Imhotep- The Common Man Who Became A God

By: The Scribe on Friday, March 4, 2011

People who have watched the movie The Mummy have heard of Imhotep. In the movie, he was an ancient, undead monster who was condemned to a living death for loving the wife of the Pharaoh. Many people may not realize that there was a real Imhotep who lived between 2655 and 2600 BCE. They also may not be aware that he is responsible for some of the pyramids that we know and love. While he was not the architect behind the Great Pyramid, Imhotep was the first one to take the mastaba structure that was the common shape for tombs and turn it into a soaring structure that endures to this day.A papyrus on anatomy and medicine believed to be written by Imhotep

But building pyramids is not Imhotep’s only claim to fame. He was also credited for inventing many things, including an improved form of the papyrus scrolls that were used for all types of writing. He was also believed to have been one of the earliest and best known Egyptian physicians as well. Although two other physicians, Hesy-Ra and Merit-Ptah also lived at the time, it is Imhotep’s writings on medicine that have attracted the most attention. The Edwin Smith Papyrus, believed to have been written by Imhotep, is full of his observations on anatomy as well as descriptions of various ailments and cures. The cures depicted on the papyrus are lacking in many of the incantations and strange ingredients that were common to Egyptian medicine at the time. The papyrus is notably lacking in the magical thinking that was so common at the time.

Although Imhotep seemed to have been able to separate out magical thinking from scientific observation, much of his life was steeped in religion and superstition. He became the patron saint of Egyptian scribes who were known to pour him a libation before they began any work. He was also depicted on a portion of a pharaoh’s statue. This had never been done before.

This statue of Imhotep can be found at the Louvre in ParisAlthough much of his work was done in the name of the Pharaoh Djoser, it was believed that Imhotep lived on after Djoser’s death. It was believed that he then went on to work for the Pharaoh Sekhemkhet. Unfortunately, Sekhemkhet’s reign was so short (only six or seven years) that he did not survive to see the completion of his pyramid. Although Imhotep was responsible for building some of the largest and most visible tombs in Ancient Egypt, his own resting place has never been found. It is believed to be located somewhere near Saqqara, an area that served as a necropolis for Memphis.

After his death, his reputation continued to grow. He was awarded divine status after his death and was worshipped by a cult that was based in Memphis. He was linked to several gods and goddesses including Nut (the sky deity), Hathor (who eventually became the wife of Ra), and Ma’at, who stood for truth, cosmic order and justice. He eventually became the god of medicine and healing although this did not happen until about two thousand years after his death.


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