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5/25/2012

Mythology of Imhotep









A high official of the 3rd Dynasty, Imhotep is best known as the vizier and 'overseer of works' of King Djoser, for whom he constructed the great Step Pyramid complex at Saqqara - the first Egyptian pyramid and the world's first known monumental stone structure. Although apparently a commoner by birth, he served as a priest of Ptah and his connection with the god led eventually to the myth that he was the son of Ptah by a human mother named Khreduankh. During his lifetime Imhotep rose through the ranks of temple and government offices to become a high priest and courtier of great importance. In addition to his work as architect, he seems to have been a man of considerable learning associated with many other intellectual achievments and he became a patron of medicine, of writing and of knowledge in general. Although his medical achievements are not contemporaneously documented, the fact that Imhotep became known as a virtual medical demigod within a century or so of his death seems to indicate that he may well have been a highly skilled physician. As a result of his reputation for learning Imhotep was also linked to the cult of the god Thoth. The tomb of Imhotep has never been found, though it is possible that the large uninscribed mastaba numbered 3,518 at Saqqara is in fact that structure.

Iconography of Imhotep

Surviving statue fragments from Saqqara demonstrate that Imhotep was granted the unique privilege of being named alongside his king, Djoser, in formal statuary, but representations of the priestly architect are not known till much later. Nevertheless, from the Late Period onwards votive bronzes and other small sculptures as well as amulets of Imhotep were common. Usually he is depicted
in scribal fashion, seated and wearing a long kilt and skull-cap or shaven head with a papyrus roll unscrolled across his lap to symbolize his scholarly nature and scribe patronage.

Worship of Imhotep

The veneration of Imhotep grew to deification in the Late Period and the Graeco-Romanear when his cult reached its zenith, and a number of shrines and temples were dedicated to the deified scholar. His main areas of worship appear to have been in the area of Saqqara, on the island of Philae, and in Thebes where he was also worshipped along with the deified 18th-Dynasty sage Amenophis Son of Hapu at Deir el-Bahri and in the Ptolemaic temple at Deir el-Medina. An important inscription regarding him was placed in the temple of Ptah at Karnak in the reign of Tiberius. His cult centers were places of pilgrimage for sufferers who prayed and slept there in the hope that the god would heal them or reveal remedies to them through inspired dreams. As the patron of medicine he was identified by the Greeks with their god of medicine, Asklepius, and his cult center at Saqqara is called the 'Asklepion'. Mummified ibises were left by worshippers as votive offerings for Imhotept in the underground catacombs in this area, and pilgrims also left models of injured limbs or diseased organs there in the hope of being healed by the god. While Imhotep's position as a deified commoner was not unique in ancient Egypt, he was unrivalled in the high degree and widespread level of veneration he received.
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