Ancient Egyptian Texts contain Hangover Cure and Radical Eye Disease Treatments

Ancient Egyptian Texts contain Hangover Cure and Radical Eye Disease Treatments

Radical surgery and medicaments with ingredients now known to be toxic are among eye disease treatments in 1,900-year-old medical papyri of ancient Egypt that have been under translation from Greek for many years. Also in the medical texts is a treatment for headaches from hangovers: String a garland of leaves of the shrub chamaedaphne around the neck. People of that time used the leaves of Alexandrian chamaedaphne for general headache treatments, but whether it worked is open to question.

Ruscus racemosus or poet’s laurel, also called Alexandrian chamaedaphne, was thought to cure headaches in the ancient world. (Photo by Daderot/ Wikimedia Commons )

Revealing Ancient Egyptian Medical Texts

The 1,900-year-old texts were found along with about 500,000 other texts in the town of Oxyrhynchus around 1915. Researchers Arthur Hunt and Bernard Grenfell came upon the priceless trove.

The medical papyri from the library are now in the hands of the Egypt Exploration Society at Oxford University’s Sackler Library.

“The study and publication of so many papyri is a long and slow task that has been going on for a century,” says Live Science in an article about Volume 80, “containing studies and decipherments of about 30 medical papyri found at Oxyrhynchus, including the papyrus with the hangover treatment. This published volume represents ‘the largest single collection of medical papyri to be published,’ wrote Vivian Nutton, a professor at University College London, at the beginning of the volume. The collection includes medical treatises and treatments for a wide variety of ailments, including hemorrhoids, ulcers, tooth problems and even some fragments discussing eye surgery.”

This papyrus in the ancient Greek language contains a treatment for headache from drinking too much. (Egyptian Exploration Society photo)

Headache? Maybe Some Chamaedaphne Would Help

The ancient authors borrowed from Greek medical knowledge in the Hellenistic town of Oxyrhynchus. Greek culture spread across Egypt and the Middle East following Alexander of Macedons’s conquests.

It is possible the authors of the Egyptian texts were influenced by the ancient Greek physician Discorides, who wrote of chamaedaphne in his medical text The Herbal:

Chamaedaphne sends out single-branched rods a foot long — straight, thin and smooth; the leaves of this are similar to the [other] bay but much smoother, thinner and greener. The fruit is round and red, growing near to the leaves. The leaves of this (pounded into small pieces and smeared on) helps headaches and burning of the stomach. They cease griping, taken as a drink with wine. The juice (given to drink with wine) expels the Menstrual flow and urine, and applied in a pessary it does the same. Some have called this Alexandrina, daphnitis, or hydragogon, the Romans, laureola, some lactago, and the Gauls, ousubim. (A PDF of this book is available here .)

Ancient Eye Treatments were Painful and Toxic

One of the eye treatments in an ancient Egyptian text was a concoction called collyrium, which was meant to cure mucosal discharges from the eye. It had in it copper flakes, white lead, washed lead dross that is produced in smelting, antimony oxide, poppy juice, starch, gum Arabic, the plant Celtic spikenard, dried roses and rainwater.

Toxic as that is, it wouldn’t hurt as much a recommended eye surgery for an everted eyelid. A fragment of that treatment that survives, translated by Marguerite Hirt of Cambridge University, reads in part: "… the eye … I began … by the temple … the other from the temple … to remove with a small round-bladed knife … the edge of the eyelid from outside … from within until I scooped out …"

This papyrus contains the recipe for tooth powder to help heal gum problems. (Egypt Exploration Society photo)

Sick Days, Hangover Cures, and Kidneys in Ancient Egyptian Papyri

If a person working in the royal tomb building village of Deir el-Medina had to undergo that scary sounding eye surgery or to rest due to an illness in Egypt’s New Kingdom period, about 3,100-3,600 years ago, they were lucky enough to have state provided health care to help them out.

Apparently ancient people also had as much trouble with hangovers as modern people do. Another story, reported by Ancient Origins in 2014 , was on the 1,000-year-old Kitab al-tabikh ( Book of Cookery ), which contains the hangover cure called Kkishkiyya. Its ingredients were meat, chickpeas and vegetables in a stew with the addition of a special ingredient known as khask, a fermented yogurt, milk, and whey product, which is thought to be the key to alleviating what was known as excess heat in the head and stomach. The book also advises to eat cabbage prior to drinking alcohol, eating snacks between drinks to slow down its effects, and sipping on water the following day before consuming the stew. Today, Kkishkiyya is still cooked in the same way, mostly in northern Iraq and the Levant.

The book was written by Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq and was the most comprehensive work of its kind. It includes more than 600 recipes for culinary and medicinal dishes, including a well-known ancient Middle Eastern hangover cure, ingredients for enhancing sexual performance, and dishes for curing a range of health problems. The ancient text has been translated by Nawal Nasrallah, a former professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Baghdad, into the Annals of the Caliph’s Kitchen , making these fascinating recipes accessible to the English-speaking world for the first time.

Finally, it{s worth noting that just recently, more insight was provided by ancient Egyptian medical papyri. A PhD student at the University of Copenhagen deciphered a medical papyrus mentioning a kidney . This shows the ancient Egyptians had more knowledge of the organs of the human body than previously believed. It is also the oldest known example of a medical text referring to a kidney.

Featured image: This papyrus is an example of texts discovered at Oxyrhynchus and features Euclid's Elements of Geometry ( Wikimedia Commons )

By Mark Miller


7 of the Most Outrageous Medical Treatments in History

It’s hard to keep up with the treatment recommendations coming out of the medical community. One day something is good for you, and the next day it’s deadly and should be avoided. Addictive drugs like heroin were given to kids to cure coughs, electric shock therapy has been a long used treatment for impotence, and “miracle” diet pills were handed out like candy. Below are seven of the most shocking treatments recommended by doctors.


This 1,900-Year-Old Egyptian Papyrus Reveals Hangover Remedy

Newly translated 1,900-year-old Egyptian papyrus written in Greek revealed that a leafy necklace seems to be the remedy for the “drunken headache”. The key ingredient for the cure is the slow-growing evergreen shrub, Danae racemosa, commonly known as Alexandrian laurel or Poet’s laurel.

According to Dr. David Leith, a historian at the University of Exeter, who took part in the translation project, “ancient Egyptians made a garland of leaves from a shrub called Alexandrian laurel and wore it around their necks, because it was thought this plant could relieve headaches”.

The Oxyrhynchus papyrus that contains the remedy for a hangover was discovered among 500,000 documents. The papyrus fragments were discovered in 1898 after continuous excavations in the ancient Egyptian town of Oxyrhynchus, located about 160 km south-southwest of Cairo.

As it seems, the Oxyrhynchus inhabitants had the habit of throwing their trash in the Sahara. The excavations, led by Oxford archaeologists Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt, began in 1896. A huge collection of lost gospels, Greek authors’ works (including Sophocles’), public and personal records and medical treatises were unearthed among other papyrus fragments, all of them dating from the first to the sixth century A.D.

A newly published book includes 30 translated medical papyri and represents “the largest single collection of medical papyri to be published”, as Professor Vivian Nutton at University College London writes in her introductory note.

It is the 80th volume to be released during this continuous researchers’ effort to translate the total of scraps and contains medical treatises and complex treatments for a wide range of ailments such as hemorrhoids, ulcers, tooth problems, even various eye conditions.

“The remedies appear to cross what we might see as the boundary between magic and medicine – and although some ancient doctors disliked making use of “magical” remedies, this was far from always the case,” Dr. Leith says.

Studying and publishing all these papyri is a demanding and long-lasting task that has been going on for over a century. The scraps were translated by researchers at the University of Oxford and University College London. They are currently housed in Oxford University’s Sackler Library, but its owner is the Egypt Exploration Society.

Professor Nutton believes that the writers of these ancient papyri were strongly influenced by the Greek knowledge, which was rather reasonable since, after the conquest of Egypt and the wider Middle East by Alexander the Great, the ancient Egyptians embraced the Greek culture.

Researchers are now feverishly working on the ongoing translation of this enormous collection of texts in order to reveal more hidden secrets of the past.


Ancient Egyptian Medicine

The Ancient Egyptians, like the Ancient Greeks and Romans, have provided modern historians with a great deal of knowledge and evidence about their attitude towards medicine and the medical knowledge that they had. This evidence has come from the numerous papyruses found in archaeological searches.

Like prehistoric man, some of the beliefs of the Egyptians were based on myths and legend. However, their knowledge was also based on an increasing knowledge of the human anatomy and plain commonsense.

In Ancient Egypt, the treatment of illnesses was no longer carried out only by magicians and medicine men. We have evidence that people existed who were referred to physicians and doctors.

“It is seven days from yesterday since I saw my love,
And sickness has crept over me,
My limbs have become heavy,
I cannot feel my own body.
If the master-physicians come to me,
I gain no comfort from their remedies.
And the priest-magicians have no cures,
My sickness is not diagnosed.
My love is better by far for me than my remedies.
She is more important to me than all the books of medicine.”

An Ancient Egyptian love poem written in about 1500 BC.

Archaeological digs have also found evidence of men titled physicians. The hieroglyphics on the door to the tomb of Irj described him as a physician at the court of the pharaohs. Irj lived about 1500 BC. He was described as a:

“palace doctor, superintendent of the court physicians, palace eye physician, palace physician of the belly and one who understands the internal fluids and who is guardian of the anus.”

Physicians lived even earlier in Ancient Egypt. Imphotep was the physician to King Zozer and lived in about 2600 BC. Imphotep was considered so important that he was, after his death, was worshipped as a god of healing.

Almost all of our knowledge about Ancient Egyptian medical knowledge comes from the discoveries of papyrus documents. The very dry atmosphere in Egypt has meant that many of these documents have been very well preserved despite their age. Numerous papyrus documents have come from the era 1900 BC to 1500 BC. It is from these documents that we know that the Ancient Egyptians still believed that the supernatural caused some disease.

When there was no obvious reason for an illness, many Ancient Egypt doctors and priests believed that disease was caused by spiritual beings. When no-one could explain why someone had a disease, spells and magical potions were used to drive out the spirits.

Some of these spells were:

“These words are to be spoken over the sick person. ‘O Spirit, male of female, who lurks hidden in my flesh and in my limbs, get out of my flesh. Get out of my limbs!” This was a remedy for a mother and child. “Come! You who drives out evil things from my stomach and my limbs. He who drinks this shall be cured just as the gods above were cured.” This was added at the end of this cure: ‘This spell is really excellent – successful many times.’ It was meant to be said when drinking a remedy.

This was a remedy for people going bald:

“Fat of lion, fat of hippo, fat of cat, fat of crocodile, fat of ibex, fat of serpent, are mixed together and the head of the bald person is anointed with them.

The Ancient Egyptians also had a god who would frighten away evil spirits – Bes.

Despite this use of remedies that come from a lack of knowledge, the Ancient Egyptians also developed their knowledge as a result of education. Ancient papyrus inform us that the Ancient Egyptians were discovering things about how the human body worked and they knew that the heart, pulse rates, blood and air were important to the workings of the human body. A heart that beat feebly told doctors that the patient had problems.

The Ancient Egyptians wrote down their knowledge and this is found on what is known as the Papyrus Ebers:

“46 vessels go from the heart to every limb, if a doctor places his hand or fingers on the back of the head, hands, stomach, arms or feet then he hears the heart. The heart speaks out of every limb.”

“There are 4 vessels to his nostrils, 2 give mucus and 2 give blood there are 4 vessels in his forehead there are 6 vessels that lead to the arms there are 6 vessels that lead to the feet there are 2 vessels to his testicles (and) there are 2 vessels to the buttocks.”

The document actually gives names to organs such as the spleen, the heart, the anus, the lungs etc so they must have known that these exist. One papyrus, the Edwin Smith Papyrus, has a detailed description of the brain in it so this organ was also well researched by the standards of the time. It is probable that this knowledge came as a result of the practice the Ancient Egyptians had of embalming dead bodies.

The work of an embalmer was described in detail by Herodotus who was from Greece but was visiting Ancient Egypt in the 5th Century:

“First they take a crooked piece of metal and with it draw out some of the brain through the nostrils and then rinse out the rest with drugs. Next they make a cut along the side of the body with a sharp stone and take out the whole contents of the abdomen. After this they fill the cavity with myrrh, cassia and other spices and the body is placed in natron for 70 days.”

Those organs that were removed in the embalming process, were put in a jar along with preserving spices and put into the tomb of the person being buried. Though religious law forbade the embalmers from studying the body, it is almost certain they would have gained some knowledge of the human anatomy simply from the work that they did.


15 Terrifying 18th Century Remedies for What Ails You

Could you imaging cutting, burning, and bleeding someone who is having a stroke? Or rubbing poisonous lead on someone to cure their rectal cancer? Welcome to just a couple of the remedies in The Book of Phisick, a remarkably legible, handwritten recipe book of natural remedies. It was initially written by an unknown author in 1710 and subsequently added to by different anonymous hands for years. The recipes, for the most part, involve using plants and minerals to battle everything from bad breath to cancer. Some of the treatments can still be found in non-Western approaches to medicine others appear to be a sure way to hasten the death of the patient. All of them will make you a little more tolerant of your insurance co-pays.

1. "For the Biteing of a Mad Dog"

Rabies is almost always fatal unless the infected person is given the modern two-week treatment regimen of shots to help their body identify and fight the virus. The treatment prescribed in Phisick is hopelessly insufficient—and cruel, considering the hydrophobia that usually accompanies rabies:

Take 40 grains of ground liverwort and 20 grains of pepper in half a pint of milk…take this quantity four mornings together, then use of Cold Bath, every other day, a month.

Phisick also provides a contingency treatment “if the madness is begun.” Sip a tea made of cinnabar, musk, and syrup of cloves with a booze chaser, and “stay thirty days, before you repeat it.” If the symptoms associated with madness have already begun, 30 days of doing nothing would see the end of many patients—but unfortunately, so would 30 days of any other treatment in this era.

2. "To Kill Black Worms in the Face"

For a long time, people thought blackheads were tiny worms burrowed into the skin, and you can see how easily the assumption could be made by watching some of the many blackhead extraction videos on YouTube. (Do not watch while eating.) The successful removal of blackheads yielded what was considered to be the tiny corpse of the offending vermin. The recipe was simple: red wine vinegar, prunella, and nightshade water. Prunella is very common in herbal medicine all over the globe even today, prescribed as a general “heal-all.” The nightshade water (still available for purchase for both medicinal and culinary purposes) was probably what was left over from boiling the berries and leaves of the solanum nigrum plant. That would have made it Black Nightshade, which—though still toxic in high enough quantities—is nowhere near as poisonous as its cousin Deadly Nightshade. Probably just poisonous enough to flush out all the tiny worms nesting in your face.

2. "White Lead Plaister"

White lead was used as a miraculous panacea for centuries. Smearing it over a person’s back was said to prevent miscarriage and cure “the bloody flux” (a.k.a. unstoppable, often fatal diarrhea). Practitioners believed that, when applied to the stomach, it could provoke appetite and soothed The King’s Evil—painless but unsightly infected lymph nodes, so called because it was believed that the touch of a sovereign ordained by God could cure it. It was also believed to be good for swellings, bruises, drawing out infection, and any problems you might be having with your “fundament” (bottom). Once made, the concoction would be good for 20 years.

White lead, or lead acetate, is an astringent, and can tighten and reduce swelling blood vessels and pores. The fatally high toxicity of white lead was either unknown or simply not a major concern for the people of the 18th century. After all, the effects of lead poisoning—general ill health, decreased life span, dangers to fetal development and even childhood mortality—were an expected part of life in the era. It would have been difficult to pinpoint white lead as a unique source of any of those ailments.

4. "A Pleasent Purge"

It makes sense, if you think about it: To get well, citizens of the 18th century believed, you had to flush whatever was making you sick out of your body. Therefore, purgatives (any substance that would make a patient expel whatever was in his digestive system, usually through diarrhea) were a huge part of pre-19th century medicine—even if your sickness had nothing to do with your digestive system.

The Book of Phisick contains recipes for multiple laxatives. The “Pleasent” one is a mixture of “manna” (dried sap of the South European Ash tree) and lemon juice. But if you wanted a something strong enough to kill intestinal worms—which were very common until chemical pesticides were widely used—and strengthen a weak stomach, you’d use aloe instead of ash. The gelatinous part of the plant could be rolled into pills and fed to the patient. (Though we mostly think of aloe in relation to skin, studies show it may be helpful in inflammatory bowel disease.)

Though they were seen as a cure-all in the 18th century, purgatives actually had the opposite effect: They emptied a patient of desperately needed water, leaving him weak and depleted, but with the same strep throat he had before being put on a strict regimen of continuous stomach cramps and pooping.

5. "An Oyntment For a Cancer in the Breast"

Breast cancer has appeared throughout recorded history since ancient Egypt, although it wasn’t usually attended to until the tumor became painful or noticeable through the skin. Phisick's hopeful remedy contains ingredients like sage, bay leaves, chamomile, and red roses, all left to mature in a dunghill for precisely eight days.

Toward the end of the 18th century, new doctors were challenging the ideas that breast cancer was caused by not enough sex, too much sex, childlessness, too much black bile, or depression. The idea of radical mastectomy as treatment was in its infancy (if you have a strong stomach read Fanny Burney’s account of her own pre-anesthetic mastectomy here). But for the most part, people still treated breast cancer with topical salves. Even if there was no reason to believe it would work, it’s human nature to keep trying.

6. "To Stop Bleeding"

One of the main problems with this recipe is that it doesn’t specify what kind of bleeding it seeks to stop. The other is that its active ingredient is the very harmful white lead, which works as a styptic for wounds. Nineteenth century doctors would use it during surgeries, immediately covering amputated limbs with copious amounts, but the directions given in Phisick don’t say anything about applying to a wound:

Make bolster of linnen, dip one in the [lead] water and apply to the pit of the stomack. If that does not doe one to each wrist & two to the soales of feet.

Based on books published later, we can infer that this is a recipe for treating hemorrhaging. In Materia medica, written 170 years after Phisick, sugar of lead (another name for white lead) is still recommended for all kinds of internal hemorrhaging, including bronchial, intestinal, renal, and uterine. By first applying the lead poultice to the belly, it would appear to be an attempt to control one or all of the three latter. And even though sugar of lead was easily absorbed into the skin, the potential conditions causing these hemorrhages—typhoid fever, kidney failure, miscarriage—likely needed more than a styptic.

7. "A Good Surfeit Water and proper for the Gripes"

Surfeit water was the Alka-Seltzer of 1710—a way to settle a tummy that had enjoyed a surfeit of indulgence the water in question was usually alcohol. The recipe also indicates that it can be used to make gripe water, which soothed a fussy baby. Gripe water is still used today, but not this formulation, which seems more appropriate for a fussy Velociraptor: The recipe required a gallon of brandy and as many mature poppy leaves—which would have been heavy with opium—as could be stuffed into a container. The concoction was left to steep for a few days, strained, and then mixed with some nice liquors to make it more palatable “3 or 4 spoonfuls at a time is enough” for an adult. And for children, just two, with a little water. It was probably incredibly effective—unconscious people are seldom bothered by stomach upset.

8. "For the Colick"

Phisick included many recipes for soothing a child’s upset stomach, not all of which were opiate-based. But you might opt for the poppy seed remedy before using this recipe, which, to start, involved frying the dung of pigeons and then applying the resulting paste to the child’s navel. And that’s the least distasteful part of the treatment: The child is also to be given an enema of hot milk, “or fryed oates, or chamomile, or a bag of sand, or a hot Tyle.” (Elsewhere in Phisick it is indicated that a bag of hot sand or a hot tile are to be applied to an upset stomach externally—though how many poor kids had to endure sand in the bum due to poor sentence structure we’ll never know.)

The last part of the treatment is one we’re vaguely familiar with, preserved in a crude colloquialism usually used to question someone’s truthfulness: Special enema devices—called “glisters” in Phisick but also written as “Clysters”—were used to force tobacco smoke into the bowels. Tobacco smoke was thought to be a catch-all stimulant, and was used rectally for everything from resuscitating drowning victims to halting epileptic seizures.

9. "For an Apoplexy"

Someone who has undergone an apoplexy was identified by “all the senses taken away on a sudden.” We seldom use that term now because we know the condition of “all senses taken away on a sudden” is caused by many different, extremely serious maladies, such as stroke, internal hemorrhage, or brain aneurysm. Treatment for such illnesses in the 18th century was nothing short of torture: First, bleed the patient, letting 16 or 18 ounces of blood (about two cups), which was believed to cleanse the body of bad blood, stimulate the circulatory system, and balance the humors. It was usually done with a fleam, a metal strip with a sharp triangular head specifically designed to puncture veins. The blood would then drip into a bowl made especially for the purpose.

Next, the patient would be cupped and scarified. This involved heating special cups—usually made of metal, glass, or ceramic—over fire to near red-hot. Then, the cups were applied to the skin, burning it and simultaneously creating a vacuum, raising a tremendous welt. If the skin was pierced with a scarificator beforehand, the result would be a “wet cupping,” because the cup would fill with blood. The recipe also prescribed blistering the neck and arms, which was the same process but without the scarificator. (Click here to see the process, still used in some healing circles, but be warned, it’s not pleasant.)

Unfortunately, this poor apoplectic creature’s treatment isn’t over yet. Next comes “strong glisters” (enemas) and the holding of a red hot fire shovel near their head. This is followed by the administration of a negligible poultice of spice to the soles of the feel, and submerging the patient’s hands in near boiling water.

10. "Falling Sickness"

Phisick says this malady “is known by falling down sudainly, strugling, and a white froth coming out of their mouths.” Today, we call it epilepsy. The prescribed treatment is the closest Phisick comes to out and out hocus pocus: The hair of a strong young man, as well as “the bone that grows in the legg of a deer,” must be cooked and powdered, then fed to the patient in the amount “as much as will lye on a groat two days before the new moon.” A full moon was considered to be one of the worst times for a person who suffered epilepsy, as it was believed it triggered madness (thus the “luna” in lunatic).

11. "For Convulsion Fits in Children"

While most of these medicinal recipes have some semblance of logic, there are a few that leave the reader hopelessly confused. To cure fits in children, for example, it is recommended to take a “live pigions rump” and clap it to the rear-end of the unfortunate child. The bird will struggle and “It will draw away the fits and grow weak and dye, so apply another till the fits leave it.” This treatment—the application of a pigeon’s “fundament” to the affected area—is also prescribed to drain venom from a snake bite.

12. "For a Speck in the Eyes"

If you’re thinking the answer lies in a good dousing from a bucket of well water, you’re under-thinking this situation. Those hoping to get rid of eye specks were to “Take urine and put it in a pewter dish,” then place another pewter dish on top of it to collect the condensation rising as the bottom dish is heated. Then, the special pee water is collected and dropped into the eye.

The application of this special water promised to “lessen the speck, clear the eyes, and is an excellent remedy for any sore eyes.” Interestingly, the use of urine as eyewash is still practiced today, although largely frowned on by the medical community.

13. "To Take of Superfluous Hair"

For an era that had few qualms about partaking in some of the most dangerous poisons and disgusting concoctions available in nature, Phisick’s hair-removal secret was quite tame: Simply mix saltwater with “fasting spittle,” spit taken from the mouth early in the morning before eating. It was thought to have special curative properties, and was even mentioned in the Bible. Sadly, it’s not well known for its ability to break down keratin.

14. "For the Head Ache"

Phisick offers an array of simple headache cures. Some are almost shockingly reasonable (drink strong coffee or tea), some are expectedly odd (comb head upwards and stroke with nutmeg and vinegar), and some are just right back in the “oh 18th century, no” category (make vomit, draw blood from temple, blister neck). The headache is one of those maladies which we have learned to manage but have not eradicated. Many a migraine sufferer would gladly tie orange rind to their forehead and snort perfumed water (also advised treatments) if they thought for even a second it would work.

15. "For the Little White Worms in the Fundament"

Even in the 21st century, pinworms are still the most common worm infection in America, particularly among children. These parasites live in the rectum and lower intestines, and the females crawl out to lay their eggs during the night in the anal area. When kids scratch their itchy bums and touch things, they spread the eggs around to nearby hosts (usually other children). Today, there are a number of quick medications that can expel the worms, and natural remedies such as garlic also abound. But Phisick suggests creating a meat suppository, tied to a string, for brisk removal. The idea is that, if left to their own devices for a while, the worms will happily make their homes in the fake “host.” The suppository is then quickly removed, hopefully taking the unwanted interlopers with it. Process is to be repeated until all of the worms are gone.


The Oldest Medical Books in the World

Although most of the medical papyri we know come from about the Renaissance, it is certain that they are only copies, often third- or fourth-hand ones, of older works. Occasionally stray pages were copied on the papyrus scrolls by scribes with no previous medical training, who paid no attention to continuity of subject.

Long ago, when writing was a secret science, the Egyptian scribe was not a simple copyist. He had the combined training of a calligrapher, a philosopher, a scholar and a scientist. Many physicians prided themselves on bearing the title of scribe among their others, and like Hesyreh, had themselves portrayed with the palette and reeds, the sesh, symbol of that learned class. The actual copying was probably performed in the pir-ankh or Houses of Life that were attached to the temples and where the scholars, physicians, philosophers and scientists of the time used to meet.

We know of nine principal medical papyri. They are called after their original owners (Edwin Smith, Chester Beatty, Carlsberg), the site of their discovery (Kahoun, Ramesseum), the towns were they are kept (Leyden, London, Berlin) or their editor (Ebers).

The Kahoun Papyrus is the most ancient scroll and was discovered at Fayoum and was called by mistake the Kahoun Papyrus. It dates from 1950 B.C. And has on its back an account from the time of Amenemhat III (1840-1792 B.C.). Not only is this the oldest known papyrus, but the original from which it was copied seems also more antique than the originals of the other papyri.

It consists of three sections, one dealing with human medicine, the second with veterinary science, and the third with mathematics. It is written in hieratic handwriting like the other papyri, except the veterinary section which, possibly because of its greater antiquity, is written in hieroglyphic, a script usually reserved for theological writings.

The medical section is composed of three leaves the first, found in a very fragmentary condition, was already repaired in ancient times with strips from other papyri pasted on the back.

The first two pages contain 17 gynecological prescriptions and instructions without titles. No surgery is prescribed substances recommended are beer, milk, oil, dates, herbs, incense and sometimes repulsive substances. Use is often made of fumigations, pastes, and vaginal applications.

The third page contains 17 prescriptions concerning the assessment of sterility and of pregnancy, and the ascertaining of the sex of unborn children. Many of the indications concerning pregnancy and childbirth refer to the state of the breasts, their firmness and to the color of the face and eyes.

The Ramesseum IV and V papyri were probably written about 1900 B.C., i.e. At about the same epoch as the Kahoun Papyrus.

Papyrus IV is very similar to the Kahoun Papyrus it contains many identical prescriptions and also is concerned with labor, the protection of the newborn on the day of its birth, the prognostication of its viability, and it contains one anti-conceptional formula made out of crocodile dung which completes a similar one in the Kahoun papyrus.

Papyrus V is purely medical. Even though its beginning and end are lost it still contains 20 prescriptions of which many are dealing with relaxing ‘stiffened’ limbs. This papyrus is written in hieroglyphic script, and not in hieratic. The titles are written in horizontal lines at the top of the pages and the prescriptions are listed underneath in vertical columns.

The Berlin Papyrus was found at the time of Usaphais in an old chest containing antique writings. The legend states that it was found in a chest with scribe's tools, under the feet of a statue of Anubis at Letopolis under Usaphais, the 3rd Pharaoh of the 1st dynasty. It covers 25 pages and contains 240 recipes, of which three are written in a different handwriting. A large part of its contents consists of a word-for-word repetition with many errors and careless copying of certain paragraphs of the Ebers and Hearst documents. Included are sections on rheumatism, a treatise on vessels similar to the second book on the heart, in the Ebers papyrus, a gloss that completes the latter, and a note on its origin, more detailed than that which is found in Ebers.

The London Medical Papyrus lies midway between a medical papyri and a non-medical work of pure magic. It contains 61 recipes of which only 25 are medical. The rest, of which part is of foreign origin, is purely magical. It claims to be discovered by the priests of the temple of Tebmut in the sanctuary of the goddess: "Behold! The darkness of the night enveloped the Earth but the moon cast her beams upon all pages of this book and it was brought to the treasury of His Majesty King Khufu."

The Hearst Papyrus covers 18 and a half pages and describes 260 medical cases of which 96 are found in the Ebers Papyrus. It contains also a chapter on bone affections. On the whole, it is considered inferior to the Ebers papyrus, although it improves on it in certain passages.

The Ebers Papyrus is the longest of all the known papyri and the most important, considering the physiological and medical knowledge it reveals. It is complete in 108 pages and bears the date of the 9th year of the reign of Amenophis I (1550 B.C.).

The Ebers does not constitute a book in our modern sense. It is rather a mosaic of leaves and extracts drawn from different sources and compiled at the scribe's will.

It starts with a magic introduction, possibly aiming at reassuring its user as to its divine origin and at asserting that the power of magic derives from Thot the benefactor, charged by Re to relieve suffering humanity: "I have come from Heliopolis with the old ones in the temple, the possessors of protection, the rulers of eternity I have come from Sais with the mother of the gods. They have given me their protection. I have formulae composed by the lord of the universe in order to expel afflictions caused by a god or goddess, by dead man or woman, etc., which are in this my head, in this my nape, in these my shoulders, in this my flesh, in these my limbs, and in order to punish the Accuser, the head of them who cause decay to enter into this my flesh, and feebleness into these my limbs. I belong to Re he has said: 'I will save him from his enemies and Thot shall be his guide, he who lets writing speak and has composed the books he gives to the skillful, to the physicians who accompany him, skill to cure. The one whom the god loves, him he shall keep alive.'" The last sentence could be used as a spell for the patient had to say, 'It is I whom the god loves and he shall keep me alive.'

In parts of the papyrus we find theological tendencies and attributions of many of the prescriptions to the gods.

Other sections contains information on digestive diseases and worms and their treatment, sections on the treatment of eye diseases, on the care of the skin and hair, on fractures and burns, resembling very much the Edwin Smith papyrus on the treatment of stiffened and painful limbs, on gynecological disease which often repeats in the Kahoun papyrus, a treatise on the heart and vessels which is the only one dealing with anatomy and physiology, and finally a surgical section limited to tumors and abscesses.

Whereas the previous papyri are mainly collections of prescriptions, the 877 paragraphs of this compilation contain, besides the therapeutic recipes, diagnostic notes and, for the first time in history, theoretical considerations on the problems of life, health, and disease devoid of religious or magical considerations. Some of the illness identified include anasacra, leprosy, fevers, dysentery, different kinds of worms, heart disease, dropsy, faintness, rheumatism, stiffness of joints and limbs, liver diseases, polyuria (possibly diabetes), intestinal obstructions, gangrene, burns, blisters, affection of the ears, nose, tongue, gums and teeth, sections on how to stimulate hair growth, diseases of the breast, gynecological diseases, contraceptive measures, and methods to help childbirth and gonorrhea.

The descriptions are pretty, often poetic. A weak person is compared to a "breath that passes away." Many are remarkable in their precision such as those of angina pectoris, aneurysm and hernia.

In our last issue we gave a basic overview of the various papyri. Our present article will discuss practical applications of the ancient Egyptian medicine. The following information is quoted from Magic and Medical Science in Ancient Egypt (see end of article for full information).

"The physician was taught to deal gently and meticulously with his patients. Reading the papyri one is constantly struck by the kindness shown to the maimed and the diseased. Whatever their illness, the sick were never considered, as in some other civilizations, untouchable, demon-possessed creatures. The wise Amenemope says, 'Do not mock at the blind do not scoff at dwarfs do not injure the lame do not sneer at a man who is in the hand of God (of unsound mind).' A suffering person is not to be left without help: Go in to him, and do not abandon him." (Ebers 200)

During clinical consultations there was a detailed examination in the course of which the physician had to exert his powers of observation to the utmost to detect as many symptoms and to elicit as many signs as he could. According to the available clinical descriptions, it started with a detailed history-taking and questionnaire.

A detailed inspection of the face: color secretions from nose, eyes, of the neck abdomen, and limbs: swelling, shaking, varicosities, perspiration, stiffness. The general appearance and nutrition of the body were observed: '&hellip[a patient] whose body shrinks' (Ebers.197) the expression of the face: 'If &hellipthou findest that he has been changed and has turned deathly pale [this one has crossed the channel to the beyond]' (Eb. 198) the color of the eyes the pigmentation and the color of the skin: '&hellipIf thou findest on his shoulders, his arms that there is color&hellip' We find statements such as there is a 'perishing of the mind' and 'his heart is forgetful like one who is thinking of something else.'

The smell of the body, of the sweat, of the breath and of wounds was noted. A wound in the Smith papyrus is said to smell like the urine of sheep the breath of a patent is compared to a latrine the smell of a mother's milk is said to be like a particular fruit and like that of fish if bad and a gynecological lesion smells of burnt meat.

Urine and fecal matter were then inspected: 'thou shalt rise every day to examine that which has fallen from his hinder part&hellip if&hellip comes out of him like black bile, then&hellip if thou examinest him after doing [treatment] and something comes out of his anus like porridge of beans, then thou shalt say to this: that which is in his cardia has come out.'

So we can see that great care was taken to listen to how the body was functioning.

Palpation of the pulse was very important and noted in the papyri. Also that of the abdomen was no less important: 'If thou examinest a man suffering from a resistance in his cardia, and thou findest that it goes and comes under thy fingers like oil in a leather bag&hellip', or '&hellipthen thou shalt examine him lying extended on his back. If thou findest his belly warm and a resistance in his cardia, thou shalt say to him: it is a liver case. Thou shalt prepare the secret herbal remedy which is made by the physician&hellip If, after having done that, thou findest the two sides of the belly: the right one warm, and the left one cool, then&hellip thou shalt again examine him, if thou findest his entire belly cool thou shalt say: his liver is opened he has received the remedy [i.e. the remedy has operated].

The palpation of tumors was detailed and painstaking. The temperature of different parts of the body was compared. Wounds were also felt with the same care: a fractured skull was compared to a punctured earthen jar, the pulsations of the brain were compared to those of an open fontanelle. Fractures were distinguished from luxations by feeling crepitus under the fingers.

Percussion was also an aspect of clinical observation. We find references such as, '&hellipthen thou shalt put thy hand over his cardia if thou findest his cardia drumming and it is coming and going under thy finger&hellip' Also references are made explaining other sounds that are discovered during examination.

Functional testing was also important. The physician would examine the shoulders and breast and how they were aligned and moving. References are made to examining the jaw '&hellipif the mouth is open and cannot close&hellip' in a case of dislocation of the lumbar vertebrae: '&hellipthou should say to him: extend now thy two legs and contract them both again&hellip' in case of hernia: '&hellipgrasp him and see if (?) has arisen by his cough.'

The information obtained through examination was then sifted and a diagnosis and prognosis were formed accordingly. It would appear that diseases were not named, and the physician was instructed thusly, '&hellipyou will say concerning him&hellip'

In spite of the rarity of names of diseases, there existed the conception of syndromes, i.e., of collections of manifestations forming recurring and distinctive clinical pictures. The obvious recurrences between lesion and symptoms, and by the realization of the diagnostic and prognostic connotations of symptom-complex were explicitly stated.

Egyptians took their health very seriously. Herodotus, in the 5th century B.C. Expressed his admiration of the health of the Egyptians, saying that they were the healthiest in the world after the Libyans. Diodorus Siculus in the 1st century A.D. Stated that, "&hellipthe whole manner of life of Egyptians was so evenly ordered that it would appear as though it had been arranged according the rules of health by a learned physician rather than by a law-giver."

"The importance of health to the average ancient Egyptian is seen in the composition of personal names and in the forms of daily greeting. Many names were formed with the word snb (seneb) which means healthy, not with the negative meaning of health, i.e. Absence of disease, but with the positive sense of vigor and efficiency. Such names as 'I possess health,' 'Let your father be healthy,' were very common. All forms of greeting formula, all letters, addresses, salutes and travel recommendations ended with wishes of good health."

In the way of thinking of the time, these were not mere words. The Egyptians believed in the importance of names and words and their power in shaping the present and the future. It was important in shaping a newborn's future life. It is fairly certain that hygiene in ancient Egypt must have occupied the best minds, and reached, at least for those times, a high degree of perfection. It would appear that the concepts of health deteriorated after the Ptolemaic era, especially under the Ottoman occupation.

Bodily cleanliness was an important aspect of the early Egyptian life, "even the Greeks thought excessive the care that Egyptians took of their bodies. All their travelers talk with admiration of the Egyptian customs of washing the hands and the crockery, and of taking purgatives and emetics every month. These customs were certainly in large part due to the example and teaching of the priests, who practiced an extremely fastidious ritual of cleanliness and of whom Herodotus wrote that they must certainly have received many benefits to submit to these innumerable observances."

Soap was still unknown they used instead natron, ashes, or soda which are all good detergents and dissolve fatty matter. Both men and women removed hair from their entire body, and anointed their heads with scented oils. Guests were honored by placing cones of scented fat on their heads.

Those who wished to erase the marks of the years and to prevent the appearance of wrinkles, freckles, and other outrages of age unitized fenugreek oil, extracted according to the instructions of the Smith papyrus. Body smell has always been a matter of concern in the civilized East where perspiration is profuse. The Ebers papyrus recommends a prescription against bad body smell in summer.

There appears to be enough evidence that demonstrates the value the Egyptians placed in being healthy and preserving their health. They had their successes and failures, as we have our success and failures. But, they appeared to be experienced clinicians knowing the resources and limits of their art.

As part of this ancient practice with love from Heaven in co-operation with those who agree and believe 100% in the healing power of Heaven, I now speak peace, love and lifelight all over planet earth and invoke Divine intervention to touch the seekers, suffering, ignorant, poor and hungry people. This is in no way my power. I am only an instrument - connector - bridge builder. Receive, receive, receive, receive and receive. All glory to Heaven and the Parents from Above.


Powder of Sympathy

istockphoto Seventeenth century medicine can seem a bit crazy to modern people, but perhaps nothing seems wackier than Sir Kenelm Digby's "Powder Of Sympathy."

The powder was intended as a treatment for a very specific injury: rapier wounds. It was made of earthworms, pigs' brains, iron oxide (rust), and bits of mummified corpses, ground into a powder. The powder was applied not to the wound itself but to the offending weapon.

Digby thought that the strange concoction would somehow encourage the wound itself to heal - via a process called "sympathetic magic."


Tapeworm Diet

During Victorian times, people came up with a radical solution to reduce weight—tapeworms. The idea behind it was simple: a person consumes a tapeworm egg so that when the parasite hatches and grows inside of the person's intestines, it starts to ingest whatever the person eats. This supposedly allows the person to lose weight without decreasing the amount of food they eat. While today it is known that tapeworms can be dangerous and in some cases even lethal, this questionable practice is still alive today.

But what did they do when they wanted to stop losing weight? How did they get it out? This is so gross lol


5. Comfrey

Traditionally known in some cultures as "knitbone" or "boneset", the health benefits of this unassuming leafy green can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. Comfrey is widely appreciated for its capacity to help heal broken bones and damaged tissues. In more modern times, science has shown us that these healing properties are partly due to a compound called &lsquoallantoin&rsquo which can accelerate cellular mitosis - the process of new tissue growth. Historically, comfrey also has a strong reputation for helping with external wounds that are healing poorly.


A Beautiful Mind: The History of the Treatment of Mental Illness

Asylums. Electro-Shock Therapy. Skull Drills. Pills. Exorcisms. Isolation. Lobotomies. Many of the drastic procedures that have been put in place to relieve a person with mental illness such as schizophrenia are only successful in creating ‘vegetables’ out of patients, not curing their illness but making them ghosts of their previous selves.

Throughout history, there have been radical changes in how the mentally ill are treated and cared for most of these occurred because of changing societal views and knowledge of mental illness. These changes have brought psychiatrics out of a negative light and have given psychiatric studies a brighter, more positive outlook.

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The history of treating mental illnesses dates as far back as 5000 B.C.E. with the evidence of “trephined skulls.”

In the ancient world cultures, a well-known belief was that mental illness was “the result of supernatural phenomena” this included phenomena from “demonic possession” to “sorcery” and “the evil eye”. The most commonly believed cause, demonic possession, was treated by chipping a hole, or “trephine”, into the skull of the patient by which “the evil spirits would be released,” therefore healing the patient.

Although ancient Persians also believed that the illnesses were caused by demons, they practiced precautionary measures such as personal hygiene and “purity of the mind and body” in order to “prevent and protect one from diseases”.

Similarly, the Egyptians recommended that those stricken with mental illness should participate in “recreational activities” in order to relieve symptoms which displayed that, as a civilization, the Egyptians were very advanced in their treatment of mental handicaps. (Foerschner)

During the 5 th and 3 rd centuries B.C.E., the Greeks changed the way that psychological disorders were viewed. The philosopher and physician, Hippocrates, discovered that illnesses come from “natural occurrences in the body” (Foerschner).

As Hippocrates was studying mental illness, he stepped away from the superstitious beliefs and towards the medical aspect of it. He studied the pathology of the brain and suggested that mental illness stemmed from imbalances in the body.

These imbalances were in the “four essential fluids” blood, phlegm, bile, and black bile which produce “unique personalities of individuals.” In order to restore the body’s balance, the Greeks used techniques such as phlebotomies, bloodletting, purging, and imposing diets on the afflicted (Foerschner).One treatment that Hippocrates advocated was changing the occupation and/or environment of the patient.

Although these treatments had gained popularity amongst most cultures, there were still vast majorities of people who believed in the supernatural causes of mental illness and used treatments such as amulets, talismans, and sedatives to “ease the torment” of the afflicted (Foerschner).

Historically, those with mental illnesses had a “social stigma” attached to them. It was believed that “a mentally ill member implies a hereditary, disabling condition in the bloodline” threatening the family’s “identity as an honorable unit”.

In countries, or cultures, that had strong ties to family honor, such as China and Japan and even some parts of the United States, the ill were hidden by their families so that the community or society that they were a part of wouldn’t believe the illness was “a result of immoral behavior by the individual and/or their relatives”.

As a result of this social stigma, many of the mentally ill were forced to either “live a life of confinement” or were abandoned and forced to live on the streets. Any of those that were abandoned to live on the streets and were rumored “dangerous and unmanageable” were either put in jail or dungeons, out of the public eye (Foerschner, 1).

According to Dr. Eve Leeman of the New York- Presbyterian Hospital, the social views on the sexes also affected the treatment of patients, particularly women. In the early 20 th century, women were “preferentially sterilized and lobotomized” and were sometimes even subjected to unnecessary procedures such as the five women in the Stockton State Hospital who were given a clitoridectomy. The justification for these procedures was that having a mental illness was “unladylike” and required “surgical intervention” (Leeman).

These negative perspectives of the mentally ill were maintained throughout history and into modern societies as shown by Nurse Ratched’s treatment of the patients in One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Kesey). Throughout the novel, Nurse Ratched abuses her position and uses her power to submit her patients to cruel treatment as punishment for misbehavior.

This is due to the fact that she doesn’t see her patients as human beings but as animals who need to be trained.

In the early 15 th century many of those afflicted with psychological disorders were placed in workhouses, madhouses, or asylums because it was too burdensome for the families to care for them. The state of these institutions was abhorable.

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Those that were admitted to madhouses were abused and often abandoned by their caregivers who were not trained in the treatment of mental disorders. Private madhouses, however, were often run by clergy men on direct orders from the Vatican and were significantly more humane.

The treatments instituted by the clergymen included regular church attendance, pilgrimages, as well as priests solacing individuals to confess their sins and repent. Asylums, on the other hand, were incredibly inhumane in the treatment of their patients.

Many of those admitted were abused, abandoned, treated like animals, restrained with shackles and iron collars, cared for by untrained staff, and even put on display. An infamous example of the horrors of early asylums would be La Bicetre.

In this French asylum, patients were shackled to walls with very little room to move, were not adequately fed, only visited when brought food, their rooms were not cleaned, and they were therefore forced to sit in their own wastes. Another example would be Saint Mary of Bethlehem, an asylum nicknamed “Bedlam” due to its horrific treatment of the mentally ill.

Their “violent” patients were on display like “sideshow freaks” and their “gentler” patients were forced to beg on the streets. Patients who were allowed to be visited by family often begged their families to be released, however, since the current stigma of mental handicaps was so negative, their pleas would be ignored.

Treatments in these asylums, as well as others, included purging, bloodletting, blistering, dousing patients in either boiling or ice-cold water to “shock” them, sedatives, and using physical restraints such as straitjackets (Foerschner).

Due to the obviously horrific treatment of patients in asylums, many reforms began to take place starting in the mid-to-late 1800s.

Two reformists greatly influenced the spread of what is known as the “Humanitarian Movement,” the first being Phillipe Pinel, in Paris. Pinel believed that “mentally ill patients would improve if they were treated with kindness and consideration” instead of filthy, noisy, and abusive environments he implemented his hypothesis when he took over La Bicetre.

Another major reformist, William Tuke, founded the York Retreat where patients were treated with “respect and compassion” (Foerschner). After Tuke and Pinel, came Dorothea Dix who advocated the hospital movement and in 40 years, got the U.S. government to fund the building of 32 state psychiatric hospitals as well as organizing reforms in asylums across the world (Module 2).

The Hospital movement started in the 18 th century and was justified by reasons such as: “to protect society and the insane from harm, to cure those amenable to treatment, to improve the lives of the incurable, and to fulfill the humanitarian duty of caring for the insane” (Dain).

Along with the creation of state psychiatric hospitals, various organizations and acts, such as Mental Health America (MHA) and the U.S. Community Mental Health Centers Act of 1963, were created to “improve the lives of the mentally ill in the United States” (Module 2). With the reforms came the increase in psychoanalysis.

Sigmund Freud, who is referred to as the father of psychology, was, basically, the creator of psychoanalysis. Freud wrote the Psychoanalytic Theory in which he explains “the id, the ego, and the superego” as well as therapeutic techniques such as hypnosis, “free thinking”, and dream analysis (Foerschner). Freud believed that allowing a patient to focus on repressed thoughts and feelings, he could cure the patient of his/her disorder.

One form of psychoanalysis had goals to help and individual “identify and achieve their own goals” and would keep patients occupied and “thus cure them from delusions and irrationalities” (Dain). Lastly, Somatic treatment was introduced in asylums which included psycho-pharmacology, psychosurgery, electroconvulsive therapy, and electric shock therapy, among others.

The first non-sedative drug used in the treatment of patients was chlorpromazine which “cured” many mental ailments and patients “became free of symptoms entirely and returned to functional lives” (Drake).

The introduction of pharmacology led to the deinstitutionalization reform which changed the view from institutionalized care to “community-oriented care” to improve the “quality of life” (Module 2). According to Foerschner, this backfired and led to 1/3 of the homeless population being the mentally ill.

Many of the treatments enacted on mentally ill patients throughout history have been “pathological sciences” or “sensational scientific discoveries that later turned out to be nothing more than wishful thinking or subjective effects” and haven’t actually benefited those being treated.

But, with these failures have come new lessons which will inform the development of new treatments for new psychological disorders. iPhone addictions and the new difficulties brought on by Social Media and the Internet are growing challenges within younger generations and solutions will need to be found.


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