Uarda by Georg Ebers
Pentauer hastened to execute the commands of the high-priest. He sent a servant to escort Paaker, who was waiting in the forecourt, into the presence of Ameni while he himself repaired to the physicians to impress on them the most watchful care of the unfortunate girl.
Many proficients in the healing arts were brought up in the house of Seti, but few used to remain after passing the examination for the degree of Scribe.
The most gifted were sent to Heliopolis, where flourished, in the great "Hall of the Ancients," the most celebrated medical faculty of the whole country, whence they returned to Thebes, endowed with the highest honors in surgery, in ocular treatment, or in any other branch of their profession, and became physicians to the king or made a living by imparting their learning and by being called in to consult on serious cases.
Naturally most of the doctors lived on the east bank of the Nile, in Thebes proper, and even in private houses with their families; but each was attached to a priestly college.
Whoever required a physician sent for him, not to his own house, but to a temple. There a statement was required of the complaint from which the sick was suffering, and it was left to the principal medical staff of the sanctuary to select that of the healing art whose special knowledge appeared to him to be suited for the treatment of the case.
Like all priests, the physicians lived on the income which came to them from their landed property, from the gifts of the king, the contributions of the laity, and the share which was given them of the state-revenues; they expected no honorarium from their patients, but the restored sick seldom neglected making a present to the sanctuary whence a physician had come to them, and it was not unusual for the priestly leech to make the recovery of the sufferer conditional on certain gifts to be offered to the temple.
The medical knowledge of the Egyptians was, according to every indication, very considerable; but it was natural that physicians, who stood by the bed of sickness as "ordained servants of the Divinity," should not be satisfied with a rational treatment of the sufferer, and should rather think that they could not dispense with the mystical effects of prayers and vows.
Among the professors of medicine in the House of Seti there were men of the most different gifts and bent of mind; but Pentaur was not for a moment in doubt as to which should be entrusted with the treatment of the girl who had been run over, and for whom he felt the greatest sympathy.
The one he chose was the grandson of a celebrated leech, long since dead, whose name of Nebsecht he had inherited, and a beloved school-friend and old comrade of Pentaur.
This young man had from his earliest years shown high and hereditary talent for the profession to which he had devoted himself; he had selected surgery
for his special province at Heliopolis, and would certainly have attained the dignity of teacher there if an impediment in his speech had not debarred him from the viva voce recitation of formulas and prayers.
This circumstance, which was deeply lamented by his parents and tutors, was in fact, in the best opinions, an advantage to him; for it often happens that apparent superiority does us damage, and that from apparent defect springs the saving of our life.
Thus, while the companions of Nebsecht were employed in declaiming or in singing, he, thanks to his fettered tongue, could give himself up to his inherited and almost passionate love of observing organic life; and his teachers indulged up to a certain point his innate spirit of investigation, and derived benefit from his knowledge of the human and animal structures, and from the dexterity of his handling.
His deep aversion for the magical part of his profession would have brought him heavy punishment, nay very likely would have cost him expulsion from the craft, if he had ever given it expression in any form. But Nebsecht's was the silent and reserved nature of the learned man, who free from all desire of external recognition, finds a rich satisfaction in the delights of investigation; and he regarded every demand on him to give proof of his capacity, as a vexatious but unavoidable intrusion on his unassuming but laborious and fruitful investigations.
Nebsecht was dearer and nearer to Pentaur than any other of his associates.
He admired his learning and skill; and when the slightly-built surgeon, who was indefatigable in his wanderings, roved through the thickets by the Nile, the desert, or the mountain range, the young poet-priest accompanied him with pleasure and with great benefit to himself, for his companion observed a thousand things to which without him he would have remained for ever blind; and the objects around him, which were known to him only by their shapes, derived connection and significance from the explanations of the naturalist, whose intractable tongue moved freely when it was required to expound to his friend the peculiarities of organic beings whose development he had been the first to detect.
The poet was dear in the sight of Nebsecht, and he loved Pentaur, who possessed all the gifts he lacked; manly beauty, childlike lightness of heart, the frankest openness, artistic power, and the gift of expressing in word and song every emotion that stirred his soul. The poet was as a novice in the order in which Nebsecht was master, but quite capable of understanding its most difficult points; so it happened that Nebsecht attached greater value to his judgment than to that of his own colleagues, who showed themselves fettered by prejudice, while Pentaur's decision always was free and unbiassed.
The naturalist's room lay on the ground floor, and had no living-rooms above it, being under one of the granaries attached to the temple. It was as large as a public hall, and yet Pentaur, making his way towards the silent owner of the room, found it everywhere strewed with thick bundles of every variety of plant, with cages of palm-twigs piled four or five high, and a number of jars, large and small, covered with perforated paper. Within these prisons moved all sorts of living creatures, from the jerboa, the lizard of the Nile, and a light-colored species of owl, to numerous specimens of frogs, snakes, scorpions and beetles.
On the solitary table in the middle of the room, near to a writing-stand, lay bones of animals, with various sharp flints and bronze knives.
In a corner of this room lay a mat, on which stood a wooden head-prop, indicating that the naturalist was in the habit of sleeping on it.
When Pentaur's step was heard on the threshold of this strange abode, its owner pushed a rather large object under the table, threw a cover over it, and hid a sharp flint scalpel
fixed into a wooden handle, which he had just been using, in the folds of his robe-as a school-boy might hide some forbidden game from his master. Then he crossed his arms, to give himself the aspect of a man who is dreaming in harmless idleness.
The solitary lamp, which was fixed on a high stand near his chair, shed a scanty light, which, however, sufficed to show him his trusted friend Pentaur, who had disturbed Nebsecht in his prohibited occupations. Nebsecht nodded to him as he entered, and, when he had seen who it was, said:
"You need not have frightened me so!" Then he drew out from under the table the object he had hidden--a living rabbit fastened down to a board-and continued his interrupted observations on the body, which he had opened and fastened back with wooden pins while the heart continued to beat.
He took no further notice of Pentaur, who for some time silently watched the investigator; then he laid his hand on his shoulder and said:
"Lock your door more carefully, when you are busy with forbidden things."
"They took--they took away the bar of the door lately," stammered the naturalist, "when they caught me dissecting the hand of the forger Ptahmes."--[The law sentenced forgers to lose a hand.]
"The mummy of the poor man will find its right hand wanting," answered the poet.
"He will not want it out there."
"Did you bury the least bit of an image in his grave?"
"You go very far, Nebsecht, and are not foreseeing, 'He who needlessly hurts an innocent animal shall be served in the same way by the spirits of the netherworld,' says the law; but I see what you will say. You hold it lawful to put a beast to pain, when you can thereby increase that knowledge by which you alleviate the sufferings of man, and enrich--"
"And do not you?"
A gentle smile passed over Pentaur's face; leaned over the animal and said:
"How curious! the little beast still lives and breathes; a man would have long been dead under such treatment. His organism is perhaps of a more precious, subtle, and so more fragile nature?"
Nebsecht shrugged his shoulders.
"Perhaps!" he said.
"I thought you must know."
"I--how should I?" asked the leech. "I have told you--they would not even let me try to find out how the hand of a forger moves."
"Consider, the scripture tells us the passage of the soul depends on the preservation of the body."
Nebsecht looked up with his cunning little eyes and shrugging his shoulders, said:
"Then no doubt it is so: however these things do not concern me. Do what you like with the souls of men; I seek to know something of their bodies, and patch them when they are damaged as well as may be."
"Nay-Toth be praised, at least you need not deny that you are master in that art."
"Who is master," asked Nebsecht, "excepting God? I can do nothing, nothing at all, and guide my instruments with hardly more certainty than a sculptor condemned to work in the dark."
"Something like the blind Resu then," said Pentaur smiling, "who understood painting better than all the painters who could see."
"In my operations there is a 'better' and a 'worse;'" said Nebsecht, "but there is nothing 'good.'"
"Then we must be satisfied with the 'better,' and I have come to claim it," said Pentaur.
"Are you ill?"
"Isis be praised, I feel so well that I could uproot a palm-tree, but I would ask you to visit a sick girl. The princess Bent-Anat--"
"The royal family has its own physicians."
"Let me speak! the princess Bent-Anat has run over a young girl, and the poor child is seriously hurt."
"Indeed," said the student reflectively. "Is she over there in the city, or here in the Necropolis?"
"Here. She is in fact the daughter of a paraschites."
"Of a paraschites?" exclaimed Nebsecht, once more slipping the rabbit under the table, then I will go."
"You curious fellow. I believe you expect to find something strange among the unclean folk."
"That is my affair; but I will go. What is the man's name?"
"There will be nothing to be done with him," muttered the student, "however--who knows?"
With these words he rose, and opening a tightly closed flask he dropped some strychnine on the nose and in the mouth of the rabbit, which immediately ceased to breathe. Then he laid it in a box and said, "I am ready."
"But you cannot go out of doors in this stained dress."
The physician nodded assent, and took from a chest a clean robe, which he was about to throw on over the other! but Pentaur hindered him. "First take off your working dress," he said laughing. "I will help you. But, by Besa, you have as many coats as an onion."
Pentaur was known as a mighty laugher among his companions, and his loud voice rung in the quiet room, when he discovered that his friend was about to put a third clean robe over two dirty ones, and wear no less than three dresses at once.
Nebsecht laughed too, and said, "Now I know why my clothes were so heavy, and felt so intolerably hot at noon. While I get rid of my superfluous clothing, will you go and ask the high-priest if I have leave to quit the temple."
"He commissioned me to send a leech to the paraschites, and added that the girl was to be treated like a queen."
"Ameni? and did he know that we have to do with a paraschites?"
"Then I shall begin to believe that broken limbs may be set with vows-aye, vows! You know I cannot go alone to the sick, because my leather tongue is unable to recite the sentences or to wring rich offerings for the temple from the dying. Go, while I undress, to the prophet Gagabu and beg him to send the pastophorus Teta, who usually accompanies me."
"I would seek a young assistant rather than that blind old man."
"Not at all. I should be glad if he would stay at home, and only let his tongue creep after me like an eel or a slug. Head and heart have nothing to do with his wordy operations, and they go on like an ox treading out corn."
"It is true," said Pentaur; "just lately I saw the old man singing out his litanies by a sick-bed, and all the time quietly counting the dates, of which they had given him a whole sack-full."
"He will be unwilling to go to the paraschites, who is poor, and he would sooner seize the whole brood of scorpions yonder than take a piece of bread from the hand of the unclean. Tell him to come and fetch me, and drink some wine. There stands three days' allowance; in this hot weather it dims my sight.
"Does the paraschites live to the north or south of the Necropolis?"
"I think to the north. Paaker, the king's pioneer, will show you the way."
"He!" exclaimed the student, laughing. "What day in the calendar is this, then?
The child of a paraschites is to be tended like a princess, and a leech have a noble to guide him, like the Pharaoh himself! I ought to have kept on my three robes!"
"The night is warm," said Pentaur.
"But Paaker has strange ways with him. Only the day before yesterday I was called to a poor boy whose collar bone he had simply smashed with his stick. If I had been the princess's horse I would rather have trodden him down than a poor little girl."
"So would I," said Pentaur laughing, and left the room to request The second prophet Gagabu, who was also the head of the medical staff of the House of Seti, to send the blind pastophorus
Teta, with his friend as singer of the litany.