(Imouthes) Imhotep is the most prominent example of an Egyptian ‘saint’, that is, an historical figure who achieves divine or semi-divine status posthumously. Imhotep was the vizier and ‘overseer of works’ for the third dynasty king Djoser, distinguishing himself especially as the architect of Egypt’s first pyramid, the so-called Step Pyramid at Saqqara. He was also a priest of Ptah, and hence his divinization consisted in being regarded as the son of Ptah by a mortal woman, Khreduankh. Imhotep was also worshiped as a full deity, however, his mother then being usually Sekhmet, but occasionally Mut. Apparently a man of considerable intellectual achievement in his lifetime, Imhotep came to be regarded as a patron of learning in general, but especially medicine. Imhotep’s temple at Memphis functioned as a hospital and school of medicine. Imhotep appeared in dreams to those who solicited him, bestowing advice on virtually any matter upon which he was consulted, but especially medical concerns, the dream either resulting in an immediate cure, or by way of some treatment or ritual action the God recommended. Hence Imhotep came to be known as “the good physician of Gods and men, kind and merciful God, assuaging the sufferings of those in pain, healing the diseases of men and giving peaceful sleep to the restless and suffering,” (Hurry 1926, 54). Imhotep also advises on and guarantees the proper form for rituals. Imhotep is depicted as a man, usually seated, in the garb of a priest or scribe, or sometimes nude, wearing a skullcap or with shaved head, frequently unrolling a papyrus scroll from which he reads. One votive statue of Imhotep bears the inscription, “Every scribe pours out to you a libation from his water bowl,” (ibid., 103).
A cycle of festivals were celebrated in honor of Imhotep through the year, celebrating his birth, his appearance before Ptah and Sekhmet, his death, and his resurrection in the company of his father Ptah. A hymn to Imhotep is inscribed upon the temple of Ptah at Karnak, alongside one to another ‘saint’, Amenhotep son of Hapu, who is often worshiped together with Imhotep. In the hymn Imhotep is said to share in the offerings which are presented to the Gods, who are referred to are “your brothers, the elder Gods,” in addition to the offerings which made to him directly, and in turn to “feed the worthy spirits with your surpluses,” that is, to distribute his surplus to the worthy deceased persons. As a healer, Imhotep is said in the hymn to “renew your father’s [Ptah’s] creation,” and to exist in the closest alliance with Amenhotep son of Hapu, “who loves you, whom you love … your bodies form a single one” (Lichtheim vol. 3, 104-6).
Hurry, Jamieson B. 1926. Imhotep. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lichtheim, Miriam. 1980. Ancient Egyptian Literature. Vol. 3. Berkeley: University of California Press.