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  • It's another sweltering morning in Memphis, Egypt.

  • As the sunlight brightens the Nile, Peseshet checks her supplies.

  • Honey.

  • Garlic.

  • Cumin.

  • Acacia leaves.

  • Cedar oil.

  • She's well stocked with the essentials she needs to treat her patients.

  • Peseshet is a swnw, or a doctor.

  • In order to become one, she had to train as a scribe and study the medical papyri stored at the Per Ankh, the House of Life.

  • Now, she teaches her own students there.

  • Before teaching, Peseshet has a patient to see.

  • One of the workers at the temple construction site has injured his arm.

  • When Peseshet arrives, the laborer's arm is clearly broken.

  • And worse, the fracture is a sed, with multiple bone fragments.

  • Peseshet binds and immobilizes the injury.

  • Her next stop is the House of Life.

  • On her way, a woman intercepts Peseshet in the street.

  • The woman's son has been stung by a scorpion.

  • Peseshet has seen many similar stings and knows exactly what to do.

  • She must say an incantation to cast the poison out.

  • She begins to recite the spell, invoking Serqet, patron of physicians and goddess of venomous creatures.

  • Peseshet recites the spell as if she is Serqet.

  • This commanding approach has the greatest chance at success.

  • After she utters the last line, she tries to cut the poison out with a knife for good measure.

  • Peseshet packs up to leave, but the woman has another question.

  • She wants to find out if she is pregnant.

  • Peseshet explains her fail-safe pregnancy test.

  • Plant two seeds: one barley, one emmer.

  • Then, urinate on the seeds every day.

  • If the plants grow, she's pregnant.

  • A barley seedling predicts a baby boy, while emmer foretells a girl.

  • Peseshet also recommends a prayer to Hathor, goddess of fertility.

  • When Peseshet finally arrives at the House of Life, she runs into the doctor-priest Isesi.

  • She greets Isesi politely, but she thinks priests are very full of themselves.

  • She doesn't envy Isesi's role as neru pehut, which directly translates to herdsman of the anus to the royal family, or, guardian of the royal anus.

  • Inside, the House of Life is bustling as usual with scribes, priests, doctors, and students.

  • Papyri containing all kinds of records, not just medical information, are stored here.

  • Peseshet's son Akhethetep is hard at work copying documents as part of his training to become a scribe.

  • He's a particularly promising student, but he was admitted to study because Peseshet is a scribe, as was her father before her.

  • Without family in the profession, it's very difficult for boys, and impossible for girls, to pursue this education.

  • Peseshet oversees all the female swnws and swnws-in-training in Memphis.

  • The men have their own overseer, as the male doctors won't answer to a woman.

  • Today, Peseshet teaches anatomy.

  • She quizzes her students on the metu, the body's vessels that transport blood, air, urine, and even bad spirits.

  • Peseshet is preparing to leave when a pale, thin woman accosts her at the door and begs to be examined.

  • The woman has a huge, sore lump under her arm.

  • Peseshet probes the growth and finds it cool to the touch and hard like an unripe hemat fruit.

  • She has read about ailments like this, but never seen one.

  • For this tumor there is no treatment, medicine or spell.

  • All the texts give the same advice: do nothing.

  • After delivering the bad news, Peseshet goes outside.

  • She lingers on the steps of the House of Life, admiring the city at dusk.

  • In spite of all her hard work, there will always be patients she can't help, like the woman with the tumor.

  • They linger with her, but Peseshet has no time to dwell.

  • In a few short weeks, the Nile's annual flooding will begin, bringing life to the soil for the next year's harvest and a whole new crop of patients.

It's another sweltering morning in Memphis, Egypt.

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B2 US TED-Ed woman scribe spell nile memphis

A day in the life of an ancient Egyptian doctor - Elizabeth Cox

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    Jenny posted on 2019/06/09
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