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First Physician

The first physician of whom we have any record was I-em-Hetep, who
lived in the reign of King Tcsher of the third dynasty of Egypt,
probably before 4000 B. C. Among his titles, besides that of Master of
Secrets, was Bringer of Peace. He was looked up to as one who, when
not able to cure physical ailments, did succeed in consoling and
reassuring patients so as to make their condition much more bearable.
Like others of the great early physicians, he was after his death
worshiped as a god, a tribute which probably signifies that those who
had been benefited by his ministrations felt that he must have been
more than mortal.

The extent of the Egyptians' admiration for him will be appreciated
from the fact that the step pyramid at Sakkara is said to have been
built in his honor, though, as a rule, pyramids were erected only to
honor kings or the very highest nobility. The extant statue of
I-em-Hetep shows a placid-looking man with an air of beneficent
wisdom, seated with a scroll on his knees. It produces the distinct
impression, as may be seen from the illustration, that his patients
must have trusted him thoroughly, since this is the memory of his
personality that was transmitted to posterity. While he came to be
looked upon as the medical divinity of the Egyptians, he was never
represented with a beard, which is the token of the gods, or of
mortals who have been really apotheosized. Evidently his devotees felt
that it was the divine in his humanity which was the most prominent
feature that they wished to honor. Among the Greeks AEsculapius, who
had been merely a successful physician, came to be honored as a deity.
When we recall the condition of therapeutics at that time, it is
evident that man's appreciation of his power to console, even though
he might not be able to heal, of his influence over men's minds in the
midst of their sufferings, and the confidence that his presence
inspired, were the real sources of their grateful recognition.

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