(c. 2980 B.C.)

NO INDIVIDUAL of the ancient world has left a deeper impression on history than Imhotep. He was the real Father of Medicine. He is, says Sir William Osier, "The first figure of a Physician to stand out clearly from the mists of antiquity."

Of the details of his life, very little has survived though numerous statues and statuettes of him have been found. He lived at the court of King Zoser of the Third Dynasty, about 2980 B.C., where he established such a reputation as a healer that he was worshipped as a god for the next 3000 years, not only in Egypt but also in Greece and Rome. Even early Christianity worshipped him as the Prince of Peace.

His father was an architect named Kanofer; his mother was Khreduonkh, and his wife, Ronfrenofert. Imhotep appears to have been versatile like Aristotle and Leonardo da Vinci. In addition to being the chief physician to the king, he was sage and scribe, chief lector priest, architect, astronomer, and magician. At that time magic and medicine were allied, as in native Africa and the East today.

He was also a poet and a philosopher. He preached cheerfulness and urged contentment. His proverbs, embodying a philosophy of life, caught popular fancy, and were handed down from generation to generation. One of his best-known sayings is: "Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we shall die."

There is evidence that the Egyptians, and perhaps Imhotep also, diagnosed and treated more than 200 diseases, among them 1 diseases of the abdomen, 11of the bladder, lo of the rectum, 29 of the eyes, and 18 of the skin. They knew how to detect disease by the shape, color, or condition of the visible parts of the body, as the skin, hair, nails, tongue. They treated spinal tuberculosis, gallstones, appendicitis, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, mastoid diseases, and dental caries. They practiced surgery, knew of auscultation, and extracted medicine from plants.

They were also familiar with the position and functions of the stomach, the lungs, and other vital organs. Imhotep, it is said, knew of the circulation of the blood, which is 4000 years before it was known in Europe. This could be true because Egyptian civilization lasted for 6000 years, which was sufficiently long for its thinkers and scientists to have carried research along most lines to a high degree. That Egypt excelled in architecture we know, and as regards medicine, Homer said in the Odyssey, "In Egypt the men are more skilled in medicine than any of human kind." The Greeks sent their young men to be educated in Egypt, as today students from Egypt go to Europe.

Imhotep's fame increased with his death. He was worshipped as a medical demi-god from 2850 B.C. to 525 B.C., and as a full deity from 525 B.C. to A.D. 550. Kings and queens bowed at his shrine. Later he was jointly worshipped with the great conqueror Amenophis III, and still later as the Son of Ptah, Father of the Gods. "Turn thy face towards me, My Lord Imhotep, Son of Ptah. It is thou who dost work miracles and who are beneficient in all thy deeds" were the words of supplication addressed to him.

The great temple of Amen (Karnak) contains two bas-reliefs of him. On the island of Philae there is a temple in his honor. The inscription to him there reads: "Chancellor of the King of Lower Egypt; Chief under the King of Upper Egypt; Administrator of the Great Mansion; Hereditary Noble, Heliopolitan High Priest, Imhotep."

When Egyptian civilization crossed the Mediterranean to become the foundation of Greek culture, the teachings of Imhotep were also absorbed there. But as the Greeks were wont to assert that they were the originators of everything, Imhotep was forgotten for thousands of years and Hippocrates, a legendary figure who lived 2000 years after him, became known as the Father of Medicine.

The Encyclopedia Britannica says, "The evidence afforded by Egyptian and Greek texts support the view that Imhotep's reputation was respected in very early times.... His prestige increased with the lapse of centuries and his temples in Greek times were the centres of medical teaching."

Breasted says of Imhotep:

In priestly wisdom, in magic, in the formulation of wise proverbs; in medicine and architecture; this remarkable figure of Zoser's reign left so notable a reputation that his name was never forgotten. He was the patron spirit of the later scribes, to whom they regularly poured out a libation from the water-jug of their writing outfit before beginning their work. The people sang of his proverbs centuries later, and 2,500 years after his death, he had become a god of medicine in whom the Greeks, who call him Imouthes, recognized their own Asklepios. A temple was erected to him near the Serapeum at Memphis, and at the present day every museum possesses a bronze statue or two of the apotheosized wise man, the proverb-maker, physician, and architect of Zoser.

As regards Imhotep's influence in Rome, Gerald Massey, noted poet, archaeologist, and philologist, says that the early Christians worshipped him as one with Christ. The early Christians, it will be recalled, adapted to their use those pagan forms and personages whose influence through the ages had woven itself so powerfully into tradition that they could not omit them. Thus, says Massey:

The child-Christ remained a starrily-bejewelled blackamoor as the typical healer in Rome. Jesus, the divine healer, does not retain the black complexion of Iu-em-hotep [Imhotep] in the canonical gospels but he does in the Church of Rome when represented as a little black bambino. A jewelled image of the child-Christ as a blackamoor is sacredly preserved at the headquarters of the Franciscan order, and true to its typical character as a symbolical likeness of Iusa, the healer, the little black figure is taken out in state with its regalia on to visit the sick and demonstrate the supposed healing power of this Egyptian Esculapius, thus Christianized. The virgin mother, who was also black, survived in Italy as in Egypt. At Oropa, near Bietta, the Madonna and her child-Christ are not white but black, as they so often were in Italy of old and as the child is yet conditioned in the little black Jesus of the Eternal City.

He adds as regards the worship of Imhotep in Rome, "Surely the profoundest sigh of an ever-warring world went up to Heaven in the cult of Iu-em-hotep, who is worshipped as the giver of rest, the Kamite prince of peace.".

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