II. EGYPTIAN SCIENCE

Where such conceptions as these pertained, it goes without saying that charms and incantations intended to break the spell of the unlucky omens were equally prevalent. Such incantations consisted usually of the recitation of certain phrases based originally, it would appear, upon incidents in the history of the gods. The words which the god had spoken in connection with some lucky incident would, it was thought, prove effective now in bringing good luck to the human supplicant—that is to say, the magician hoped through repeating the words of the god to exercise the magic power of the god. It was even possible, with the aid of the magical observances, partly to balk fate itself. Thus the person predestined through birth on an unlucky day to die of a serpent bite might postpone the time of this fateful visitation to extreme old age. The like uncertainty attached to those spells which one person was supposed to be able to exercise over another. It was held, for example, that if something belonging to an individual, such as a lock of hair or a paring of the nails, could be secured and incorporated in a waxen figure, this figure would be intimately associated with the personality of that individual. An enemy might thus secure occult power over one; any indignity practised upon the waxen figure would result in like injury to its human prototype. If the figure were bruised or beaten, some accident would overtake its double; if the image were placed over a fire, the human being would fall into a fever, and so on. But, of course, such mysterious evils as these would be met and combated by equally mysterious processes; and so it was that the entire art of medicine was closely linked with magical practices. It was not, indeed, held, according to Maspero, that the magical spells of enemies were the sole sources of human ailments, but one could never be sure to what extent such spells entered into the affliction; and so closely were the human activities associated in the mind of the Egyptian with one form or another of occult influences that purely physical conditions were at a discount. In the later times, at any rate, the physician was usually a priest, and there was a close association between the material and spiritual phases of therapeutics. Erman[4] tells us that the following formula had to be recited at the preparation of all medicaments: "That Isis might make free, make free. That Isis might make Horus free from all evil that his brother Set had done to him when he slew his father, Osiris. O Isis, great enchantress, free me, release me from all evil red things, from the fever of the god, and the fever of the goddess, from death and death from pain, and the pain which comes over me; as thou hast freed, as thou hast released thy son Horus, whilst I enter into the fire and come forth from the water," etc. Again, when the invalid took the medicine, an incantation had to be said which began thus: "Come remedy, come drive it out of my heart, out of these limbs strong in magic power with the remedy." He adds: "There may have been a few rationalists amongst the Egyptian doctors, for the number of magic formulae varies much in the different books. The book that we have specially taken for a foundation for this account of Egyptian medicine— the great papyrus of the eighteenth dynasty edited by Ebers[5]—contains, for instance, far fewer exorcisms than some later writings with similar contents, probably because the doctor who compiled this book of recipes from older sources had very little liking for magic."

It must be understood, however—indeed, what has just been said implies as much—that the physician by no means relied upon incantations alone; on the contrary, he equipped himself with an astonishing variety of medicaments. He had a particular fondness for what the modern physician speaks of as a "shot-gun" prescription—one containing a great variety of ingredients. Not only did herbs of many kinds enter into this, but such substances as lizard's blood, the teeth of swine, putrid meat, the moisture from pigs' ears, boiled horn, and numerous other even more repellent ingredients. Whoever is familiar with the formulae employed by European physicians even so recently as the eighteenth century will note a striking similarity here. Erman points out that the modern Egyptian even of this day holds closely to many of the practices of his remote ancestor. In particular, the efficacy of the beetle as a medicinal agent has stood the test of ages of practice. "Against all kinds of witchcraft," says an ancient formula, "a great scarabaeus beetle; cut off his head and wings, boil him; put him in oil and lay him out; then cook his head and wings, put them in snake fat, boil, and let the patient drink the mixture." The modern Egyptian, says Erman, uses almost precisely the same recipe, except that the snake fat is replaced by modern oil.

In evidence of the importance which was attached to practical medicine in the Egypt of an early day, the names of several physicians have come down to us from an age which has preserved very few names indeed, save those of kings. In reference to this Erman says[6]: "We still know the names of some of the early body physicians of this time; Sechmetna'eonch, 'chief physician of the Pharaoh,' and Nesmenan his chief, the 'superintendent of the physicians of the Pharaoh.' The priests also of the lioness-headed goddess Sechmet seem to have been famed for their medical wisdom, whilst the son of this goddess, the demi-god Imhotep, was in later times considered to be the creator of medical knowledge. These ancient doctors of the New Empire do not seem to have improved upon the older conceptions about the construction of the human body."