The Ebers Papyrus is an ancient Egyptian text that reveals fascinating medical treatments which contains both scientific and magical techniques. The medical record talks about more than 842 treatment for various diseases and accidents. The main emphasis of the Papyrus is on Heart, respiratory system and diabetes in particular.
The Ebers Papyrus is around 68 feet long and 12 inches broad. It is currently located in Leipzig’s University Library in Germany. The ancient medical record is divided into 22 lines and was named after a celebrated Egyptologist Georg Ebers. The papyrus is estimated to be created between 1550 and 1536 BC. It was the reign of Egyptian emperor Amenopis I back then.
This ancient text is believed to be one of the oldest and most detailed medical record to be found in Egypt. The Ebers Papyrus throw light on Ancient Egyptian medicine and talks in detail about the unification of various scientific and the magical-religious approaches. The Papyrus has been studied in detail and have been re-translated nearly five times. The Papyrus acts as a treasure of knowledge and provides insight into the Ancient Egyptian Culture between the 14-16th century BC.
However, the discovery of the Ancient Egyptian text is still under doubt, as there is only little evidence available to support the facts concerning the discovery. The Ebers Papyrus was originally referred to as Assasif Medical Papyrus of Thebes and its name was switched to its current name later on, when purchased by Georg Ebers. It is amusing to learn about the origin of the Ebers Papyrus and how it landed into the hands of Georg Ebers.
History Associated to the Ebers Papyrus
As per the legends, Georg Eders and his sponsor, Herr Gunther who was believed to be an extremely rich man stepped into a shop that consisted of rare collections. The shop was ran by a collector called Edwin Smith in Luxor (Thebes) in 1872. It is believed in the Egyptian Community that Edwin obtained the Assasif Medical Papyrus under strange circumstances.
Edwin’s claim regarding the Papyrus were questioned by both Ebers and Gunther. Smith handed them over a Papyrus wrapped in a mummy linen and asserted that the Papyrus was discovered between the legs of a mummy in the Theban Necropolis’ El Assasif District. The Papyrus was immediately purchased by Ebers and Gunther and was later published in 1875, under the name Fascimille.
People have been skeptical about the authenticity of the Papyrus obtained by Ebers but the fact remains that Ebers acquired the Papyrus and proceeded to translate one of the greatest medical record that humanity has ever seen.
The Medical Papyrus was later generated in two different volumes by Ebers. Transalation generated by Joachim’s which was in German language was released shortly after the publication of volumes by Ebers. Following which, H. Wreszinski released translation of the hieratic into hieroglyphics in 1917.
Later on, four more English translation of the Medical record was produced. The first was released by Carl von in 1905. The second and third English translation was released by Cyril P. Byron and Bendiz Abel in 1930 and 1937 respectively. However, the most reliable and comprehensive translation was produced by Paul Ghalioungui, a renowned scholar and Physician. The transalation generated by Paul is considered as the most valuable and detailed publication of the Ebers Papyrus.
Despite constant attempts to derive accurate translation of the Ebers Papyrus, it continues to baffle even the most experienced Egyptologists. The Ebers Papyrus has proved to be helpful in providing a large number of cures over the past 200 years. The Papyrus largely sheds light on the rich medical knowledge of the ancient Egyptians.
The Study Of Ebers Papyrus
The Ancient Egyptian Medical Record was divided into two categories. One of them was “rational approaches” that consisted of various scientific techniques, however the other one of them included “Irrational Approaches”, that mentioned magico-religious techniques. The magical techniques included the use of amulets, incantations, written-spell directing towards Ancient Egyptian Gods. Back then, people did not believe in viruses and Bacteria, every illness amounted to the wrath of Gods. Hence, Magical and Religious techniques was of immense significance to the ancient Egyptian.
Even though the Payrus is dated to the 16th Century (1550-1536 BC), but due to the linguistic evidences, it is believed that the Papyrus was generated with the help of older sources dating back to 12th Dynasty of Egypt (1995-1775 BC). The medical Papyrus was originally written in hieratic, a cursive abbreviated version of hieroglyphics. It consists of 877 rubrics (Section headers) ink followed by Black text.
There are approximately 108 columns that are numbered 1-110. Each column consists of 20-22 lines of text. At the end of the Medical record, there is a calendar which shows that it was written in Amenophis I’s ninth year suggesting that the Papyrus was created in 1536 BC.
The medical record harbors abundance of knowledge concerning anatomy, physiology, toxicology, spells, and diabetic management. The papyrus also provides treatments for the diseases that are caused due to animals, plants and mineral poisons. It focuses on the use of potions, poultices, lotions and other medical remedies. The medical record consists of 842 pages of medicinal treatments and prescriptions that can led to the origin of approximately of 328 mixtures which can be used to treat various diseases. It is believed by a few that such concoctions were inspired by a particular element associated with each Egyptian God.
The prescriptions in the medical papyrus is mentioned in enough detail to make them reproducible today. Current research confirms that from at least 1820 BCE, the Egyptians prepared and delivered drugs, and from 1550 BCE precise measurements were introduced for prescribing each drug. Indeed, 50% of the drug sources used by the ancient Egyptians remain in use today, although many are now synthetized.
Various Archaeological, medical and historical research acts as an evidence of the fact that ancient Egyptians possessed rich knowledge and were capable of treating diseases rationally. Modern and scientific techniques were used by the ancient Egyptians to treat patients. However, the mergence of rational and irrational approach could be a cultural requirement.
If the rational approach failed, the ancients could always seek help from the magico-religious treatments involving spiritual connection which could tell that why the rational approach is not working. One such example could be easily traced in a translation of a common cold healing spell.
“Flow out, fetid nose, flow out, son of fetid nose! Flow out, you who break bones, destroy the skull and make ill the seven holes of the head!”Ebers Papyrus 763
The ancient Egyptians were aware of the fact that the Heart is the blood-pumping machine of the body, and is of utmost importance. They paid close attention to the cardio vascular system of the body. They knew that Heart is the organ which is responsible for regulating and circulating bodily fluids such as blood, tears, urine, and sperm.
The Eders Papyrus has a whole dedicated section titled as “Book of the Hearts”. This section particularly talks in detail about the arteries and blood supply that connect to every region of the human body. The Papyrus also talks about mental problems like depression, anxiety etc that have major impact on heart.
The Papyrus also records chapters on pregnancy, gastritis, contraception, gynae, parasites, skin disorder, bone setting, and surgical treatment of malignant tumors.
In the past 100 years, knowledge and appraisal of certain medical procedures have been hugely based on evidence provided by twelve documents inscribed on papyrus: the so-called medical papyri.
The Papyrus consists of one particular paragraph that explains certain ailments which are believed by today’s researcher to be one of the most reliable method to detect diabetes. Bendix Ebbell asserted that Rubric 197 of the medical papyrus is similar to the symptoms of diabetes mellitus. Below we have mentioned his translation.
“If you examine someone sick (in) the center of his being (and) is his body shrunken with disease at its limit; if you examine him not and you do find disease in (his body except for the surface of his ribs of which the members are like a pill you should then recite -a spell- against disease this in your house; you should also then prepare for him ingredients for treating it: bloodstone of Elephantine, ground; red grain; carob; cook in oil and honey; it should be eaten by him over mornings four for the suppression of his thirst and for curing his mortal illness.” (Ebers Papyrus, Rubric No. 197, Column 39, Line 7).
There are a few sections in the Papyrus that sounds like an enigmatic mystery, however, they also look like first attempts at diagnosis similar to the ones that are found in today’s medical books. This medical papyrus should not be considered merely a theory because it was written in an era, when each and every sickness was considered as God’s wrath against the humans, and even then the treatments used were based on practical and rational approach.
The pharmaceutical value of these remedies has shown that 64% are therapeutically effective, and that, although some treatments still relied on the power of magic, most were based on rational protocols and standards. Analytical scrutiny of seemingly irrational treatments, such as the use of crocodile excrement as a contraceptive and the recipe to anoint the head of a migraine sufferer with part of a catfish, may ultimately lend some support to the Egyptians’ view of them as effective cures. However, there is some doubt associated to this medical Papyrus.
Doubts Associated with the Medical Papyrus
Due to the number of translations, it is believed that certain information has been distorted in the way since its discovery. Ann Rosalie David, British Egyptologist and emeritus professor at the University of Manchester who has also served as director of the International Mummy Database believes the Papyrus to be useless. In 2008 Lancet Paper, Ann Rosalie concluded that source of researching the Papyrus is limited and is difficult due to the tiny fraction of work that is believed to be constant for 3,000 years of civilization.
She further stated that the translations of the work in itself is contradicting each other. She added that the translators themselves have faced issues with the language of the original Papyrus. She believes that translations should remain explanatory and cannot be finalized. Because of Rosalie’s statements, there are various scholars who have focused on examining the skeletal remains of individuals.
The anatomical and radiological investigations on Egyptian mummies in itself is a proof that the ancient Egyptians were highly skilled and possessed great medical knowledge. Various examinations have showed amputations and repaired fractures. It has also been found that the ancient Egyptians were skilled at creating prosthetic toes.
Tissues, hair, and bones belonging to mummies were analyzed using histology, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, DNA analysis and immunocytochemistry etc. These tests proved to be helpful in detecting the ailment that the particular mummy was facing. Some of the identified ailments were treated in the same manner as mentioned in the medical Papyrus proving that some of the treatments mentioned in the Papyrus were successful. Veronica M. Pagan pointed out in her World Neurosurgery article:
“These scrolls were used to pass down knowledge from generation to generation. They were likely kept on hand during a battle and used as a reference in daily life. Even with these remarkable scrolls, it’s likely that beyond a certain level, medical knowledge was taught orally from master to student.” (Pagan, 2011)
The further study of the Medical Papyrus helps the people in establishing a connection between spiritual and scientific knowledge of the ancient Egyptians. One can learn about the ancient knowledge, and the techniques that made their way from centuries ago to today’s world. It would be false to assume that all the techniques were invented in today’s era.
Rosalie refuses to believe in the power of scrolls and emphasizes on deeper research and explanations. It is easy for people of the modern era to be ignorant of ancient medical remedies . With modern days advancements and developments, it is safe to say that the worst diseases and disorders are on the verge of being eradicated. However, these inventions appear to be amazing only to people currently living in the 21st century. Imagine what would someone from the 45th century think of the practices today?
It would be amusing to see that how the modern medical practices of the western world would be seen as in the future.
“A mixture of cultural and opinionated remedies concocted to treat symptoms which walked a fine balance between their polytheistic gods and the unseen divinity known as ‘science’. If only these people knew that the spleen and appendix were the most important parts of the body, they could have been more than just 21st-century neophytes.”
Source: Ancient Origins