At the dawn of Egyptian civilization, Imhotep built the first pyramid, became legendary as a physician, and governed the greatest state on earth. The ancients made him a god. Then Hollywood made him “The Mummy.” Today, Egyptologists may have found his tomb, and it could be the greatest discovery of the 2Oth century. By now, millions of people around the world know the name of Imhotep, the Egyptian high priest who turned into ‘The Mummy.’ Life after death is an important element of many religions. Dead bodies were embalmed and mummified and, depending on the wealth of the deceased, equipped with both utility articles and precious ritual objects. When you think of a mummy what comes to mind? Most of us usually picture an Egyptian mummy wrapped in bandages and buried deep inside a pyramid. While the Egyptian ones are the most famous, mummies have been found in many places throughout the world. Mummies have a lot to tell us about the times and places in which they lived. Their bodies can tell us how long they lived, and the diseases and injuries they suffered from. Imhotep (sometimes spelled Immutef, Im-hotep, or Ii-em-Hotep; called Imuthes (Ἰμούθης) by the Greeks), fl. 27th century BC (circa 2650–2600 BC) (Egyptian ỉỉ-m-ḥtp *jā-im-ḥātap meaning “the one who comes in peace, is with peace”), was an Egyptian polymath, who served under the Third Dynasty king Djoser as chancellor to the pharaoh and high priest of the sun god Ra (or Re) at Heliopolis. He is considered to be the first architect and engineer and physician in early history though two other physicians, Hesy-Ra and Merit-Ptah lived around the same time. The full list of his titles is: Chancellor of the King of Egypt, Doctor, First in line after the King of Upper Egypt, Administrator of the Great Palace, Hereditary nobleman, High Priest of Heliopolis, Builder, Chief Carpenter, Chief Sculptor, and Maker of Vases in Chief. Imhotep was one of very few mortals to be depicted as part of a pharaoh’s statue. He was one of only a few commoners ever to be accorded divine status after death. The center of his cult was Memphis. From the First Intermediate Period onward Imhotep was also revered as a poet and philosopher. His sayings were famously referred to in poems: “I have heard the words of Imhotep and Hordedef with whose discourses men speak so much.” The location of Imhotep’s self-constructed tomb was well hidden from the beginning and it remains unknown, despite efforts to find it. The consensus is that it is hidden somewhere at Saqqara. Imhotep’s historicity is confirmed by two contemporary inscriptions made during his lifetime on the base or pedestal of one of Djoser’s statues (Cairo JE 49889) and also by a graffito on the enclosure wall surrounding Sekhemkhet’s unfinished step-pyramid. The latter inscription suggests that Imhotep outlived Djoser by a few years and went on to serve in the construction of king Sekhemkhet’s pyramid which was abandoned due to this ruler’s brief reign. The Life of Imhotep: an ancient story about Djoser and Imhotep A papyrus from the ancient Egyptian temple of Tebtunis, dating to the 2nd century AD, preserves a long story in the demotic script about Imhotep. King Djoser plays a prominent role in the story, which also mentions Imhotep’s family; his father the god Ptah, his mother Khereduankh, and his little-sister Renpetneferet. At one point Djoser desires the young Renpetnefereret, and Imhotep disguises himself and tries to rescue her. The text also refers to the royal tomb of Djoser by which the Step Pyramid must be meant. An anachronistic detail is a battle between the Egyptian and Assyrian armies where Imhotep fights an Assyrian sorceress in a duel of magic. In popular culture In modern times, the historical figure lent his name to Imhotep, the title character of the 1932 film The Mummy and its 1999 remake along with a sequel. “Imhotep” is the title of a video game. Imhotep features in the British comedy television series Look Around You. He is depicted as an invisible Moai. In 2010 Marvel Comics series S.H.I.E.L.D., Imhotep was the man who formed the very first version of the titular intelligence organisation. In the 2006 French spy comedy OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, and in Alain Chabat’s Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra (2002) (also a French comedy), imhotep is used in an indiscriminate manner to mean all kinds of things.
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