How the sage Imhotep became a god in Ancient Egypt
What if you feel a severe potential in yourself and are ready for outstanding achievements in several professional fields at once, but one nuance interferes: the fact of birth in Ancient Egypt, two and a half millennia before the onset of a new era? The answer is simple – you need not just build a career but become one of the most revered gods, making your reputation work even after death. Few have succeeded – and Imhotep is one of them.
Imhotep – architect and statesman
If Imhotep had compiled a summary (perhaps for other incarnations, a class above), this document would have included very significant achievements. In a sense, they should recognize as unique – after all, Imhotep worship by civilizations that did not exist during his lifetime! After such an introduction, one involuntarily wants to assume that we are talking about a character in mythology. Still, no – the existence of Imhotep as a natural, historical person has been proven quite definitely.
It isn’t easy to judge his biography. The main and the only thing that knows about the life of Imhotep is that he held one of the highest government posts under Pharaoh Djoser, who, in turn, is well known for his unique pyramid. It is the oldest of such structures, and one of the main features of the Djoser pyramid is its stepped outlines.
It is not an accident – the building resulted from a kind of architectural experiment, an innovative solution when over a rectangular mastaba tomb (such built earlier), several more of the same, smaller ones built on top. The pyramid of Djoser became the tallest architectural creation of its time, and even now, its dimensions (height 62m) seem pretty impressive.
The pyramidal shape has since become standard for the main structures of the funeral complexes of Ancient Egypt; over time, this tradition adopts by other cultures. What does Imhotep have to do with it? The fact is that the construction of the Djoser pyramid, like the buildings next to it, is the result of his work and one of the most significant projects in his career.
Imhotep’s involvement in creating the burial complex evidence by the inscription on the base of the statue of Djoser discover not far from the pyramid. It contains a list of the incarnations of Imhotep during the period of his activity for the benefit of Egypt: after listing the titles and names of the ruler himself, the designations of his first adviser indicated, where he is called the treasurer, the chief priest of the city of Heliopolis, the head of the builders, and so on.
There is no doubt that Imhotep’s outstanding achievements were made possible by the conditions created by his “employer,” and pharaoh, in turn, was revered as a wise and talented ruler throughout his life and after its completion. But his first adviser survived Djoser – and continued to work during the reign of his successor, Sekhemkhet, as evidenced by the inscription on one of the walls of the unfinished pyramid complex of the new pharaoh
The father of medicine
Probably the most outstanding achievement of Imhotep was his success in the field of medicine. Speaking about ancient Egyptian medicine, one should not imagine something primitive, even though we are talking about the third millennium BC.
The Egyptians did not have an excellent idea of the work of various organs, although, thanks to the traditions of embalming, they perfectly knew human anatomy. For example, the heart was considered the central part of the body and the organ responsible for thinking: after all, it was the heart that made itself felt in difficult or, conversely, happy moments of life.
Nevertheless, they treated – or tried to treat – a lot: injuries and bleeding, poisoning, gynecological problems, infectious diseases. They used drugs made from products like honey, milk, vegetable, and animal fats, from medicinal herbs, sometimes something particular was added, like manure. It is noteworthy that in ancient Egypt, great importance attaches to hygiene. In the recommendations of healers, advice constantly finds on maintaining a clean body and refusing to eat raw meat or fish. Surgical operations were widespread; even prosthetics carry out, which, however, pursued only aesthetic goals.
We know how they treat Ancient Egypt from the papyrus found during excavations. The Edwin Smith Papyrus, named for the archaeologist who discovered it in 1862, is considered fundamental medical research. The papyrus covers fifty injuries and illnesses with their descriptions, treatment recommendations, and prognosis. The document is dated 1700 – 1500 BC, but it is only a copy of an earlier work, and it believes that Imhotep was involved.
Edwin Smith’s papyrus texts write about a thousand years earlier – and throughout this period, they were a “reference book” for Egyptian healers. The priests were engaged in treatment in Ancient Egypt – after all, the process itself sometimes involved the use of medicines and the attraction of magical, divine powers. By the way, the alleged author of this critical medical document himself, the sage Imhotep, who was a priest during his lifetime, acquired divine status after his death.
Until the next mention of Imhotep (from those that have survived to this day), not just years and centuries passed, but whole millennia. Herodotus, who came to Egypt in the 5th century BC, wrote about this ancient dignitary as an exceptionally outstanding personality.
The famous healer and builder of the pyramid Djoser kept among the people despite the change of eras; it passed on in myths from generation to generation. Imhotep allegedly not only miraculously healed the sick but could also raise the dead. In the Hellenistic period, he already identified with the Greek Asclepius and the Roman Aesculapius – the god of medicine and healing.
The seven hungry years
How Imhotep’s life developed and under what circumstances it ended, one can only guess. He credited with kinship with the goddess Ranpatnafrat or marriage with her. Still, in general, to date, even the resting place of the grand vizier of the pharaoh has not been found. However, it is located somewhere on the territory of the cemetery of Sakkara, not far from the burial complex of pharaoh Djoser created by him.
Imhotep also has one more curious “line in the resume”: he sometimes identified with the biblical Joseph, the one who gathered grain in years of abundance and distributed it with the advent of seven hungry years. Indeed, during the reign of Pharaoh Djoser, there was a period of drought; this indirectly confirmed by the inscription on the granite Stela of Famine, found in Upper Egypt.
The building itself dates back to the period of the 4th – 1st centuries BC, but contains a legend about how Imhotep, on behalf of Djoser, “agreed” with the god Khnum, who ruled over the waters of the Nile. It also suggests a granary inside the Djoser pyramid, cut by passages and chambers of different sizes.
For thousands of years, Imhotep worship on a par with the main Egyptian gods one way or another. As a symbol of respect in front of him, it was customary to throw water from the vessel on the floor, starting to work – this is what the scribes did. An official and architect, physician, and patron of sciences, Imhotep was revered until the Arab invasion in the 7th century.