Farid Alakbarli. Medical Manuscripts of Azerbaijan. Page 10.

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Azerbaijani people have a rich and ancient tradition in the field of pharmacology. Physicians of those days widely used medicinal plants, minerals and substances of animal origin (milk, honey, oil, meat, gall, bones, feathers, skin, etc.) Various minerals, oil and oil-based products were widely used for medicinal purposes during the Middle Ages, according to manuscripts on medical and pharmaceutical practices that are currently held at Baku's Institute of Manuscripts. Mineral oil was used in ointments that were applied externally against such diseases as neuralgia (neurological disease), physical weakness, paralysis and tremor. Oil was also used for chest pains, coughing, asthma and rheumatism.

For example, the book "Jam-al-Baghdadi" (Baghdad Collection), written in 1311 by Azerbaijani author Yusif Khoyi, addresses the use of oil and bitumen in medicine. He said that ointments made from oil were applied externally to treat tumors, eye drops made of oil were used to treat cataracts, and eardrops were used to treat earaches. [89]

In his 1669 book "Tukhfat al-mu'minin" (Gift of True Believers), Muhammad Mu'min recommended the use of oilbased remedies for asthma, chronic cough, colic, dyspepsia and intestinal worms. [60]

Similarly, 17th-century Azerbaijani author Hasan bin Riza Shirvani described the curative effects of "white oil", "blue oil", "black oil" and bitumen. Black oil is unrefined oil, "blue oil" is poorly distilled oil, and "white oil" is distilled oil or what Azerbaijanis today call kerosene - "agh neft" (white oil). [39]

Oil was used for veterinary purposes as well. Abdurrashid Bakuvi, a 15th-century scientist who lived in Baku, wrote about oil's antiseptic properties. According to Bakuvi, residents of Baku and Absheron peninsula treated the coats of camels with oil to protect them from mange. [69]

In modern Azerbaijan, oil is still used medicinally, such as with Naftalan, a special oil that is found in its natural state in north-central Azerbaijan where a therapeutic center has been built. Several therapeutic centers in Baku also use oil as an alternative means of healing.

Phitotherapy was very popular. There are numerous medicinal plants described in medieval Azerbaijan manuscripts on medicine and pharmacology that date back to the 9th-l8th centuries AD. Traditionally, no part of a medicinal plant was wasted; all parts were used - seeds, flowers, leaves, stems and roots.

In spite of this rich heritage, the traditional phytopharmocology of Azerbaijan has not been satisfactorily investigated. Until quite recently, we had no information about the quantitative and qualitative composition of plant species described in medieval Azerbaijan sources. These plants had not been identified and classified into taxonomic and therapeutic groups.

Since 1987, the author of the present book has been engaged in identifying and analyzing the medicines described in these manuscripts. As a result of this work, numerous medicinal plants used in Azerbaijan during the Middle Ages have been identified. [14]


For studying traditional phototherapy of Azerbaijan, a wide range of the medieval sources on medicine and pharmacognosy have been analyzed. The main attention was paid to studying the primary sources from the collection of the Institute of Manuscripts of the Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences in Baku. About 40 medieval sources of the 10th to the 18th centuries including 17 manuscripts have been selected as the objects of the recent study. The list of the manuscripts studied is given below.

Works of Medieval Azerbaijani Authors:

1."Adwar al-Hammiyat" by Muhammad bin Namvar Tabrizi (1194-1245).

2."Kitab al-Hawi fi Ilm al-Madawi" by Mahmud bin Ilyas (13th-l4th centuries).

3."Jam al-Baghdadi" (written in 1311) by Yusif bin Ismail Khoyi (Ibn Kabir)

4."Siraj al-Tibb" by Hasan bin Riza Shirvani (18th century).

5."Fawaid al-Hikmat" by Haji Suleyman bin Salman Qajar Iravani (18th century).

6."Khirga" written in 1678 by Murtaza Qulu Khan Shamlu al- Ardabili.

7."'Tbbnama". Anonymoys. Copied and edited in 1711/2 by Muhammad Yusif Shirvani.

8."Mualijat-i-Munfarida" (1775/6 ) by Abulhasan al-Maraghi.

Works of Persian, Central Asian and Arabic Authors Widely Used in the Medieval Azerbaijan.

1."Kamil al-Sina'at al-Tibbiyat" by All bin Abbas Majusi Arjani (d. 994 AD).

2."Zahira-i-Kharazm-shahi" by Zeynaddin bin Ahu Ibrahim Jurjani (1045-1137).

3."Zakhira-i-Nizam-shahi" by Rustam Jurjani supposedly in the 13th century.

4."Ikhtiyarat-i-Badi'i" (1369) by Abu bin Huseyn al-Ansari (1329-1404).

5."Kifayat al-Mujahida" (1423) by Mansur bin Muhammad.

6."Jam' al-Fawaid" (1511) by Yusif bin Muhammad al-Harawi.

7."Karabadin" by Muzaffar bin Muhammad Huseyn Shafai (1586/7-1628/9).

8."Tuhfat aI-Muminin" (1669) by Sayyid Mir Muhammad Mumin (d. 1697).

9."Arwah al-Ajsad" by Shamsaddin bin Kamaladdin Kashani (17th century).

10."Kitab-i-Ruju al-Sheykh" by Sheykh Ajal al-Sharif (l7th century).

11."Zad al-Musafirin" (1729) by Muhammad Mahdi bin All al-Nagi.

12."Karabadin-i-Kabir" (1777) by Muhammad Huseyn Khan Alavi Samarkandi.

All these manuscripts have been collected from various regions of the Azerbaijan Republic. They were copied in our country and belonged to Azerbaijani owners. The above mentioned books were widely used by medieval Azerbaijani physicians and these writings may be considered as the most popular books of Medieval Azerbaijan.


Studying the medieval sources on medicine and pharmacy is fraught with numerous difficulties and involved various sciences. Medieval sources were handwritten in the Arabic script employing medieval special terminology and medieval ideas on medicine. Medieval Azeri authors collected medical information from a wide range of sources written by Indian, Chinese, Arabic and Greek scholars. Consequently, the same concepts were often identified by numerous foreign terms.

Physicians of those times used more than 2000 names to designate hundreds of species of medicinal plants in about 30 languages and dialects including Azeri, Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Ancient Greek, Latin, Ancient Hebrew, Chinese, Hindi, Sanskrit, Aramaic, Coptic, Berber, Ancient Turkic, Uigur, Andalus (dialect of Arabic), lsfahan (dialect of Persian), Gilan and Mazandaran (Iranian languages). [13]

The scientific terminology of such modern languages as Azeri, Arabic and Persian is not the same as that used during the medieval period. Other languages (Coptic, Ancient Greek, Latin, and Aramaic) ceased to exist many centuries ago and consequently hamper the correct translation of many medieval terms. In this chapter, the facts and methods of both the social (history, philology, philosophy, etc.) and the natural (botany, zoology, mineralogy, chemistry, medicine, pharmacology, etc.) sciences have been used to try to solve these problems.

Translation of the medieval terms has been carried out according to modern and medieval dictionaries. However, sometimes special dictionaries do not contain the necessary information or offer various interpretations of the same terms. Fortunately, the medieval manuscripts on pharmacy contain detailed biologic descriptions of botanicals. These descriptions have also been analyzed to identify plant species. The old scientific books were widely applied.

Modern scientific literature was analyzed as well. Reference books on flora helped the author in various stages of this work (Achundov, 1893; Budge, 1913; Sharaf Muhammad, 1928; Bedevian, 1936; Abou Charr et al., 1961; Al-Rawi, 1964; Kamal, 1967; Lev, 2003; Hakim Mohammed Said, 1970; Alami, 1971; Ahmed et al.,1972; Hammarneh, 1973; Ulman, 1978; Mubayyan, 1981; Jayaweera, 1982; Imtiaz-ul-Haq, 1986; Palewitch, et al., 1986; Damirov et al., 1988; Zargari, 1991.)

As a result of this work a number of medieval names of plants and animals have been deciphered. Botanical names are used for the plants described. In this study, the scientific names of plants are given in compliance with the " Flora of Azerbaijan" (1961) and "Medicinal Plants of Azerbaijan" (Дамиров и др., 1988) but with some supplements and changes according to the "Plants of the USSR" by Cherepanov S.K. (Черепанов, 1981). For definition of exotic species of plants that do not occur in our country the following works were used: "Medicinal Plants Used In Ceylon" by Jayaweera (1980, 1981), "Medicinal Plants" by Ali Zargari (1990, 1991),"Rostaniha-i Iran" by M.Mubayyan (1982), "Medicinal Plants of Israel: an Ethnobotanical Survey" by D. Palevitch, et al. (1974), "Tropical and Subtropical Medicinal Plants" by Muravyova D.A., Gammerman A.F., (Муравьева, Гаммерман, 1974) "Drug Plants of the Mongolian Medicine" by Haydav S. et al. (Хайдав и др., 1973).

The species of animals were identified according to the "Fauna of USSR", "Encyclopedic Dictionary on Biology." The main studies were carried out on the basis of special and terminological dictionaries. Among modern studies we should point out such fundamental works as Persian glossary "Farhang-i Farsi" by Muhammad Mu'in (1975, 1976, 1977) and the Glossary of Arabic "al-Munjid" (1967). In this respect the following works re p resent a great intere s t : "Illustrated Polyglotic Dictionary of Plant Names" by Bedevian A.K. (1936) , "An English-Arabic Dictionary of Medicine" by Sharaf Mohammed (1928), "Encyclopedia of Islamic Medicine" by Kamal H. (1967), etc. A number of medieval names in Arabic and Persian have been deciphered on the basis of these sources.

More difficult is deciphering Old Azeri names of plants, animals and minerals, because the medieval Azerbayjan terminology is not sufficiently investigated. Some medieval terms in Turkic (including Old Azeri) are contained in the "Comparative Dictionary of Turkic Languages" by Radlov V.V. (1905), "Dictionary of Ancient Turkic" by Sevortian (Севортян, 1980). The Glossary of Turkish "Tarama Sözlüğü" (1963), the Clossary of Azeri "Azərbaycan dilinin izahli lüğəti” (1967). Of great interest is the study of "Turkic Plant Names in Mukaddimat al-Adab" by Borovikov A.K. (Боровиков, 1986).

The rich facts on the medieval terminology are contained in the works of U.Karimov and S.Mirzayev who investigated and translated into Russian fundamental books by Ibn Sina (Ибн Сина, 1981, 1982) and Abu Reyhan Biruni (Бируни, 1974).

The main explorations have been carried out on the basis of medieval dictionaries on medicine and pharmacognosy. Most of these sources are poliglotic and contain numerous terms in several languages. Besides, in these dictionaries, one can find numerous medieval terms, that are now forgotten and therefore cannot be found in modern dictionaries. The manuscripts of medieval dictionaries treasured in our Institute have been used in the present study. Among them there are the following sources:

1."Kitab al-Hikmat" written in the 17th century by Haji Suleyman Iravani.

2."Lugat at-Tibb" written in 1618 AD by Sayyid Muhammad Rais al-Atibba.

3."Kitab-i Lugat-i Tibb". The anonymous manuscript copied in the 18th century.

4."Lugat-i Istilahat-i Tibbi" by Muhammad bin Ali (18th century).

It should be noted, that the rich lexical and terminological material with partial decodifications of some terms is contained in the medieval works on medicine and pharmacognosy. For example Sayyid Mir Muhammad Mu'min in his book "Tuhfat al-Muminin" (1669 AD) mentions the names of plants in 27 languages and dialects. In the resent study the comparative analyses of the terms cited in the medieval books on medicine has been carried out to define the species of plants, animals, minerals and medicines.

Information on the medices of medieval Azerbaijan is scattered in various sources that were written in different languages. It must be noted that various dictionaries can give us unlike or contradictory translations of the same terms. Work with these sources requires great caution and a critical approach to the material, and a thorough comparison with the other data obtained on the basis of morphological, ecological and bio-geographical analyses of the plant species described in medieval sources.


As a result, 724 species of plants described in medieval sources on medicine and pharmacognosy have been identified. These plants belong to four sections (Equisetophyta, Polypodiophyta, Gymnospermae, Angiospermae), to six classes (Equisetopsida, Polypodiopsida, Gnetopsida, Pinopsida, Monocotyledones, Dicotyledones) and 143 families.

It turned out that 16 families contain about 54% of identified plants. The remaining 121 families include 45% of the medicinal plants. Physicians of those times used a number of species of lichens belonging to three genera: Lecanora, Roccella and Usnea. Some species of mushrooms also were used: Polyporus officinalis Fries., Tuber album Sow., Tuber melanasporum Vitt., Morchelia esculenta Pers.

Of the 724 species of plants described in the medieval sources on medicine and pharmacognosy, 422 species (58.3%) belong to indigenous plants and occur in the territory of modern Azerbaijan Republic. Comparative analysis shows that only 166 of them are currently being used in modern phytotherapy of Azerbaijan. It must be noted that 60 of mentioned species are known as plants of folk medicine, whereas the 106 species are currently being used in scientific medicine of Azerbaijan.

The fundamental studies and reference books on medicinal plants of Azerbaijan do not contain any information about other 256 indigenous species that are described in the medieval manuscripts on medicine and pharmacognosy.

Therefore, these 256 species (60.7%) are no longer used in the modern Azerbaijan phytotherapy. The identified medicinal plants may have therapeutic value once they have been experimentally and clinically tested.


While describing the species of plants, medieval authors gave wide information on their therapeutic properties. For example, Muhammad Mumin (d. 1697) wrote:

"QUINCE (Cydonia vulgaris Pers.). Ripe fruit can be used as a tonic and has diuretic qualities. It strengthens heart and nervous system. Warm quince salve can be applied to irritated skin. Sour fruit is recommended to person with an accelerated heartbeat. It stimulates the appetite. Fruit and juice are good against liver diseases, hepatitis, rhinitis, pneumonia and nausea. Juice can be used to stop bleeding, blood spitting, ulcers and in-juries of the urethra, vomiting and hang-over. Besides, it quenches thirst well. Quince pulp (especially of sour fruit) acts as an opiate; therefore it should be taken in small quantities, preferably with honey, stewed or in the form of jam.

Excessive consumption of fresh fruit might cause cough or colitis. The fluff of skin is strong opiate and helps to slop bleeding, but is bad for the larynx and vocal cords. The seeds are strong styptic. The infusion is good against angina, cough and irritation of the mouth. Seed's compresses are applied to fire and sun burns. Core of seeds intensifies libido, acts as a purgative and stimulates breathing. It is used against ulcer, cough and the vocal cords' inflammation. The moisture around the seeds is good against dry cough as well as burns." [60]

From the above quotation, it appears that medieval physicians applied the same plant against a number of different diseases. Individual plants or their mixtures were used to prepare different medical forms such as unguents, powders, tablets, pills, infusions, syrups, different mixtures, etc.

Physicians of the Middle Ages knew that different parts of plants have different healing properties. Modern pharmaceutics use only some parts of plants, while medieval physicians used roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds, with each part used in an adequate way.

Traditionally, no part of a medicinal plant was wasted; all parts were used. As a rule, the medieval manuscripts on medicine contain numerous chapters devoted to treatment of various diseases using remedies of natural origin. For instance, the title of the first chapter of "Tibbnama" (1712) is as follows: "The First Chapter. Narrates about Treatment of Headache and Migraine." [72]

The following chapters of the mentioned book are devoted to healing such diseases as melancholy, epilepsy, meningitis, poor memory, nasal bleeding, toothache, extraction of teeth, week gums, and so on. Some examples of these recommendations are given below (the manuscript of "Tibbnama," [72]. The medieval weight units are converted into grams, scientific names of plants and comments are given in parenthesis.

Colic in Stomach. "Take dried leaves of peppermint (Mentha piperita L.), mix with some vinegar and massage the belly. The ointment from cinnamon (the dried bark of Cinnamonum cassia (Nees) Nees ex Blume) is also useful, if it is applied externally on the stomach."

Colitis. "Root of althea (Althaea officinalis L.) is the best remedy against colitis. To remove the acute pain one should eat 3 g of its leaves. Besides, take so-called mastic (the resinous exudate from Pistacia lentiscus L.), add twice as much sugar and eat during several days.”

Cough. "Take 20 g of basil's (Ocirnum basilicum L.) leaves and flowers, mix with 20 g of thyme (Thymus sp.) leaves, and infuse in I liter of water for l5 minutes. Then, add to infusion two spoons of honey and stir it. The diseased person has to take one spoon of this medicine in every half an hour»

Headaches. "To heal chronic headaches (migraine), take 5-10 g of basil's (Ocimum basilicum L.) leaves, boil in a cup of water, titter, add some honey or sugar and drink. Repeat this treatment every day during two weeks. If head-ache is associated with cold, you have to drink decoction of thyme (Thymus sp.) or add its leaves into common tea. Ginger (the dried rhizome of Zingiber officinale Rosc.) is used for preparation of analgesic ointment against headache. You should take the ginger's juice, stir with sesame (Sesamum orientale L.) oil or rose (Rosa damascena Mill., R. centiJblia I., R. gailica L.) oil and spread on the head."

Heart Diseases. "Decoction of balm-mint (Melissa officinalis L.) leaves with rose water is good against excessive heartbeat (tachycardia). The pomegranate (fruits of Punica granatum L.) syrup is also used to heal this disorder. Make a mixture of juice of plantain (Plantago major L.) leaves, rose water, purslane (Portulaca oleracea L.) juice, and drink it. Apples (Pirus malus I .) and their decoction are good in prophylaxis and treatment of heartbeat as well."

Hemorrhoids. "Grind 15 g of the oleander (Nerium oleander L.) leaves. Put threshed leaves into a pot filled with 100 g of olive oil and carefully boil them. Then, decoction should be filtered to obtain pure oil. Take a bit of cotton, submerge into oil and prepare suppository to apply on the hemorrhoids. If diseased is a child, you should prepare decoction from pomegranate's (fruits of Punica granatum L.) skin. Then the child should take a bath with this decoction."

Indigestion. "For a day a diseased person should avoid any food and follow to a rigorous diet. Then, he should eat fresh leaves of balm-mint (Melissa officinalis L.). To improve the poor digestion, it is good to sprinkle dried powder of peppermint (leaves of Meniha piperita L.) on the dishes. Such seasonings as cinnamon and mastic also are good for digestion. Besides, it is recommended to eat various dishes with fresh herb of tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus L.)"

Kidney Diseases. "Cones of cypress (Cupressus sempervirens L.) and juniper (Juninerus sabina L.) are good against inflammation of kidney and urinary bladder. The green cones of cypress should be boiled in two glasses of water. Then, the diseased person should take half a glass of this decoction three times per day during one-two weeks. Cones are good diuretics and remove inflammation from urinary organs."

Melancholy. "Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) is called 'the medicine cheering heart' because it removes the had spirit. Those who want to be cheerful and vigorous should take 1 g of this remedy. To remove bad spirit you have to carefully and slowly chew and swallow one or two cloves (dried flower buds of Eugenia caryophyllus (Spreng.) Bull. Et Harr.)"

Pains in Ear. "Pomegranate (fruits of Punica granatum L.) should be cleaned from seeds, stuffed with rose oil and heated. Then you have to prepare the ear drops from this oil and to use it against ear pain. Besides, you may boil the sour pomegranate's juice, mix it with equal amount of honey and drop into ears."

Pains in Joints. "There is a good analgesic ointment against rheumatism. Take some garlic (Allium salivum L.), chop it, mix with equal amount of camphor and massage the joint. The chamomile (flower heads of Matricaria chamomilla L.) oil also removes rheumatic pains. A person with ill joints should also take a bath with decoction of thyme (Thymus sp.) leaves. He has to take 500 g. of thyme, chop it and put in the little bag which should be placed in boiling water for 15 m. Then, he should empty this decoction into bath."

Quinsy. "Gargles with decoction of the black plum-tree (Punus domestica L) leaves are good against this disease. Gargle removes inflammation and strengthens muscles of a throat. Infusion of aloe (leaves of Aloe vera L.) is also used against quinsy. Take one sour and one sweet pomegranate (Punica granatum L) and boil them with skin. Use this decoction for gargling."


Most of species (150 spp. or 36.4%) was used externally as antiseptics for ulcers, furuncles, scabies, mange and other skin diseases. This group includes such drugs as leaves of oleander (Nerium oleander L.), juices of onion (Allium cepa L.), ramsons (AIlium ursinum L., A. victoriale L.) and garlic (Allium sativum L.). The mentioned plants were used for preparing unguents, powders and different medical forms that were applied externally.

The second group contains plants species applied to diseases of kidney and urinary bladder (92 spp. or 23%). This group contains the following herbal medicines: flowers of corn camomile (Anthemis arvensis L.), fruits of dogrose (Rosa canina L.), leaves of blackberry (Rubus fruticosus L), bark of willow (Salix sp.), etc. These remedies were given mainly in decoction or infusion form.

The plants of third group were used against various diseases of liver and bile duct. In medieval sources most of them were designated as cholagogues. Scholars of the Middle Ages point out that there are two kinds of bile in a human's organism: the so-called "black bile" (qara öd in Old Azeri and sawda in Arabic) and the "yellow bile" (sarı öd in Old Azeri and safra in Arabic). The following plants were considered by medieval authors as cholagogues: spearmint

(Mentha spicata L.), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale Wigg.), saffron (Crocus sativus L.), barberries (Berberis vulgarLy L.), fumitory (Furnaria officinalis L.), celandine (Chelidoiniurn majus L.), chicory (Cichorium intybus L.), black radish (Raphanus salivus L.) etc. Many plants were used against other ailments.

Oriental physicians of the Middle Ages widely used botanicals which are similar to our present armamentarium. For example, Matricaria chamomilla L. was applied against inflammatory diseases and nervousness, and Valeriana officinalis L. in treatment of cardiovascular diseases.

Botanicals of modern phytotherapy were used by medieval physicians more widely than we use them today. For example, Valeriana officiinalis L. was applied not only to treat nervousness and heart diseases, but also as a diuretic and haemostatic medicine. These properties of valerian are confirmed by the modern studies as well.

Muhammad Mumin, the author of the 17th century, recommended treating cancer of skin with the help of cabbage's (Brassica oleracea L.) leaves. It was recommended to apply the fresh threshed leaves or their juice on the patient's skin [60]. The future experimental studies have to cheek this medieval recommendation.

Despite the wide application of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) in medieval phytotherapy, nowadays this plant is almost forgotten by modern scientific medicine. Most of authors of the Middle Ages recommended to use saffron in treatment of diseases of liver, heart and as a tonic. For these porpoises, the homeopathic doses of saff ron were applied. Presently, saffron's infusion is successfully us-ed by some traditional healers in Azerbaijan for treatment of diseases of liver.


These plants are not included in the list of species recommended for medical application by Ministry of Health. Besides, they are not used even in the folk medicine of modern Azerbaijan. Some examples of them are cited below.

Amaranthus retroflexus L. This well-known decorative plant is not used by scientific medicine in Azerbaijan. According to the modern literature it may cause allergia. However, it may be supposed that this herb has the antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. For example, the medieval sources inform that decoction of leaves was used against tumors and diseases of skin. Besides, juice of leaves was applied to heal wounds. To treat ulcers in mouth and inflammation of gums, it was recommended to rinse it with decoction of dried amaranth's leaves.

Anacyclus ciliatus Trautv. It was considered that seeds of this plant strengthen an organism, and has the diuretic , antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, sudorific, lactogenic and expectorant properties.

Doronicum macrophyllurn Fish. The root of this herb was used as a tonic. It was believed that it strengthens liver, heart, digestion and organs of senses. Decoction of the root was prescribed against arrhythmia.

Gypsophyla elegans M.B. Root was used as diuretic, styptic and cholagogus. Externally was applied against herpes. It was believed that the decoction of root crushes stones in urinary bladder.

Microlophus behen (L) Taht. The herb was used as a tonic and medicine against tiredness and arrhythmia.

Myosotis arvensis L. Flowers, leaves and roots were used as antiseptics and sedative medicines. Recently, this plant is widely cultivated in Azerbaijan for decorative porpoises.

Onopordon acanthium L. Seeds and root were used against spasms, blood-spitting and as antidote against the scorpion's bites. It was believed that the bandage with seeds stops bleeding.

Salsola dendroides Pall. Decoction of stem or leaves was used as cholagogus. The juice was applied on burns and irritated skin.

The future scientific studies have to check effectiveness of the plants described in the medieval sources.

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