Thursday, November 26, 2009

How to cure a migraine
and other ailments in old Egypt

I was reading an article from the Journal of Coptic Studies about Coptic medicine practices.  Apparently one of the first Coptic kings, Manaqiusch ibn Aschmun, of whom nothing is now known, ordered the construction of the first Egyptian hospitals.  Also, during this early period in history, ca. 1300 AD, women were among the practicing doctors of Egypt, as mentioned in early Coptic medical documents: TCAEIN EEI EHOUN (tsaein eei ehoun) 'the (female) doctor (who) entered' (the T- prefix is the feminine definite article, thus indicating a female).  The Coptic word for doctor, CAEIN1, goes back to Ancient Egyptian (AE) swnw (sunu); the word for medication, prescription or treatment, PAHRE (pahre), goes back to AE phrt (pahret?).2 

Following are a couple of the more interesting treatments (some of the documents appear incomplete or in fragments):

For migraine: KOPROC N[EROMPE, LIBANOC, ARCUNIKON ... ;NOOU HI HYMJ (kopros ncherompe livanos arsynikon ... thno'ou hi heimdj xro) 'pigeon dung, incense, arsenic... rub  with vinegar and turn.'

For a cold: OUACCWWD ETBE PEHREUMA MN PMAUE ETHORS ECWTM JI NAK ...  NEUVORBIOU, ;NOOU HI NEH ME ] EHRAI HN SENTF SAULO EUO NHREUMA NCECWTM NKECOP (ouassood etve pehreuma mn pmaue ethorsh esotm dji nak ... neuforviou thno'ou hi neh me ti ehrai hn shentf shaulo euo nhreuma nsesotm nkesop) 'A cure for a cold and hard-of-hearingness: Take ... Euphorbium (?), rub it with olive oil.  Give it in the nostril.  The patient will cease being stuffed up and will again be able to hear.'

Well, it's up to you if you want to try these treatments at home!


Kolta, Kamal.  2004.  Krankheit und Therapiemethoden bei den Kopten.  In Journal of Coptic Studies 6, 149-160.

(Translation from the original German is mine.)

1 Could this Egyptian word be the ultimate origin of the -cine and -cian suffixes of English medi-cine, physi-cian?

2 The vowel sounds of AE are often still a mystery, since the AE hieroglyphic writing did not indicate vowel sounds, only consonant sounds, as in the scripts of other Semitic languages.  Coptic, written in a version of the Greek alphabet, can often help supply the unknown vowel sounds, however.



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