Have you heard of the ancient Egyptian polymath Imhotep? If not, let me tell you about him.
Let us start by defining the term polymath. A polymath studies several subjects and applies that knowledge to solve specific problems. Polymaths are rare, and Imhotep was one of them. He was a sculptor, philosopher, politician, scribe, architect, and scientist.
Illustration of Imhotep as a polymath from our upcoming children's book, Imhotep of Ancient Kemet.
Imhotep was born in the ancient city of Memphis, Kemet. His father was called Kanofer, and his mother was Kheredouankh. He was named Imhotep, which means "the one who comes in peace". There are different spelling variations of his name, which include: Im-hotep, Immutef, or Ii-em-Hotep.
He was born a commoner in ancient Egypt. His intelligence and determination helped him rise through the ranks and become King Djoser's vizier. A vizier was the most powerful position in ancient Egypt after the king. He served as the chief minister to King Djoser.
Imhotep was one of the most versatile geniuses. His knowledge and skill in various fields helped him in his role.
Imhotep is considered the first architect in the world known by name. He invented the method of a stone-dressed building alongside using columns in buildings.
As the king's vizier, he was tasked with building the king's mastaba (an ancient Egyptian tomb). Instead of constructing a regular mastaba, Imhotep chose to stack several mastabas on top of each other creating the famous step pyramid of Djoser. The step pyramid stands today. It is believed that it is due to the step pyramid that we have the famous pyramids at Giza.
The Step Pyramid of Djoser, which is considered the first pyramid in Egypt.
There is an inscription with Imhotep's name at the step pyramid.
Imhotep has been credited with being the founder of Egyptian medicine. Ancient Egyptians believed Imhotep was the inventor of healing.
There is a 15-foot scroll known as Edwin Smith Papyrus which was taken from an ancient Egyptian tomb. It has details of the treatment of 48 cases of injuries and trauma.
The Edwin Smith Papyrus is written in hieratic script, an ancient Egyptian cursive writing system.
The Edwin Smith Papyrus traces back to 1600 CE, but, it is a copy. Some Egyptologists believe that the original text was written by Imhotep in 3000CE. It is important to note that not all Egyptologists agree with this.
Additionally, classical Greeks considered Imhotep a healer. They identified him with Ptah, their god of medicine.
Imhotep is honoured and remembered as a great philosopher. He is the author of the book of instruction.
By the end of the new kingdom in ancient Egypt (between 1550–1069 BCE), he was included among the seven great ancient sages of the Egyptian world associated with literature.
He was also associated with the Egyptian god Thoth: a god of wisdom and writing.
Long after his death, Imhotep was worshipped as a deity. Temples and shrines were built in Memphis, and Philae dedicated to him. Sick and wounded Egyptians would go to these temples to get a cure from Imhotep. They believed that he would reveal it in their dreams.
There was also a cult that was devoted to Imhotep between 525BC-550AD.
Imhotep was an incredible multi-talented genius. He improved all the fields that he was in. One of my favourite quotes about him is, "you may be good at your job, but you will never be Imhotep levels of good that you end up being worshipped as a god". I don't know who said it but I feel that it perfectly sums up his life.
If you enjoyed learning about Imhotep, you might be interested in learning about Hateshput of Egypt, Queen Cleopatra VII, or reading our list of children's books about Egypt.