Positive Progress Through The Benevolent Use Of Knowledge

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Medicine In Ancient Egypt

Imhotep The earliest physician whose name has been recorded, Imhotep," was the wazir of Zoser, founder of the Third Dynasty, in the thirtieth century. Imhotep was a learned man, astronomer, physician, architect (he may have been the builder of the first pyramid, the step pyramid of Saqqara). In later times he was worshiped as a hero, as a blameless physician, and later still as the god of medicine, the prototype of Asclepios (even as the learned God Thoth was the prototype of Hermes and Mercury). We know precious little about Imhotep's medical knowledge but his apotheosis is significant and we may well take him at the Egyptian valuation as the first great man in medicine. The people who speak of Hippocrates as the father of medicine should bear in mind that Hippocrates comes about half way between Imhotep and us. That would improve their perspective of ancient science.

Egyptian Physicians Not only were there many physicians in the Pyramid Age, but there were very specialized ones. The skill of an early dentist is beautifully illustrated by a mandible found in a tomb of the Fourth Dynasty (2900-2750), in which an alveolar process was pierced to drain an abscess under the first molar. From the tombstone of Iry, chief physician to a pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty (2625-2475), we learn that he was also "palace eye physician" and "palace stomach bowel physician" and bore the titles "one understanding the internal fluids" and "guardian of the anus." '

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