Sixth century medical recipe uncovered
- Written by Red Sea Bulletin
- Category: Heritage, History, Discovery
In a ceremony held at his ministry's headquarters, Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany announced the discovery of a very important medical manuscript uncovered by the monks of St Catherine's Monastery in South Sinai during restoration works carried out in the monastery's library.
The ceremony was attended by Greek Minister of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media Nikos Pappas, the Archbishop of Saint Catherine's Monastery, Egyptian Cultural Minister Helmy El-Namnam, Egyptian Minister of Communication and Information Technology Yasser El-Kadi, Egyptian Minister of Tourism Yehia Rashid, and South Sinai Governor Major General Khalid Fouda.
Mohammed Abdel-Latif, assistant minister of antiquities for archaeological sites, explained that the discovered manuscript is one of those known as "Palmesit" manuscripts, dating to the 6th century AD. The manuscript is written on leather and bears parts of a medical recipe of the renowned Greek physician Hippocrates. The manuscript has also three other medical recipes written by an anonymous scribe, one of which contains drawings of medicinal herbs of the Greek recipe.
The second layer of writing found on the manuscript is a text of the Bible known as the "Sinaitic manuscript," which spread during the middle ages. Ahmed Al-Nimer, supervisor of Coptic archeology documentation at the ministry, told that "Palmesit manuscripts" are a very well-known type of manuscript written on leather and formed of two layers. The first one, he explained, was previously erased in order to be re-written on the leather again. "This was done due to the high cost of leather at that time".
Helmy El-Namnam, the Egyptian culture minister, asserted that the presence of these texts contained within the manuscript provides evidence for the leading position Egyptians had in science.
The library at St. Catherine's Monastery is considered one of the most important for ancient texts. It holds 6000 of manuscripts, among them 600 manuscripts written in Arabic, Greek, Ethiopian, Coptic, Armenian and Syriac languages, as well as decrees created by Muslim caliphates. Many of the texts are considered rare. They are mainly historical, geographical and philosophical manuscripts and the oldest dates to the 4th century AD.
New research examining a manuscript from the 6th century shows that it is not just the visible writing that holds value, but also letters has hidden underneath them. A copy of a medical recipe linked to the father of Western medicine, Hippocrates, is just one text that was waiting centuries to be uncovered.
The manuscript containing the recipe has been dated to the 5th or 6th century AD, so it is not an original created by the famed Greek physician Hippocrates; it is just a copy created after his death. Nonetheless, a researcher with the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library (EMEL) told that the document also holds value for its age, stating that the text "will be enlisted among the oldest and the most important manuscripts in the world.”
The identified manuscript is one example of the 130 known palimpsests held within the library of St. Catherine’s Monastery. National Geographic reports that the text was erased in the Middle Ages to make space for Bible text known as the “Sinaitic manuscript.” It was only thanks to the ongoing partnership between St. Catherine's Monastery and the EMEL that the medical texts were discovered. EMEL used spectral imaging to reveal the text written by scholars interested in preserving Hippocrates’ medical knowledge into the 6th century. Spectral imaging allows experts to see images and text that is not visible with the naked eye. There is a great possibility for more major discoveries lost within the pages of manuscripts held in the oldest monastery in the world.