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An invocation to I-em-hetep, the Egyptian deity of medicine by Ernest Board. (Wellcome Images/ CC BY-SA 4.0)

Medicine Of The Gods: Egyptian Secret Book Of The Physician

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As in many other areas of endeavor, the Egyptians had a very good reputation for their medical skills - diplomatic letters often made requests for remedies, including the seemingly miraculous, when even the Egyptians saw the joke as in the surviving reply of Ramses the Great to the Hittite king Hattusili who had requested a doctor with a drug to help his 50-something sister become pregnant. Fertility treatments were an Egyptian thing, but in this case, Ramses suggests a miracle worker might be more appropriate.

Ancient Egyptian surgical tools (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Ancient Egyptian surgical tools ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Egyptians formulated the first disease theory in history, predating traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda by at least a 1,000 years, perhaps more, referring to the Pyramid age and before. A most important contribution to world medicine is its pain-substance theory, which was hugely influential on subsequent medical systems, or could even be regarded as their origin. Egyptian medicine operates on a detoxification model, integrated into other aspects of old pharaonic culture, especially in the techniques of mummification, where the impure substance that causes decay or pain must be eradicated. Egyptian medicine, like many traditional systems, has an important pharmacopoeia of plants and minerals, which can be exploited in modern therapies. Basically, Egyptian medicine lives on in other systems that came after.

 

 

The Edwin Smith Papyrus documents ancient Egyptian medicine, including the diagnosis and treatment of injuries (Public Domain)

The Edwin Smith Papyrus documents ancient Egyptian medicine, including the diagnosis and treatment of injuries ( Public Domain )

Papyrus Ebers Secret Book Of Physician

One of the oldest text books known now as Papyrus Ebers , but to the Egyptians as The Secret books of the Physician provides in a nutshell everything one needs to know about Egyptian medicine.  It says: “I came from Heliopolis with the priests of the great temple, the lords of eternity and possessors of the means of protection.” This implies the long lineage to this knowledge, that starts with priests and scribes in the temple, specifically knowledge that comes from the aptly named ‘House of Life’ . The ‘House of Life’ was a library of treasured books that every temple possessed, even the smallest would have one or two books. A major temple such as that at Edfu would have several special rooms set apart, with often the walls decorated with examples of key formula, as in the well-known ‘Laboratory of Edfu’ where many special incenses and drugs were prepared.

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Chris Morgan is a respected independent scholar, former Wellcome student, and holder of an advanced degree in Oriental Studies from University of Oxford. He is the author of several books on Egypt, specializing in folk religion, ritual calendars and the “archaeological memory” encoded in the religions of post pharaonic Egypt.  His latest book is:  Isis: Goddess of Egypt & India

Top Image : An invocation to I-em-hetep, the Egyptian deity of medicine by Ernest Board. ( Wellcome Images / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

By Chris Morgan

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