The Legacy to Modern Egypt 387
obstinate, and forestall opposition by hastily painting their faces
and presenting their male folk with a fait accompli.
We speak of culture and ideas conflicting, but that is only a
figure of speech, In fact, of course, it is the bearers of one set
of ideas conflicting with the bearers of others. It may be men
versus women, but the more important conflicts follow the lines,
not of sex, but of social and intellectual status. The intelligentsia
has one point of view and it is fond of imposing it upon the
lower classes. They are much addicted to systems and apt to
dislike anything that does not fit into the system, merely because
it does not fit. The masses, on the contrary, often prefer the
meaningless because it is meaningless.
When a practice becomes detached from the ideas that in-
spired it it becomes meaningless, like our fear of being thirteen at
table. Ancient Egyptian medical treatises abound in formulae
and recipes which had evidently lost their meaning at the time
they were written down in the form in which we possess them.
The systems to which they belonged had already decayed then
and must belong to a much earlier stratum. In some cases the
very words are a mere jumble of nonsense syllables.
Such charms being meaningless are apt to be unstable, since
meaning helps to keep customs true to type. It is a thankless
task therefore to try to identify ancient examples with modern
ones. Nevertheless the industry of scholars has unearthed
definite evidence that ancient Egyptian medicine survived into
modern times. A treatise by Abu Sahl clsa ibn Yahya contains
prescriptions which can be termed translations of some of those
found in the Ebers Papyrus, and the author constantly appeals
to a work by Thoth, the old god of science. Another proof of
continuity is that in modern, as in ancient magic formulae, the
patient is referred to as the son of his mother, not of his father
as in everyday usage; Ahmed the son of Fatma, not of Mahnrud.
Erman has even produced an old Egyptian charm against any
kind of witchcraft closely resembling a modern remedy for