The Papyrus Ebers: A Treasure of Ancient Egyptian Medicine
The Papyrus Ebers, also known as Papyrus Ebers, is an Egyptian medical papyrus of herbal knowledge dating to c. 1550 BCE (the late Second Intermediate Period or early New Kingdom). Among the oldest and most important medical papyri of Ancient Egypt, it was purchased at Luxor in the winter of 1873â1874 by the German Egyptologist Georg Ebers. It is currently kept at the Leipzig University Library in Germany.
In this article, we will explore the contents, significance, and legacy of this remarkable document that reveals the medical and magical beliefs and treatments of ancient Egyptians.
What is the Papyrus Ebers?
The Papyrus Ebers is a 110-page scroll, which is about 20 meters long. It contains some 700 magical formulas and folk remedies meant to cure afflictions ranging from crocodile bite to toenail pain and to rid the house of such pests as flies, rats, and scorpions. It also includes a surprisingly accurate description of the circulatory system, noting the existence of blood vessels throughout the body and the heartâs function as centre of the blood supply.
The papyrus was written in hieratic Egyptian writing and represents the most extensive and best-preserved record of ancient Egyptian medicine known. It is believed to have been copied from earlier Egyptian texts, some dating back to the Old Kingdom (c. 2686â2181 BCE). The papyrus is divided into 45 sections or chapters, each dealing with a specific topic or organ of the body. The papyrus also contains a calendar of lucky and unlucky days, a glossary of medical terms, and a list of anatomical names.
What are some examples of the remedies in the Papyrus Ebers?
The remedies in the Papyrus Ebers are based on a combination of empirical observation, rational reasoning, and magical incantations. Some of the remedies are surprisingly effective, while others are bizarre or even harmful. Here are some examples:
To treat asthma, the papyrus suggests a mixture of herbs heated on a brick so that the patient could inhale their fumes.
To treat diabetes, the papyrus recommends drinking a mixture of water, elderberry, fibers of the asit plant, milk, beer-swill, cucumber flowers, and green dates.
To treat burns, the papyrus advises applying a poultice of milk and bread with resin.
To treat toothache, the papyrus prescribes chewing on a clove of garlic.
To treat baldness, the papyrus instructs rubbing the scalp with a mixture of fats from a lion, hippopotamus, crocodile, goose, snake, and ibex.
To prevent pregnancy, the papyrus advises inserting a plug of crocodile dung and sour milk into the vagina.
What is the significance of the Papyrus Ebers?
The Papyrus Ebers is significant for several reasons. First, it provides a wealth of information about the medical knowledge and practices of ancient Egyptians, as well as their views on health and disease. It shows that they had a sophisticated understanding of anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, diagnosis, prognosis, and therapy. It also shows that they used both natural and supernatural means to heal their patients.
Second, it demonstrates that ancient Egyptian medicine was not isolated from other cultures but influenced by and influenced them. For instance, some of the remedies in the Papyrus Ebers are similar to those found in Mesopotamian texts or Indian Ayurveda. Moreover, some of the terms and concepts in the Papyrus Ebers were later adopted by Greek and Roman physicians such as Hippocrates and Galen.
Third, it serves as a source of inspiration for modern medicine and pharmacology. Many of the plants and substances mentioned in the Papyrus Ebers have been proven to have medicinal properties by scientific research. For example, garlic has antibacterial and antifungal effects; elderberry has antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects; resin has antiseptic and analgesic effects; crocodile dung has contraceptive effects (due to its alkaline pH). Some researchers have even suggested