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ON THE SCIENCE
Part IV.-[Continued from No. XXXIII. p. 29.]
Τους μεν Αιγυπτίους πάντας ιατρούς ακούομεν είναι. I now propose to make a few remarks on the medical knowledge of the Egyptians. This task would no doubt have been executed much better by a member of the profession than by me; but per haps it is not necessary to belong to the Royal College of Physicians, or to be entered at Apothecaries' Hall, to say all that can be said of the practice of Petosiris, or of the pharmacopoeia of Nechepsus.
The Priests of Egypt attributed to the Gods both the causes and the cures of diseases. Six volumes appertaining to the medical art were yet believed in the time of Clemens Alexandrinus to be fragments of the mighty compilation, in which Hermes Trismegistus, the companion of Osiris, was said to have treated of all the sciences. The Goddess Isis, if we choose to believe Diodorus Siculus, revealed to mankind the secrets of Pharmacy; and instructed her son Horus, not only in the method of curing diseases, but in the more hazardous art of predicting them. In the age of Homer, the God Paion, or Paicon, appears to have been considered as the founder of medical learning in Egypt, (Odyss. 4.) The Greeks believed Æsculapius to have been a native of Epidaurus; but the Phænicians held him to have been one of the eight Cabiri, who were probably the same with the eight great Gods of Egypt. VOL. XVII. Cl. Jl. NO, XXXV.
That the ancients should have attributed the causes and cures of maladies to their Gods, can scarcely excite our surprise ; and we ought at least to do justice to the piety, which inspired this belief. We cannot however but admire the simplicity of some of the Greeks, who have literally repeated as they seem to have literally believed, the traditions of the Egyptians, concerning the origin of the medical science. Diodorus relates with all possible gravity, that the sick, who received the advice of Isis, received it in their dreams. Neither perhaps can we hear without wonder from the polished Xenophon, and, what is yet more extraordinary, from Cyrillus, a father of the Church, that the medical instructors of Æsculapius were no Doctors of Sidon or Memphis, but Chiron the centaur, and Apis the sacred os.
Let us then consent upon this subject, at least, to admit that the ancient orientalists often spoke allegorically. If they attributed the causes and the cures of maladies to their Gods, they did not hold those Gods to be merely deified mortals. The popular religion of the Egyptians was Tsabaism, characterised by some national peculiarities, and degraded by many absurd and vulgar superstitions, but not differing in its principles from that worship of the host of heaven, and of the personified powers of nature, which was the common practice of all the East. Thus it may have happened that the Egyptians did not wander very far from the truth, while they generally ascribed the loss or recovery of health, to the interference of their Gods, or, in other words, to the agency of natural
Of the medical knowledge of the Egyptians in the early periods of their history, little is known, and therefore little ought to be said. If the translators of the bible have properly rendered the word rephaim, there existed physicians in the days of Jacob. The testimony of Homer comes six centuries after that of the Hebrew Legislator, but it proves that in his time the Egyptians were considered as a people generally and eminently skilled in medicine.
Ιατρός δε έκαστος επιστάμενος περί πάντων
'Ανθρώπων, ή γαρ Παιήονός έστι γενέθλη. Odyss. A. About 660 years before our æra forished a king of Egypt named Nechepsus. This prince, according to Julius Firmicus,
applied himself much to the study of pharmacy, and Aetius mentions some of the remedies which this royal apothecary recommended in the treatment of fevers. I wish not to see his example followed. A king ought to have nothing to do with the laboratory. Nechepsus should have tried to govern his kingdom well, and should have left the care of the sick to Petosiris.
Herodotus tells us that in Egypt there were physicians for every different part of the body, and for every different disease. Some modern writers have concluded from this stateinent, that the science must have been very imperfect in that country. For what reason? The presence of many quacks does not necessarily imply the absence of all regular physicians. Among ourselves we hear of innumerable oculists, aurists, dentists, empirics, and mountebanks, who daily proffer, at an exorbitant price, their perilous aid to the blind, the deaf, the toothless, and the impotent. We do not thence conclude, that medicine is imperfectly taught at Edinburgh, or unskilfully practised in London.
A foreign author has lately observed, that as the profession of medicine in Egypt was confined to one class of men, and was transmitted as by inheritance from father to son, it was impossible that it could ever have been successfully cultivated in that country. Is improvement then incompatible with such a practice? Is study, or emulation, or research, impeded by it? If genius be in some cases excluded, how much oftener is native talent likely to be fostered and matured, where the teacher is a father, and where the pupil is a son; where filial accomplishment is the fruit of paternal care, and where affectionate age imparts all its knowledge to grateful youth! Did Hippocrates lose any thing by being descended from the Asclepiades, or by having received bis early education from his father Heraclides, himself a physician? Learning is rareGenius is rarer still. He, who has been bred from his youth to a profession, and whose attention has been constantly turned to it, is surely more likely, ceteris paribus, to succeed in it, than he whom chánce, or necessity, or even inclination, determines to adopt it at a later period of life.
We likewise hear it observed, that as the physicians of Egypt were compelled by law to follow exactly the prescriptions contained in their medical books, the science must have remained stationary;
and that nothing proves more the ignorance both of the people and of the practitioners, than their imagining that any set of general rules could answer in every particular case. The anomalies in disease are infinite; the morbid affections show themselves under innumerable forms; the pathology of the physician ought to vary with the malady of the patient. These remarks may be very just, but they can only apply to the Egyptians, when the days of their glory were gone by, and when the trifling and mysterious writings, falsely ascribed to Thoth, (eudnaov őtt näran añpoi cici) remained the sole and uncertain guides of a degenerate people. (Diodor. I. 1. Iamblich. de Myster. Ægypt. L. viii. Galen. Facultat. Simplic. Medic. L. vi.)
Some scattered accounts of the medicines employed by the Egyptians may be found in the Greek and Roman writers. Of the nepenthes Homer has said enough for a poet, but not enough for a physician. (Odyss. 4.). Some writers have fancied that it was a preparation of opium; but neither Homer, nor Diodorus Siculus, has described it as a narcotic. The Egyptians administered the sea-onion, or squill, which they called the eye of Typhon, in cases of dropsy. They also employed the demirns, which is chiefly composed of the oxyd of iron, in the cure of the same disease. They made much use of external applications; and frequently employed unguents, in which, according to Galen, they mixed verdigris and the white of lead. An account of the remedy employed by Nechepsus, for diminishing the size of stones in the bladder, may be found in Aetius. In the treatment of fevers the practice of the Egyptians appears to have been very rational. They observed the critical days, and were forbidden by their laws to administer a cathartic in fevers before the fourth day. Hence we may conclude, that the doctrine of the crudity, the coction, and the crisis, was obtained by the Greeks from the Egyptians. Certain it is, that among a people so temperate as the Egyptians, and who had the habit of purging themselves once every month, this practice might be extremely proper. Whether, or not, it be always prudent to wait for the operation of the coction in the beginning of inflammatory fevers, (as is done at this day in the south of Europe) before a cathartic is administered, I am not competent to decide. That the Egyptians occasionally resorted to phlebotomy in cases of ple
thora, of pleuresies, and of inflammatory disorders, may be reasonably supposed. The story told by Pliny of the hippopotamus, which, when it feels itself oppressed by a redundance of blood, presses its body against the stem of a reed that has been cut to a sharp point, seems to be a sort of hieroglyphical indication of the practice of venesection in Egypt. In the progress of diseases the Egyptian physicians often took their Escéywous from the position of the patient while in bed; (Diodor. L. 1.) and their example, I believe, is followed by most of our clinical professors. They made inuch use of camomile, (á voeurs) and other simples. The dubious encomium of Isocrates on the medicines of the Egyptians has been frequently cited to prove, that their pharmacopæia must have been extremely limited. I am inclined to think, that the compliment, which Isocrates paid upon this occasion to Egyptian pharmacy, proves, as sometimes happens when orators pay compliments, positively nothing at all. Let us examine this matter a little more closely.
The passage in question is to be found in a discourse, which ought to be entitled Censura Polycratis, but which, (one would think for the purpose of contradicting Virgil,) is generally called Laudatio Busiridis. The case may be briefly stated. A sopbist, named Polycrates, wrote a defence of Busiris, and an accusation against Socrates. This was probably a mere exercise of skill. To renew the calumnies, which had been vomited against Socrates by his worthless enemies, after an Athenian audience had wept for the death of the most virtuous of the Greeks, and after the most vehement of his accusers had been brought to the scaffold, would have argued not only so much malignity, but so much folly, that we can hardly imagine that a heart bad enough, and a head weak enough, to execute such a task, could have been found in the same individual. But allowing that such was the truth, let us ask what perverse sophistry could have induced a citizen of Athens seriously to praise the conduct of a foreign, ancient, and odious tyrant, whose very existence is doubtful, and about whom no creature living could take any interest ? From these things I argue, that the apology for Busiris, and the crimination of Socrates, were intended by the conceited sophist who wrote them, as proofs of his skill and ingenuity; just as that literary braggart, Schioppius, undertook to