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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