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ON THE SCIENCE
OF THE EGYPTIANS AND CHALDEANS.
Τοὺς μὲν Αἰγυπτίους πάντας ἰατροὺς ἀκούομεν εἶναι. I NOW propose to make a few remarks on the medical knowledge of the Egyptians. This task would no doubt have been executed much better by a member of the profession than by me; but per haps it is not necessary to belong to the Royal College of Physicians, or to be entered at Apothecaries' Hall, to say all that can be said of the practice of Petosiris, or of the pharmacopoeia of Nechepsus.
The Priests of Egypt attributed to the Gods both the causes and the cures of diseases. Six volumes appertaining to the medical art were yet believed in the time of Clemens Alexandrinus to be fragments of the mighty compilation, in which Hermes Trismegistus, the companion of Osiris, was said to have treated of all the sciences. The Goddess Isis, if we choose to believe Diodorus Siculus, revealed to mankind the secrets of Pharmacy; and instructed her son Horus, not only in the method of curing diseases, but in the more hazardous art of predicting them. In the age of Homer, the God Paion, or Paicon, appears to have been considered as the founder of medical learning in Egypt. (Odyss. 4.) The Greeks believed Esculapius to have been a native of Epidaurus; but the Phoenicians held him to have been one of the eight Cabiri, who were probably the same with the eight great Gods of Egypt.
That the ancients should have attributed the causes and cures of maladies to their Gods, can scarcely excite our surprise; and we ought at least to do justice to the piety, which inspired this belief. We cannot however but admire the simplicity of some of the Greeks, who have literally repeated as they seem to have literally believed, the traditions of the Egyptians, concerning the origin of the medical science. Diodorus relates with all possible gravity, that the sick, who received the advice of Isis, received it in their dreams. Neither perhaps can we hear without wonder from the polished Xenophon, and, what is yet more extraordinary, from Cyrillus, a father of the Church, that the medical instructors of Esculapius were no Doctors of Sidon or Memphis, but Chiron the centaur, and Apis the sacred ox.
Let us then consent upon this subject, at least, to admit that the ancient orientalists often spoke allegorically. If they attributed the causes and the cures of maladies to their Gods, they did not hold those Gods to be merely deified mortals. The popular religion of the Egyptians was Tsabaism, characterised by some national peculiarities, and degraded by many absurd and vulgar superstitions, but not differing in its principles from that worship of the host of heaven, and of the personified powers of nature, which was the common practice of all the East. Thus it may have happened that the Egyptians did not wander very far from the truth, while they generally ascribed the loss or recovery of health, to the interference of their Gods, or, in other words, to the agency of natural
Of the medical knowledge of the Egyptians in the early periods of their history, little is known, and therefore little ought to be said. If the translators of the bible have properly rendered the word rephaim, there existed physicians in the days of Jacob. The testimony of Homer comes six centuries after that of the Hebrew Legislator, but it proves that in his time the Egyptians were considered as a people generally and eminently skilled in medicine.
Ιατρὸς δὲ ἕκαστος ἐπιστάμενος περὶ πάντων
About 660 years before our æra florished a king of Egypt named Nechepsus. This prince, according to Julius Firmicus,