Skip to main content

Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

See other formats

Medicine                              189
purpose of explaining the meaning of the sentences. These
glosses may have helped the Egyptians of the Eighteenth
Dynasty, but for us they add to, rather than diminish, the
difficulties. The title of the passage is: The beginning of the
science of the physician; to know the movement of the heart
and to know the heart; there are vessels attached to it for every
member of the body.' An explanatory gloss follows, stating that
by placing the fingers upon the region of the heart and upon
the head and limbs, the action of the heart will be perceived
through the vessels leading to each member, that is to say, the
pulse can be felt in various parts of the body because of the
vessels that radiate from the heart. There is, of course, no hint
of any knowledge of the circulation of the blood (although some
writers have read this meaning into the text),1 nor indeed is
there any mention of blood: all that was perceived was the
sympathy of the pulse with the beating of the heart itself. The
Egyptians certainly regarded the heart as the most important
organ of the body. It was held to be the seat of intelligence and
of all the emotions (they attached no importance at all to the
brain), and its presence in the body was so important that it
was not even removed from the body during mummification,
but was carefully left, together with its great vessels, in its place
in the thorax, although all the other viscera were removed. The
text, after this introduction, proceeds to enumerate the vessels
that communicate with each part of the body, stating what was
conveyed by them, and continues with a description of the
behaviour of the heart under various conditions.
Nothing like a system of physiology can be reconstructed
from this obscure and garbled passage, although one or two
facts emerge quite clearly. One of them is the importance of
1 It is scarcely necessary to say that this modern view is absurd, for long
ages were destined to pass before the difference between arterial and venous
blood was either observed or appreciated, and before the discovery of the
lymphatic vessels.