Anesthesia in Ancient Iran

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To the EditorA number of quotations from ancient Iranian books relate to anesthesia. Shâhnameh or TheHistory of the Kings, written by the Iranian poet Ferdowsi around 1000 AD1,2 is the most famous of these books and speaks about Iran's past both mythically and historically, before and until the 7th century when Islam developed in Iran.3 Ferdowsi's comments describe the suffering of humans during their daily life and are presented as stories. These stories also describe an ancient use of anesthesia for suppressing pain. Jamshid, one of the kings mentioned in Shâhnameh, is described as the first person to use medicine, including the poppy, for pain relief and a sense of well-being. The poppy was swallowed as part of a combination of orally administered drugs.Zaal (albino) was, because of his albinism, rejected by his father while an infant. His grandfather, Nariman, was a hero of ancient Iran and a protector of the old country, which was named in Shâhnameh as “Iran-zamin,” meaning the land of Iran. The historical Simorgh (30 birds, perhaps related to the phoenix and a mythical bird in Shâhnameh) was a very large and knowledgeable bird and took the infant Zaal to her nest upon the mountain Damavand, the highest peak in Iran. A few years later, Zaal's father, regretting the loss of his son, looked for him everywhere. Zaal who had by now grown up and returned home after being ordered to do so by Simorgh who had noted Zaal's father looking for his son. Simorgh gave Zaal 3 feathers (3 plumes) and told him to burn them whenever necessary. Zaal later used one of the feathers when his wife Roudabeh was suffering from severe labor pain.4 After Zaal burned the feather, Simorgh appeared suddenly and told Zaal to give camphor and cannabis to Roudabeh to make it possible for her to tolerate the process of childbirth. Then, the physicians (who were also clergymen) made an “incision” in the lower abdomen of Roudabeh to take her son out of her body; the pain of the incision was very well tolerated after using the combination of camphor and cannabis, an anesthetic compound introduced by Simorgh.5 Ferdowsi had called this method “Rostam-zad” which means “birth of Rostam”; cesarean delivery was quoted many centuries later.Ali Dabbagh, MDAnesthesiology Research Center and Anesthesiology Department Shahid Beheshti University of Medicine Tehran, Iran alidabbagh@yahoo.

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