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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

196                               Medicine
of classical writers are therefore often merely the stepping-
stones by, which much of the ancient medical lore reached
Europe, apart from direct borrowings. When a drug really
possesses the virtues attributed to it and is an effective remedy
its survival into modern times is natural enough, but the fact
that many quite fantastic and arbitrary remedies have been
carried on almost to our own days is definite proof of the slavish
copying from the works of one writer to the works of another
in a continuous line that originated many centuries ago on the
banks of the Nile. The use of certain arbitrary and distinctive
preparations, the use of the same formulae, idioms, and colo-
phons in the popular medical literature of many countries
through as many centuries, are all indications with an unmis-
takable interpretation.
But if Egypt bequeathed her popular and largely magical
knowledge to the later world, she bequeathed also a heritage
more valuable than this. From Egypt we have the earliest
medical books, the first observations in anatomy—human and
comparative—the first experiments in surgery and pharmacy,
the first use of splints, bandages, compresses, and other appliances,
and the first anatomical and medical vocabulary, and that an
extensive one.
In two other ways, most important of all, has Egypt served
the history of medical science. First, through the distinctive
custom of mummification, aided by the favourable climatic con-
ditions, hundreds of actual bodies, many of them accurately
datable, have carried down to us the earliest actual cases of the
effects of disease. The history of the incidence of many diseases
and conditions can be thrust back farther and farther into
antiquity from the evidence provided by mummies and skele-
tons: of calculi, bilharzia, arterial diseases, tuberculosis, arthritis
and other bone-diseases as well as many inflammatory and
countless other conditions. And secondly, and most important
of all, the Egyptians, by that same custom of mummification,