It is by visible, tangible evidence rather than by written lore that we are able to estimate the high degree which science attained and the great veneration in which it was held in ancient Egyptian times. Of the scientific works which have come down to us none would appear to be commensurate with the minds that designed the wonders of Ancient Egypt. It may be that more learned works existed and have since perished; or it may well be that advanced scientific knowledge was kept as a closely-guarded secret and only handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. At all events the fact remains that the practical achievements of the Ancient Egyptians, achievements which must have involved an extensive knowledge of scientific principles, were far superior to such of their written theoretical knowledge as has survived the passage of centuries.
From time immemorial men have sought knowledge and inspiration in the stars. Ancient Egypt was no exception to the rule and the cloudless sky and clear atmosphere of the Valley of the Nile made observation easier than in other lands. In the religion of Egypt astronomy played an important part : the dates and hours of ritual observances were determined by systematical noting of the movements of heavenly bodies. Several temple books recorded the phases of the sun, moon and stars.
The heliacal rising of Sothis (Sirius) was the starting point of the year which consisted of twelve months of thirty days each plus five extra or epagonal days. These epagonal days were considered unlucky and no known monument or legal document is dated in them.
This calendar, known as the Sothic calendar, served Egypt for thousands of years and it compares very favourably with the clumsy and intricate years of other ancient systems. But since the earth in its passage round the sun needs a fraction more than 365 days the calendar lost one day in every four years. This led to much confusion in state and commercial chronology and under Ptolemy Euergetes, in 238 B.C. Eratosthenes sought to introduce the "leap-year reform". The attempt failed and was not revived until Augustus introduced the Julian calendar. The same astronomer Eratosthenes, a man of many parts, also calculated the circumference of the earth to within approximately one hundred miles of the correct figure.
0ne of the greatest names in astronomy is that of an Egyptian, Claudius
Ptolemaus, who lived at Alexandria during the second century of the Christian
era. His doctrine as to the motion of the heavenly bodies, so well known
as the Ptolemaic system, was given in a form so perfect that for
nearly 1500 years it remained unsurpassed. His Almagest, one of the great
books of the world, treats of the relation of the earth to the heavens,
the position of the ecliptic, the motion of the sun and moon, the sphere
of the fixed stars and the theory of the planets.
Mathematics has been described as the handmaid of astronomy. It is therefore not surprising that, closely allied to and indeed often identical with her astronomers, Egypt should have produced many eminent mathematicians. Greatest among them was Ptolemy, already mentioned as an astronomer. But whereas the Ptolemaic system has been overthrown, the trigonometrical work of Ptolemy and Hipparchus must ever remain as the basis of trigonometry.
A rudimentary form of algebra was known to the Ancient Egyptians and the first known work approaching to a treatise on algebra is that of Diophantus, a mathematician of Alexandria who lived in the fourth century of the Christian era. Not however until the advent of the Arabs was algebra (the word itself is derived from the Arabic Al-Gabr) to attain its full development. To the arabs also -many of them were settled in Egypt -the modern world owes its present system of numeration.
From the glories of the heavens and the rarefied atmosphere of higher mathematics it is perhaps a far cry to the ailments of the flesh. As in the case of astronomy, medicine in Ancient Egypt was closely allied with the religion of the land. One of the chief purposes for which religious or semi-religious magic was employed was to avert or cure disease. Illnesses were ascribed to evil spirits or ghosts who had taken up their abode in the body of the patient whence they could be ousted by spells or charms.
Out of these primitive notions arose a science of medicine and a number of papyri have been discovered containing medical prescriptions. The Ebers Papyrus for instance is a vast collection of medical receipts for such ailments as diseases of the eye and the stomach, broken bones, boils, specifics against baldness, snake-bites and insect pests.
Surgery was known to the Ancient Egyptians. Many mummies have been found with well-set fractures and even with artificial teeth. Cupping vessels made of cow-horn have been found in Egyptian tombs and several monuments and walls of temples show pictures of patients bandaged or undergoing operations at the hands of surgeons. Lancets, forceps, probes and scissors have all been found. Herodotus describes the prevalence of medical and surgical skill in Egypt among whose practitioners, he says, were many "specialists", particularly in ophthalmic surgery. With the foundation of the school of Alexandria (bout 300 B.C.) both medicine and surgery were to make great advances. Herophilus and Erasistratus are two outstanding exponents of both sciences. "The surgeons of the Alexandrian school", writes a contemporary, "are all distinguished by the nicety and complexity of their dressings and bandages of which they have invented a great variety".
In mediaeval times the greatest doctors and surgeons were to be found among the Arabs. Hospitals already existed in Cairo, that of Kalaoun being particularly well known.
the modern Renaissance of Egypt is articularly marked in the spheres of medicine, surgery and public health. The Faculty of Medicine, Fouad 1St. University has attained a deservedly high reputation and it is perhaps worthy of mention that the largest hospital in the world 2480 beds has recently been constructed in Cairo. As a centre of scientific research Cairo has long enjoyed an enviable reputation and His Late Majesty King Fuad gave every encouragement and incentive to scientific enterprise, among the many Institutes which he created, revived or helped to expand are the Royal Geographical Institute, the Royal Economic Society, the Institute of Hydrology, the Cotton Research Board, the Museum of Agriculture and the Museum of Public Health. His MajeSty King Faruk has followed this example and gave his full support to his University in Alexandria, to the Institute of Scientific Researches and to many other scientific, artistic and academic Institutes.
Scientific congresses, attracting members from all over the world, are
frequently held in Cairo. And the comment has more than once been made
by visiting scientists that in Egypt they find, not only a worldfamed climate,
but the "atmosphere of science" which, to the savant, spells familiarity