Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt
Khnemu (left, Photo W.A. Mansell & Co.) —— I-em-hetep (middle) —— Nefer-Tem (right, Photo W.A. Mansell & Co.)
I-em-hetep, another son of Ptah, was also regarded as the third member of the great triad of Memphis. The name means 'Come in peace,' and was given him because he was supposed to bring the art of healing to mankind. Like his father Ptah, he is depicted as wearing a skull-cap. Before him is stretched a roll of papyrus to typify his character as a god of study and learning; but it is as a god of medicine that he was[Pg 151] most popular in Egypt. In later times he took the place of Thoth as scribe of the gods, and provided the words of magic power which protected the dead from their enemies in the Duat. He had also a funerary character, which perhaps implies that physicians may have been in some manner connected with the art of embalmment. He is addressed in a text of the Ptolemies in his temple on the island of Philæ as "he who giveth life to all men." He was also supposed to send the boon of sleep to the suffering, and indeed the sorrowful and afflicted were under his especial patronage. Dr. Budge ventures the opinion that "if we could trace his history to its beginning, we should find probably that he was originally a very highly skilled medicine-man, who had introduced some elementary knowledge of medicine amongst the Egyptians, and who was connected with the practice of the art of preserving the bodies of the dead by means of drugs and spices and linen bandages." The supposition is a very likely one indeed, only the medicine-man must have become fairly sophisticated in later times, as is evidenced by his perusing a roll of papyrus. I-em-hetep was the god of physicians and those who dealt in medical magic, and his worship was certainly of very ancient date in Memphis. Dr. Budge goes so far as to suggest that I-em-hetep was the deified form of a distinguished physician who was attached to the priesthood of Ra, and who flourished before the end of the rule of the kings of the Third Dynasty. In the songs which were sung in the temple of Antuf occurs the passage: "I have heard the words of I-em-hetep and of Heru-tata-f, which are repeated over and over again, but where are their places this day? Their walls are overthrown, their seats have no longer any being, and they are as if they had never[Pg 152] existed. No man cometh to declare unto us what manner of beings they were, and none telleth us of their possessions." Heru-tata-f was a man of great learning, who, as we find in the Tale of the Magician given elsewhere in this book, brought that mysterious person to the court of his father Khufu. He also discovered certain chapters of the Book of the Dead. It is likely, thinks Dr. Budge, that the said I-em-hetep who is mentioned in connexion with him was a man of the same type, a skilled physician, whose acts and deeds were worthy of being classed with the words of Heru-tata-f. The pictures and figures of I-em-hetep suggest that he was of human and local origin, and he had a great hold upon the imagination of later Egyptians of the Saïte and Ptolemaic periods. He was indeed a species of Egyptian Hippocrates, who had probably, as Dr. Budge infers, become deified because of his great medical skill.
At the city of Elephantine or Abu a great triad of gods was held in reverence. This consisted of Khnemu, Satet, Anqet. The worship of the first-mentioned deity was of great antiquity, and even in the inscription of King Unas we find him alluded to in a manner which proves that his cult was very old. His position, too, had always been an exalted one, and even to the last he appears to have been of importance in the eyes of the Gnostics. Khnemu was probably a god of the pre-dynastic Egyptians. He was symbolized by the flat-horned ram, which appears to have been introduced into the country from the East. We do not find him referred to in any inscription subsequent to the Twelfth Dynasty. He is usually represented in the form of a ram-headed man wearing the white crown, and sometimes[Pg 153] the disk. In some instances he is pictured as pouring water over the earth, and in others with a jug above his horns—a sure indication that he is connected in some way with moisture. His name signifies the builder or framer, and he it was who fashioned the first man upon a potter's wheel, who made the first egg from which sprang the sun, who made the bodies of the gods, and who continued to build them up and maintain them.