Medicine in the Days of the Pharaohs

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At the temple of Kom Ombo near Aswan, an enigmatic frieze depicts the deified pharaoh Imhotep receiving a set of elaborate implements, some of which strikingly resemble modern surgical instruments: side by side with eye-of-Horus amulets one finds what surely must be forceps. Evidence of the medical practice of ancient Egypt has come down to us not only in pictorial art but also in papyrus scrolls, in funerary inscriptions, and in the mummified bodies of ancient Egyptians themselves.

Bruno Halioua and Bernard Ziskind provide a comprehensive account of pharaonic medicine that is illuminated by what modern science has discovered about the lives (and deaths) of people from all walks of life--farmers, fishermen, miners, soldiers, scribes and priests, embalmers, construction workers, bakers, prostitutes. From mummies and medical papyri we are able to recognize the aches of osteoarthritis, imagine the occupational hazards faced by press-ganged stonemasons, and learn of the gynecological complaints of courtesans. In presenting these stories Halioua and Ziskind throw light on some of the most enduring questions about life and death in antiquity: about physicians whose skills predate Hippocrates by twenty-five centuries and were first made famous by Homer; about the remedies and techniques they employed, at once strange and strangely familiar; about the men, women, and children they treated; and about the diseases and injuries they were called upon to heal.

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Editorial Reviews

Discover - Heather Pringle
In a book brimming with curious tidbits, dermatologist Bruno Halioua and cardiologist Bernard Ziskind depict Egyptian healers as medical pioneers who devised a 'coherent and largely codified body of practice' some 2,500 years before the Greek physician Hippocrates is said to have laid the foundations of modern medicine.
Times Higher Education Supplement - John Ray
The book's range is impressive. Nothing is left to chance: there is the evidence of tomb painting, mummies, bones, medical literature on papyri and ostraca, residues of liquids found in jars, labels on jars, tattoos on prostitutes and inscriptions left in tombs of physicians and laymen. There is even a chapter on the forensic possibilities for the Plagues of Egypt listed in Exodus, a theme the writers find irresistible, as will many readers.
Choice - R. D. Arcari
The medical papyri discussed in this brief, insightful overview demonstrate that ancient Egypt is a foundation stone for Western medicine. Halioua and Ziskind cover the practice of medicine, including its role in society, medical training, the process of mummification, and what human remains can reveal about health along the pharaonic Nile.
Ian Shaw
Bruno Halioua and Bernard Ziskind's book fits into a long and fruitful tradition of writings on the more specialist aspects of ancient Egyptian culture written by non-Egyptologists who nevertheless have a strong interest in Egypt (e.g. dentists writing about Egyptian teeth, carpenters on Egyptian furniture-making, engineers on ancient construction techniques, etc.). The authors set out to synthesize our existing knowledge and ideas on the subject of Pharaonic medicine, and the result is a book that is well researched, accessible, and an interesting read.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674017023
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/15/2005
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 7.14 (w) x 8.58 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Bruno Halioua is a dermatologist and former Chief of Medicine at the University of Paris Medical School.

Bernard Ziskind is a cardiologist and senior intern at the Hôpitaux de Paris and a member of the French Society for the History of Medicine.

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Table of Contents

1 The medical profession 7
2 Training and practice 21
3 Mummification 43
4 The modern study of mummies 53
5 Mothers and children 69
6 Childhood and adolescence 82
7 Old age and deformities 95
8 Fishermen and farmers 115
9 Construction workers, miners, soldiers 128
10 Bakers, priests, scribes, embalmers, prostitutes 158
Epilogue : transmission of Egyptian medical knowledge 179
Primary sources for Egyptian medicine 189
Interpreting the ten plagues of Egypt 197
Chronology of ancient Egypt 205
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