Imhotep

Imhotep

[im-hoh-tep]

Imhotep (sometimes spelled Immutef, Im-hotep, or Ii-em-Hotep, circa (fl. 27th century BC) Egyptian ii-m-ḥtp *jā-im-ḥatāp meaning "the one who comes in peace") was an Egyptian polymath, who served under the Third Dynasty king, Djoser, as chancellor to the pharaoh and high priest of the sun god Ra at Heliopolis. He is considered to be the first engineer, architect and physician in history known by name. The full list of his titles is:
Chancellor of the King of Lower Egypt, Doctor, First after the King of Upper Egypt, Administrator of the Great Palace, Hereditary nobleman, High Priest of Heliopolis, Builder, Chief Carpenter, Chief Sculptor and Maker of Vases in Chief.
Imhotep was one of very few mortals to be depicted as part of a pharaoh's statue. He was one of only a few commoners ever to be accorded divine status after death. The center of his cult was Memphis. From the First Intermediate Period onward Imhotep was also revered as a poet and philosopher. His sayings were famously referred to in poems: I have heard the words of Imhotep and Hordedef with whose discourses men speak so much.

The location of Imhotep's tomb was lost in antiquity and is still unknown, despite efforts to find it. The general consensus is that it is at Saqqara. Imhotep's historicity is confirmed by two contemporary inscriptions made during his lifetime on the base or pedestal of one of Djoser's statues (Cairo JE 49889) and also by a graffito on the enclosure wall surrounding Sekhemkhet's unfinished step-pyramid. The latter inscription suggests that Imhotep outlived Djoser and went on to serve in the construction of king Sekhemkhet's pyramid which was abandoned due to this ruler's brief reign.

Attribution of achievements and inventions

Most known information about him is based on hearsay and conjecture. The ancient Egyptians credited him with many inventions. For example, it is claimed that he invented the papyrus scroll. James Henry Breasted says of Imhotep:

"In priestly wisdom, in magic, in the formulation of wise proverbs; in medicine and architecture; this remarkable figure of Zoser's reign left so notable a reputation that his name is not forgotten to this day. He was the patron spirit of the later scribes, to whom they regularly poured out a libation from the water-jug of their writing outfit before beginning their work."

Engineering and architecture

As one of the officials of the Pharaoh, Djosèr, he designed the Pyramid of Djoser (the Step Pyramid) at Saqqara in Egypt in 26302611 BC. He may have been responsible for the first known use of columns in architecture. As an instigator of Egyptian culture, Imhotep's idealized image lasted well into the Ptolemaic period. The Egyptian historian Manetho credited him with inventing the method of a stone-dressed building during Djoser's reign, however he was not the first to actually build with stone. Stone walling, flooring, lintels, and jambs had appeared sporadically during the Archaic Period, though it is true that a building of the Step Pyramid's size and made entirely out of stone had never before been constructed. Before Djoser pharaohs were buried in mostuba tombs.

Medicine

Imhotep is credited with being the founder of Egyptian medicine and with being the author of a medical treatise remarkable for being devoid of magical thinking, the so-called Edwin Smith papyrus containing anatomical observations, ailments, and cures. The surviving papyrus was probably written around 1700 BC but may be a copy of texts a thousand years older. This attribution of authorship is speculative, however.

Birth myths

According to myth Imhotep's mother was a mortal named Kheredu-ankh, elevated later to semi-divine status by claims that she was the daughter of Banebdjedet. Conversely, as the "Son of Ptah", his mother was sometimes claimed to be Sekhmet, the patron of Upper Egypt whose consort Ptah was often said to be. He is said to have been born near Memphis.

Deification

As Imhotep was considered the inventor of healing, he was also sometimes said to be the one who held up the goddess Nut (the deification of the sky), as the separation of Nut and Geb (the deification of the earth) was said to be what held back chaos. Due to the position this would have placed him in, he was also sometimes said to be Nut's son. In artwork he also is linked with the great goddess, Hathor, who eventually became identified as the wife of Ra. He also was associated with Ma'at, the goddess who personified the concept of truth, cosmic order, and justice—having created order out of chaos and being responsible for maintaining it. Also after Death, the Ancient Egyptians believed Imhotep became a god.

Two thousand years after his death, his status was raised to that of a deity. He became the god of medicine and healing. He later was linked to Asclepius by the Greeks. He was associated with Amenhotep son of Hapu, who was another deified architect, in the region of Thebes where they were worshipped as "brothers".

Legacy

The Encyclopedia Britannica says, "The evidence afforded by Egyptian and Greek texts support the view that Imhotep's reputation was very respected in early times... His prestige increased with the lapse of centuries and his temples in Greek times were the centers of medical teachings."

It is Imhotep, says Sir William Osler, who was the real 'Father of Medicine', "the first figure of a physician to stand out clearly from the mists of antiquity."

Imhotep was also identified with Thoth, the Egyptian god of writing, education, literacy and scribes through the Greco-Roman Period.

Imhotep Dreams

The Upper Egyptian Famine Stela, dating from the Ptolemaic period, bears an inscription containing a legend about a famine of seven years during the reign of Djoser. Imhotep is credited with having been instrumental in ending it: one of his priests explained the connection between the god Khnum and the rise of the Nile to the king, who then had a dream in which the Nile god spoke to him, promising to end the drought.

Trivia

  • The original 1932 film The Mummy as well as the 1999 version and its sequels are loosely based on the real-life Imhotep.
  • In 1987 A small model of Imhotep went missing from the British museum and its whereabouts were unknown for just over a year. It was found in the possession of the son of a managing director of an Imaging firm in Cambridge. The boy, Max Salisbury, 19 at the time, was found guilty and was sentenced to 3 years in prison.
  • On the British comedy show 'Mock the Week', comedian Hugh Dennis occasionally mentions Imhotep in his stand-up jokes.
  • Imhotep is the first entry in Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology.
  • In Mathew Reilly's "Seven Ancient Wonders", Imhotep is credited with the construction of the locations, and designing the elaborate booby traps, in which the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is stored

References

See also

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