Born in Carthage or Sicily, Constantine was a native of Carthage, then under Arab rule. As a Christian he had a good knowledge of Latin, enabling him to translate medical works into that language from Arabic. He was invited to join the Schola Medica Salernitana by Alfano I, Archbishop of Salerno c.1065 in order to aid in the translation of various Arabic manuscripts. His translations of helped reintroduce Greek medicine to Western Europe. He also adapted popular Arabic handbooks for travellers in his book Viaticum. The twentieth chapter of the first book of that work deals with the subject of love.
Constantine knew Greek, Latin, Arabic, and several other Oriental languages, acquired during his extensive travels in Syria, India, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Persia. Constantine studied at the University of Salerno, which was Western Europe's first organized medical school. Later, he entered the Monte Cassino, the monastery founded by St. Benedict in 529 near Cassino, Principality of Benevento. He died there in 1087.
The first of his works of translation from Arabic to Latin was the Complete Book of the Medical Art, from the kitab al-malaki (Royal Book) of the 10th-century Persian physician 'Ali ibn al-'Abbas, in 1087. This text was the first comprehensive Arabic medical text. Shortly after, the work came to be known as the Pantegni, “complete art”. The significance of this text was that it was an important resource for the student of the transmission of scientific ideas inasmuch as the Complete Book of the Medical Art contains a compilation of 128 known manuscripts. This text also contains a survey of the 108 known Latin manuscripts of Constantine the African. This text rapidly became part of the standard medical curriculum for students.
His 37 translated books from Arabic to Latin introduced knowledge of Greek and Arabic medicine to the West. Among them were two treatises by Isaac Israeli ben Solomon, or Isaac the Jew, the greatest Jewish physician of the Western Caliphate of Córdoba, whose translations of Hippocrates and Galen first gave Western Europe a view of Greek medicine as a whole.
- Charles S. F. Burnett, Danielle Jacquart (eds.), Constantine the African and ʻAlī Ibn Al-ʻAbbās Al-Magūsī: The Pantegni and Related Texts. Leiden: Brill, 1995. ISBN 9004100148
- M. McVaugh, Constantine the African. C. C. Gillispie, ed., Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Vol. 3 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1970): pp. 393-5.
- Lienhard JH. Engines of our Ingenuity, Number 2097 - Constantine the African