One of the most noble, intelligent, and spiritually advanced minds of human history is Imhotep, the first pyramid builder from Egypt. Born in 2667 BC as a commoner, Ihometp rose through the ranks of Egypt’s nobility gaining substantial reputation thanks to his wise counsel, studies as a polymath, and work as an architect. A stele reveals just a few of his prestigious including “Chancellor of the King of Lower Egypt; First after the King of Upper Egypt; Administrator of the Great Palace; Hereditary nobleman, High Priest of Heliopolis, Chief Carpenter, Chief Sculptor, and Maker of Vases in Chief” (Imhotep, god of Egypt). Furthermore, he is credited with being one of medicine’s first founding fathers, all qualities that warrant his exploration, exposition, and legacy in this essay.
Imhotep is believed to have been born in 2668 in Ankhtowe, a city on the lower side of Egypt close to Memphis yet this is somewhat in dispute as some have placed his birthplace as Gebelin, a city of Ancient Thebes in Upper Egypt (Imhotep, god of Egypt). In either case, both cities are significant Egyptian population centers as Memphis was made the capital of Egypt by King Djoser. Imhotep was born a commoner yet over the course, he would traverses the Egyptian ranks of nobility until he became chief architect for the Egyptian pharaoh Djoser whose rein was from c.2630 until c.2611 BC (Imotep, the god of Egypt).
It was for this Pharaoh that Imhotep designed the masterpiece Step Pyramid of Saqqara. This architectural feat is a considered by engineers today as a sort of pharaonic “DaVinci Code” that with ample study and decipherment reveals the genius of the man who built it. First hinted at by Sir I.E.S. Edwards in the common era, evidence of a higher design in the pyramids has been observed in abundance. With this pyramid, Imhotep designed it so that it would amplify and assist his astrological work as “chief of the observers” in Heliopolis through numerous solar spells and the sacred shape of the step pyramid (Bauval and Brophy 5).
Egyptologist Wendy Wood states that “Nothing, in the architecture of archaic tombs, would constitute an adequate preparation to the technical mastering of which suddenly appears in the Step Pyramid Complex” (Bauval 1). The pyramid his an enormous 545 x 277 meters across, a space vast enough for at least 560 tennis courts to fit inside (Bauval 1). The entire complex is surrounded by a limestone wall 10 meters, 30 feet, high that contains many false and real doors that are layered to create an aesthetic appeal. The complexity and elegance of this design is evidenced in the numerous colonnades, columns, and house pavilions that give the step pyramid depth and functionality (Bauval 1). Researchers believe that the entirety of the pyramid was constructed from a single plan rather than through consecutive building projects. The actual steps of the pyramid are themselves an engineering feat as they each have an angle reading that makes them nearly exact to that of the horizon (Bauval 1).
The step pyramid’s most intriguing creation is however most likely the serdab, a black box that was found inside the limestone blocks of the pyramid that was placed exactly in accordance with the horizon and the slope of the pyramid, a design that allowed for the indwelling skull of King Djoser to gaze out towards the northern sky (Bavual 1). Within the box, peepholes were drilled that the King’s form, holding his Ka, eternal spirit, might gaze forever into the ‘imperishable’ or ‘indestructible’ circumpolar stars, those heavenly bodies that never go below the horizon and thus, in the mind of the Egyptians, never died (Bauval 1). The direction and intention was unmistakably Imhotep who was a master astronomer and astrologer.
In an another achievement that synthesized both astronomy and architecture, Imhotep helped to predict the Nile Flood and design structures that would withstand their enormous water surges (Bauval & Brophy 7).
The Egyptian city of Heliopolis was one history’s most illuminative holy centers. In Heliopolis, a name that means ‘city of the sun’, innumerable records were kept, magic was studied, and the natural world was explored in ways that would be used for millennia to come. The Egyptologists report that this spiritual city was rightfully headed by priest and that among the order of such individuals was Imhotep, a high priest (Bauval and Brophy 1). As High Priest, he is described as “the world’s first multi-dimensional personality” whose “achievement stand at the very dawn of reason science in the service of human society” (Asante 67).
Perhaps foremost among these achievements is the Step Pyramid Complex. This structure was more than just a pyramid shape, it was a place where the nobility and the priests could conduct affairs of enormous spiritual and social importance. Burying the dead, holding discussions with Lords of other tribes, and ceremony took place at the pyramids which included temples, courtyards, underground temples, courtyards, false temples, porticos to connect it and more (Asante 70). The step pyramid is considered to be society’s first statement of desire for permanence on a megalithic scale. This aim was especially designed for the Pharaoh, a being whose body was to be entombed in the step pyramid so that he may successfully carry on his work in the afterlife without destruction interfering with the rest and decay of his corporeal form (Asante 71).
Imohtep’s leadership in Egypt was one of the most helpful and educational from that era and time. He was an exemplary worker who not only built the step pyramid but also instructed and advanced medicine. He was a philosopher of the human body and it was through his study that the ancient Kemites were taught about how life might best flow free through personal sacrifice. It is said that “no other ancient people practiced medicine to the degree and with the perfection of the ancient Kemites” (Asante 71). Homer is known to exclaimed that Egyptian medicine actually leaves the rest of the world behind (Asante 72). For this reason, he is given the title of Father of Medicine by many. This may be why his name, shown below in two format writing styles of hieroglyphics, means ‘He who comes in peace’ (Imhoetp).
The spiritual connections shown by Imhotep are quite astounding. Although most of the Egyptian gods were based upon experiences, ideas, and heavenly bodies, Imhotep actually was one the very few Gods who was in fact a real person. Although from the old kingdom, he was later deified in the New Kingdom as the patron of scribes. Scribes would pay homage to him by pouring just a few drops of water in libation to him prior to wring, something this scribe gave a try at prior to writing the essay (Imhotep).
Imhotep is likely chosen as the patron of scribes as while alive he was master poetry. The ‘Song of the Harper” is one of the most enduring poetry pieces from Imhotep. The poem, inscribed with the image of a blind man playing a harp, was song during mortuary rites. It goes
“He is Happy this good prince:
Death is a kindly fate.
A Generation passes, Another Stays,
Since the time of the ancestors.
The gods who were before rest in their tombs,
Blessed nobles too are buried in their tombs.
(Yet) those who built tombs,
Their places are gone,
What has become of them?
I have heard the words of Imhotep and Hordjedef,
Whose saying are recited in whole.
What of their places?
Their walls have crumbled,
Their places are gone,
As though they had never been!
None comes from there,
To tell of their needs,
To calm our hearts,
Until we go where they have gone!
Hence rejoice I your heart!
Forgetfulness profits you,
Follow your heart as long as you live!
Pur Myrrh on your head,
Dress in fine linen,
Anoit yourself with oils fit for a god,
Heap up your joys,
Let your heart not sink!
Follow your heart and your happiness,
Do your things on earth as your heart commands!
When there comes to you that day of mourning,
the Weary-hearted (Osiris) hears not their mourning,
Wailing saves no man from the pit!
Make holiday, Do not weary of it!
Lo, none is allowed to take his good with him,
Lo, non whoe departs comes back again!” (Ancient Egypt Society).
Apparently, the New Kingdom of Egypt was not the only civilization to find Imotep worthy of praise. In 1932, Hollywood made a movie about Imhotep in 1932, The Mummy, where he starred as the super-bad villain who had been accidentally resurrected by the show’s protagonists (Bauval and Brophy 1). The story of Imhotep continued on again with the 1999 remade blockbuster with Brendan Fraser and Stephen Summer which actually grossed 415 million dollars and netted many sequels including The Mummy Returns, Revenge of the Mummy, and many other attractions including a ride at Universal Studios (Bauval and Brophy 2). Although in real life, he was a godsend to the people of Egypt, Imhotep’s movie appearances have earned him placed him as one of the Top 10 super villains of all time according to Frazer and Karloff (Bauval and Brophy 2).
Imhoetp’s person, legend, and legacy are now mixed together by the shifting yet lasting memories of history. Even though he had a ‘commoner’s’ birth, he achieved as much or even more than any Egyptian who ever lived. Becoming a god several centuries after his death and then a movie Celebrity millennia later, Imhotep lives on and on with good reason. The Pyramid Step Complex of Saqqara, Egypt’s first pyramid, was a master feat that incorporate both geographic and astronomical coordination. As the Father of Medicine, he taught and advanced the studies of healing in ways that would be reputed for millennia to come by the likes of the great bard-historian Homer. Now, his identity is drawn on yet again as the God of Scribes for his ability to help writers, like this one, prepare an essay that is most illuminative for the remains of Imhotep. Hopefully, this inspirational man will provide all who learn of him a reminder of the status and achievements to be had regardless of their birthplace or mortality.
Ancient Egypt Society: Song of the Harper. Ancient Egypt Online, 2010. Web. August 8, 2016. http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/harper-song.html.
Bauval. The Secrets of Imhotep and the “Black Box” of Saqqara. Atlantis Rising, 2013. Web. August 7, 2016. http://atlantisrisingmagazine.com/article/ancient-genius/.
Bauval, Robert. The Secrets of Imhotep and the “Black Box” of Sqqara. Atlantis Rising Magazine. Egypt Past. Imhotep. Egypt Past.com, n.d. Web. August 6, 2016.
Imhotep. Egypt Past, 2015. Web. August 7, 2016. http://www.egyptpast.com/pyramids/imhotep.html.
Imhotep, god of Egypt. Lands of Pyramids.org, n.d. Web. August 6, 2016. http://www.landofpyramids.org/imhotep.htm.