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Reviewed by:
  • Medicine in the Days of the Pharaohs
  • David T. Mininberg
Bruno Halioua and Bernard Ziskind. Medicine in the Days of the Pharaohs. Translated by M. B. DeBevoise. Originally published as La médecine au temps des pharaons (Paris: Éditions Liana Levi, 2002). Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005. x + 276 pp. Ill. $24.95 (0-674-01702-1).

This excellent book will be useful to scholars, and more particularly to members of the general public who want to know more about ancient Egyptian medical practices and the patients who received these treatments. The text is clearly written and can be understood without extensive medical knowledge. Medical jargon and excessively technical details are kept to a minimum.

The authors appropriately emphasize the holistic aspects of Egyptian medical practice, which employed the skills of physicians, magicians, and priests acting in concert. Part 1, "The World of the Physician," presents the universe of the practitioners of the healing arts and the ways in which they were trained. The hierarchical organization of these practitioners and their areas of specialization will strike current readers as quite familiar. The discussions of surgical instruments and their use, bandaging techniques, and drug therapies highlight the origin of many modern medical practices. The authors close this loop in an epilogue with a discussion of the widespread dissemination of Egyptian medical practices throughout the ancient world, and the adaptation of many of these practices by Greek physicians.

The interspersed direct quotations from the medical papyri and other ancient texts are paramount in helping to put the medical practices into their proper context. Conversely, these quotations bring forward the problem that there are many terms for which we have only an interpretive opinion, but no translation—a significant limitation to our understanding of the ancient medical practices. The summary of the contents of the medical papyri appended to the text is useful in understanding the extent and limitations of primary source material available. Many of the ancient drawings, bas-reliefs, and statues that are also primary sources of our knowledge are referred to throughout the text.

The wealth of information to be gleaned from paleopathology is cogently presented. The fortunate and fortuitous presence of so many well-preserved mummies who serve as study subjects makes the scientific inquiry into ancient Egyptian medicine feasible. The authors describe the modern techniques of paleopathology in clear and simple terms, enabling the nonscientific reader to readily understand the value of these studies. The discussion of the pathologies found in sections divided by time of life—childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age—presents the material in keeping with people's everyday experience and is preferable to organizing this material by organ or causative agent. An attempt to explain the [End Page 364] Biblical Ten Plagues, the origin of this book, is admirable. However, the available textual documentation of these events is sparse, and hence the explanations offered, attractive and reasonable as they seem to be, are more speculative than the remainder of the text.

In sum, this book is a pleasure to read, offers much information that is organized in an accessible fashion, and can be highly recommended. The scholar/specialist might wish for a deeper development of some of the subjects, but should be solaced by the comprehensive list of references and the informative notes to the text.

David T. Mininberg
Weill Medical College of Cornell University
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Department of Egyptian Art (volunteer)
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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3176
Print ISSN
0007-5140
Pages
pp. 364-365
Launched on MUSE
2006-06-05
Open Access
No
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