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Ebers Papyrus

Ebers Papyrus │ This largest and only complete extant medical scroll originated in Ancient Egypt, 16th century BC. The 18.63 m long papyrus was donated to the Leipzig university library in 1873 by Georg Ebers, a local Egyptologist who printed a facsimile in 1875.
[Papyrus Ebers; Column 37: gastro-intestinal disorders]

The displayed page

Column 37 is one from a total of 108 columns on an originally 18.63 m long and 30 cm wide papyrus scroll. Its contents include teaching materiel und remedies for stomach and intestinal pain (which in total stretch from column 36 to column 44). Headings and quantities are in red while the rest is written in black ink; the words run directly from right to left without periods, commas, or spaces in between words. The individual characters in Hieratic, the cursive form of Egyptian hieroglyphs, are written very accurately. The lines are very straight. The writing appears very uniform and indicates a practiced scribe. The ink has lost none of its luminance. The Ebers' Papyrus three and a half thousand years are belied by its appearance.
The text is written from right to left in the Hieratic form of Egyptian, a quasi-cursive form of Hieroglyphics, with red and black ink; red is used for headings and measurements in prescriptions, black for the rest. The script is – as was then common – continuous without spaces between words.
The author of the Ebers Papyrus is unknown, as is its scribe. Al things considered, it was a uniquely well-practiced scribe. Considered from a calligraphic viewpoint, the Ebers Papyrus is second to none. The letters are very consistent, with few connected characters and few misspellings. The scribe marked forgotten words or sentences and then above or below the column noted them.

Translation of column 37

{36, 21} then in addition you should say: That is the idleness of nourishment, which is not permitted …
Eb 189 (36, 17 - 37, 4)
{37, 1} ... that he eats further. Then you should make a laxative for him: force the pit of a date {37, 2} in clotted beer, and his appetite returns. If you examine him, after this is done, {37, 3} You find the side of his body warm, his belly cold, then you should say: his idleness {37, 4} has worn off. Then you let him keep all roasted meat away from his mouth.
Eb 190 (37, 4 - 37, 10)
When you examine a man, laden with constipation, {37, 5} he makes upheavals of coughs (fits of coughing), during which his pain is on the side of his body like {37, 6} clumps of feces. [Then you should say in addition:] Those are bulges on your side, because your stomach has narrowed itself. {37, 7} Then you should make prepared and effective remedies for him to drink: fresh mash, cooked in oil {37, 8} and honey, sam (absinthe?) (1/32, prt-Snj (nuts?)-Fruit 1/16, SASA (not identified fruit or plants) 1/8; assign to him (the mash), to cook {37, 9} into a unified mass, to drink in four days. When you examine him after that, You will find the condition {37, 10} of his pain like the first time (you examined him), which will then mean that he is become healthy.
Eb 191 (37, 10 - 37, 17)
When you examine a man, who has pains in his stomach, {37, 11} who has pains in his arm and chest on the side of his stomach, wherefore one says: That is the the wAD-sickness (='green complexion', heart attack?). {37, 12} Then you should say to that: Something is occurring in your mouth! Death is nearing him. Then you should prepare for him Ddb (=stimulating?) remedies {37, 13} from herbs: peas 1, bryony 1, njAjA  (a currently unidentified plant) 1, {37, 14} jnnk  (English Thyme?)1, grains from sXt-(six lined) barley 1; cook in oil, the man drinks it. {37, 15} Then you should place your hands on him, while he is bowing, so that his upper arm gets better, until he is finally free from pain. Then you should say: {37, 16} This pain has gone away to your rectum and anus. Never again take {37, 17} this remedy.
Eb 192 (37, 17 - 38, 3)
When you examin a man, who has pain in his stomach, he vomits frequently: When {37, 18} you find it, as it in front of him is, his eyes are Ssm (inflamed?) and his nose, it runsd. {37, 19} Then you should say to that: They are products of decomposition, his mucilage, they do not want to descend to his reservoir space as [37, 20} his mucilage. Then you should prepare for him: wheat cakes, lots of sam, give a measurement...
Translation: Marko Stuhr (see Interesting Links)

The Ebers Papyrus

The Ebers Papyrus is a unique piece und for 150 years the main source of our knowledge about ancient Egyptian medicine. On account of its theoretical and therapeutic content, it is the most important medical papyrus.
It is named after its discover, the Leipzig Egyptologist and novelist Georg Ebers (1837-1898), who in the winter of 1872/1873 purchased it from a Coptic antiquarian in Upper Egypt; he then transferred it to the University Library. When purchased it was a complete surviving papyrus scroll, which later in Leipzig was cut into 29 pieces to better preserve it. The last eight columns (columns 103-110) are found on the backside of the end of the scroll. The individual columns (the texts) are numbered from 1 to 110. However, the numbers 28 and 29 have been skipped, which was possibly done to assure the numbering of the scroll ended at 110; this was then believed to be the ideal age.
The papyrus scroll originates around 1500 BC. This dating is based on the form of the writing and the comparison of the scroll with other similar texts, as well as the content of the calendar on the back of the scroll, which mentions the 9th year of the reign of Amenhotep I (Amenophis I) from the 18th dynasty, whose reign falls in the last quarter of the 16th century BC. A C14-analysis (radio carbon dating via radiometric dating of organic materials) performed in 2014 confirmed this dating.
The Papyrus was allegedly found in a grave in Thebes. Whether or not it was produced for this specific purpose cannot be known for sure. Possibly the papyrus scroll was originally in a library or temple und was intended for the education of doctors, as a concise textbook or reference book of the contemporary knowledge of medicine.

The discovery of the Ebers Papyrus

On the 26th of March, 1873, Georg Ebers wrote from Cairo, probably to the Saxon minister of state Karl von Gerber (the envelope has not be preserved):
'Your Excellency will be amazed when a box from Egypt arrives for you, which is secured for seventeen thousand francs. I am the sender of this treasure, which I had the luck to acquire. The consul advised me to directly ship it to the royal minister, as it must be secured from dangers, against which even the Consul's seal is in no way a safeguard.
The little box contains the largest and most beautiful Papyrus, which Germany possesses, the third largest of all existing ones. It is so wholly preserved, that not one page is missing, that not one unreadable letter is found in it. One hundred and ten pages follow one another on the giant scroll. Every page on it contains at least twenty lines roughly eight inches long. The script is of astonishingly beauty and consistency. The Hierogrammat [scribe] has written the beginnings of the sentences with red ink, and the text proper with black. I could be almost sure, when I place the composition of the Papyrus in the XVIII Egyptian dynasty, which is to say in the 17th century before Christ. Our document contains nothing less than a compendium of Egyptian medicine and begins with the words: 'Beginning of the book of the sicknesses of all parts of man', followed by descriptions of all possible pains with prescriptions, which the doctor applies and prayers, which the sick person has to say. There are nine pages devoted exclusively to eye sicknesses. On the back is a valuable calendar and a text, through which we learn that our book is ascribed to one of the first kings of Egypt. Later it is said to have been found at the feet of an Anubis statue in Sechem [...]
Laying on the ground beside the Papyrus (it must be unrolled with great care) I have, I can arguably say, with great effort studied and recorded the content of the entire work, that I overlooked the main subject of its entire content. This is of the greatest interest, not only for the history of medicine. [...]
Immediately after my return home I will consider the publication of the Papyrus: a hard but rewarding task. The publication of the document can be done quickly; the investigation of the meaning of every individual word will require years.
Until my safe return (end of April) I recommend my treasure to the benevolent care of your Excellency. The box with the more than 3000 year old and very fragile Papyrus demands great care and may only be opened by myself. I request urgently that the small chest be placed in a dry place. Nothing decays parchment easier than dampness. [...]
Besides other objects it appears to me a success, to acquire such rich new original written material, that I may say with glad courage, that I have fully utilized the most benignly given vacation time.
In the most excellent devotion.
Your obedient Dr. Georg Ebers.
Extraordinary Professor of Egyptology at Leipzig University'
[Cf. Dietmar Debes: Zur Erwerbung des Papyrus Ebers, in: Weite Welt und breites Leben. Festschrift für K. Bulling (Zentralblatt f. Bibliothekswesen Beiheft 82), Leipzig 1966, S. 139-141.]

The Ebers Papyrus today

Today the Ebers Papyrus is preserved by very special methods of conservation. Light and too much humidity are the greatest threats for texts made of papyrus. Therefore the scroll was already in the 19th century put under glass. As a cultural good worthy of conservation and protection, the Papyrus was kept in the treasury of the Deutsche Bank at Leipzig during the Second World War, and later stored in Schloss Rochlitz, 60 km southeast of Leipzig.  Since its rescue in 1945 a few columns have been lost or damaged.
Since that time 17 columns – 48, 49, 55, 80, 81, 82, 93, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, and 110 – have been entirely lost and 4 columns – 54, 56, 94, and 109 – have been damaged. An unidentified writer in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung from August 7th 1951, reports: 'When it was possible to again tend to the Papyrus, it was not found in the house, instead in a kennel under excrement and filth. On a few pages the protective glass was broken, and in one place the delicate reading material of the Papyrus was afflicted with fissures.”

Georg Ebers (1837-1898)

Georg Ebers initially studied law at the university in Göttingen. In 1860 he attended in Berlin the lecture courses of the Egyptologist Richard Lepsius. In 1862 he received his doctorate by writing about Memnon and the Memnon legend. Subsequently he undertook an educational trip through Europe. Ebers wanted to be both: on the one hand a distinguished scholar and professor, and on the other hand a successful novelist. In 1869 he was named an associate professor in Jena, then took a professorship at Leipzig university. He returned from a trip to Egypt in 1873 with the 'Ebers Papyrus'. In 1875 the gorgeous facsimile edition of the Ebers Papyrus was published in two volumes, and in the same year Ebers was named full professor at Leipzig university.
From 1876 onward Ebers was often sick and changed his emphasis to literary production. His Collected Works, published between 1893 and 1897, include 32 volumes. 29 volumes contain novels and stories as well as his autobiography. The literary value of the novels is disputed. The design and heroes of his novels operate in historically important and exciting times of upheaval. The plots are about Pharaoh Ramses II (Uarda, 1877) or Hadrian (Der Kaiser, 1881), in the epoch of conflict between Christians and pagans (Homo sum, 1878) or at the end of Ancient Egypt (Serapis, 1885).
Ebers died in 1898 in Munich, where in the northern cemetery a grave with a bust commemorates him.

The content of the Ebers Papyrus

The Ebers Papyrus is a handbook of Ancient Egyptian medicine.
The Ebers Papyrus contains in 110 columns 879 individual texts, which cover nine medical topics:
Col. 1-6: Sayings to be recited before medical treatment
Col. 7-335: Internal illnesses
Col. 336-431: Eye illnesses
Col. 432-602: Skin illnesses
Col. 603-696: Illnesses of the extremities
Col. 697-782: Mixed illnesses (head, tongue, teeth, nose, ears, cosmetic)
Col. 783-853: Gynecological illnesses
Col. 854-856: Information about the heart and circulation
Col. 857-877: Ulcers
The texts can be categorized as follows:
44 school texts, 4 prognoses, 776 abbreviated prescriptions, 28 prescriptions with the remainder of the educational text, 11 prescriptions with additional magic, 10 magical texts with medical applications, 1 magical text without medical application, and 4 compilations of teaching material.
The healer in Ancient Egypt was at the same time a doctor, priest, and magician; he represented science, religion, and magic. The object of medical science is man in his totality.
70-80 % of the ingredients of the remedies are not identified, which makes it difficult to reproduce ancient Egyptian prescriptions.

Further pages of the Ebers Papyrus

Occasionally the Hieratic script is extremely vivid; in column 8 at the beginning of lines 1 and 19 the signs for honey are composed of a bee and a honeypot. The small man at the end of lines 11 and 16 in column 9 indicates formula for treating constipation.
The Ebers Papyrus features similar small columns until column 22. From thereon the ancient scribe uses some kind of justification whereas before every prescription started with a new line. Also the quantities are highlighted by disengaging it  to the left. On the right the ancient glue can easily be detected. It is so fine that it was also written upon. The Ebers Papyrus consists of 48 single sheets, which are on average 40.5 cm wide. In Antiquity they were glued together so that the right sheet lay over the left sheet, in order to ease writing on top of the glue (the writing direction being right to left).
Column 31 is about the treatment of pain in the anus and the different cures, especially cooling the heat with suppositories. There is one remarkable technical detail in the writing, as the scribe solves the problem of an accidently omitted passage with copying. He markes the appropriate place in the second line with a red X and inserts the text above the column number.
Column 88: It is easily noticeable that here a chapter is separated from the others with empty lines before and after it, which elsewhere does not occur in the Ebers Papyrus. It is about prescriptions 726-732. They concern the 'Extraction of a thorn which is in the body” and the 'Cure for a thorn which has been cut out.' Then follows a 'Remedy for the elimination of a bedevilment.' The last lines are more compactly written because the previous line has been eroded, as can barely be seen.
Numbered 110, this is the last column of the Ebers Papyrus. Its text ends with 'remedies until recovery'. In comparison with the original pages the 1875 facsimile reproduced here is of excellent quality.

References for further reading

Interesting Links

Whoever would like to gain a deeper understanding of the Papyrus Ebers digitally should go to this website established by the Papyrus and Ostraka Project by the Halle and Jena university libraries.
An English translation by Marko is currently available on this site.