't have too much of it. Generally, he continued, sex is detrimental to all organs, but particularly to the brain – a man given to excessive sex may suffer from premature
lapses of memory and mental debility. Also, avoiding sex leads to freedom from infections, purification of the spirit and acquisition of virtues through continence, modesty and piety.
The sultan strongly disagreed. He truly respected and admired his esteemed friend's medical opinions, but surely Maimonides must understand that a man could not possibly waste all those magnificent young maidens residing in his harem!3Of course he could not! The sultan not only flatly refused to reduce his sexual activity, but wanted to increase it as much as possible. His unfortunate impotence, caused by his sickness, weakness, and emaciation, were just a temporary condition. Maimonides must help him by creating regimens that were relatively easy to follow. In other words, the sultan asked the rabbi to write a sex manual.
Maimonides complied with the preposterous request, and somehow infused it with dignity. He prepared the required regimens, based on foods and medications that were readily available and easy to follow. He wrote the treatise in a matter-of-fact, clear and concise style, and treated it with the same attention to details he gave his philosophical works. The instructions are graphic, and Maimonides showed tremendous knowledge of the subject. He described what foods to eat, and how to regulate baths, exercise and diet to increase sexual strength. He explained which medications and remedies, both internal and external, could help. In a rather candid paragraph, probably unpleasant to the modern reader, he even describes what type of women would strengthen or weaken a man's sexual potency. The grateful sultan tried the cures with enthusiasm. Since the multitude of maidens did not leave any written records of their lives, we unfortunately do not know the degree of success the manual met.