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Medicine in Ancient Egypt Essay

Of all the branches of science pursued in ancient Egypt, none achieved such popularity as medicine.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 thefirst pyramid, the step pyramid of Saqqara).In later times he was worshipped 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 thefirst 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.(Nunn 15)
The usual term for a doctor was sunu, written with an arrow-shaped symbol that, it had been suggested, was an allusion to the use of arrowheads to lance abscesses.Some doctors belonged to the priesthood, including priests of the goddess Sakhmet, patroness of diseases, remedies and physicians, and of the lector-priests (khery-heb).Some again were counted among the scribes, as shown in such titles as ‘chief doctor and scribe of the word of god’.Many enjoyed ecclesiastical as well as lay titles.Like other professions, doctors had their hierarchy.Besides ordinary doctors there were senior doctors, inspectors, overseers and masters of physicians and the ‘Chief of Physicians of the South and the North’, a kind of minister of health.Royal and palace doctors had their special hierarchy and titles.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), …

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