“One plans the morrow, but knows not what will be.” -Ptahotep. Born of humble origins, his parents most probably charted out a life steeped in the ways of the ordinary for him, staying true to their origins indeed but who knows what will be?
When talk is made concerning the respectable denotation named ‘genius’, the Italian polymath Leonardo Da Vinci, and the German theoretical physicist Albert Einstein steal what light the ‘genius’ ambience may cast by virtue of the ingenuity characteristic of their lives and the products thereof.
Their names bear on the lips of the young and budding, as well as on the aged and flourishing; the former for his artistic prowess of which the famed ‘Mona Lisa’ claims a preeminent place, and the latter for his brilliance surrounding the understanding of our physical space and the time that ticks along with it of which his infamous ‘Theory of Relativity’ stands respectably tall.
The glories ascribed to their names and the vestiges of their earthly presence is well earned. However, the praise songs sung in honor of great minds and talents whose contributions bore and still bear the health and vitality of civilization as we know it must be served to all whom they are due, and Imhotep; the ancient Khemetian polymath, architect, priest, biologist, astronomer, poet, scribe, inventor, author, statesman, therapist, counsellor, philosopher, mathematician and stone mason, to mention but a few, happen to be one of those.
Imhotep was a mystery of a man, as is evident in the scarcity of information regarding his birth, birth place and final resting place. These notwithstanding, scholars and Egyptologists among them have managed to uncover the covering mystifying some of these mysteries; he is purported to have been born in Ankhtow, a suburb of Memphis, other scholars have relocated his birthplace to the village of Gebelein, south of Thebes. Though the specificity of his birth town seems illusive, one truth however stands; that he was and is a son of the ancient Khemetian kingdom.
Imhotep is said to have lived during the 3rd Dynasty of the Old Kingdom which spanned from about 2686-2181 BC; that is the Third Millennium BC as the vizier (counsellor) to Pharaoh Djoser. Born of humble origins, he rose to the heights as one of the most accomplished and powerful individuals within the kingdom by sole virtue of his natural abilities as well as the dedication and passion with which he dispensed his duties.
Given his achievements, the Step Pyramid he engineered in construction at Saqqara (a town in the ancient Khemetian capital of Memphis that served as burial ground) has amassed global acclaim given the ingenuity characteristic of its construction. Unlike the skilled architects before him who employed the use of mud bricks in the construction of their monuments, Imhotep used limestone bricks; accurately chiseled to suit the perfection of his monumental Step Pyramid. This structure stood some 204 feet tall, with several chambers, hallways and ceremonial halls gracing its interior, and is reputed to be one of the age-long wonders of ancient and modern architecture alike.
In this time and age, Hippocrates; the Greek physician whose life span is confined within the years 460-370 BC is reputed to be the Father of Medicine. Imhotep however has been proven to have compiled a medical compendium in the course of his life time containing some 90 anatomical terms and an in-depth description of some 48 injuries. The compendium now known as the ‘Edwin Smith Papyrus’ also contained healing rituals and incantations for more impersonal ailments, and it is interesting to note that this was some 2200 years before the birth of Hippocrates. In view of this, some scholars have hailed him as the true Father of Medicine whose toil in the field of medicine has formed the basis upon which modern medical practice has thrived. About a century after his death, his was deified as a medical demigod, he was revered by the early Christians as ‘One with Christ’ and the ancient Greeks likened him unto their god of medicine; Asclepius.
Imhotep was highly revered by his contemporaries for his steep intellect and deep-seated wisdom. Scribes, orators and poets of his day are recorded to have offered a libation of an ink drop to him before embarking on their literary pursuits. He is one of two mortals to have attained the full status of a deity post-mortem and thus was worshipped as an intermediary between man and Ra (ancient Khemetian Sun God). He is also recorded to have developed the calendar with which the rise and fall of the Nile was predicted, he further invented a system by which water was drawn from the Nile even when water levels were low. He was an astute astronomer and a keen geographer as well.
It is for all these and more which the annals of history have kept jealously guarded that Imhotep is more than deserving a place on the lips of present generations; to highlight the unique greatness of the African heritage and the invaluable contributions made by his progenies towards world civilization.