Statuette of Imhotep at the Louvre

The first word that comes to mind when I think of Imhotep is apotheosis which, although appropriate, feels ironic to me because it is a Greek word and I tend to try to pretend the Greco-Egyptian period didn’t exist.  (That last bit is even more ironic when you consider that the statuette in the photo above is from the Ptolemaic period.)  Anyway, apotheosis, for those who don’t know, is the elevation of an individual to god-like status.  Roughly two thousand years after he died, Imhotep was raised to deity status as a god of medicine and healing.

A commoner at birth, Imhotep rose to be a high official of king Djoser during the Third Dynasty and was the architect behind Djoser’s tomb, the Step Pyramid at the Saqqara necropolis.  He is sometimes credited with inventing the method of stone-dressing a building, and also with being the first to use columns to support a building, although sources for these claims aren’t available despite Imhotep also being credited with writing a book of “instructions”.  The Step Pyramid, though, is the first non-mastaba tomb for a king of Egypt.

Imhotep is also known for his medical prowess as a physician, and the information contained in the Edwin Smith Papyrus is credited to him, although the papyrus itself dates to the 16th and 17th Dynasties.  It is posited that the information was copied from an earlier text that was written by Imhotep.  The majority of the papyrus is dedicated to trauma and surgery, along with some gynecological and cosmetic items and descriptions of 48 medical cases and the Edwin Smith Papyrus is unique in that it is the first medical-based papyrus that is not based solely in magic.  It contains only eight spells on the verso side, and mentions spells in only two of the medical cases.

(A side note – there’s a really cool interactive version of the Edwin Smith papyrus here.)

Imhotep was venerated after his death as early as the New Kingdom, when he was called patron of scribes and said to personify wisdom.  In the Late Period, he was deified and became a local god of medicine and healing in Memphis.  Imhotep was also identified (conflated?) with Djehwty as a god of architecture and mathematics.  Stories exist that that call Imhotep the son of Ptah and the stepson (or son, depending on the tale) of Sekhmet, and his amazing accomplishments during his life are attributed (sometimes) to his divine parentage.  The Greeks syncretized Imhotep with Asclepius, god of medicine, and temples to him existed through the invasion of North Africa in the seventh century CE.

Usually, Imhotep is portrayed in priestly garb, carrying a scroll.

I don’t know, off-hand, how many modern worshipers Imhotep has – he is not one of the netjeru I’ve seen referenced by other Kemetics.  Were I to hazard a guess as to who might worship him, though, I’d say he would be a good patron for architects, mathematicians, physicians (especially surgeons), and writers.  Since he was called upon to act as an intermediary between humans and other gods, and because of his association with Memphis, Imhotep might also be a good choice for someone who worships Ptah and Sekhmet together.


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