medicine was marked by a mystical approach to healing, as
well as a more empirical or rational approach that was based
on experience and observation.
diseases of the eyes and skin were usually treated rationally
by the physician because of their accessible location; internal
disorders continued to be treated by the spells and incantations
of the priest-magician.
physician emerged around 2600 BC as an early form of scientist,
a type distinct from the sorcerer and priest. The earliest
physician whose name has survived is Imhotep
(lived about 2600 BC), renowned for his studies of pathology
and physiology as well as his expertise as a pyramid builder
and an astrologer. The Egyptian physician normally spent
years of arduous training at temple schools in the arts
of interrogation, inspection, and palpation (examining the
body by touch). Prescriptions contained some drugs that
have continued in use through the centuries. Favorite laxatives
were figs, dates, and castor oil. Tannic acid, derived principally
from the acacia nut, was valued in the treatment of burns.
Egyptians practiced embalming
to preserve bodies after death, their knowledge of anatomy
was minimal. As a result, they attempted only minor surgical
procedures, with the exception of trepanning. According
to reports of the Greek historian Herodotus, the ancient
Egyptians recognized dentistry as an important surgical
in Assyria and Babylonia
was influenced by demonology and magical practices. Surprisingly
accurate terra-cotta models of the liver, then considered
the seat of the soul, indicate the importance attached to
the study of that organ in determining the intentions of
the gods. Dreams also were studied to learn the gods' intentions.
magic played a role in healing, surviving cuneiform tablets
indicate a surprisingly empirical approach to some diseases.
The tablets present an extensive series of medical case
histories, indicating a large number of medical remedies
were used in Mesopotamia, including more than 500 drugs
made from plants, trees, roots, seeds, and minerals. Emollient
enemas were given to reduce inflammation; massage was performed
to ease gastric pain; the need for rest and quiet was stressed
for some diseases; and some attention was paid to diet.
Water was regarded as particularly important, since it was
the sacred element of the god Ea, the chief among the numerous
healing gods. The serpent Sachan was also venerated as a
"Medicine," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001
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