Tuesday, October 28, 2014

2600 B.C.: Hermetic Books improve image of medical profession in Egyp

After Thoth educated a priests about all the wisdom of the gods, this priest created the Hermetic Books. The priests he taught transcribed these books so they could be visible in all the temples of the gods of health and healing throughout Egypt.  This made them available to all the priest/physicians, making these temples places of learning and healing.  It was these books that allowed the medical profession in Egypt to flourish.

Many of these Egyptian temples were also the centerpieces of places that acted like our modern universities, complete with schools, libraries, laboratories, papyrus/paper factory and boarding houses.  These were places where the priests were educated in the wisdom contained in the Hermetic Books, or "Sacred Books," as they so often were referred to.

These were places of instruction for not just priests who aspired to be physicians, but astronomers, mathematicians, and a variety of other professions. Some of the original and most famous temples/ universities were situated at Memphis, Thebes, Heliopolis, Sais, and Chennu. (4, page 16)(11, page 19)(12, page 9)

Eventually Thoth taught the priesthood to make paper out of stalks of papyrus, and scribes were able to transcribe the Hermatic text onto large scrolls called papyri, and it is out of this that the modern term paper was derived.  So now, instead of stone pillars of wisdom only being available at select temples, scrolls of wisdom could be kept in the possession of each priests.  When called upon to visit the sick, they carried their their "Sacred Texts" in their medical bags.

Renouard said most ancient authors referred to the "Sacred Books" in past tense, as though they knew of them to exist but had never seen them with their own eyes. So even their references to the books are not evidence that they truly existed. There is also no evidence there were 42 books, as some accounts note as many as twenty thousand.  (6, page 28)

Assuming there were only 42, the first 36 were thought to contain basic wisdom of the gods, such as knowledge of astronomy, mandates of religion, church ceremonies, administering justice, philosophy, the art of writing, geography, cosmography, and the knowledge of weights and measures, medicine, etc.  These are what are often referred to as the Sacred Books. (5, page 24)(8, page 19)

These books were studied by the higher class of priests who became judges, mathematicians, astronomers, geographers, philosophers, scribes, etc.  The last six books contained the medical wisdom, and these were studied by the lower class of priests.

The higher class of priests at these schools studied the first 36 books, and others the last six.  Perhaps it was at such schools where Egyptian priests/ physicians developed such beliefs as life "should be indefinitely prolonged, unless someone or something caused death, such as a spirit, or the soul of a dead man, which cunningly entered a dead person,"  according to Fleming Sandwich in his 1905 book. (13, page 2)(14, page 25)

The last six were the medical books studied by physicians.  These are referred to as Embre (or sometimes Ambre or Scientia Causalitatis). (5, page 24)(8, page 19) (6, page 60)(4, page 4) The name comes from the original passages of these medical texts:
"Here begins the book of the preparation of drugs for all parts of the human body."
Now, it must be understood that the Sacred Books served a greater purpose other than just to educate educate and guide physicians in their medical practice.  You see, most early physicians and sorcerers and magicians and alchemists and their potions (their black magic) were not looked upon in a positive light, and mainly because some people died in spite of their potions, while others died because of them.  Some people were literally afraid of physicians, preferring to treat their sick with their home remedies.

In those earliest days of Egypt, physicians were often often accused of practicing the "Black Art," and were sometimes sentenced to death, said Johann Herman Baas in his 1899 history of medicine. (4, page 23)

The name "Black Art" comes from Egypt becoming known as the "Black Land," which was mainly due to the black mud along the Nile River.  Alchemy, or pharmacology, or chemistry, which is the process of mixing various substances into a potion, was referred to as the "Black Art,"  said Fielding Hudson Garrison in his 1922 history of medicine. (9, page 53)

Garrison said Homer (the great Greek poet from around 800 B.C.) mentioned how the Egyptians were adept at making various drugs by use of the "Black Art." So, while Egyptians physicians were not pharmacists per se, they were indeed involved in the "Black Art" as they usually concocted their own potions, or perhaps used the potions concocted by alchemists and pharmacists. (9, page 53)

What made this challenging is that the only way to learn whether a potion worked, or how much to give, was to try it on the sick, and sometimes this made the patient worse, and sometimes it resulted in death. And of course their were probably times when their poisonous qualities were specifically used to kill unwanted people per request of a king or some other leader.  So a bad reputation ensued among the medical profession. 

So there must have come a time when the head priests decided that something needed to be done to improve respect for the profession.  They decided create a book that contained all medical knowledge, and rather than allowing priests to take credit for their own miracles, credit was given to the gods.  Or, more specifically, to the one god named Thoth.

That said, the Embre, said Baas, "served as a source of, and a mask for, the vagaries of magic, and the extravagances and frauds of the alchemists." (4, page 4)

This mask could now be worn by magicians, sorcerers, alchemists, or any other person who participated in the act of healing or black magic.  If their magic or their potions didn't work, they could blame it on the Sacred Books, or the will of the gods.

This must have allayed the fears of the public and improved the image of the profession.  It sort of made the risks associated with trial and error medicine acceptable, thus allowing medicine in ancient Egypt to grow into a flourishing profession.

References: See "2600 B.C.: Hermetic Books allow medicine to flourish in Egypt."

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