Imhotep, 2650 – 2600 BCE, was the first person in history with a known personal name who wasn’t a king. He was a universal genius and part of that genius was philosophizing. He is presently more famous for designing and building the first pyramid in Egypt, the Step Pyramid. When our founding father of Greek philosophy, Socrates (469 BC – 399 BC), was compelled to die for disturbing the youth, and drink the poison hemlock, his dying words were, to Crito: “Crito, we owe a rooster to Asclepius. Please, don’t forget to pay the debt.” Asclepius was a Greek name for Imhotep, the father of medicine. The British Museum has a statue of Imhotep and they claim, “The Greeks identified Imhotep with their god of medicine, Asclepius.” Thus, Socrates’ dying words give Imhotep a supreme position in his personal heritage and the heritage of philosophy.
This statue of Imhotep is in the Louvre. He is the first known philosopher.
The web site Listshere used my 2008 picture for their first person in an article The 11 Most Brilliant Renaissance Men in History, but I cleaned up the one below for a different view of what he might have looked like.
Imhotep as seen in the Imhotep museum, Saqqara, Egypt.
Many details of a man’s life may be corrupted in 4613 years after his death. That is especially true when the thoughts he gave to the world have gone through translations. The sculptures I have cleaned for presentation may not even be portraits of Imhotep, but they are several thousand years old and thought by some authorities to be his portraits.
It has been said the book of the Bible called Proverbs has sayings which were created by Imhotep. I have no idea which ones they may be, so I will pick out those that appear to have the tone appropriate to one of the greatest geniuses of all time. Solomon gets credit for writing these proverbs down, but they were a collection of ancient wisdom in his time, given to him by his father. After getting this list I will seek out the kind of wisdom one would expect from Imhotep and put them in bold type.
1:1 The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel;
1:2 To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;
1:3 To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity;
1:4 To give subtlety to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.
1:5 A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain to wise counsels:
1:6 To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.
1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
1:10 My son, if sinners entice you, consent you not.
1:32 For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.
1:20 Wisdom cries without; she utters her voice in the streets:
2:11 Discretion shall preserve you, understanding shall keep you:
2:20 That you may walk in the way of good men, and keep the paths of the righteous.
3:3 Let not mercy and truth forsake you: bind them about your neck; write them on the table of your heart:
3:13 Happy is the man that finds wisdom, and the man that gets understanding.
3:23 Then shall you walk in your way safely, and your foot shall not stumble.
3:24 When you lie down, you shall not be afraid: yes, you shall lie down, and your sleep shall be sweet.
3:27 Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do it.
3:35 The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools.
4:7 Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all your getting get understanding.
4:14 Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men.
4:15 Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.
5:18 Let your fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of your youth.
5:19 Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and be you ravished always with her love.
6:16 These six things does the LORD hate: yes, seven are an abomination to him:
6:17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,
6:18 An heart that devises wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,
6:19 A false witness that speaks lies, and he that sows discord among brothers.
6:24 To keep you from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman.
8:11 For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.
8:17 I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.
9:8 Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate you: rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.
9:12 If you be wise, you shall be wise for yourself: but if you scorn, you alone shall bear it.
10:16 The labor of the righteous tends to life: the fruit of the wicked to sin.
10:28 The hope of the righteous shall be gladness: but the expectation of the wicked shall perish.
11:2 When pride comes, then comes shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.
11:25 The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that waters shall be watered also himself.
11:29 He that troubles his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.
11:30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that wins souls is wise.
12:1 Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge: but he that hates reproof is brutish.
12:10 A righteous man regards the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.
13:18 Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuses instruction: but he that regards reproof shall be honored.
14:7 Go from the presence of a foolish man, when you perceive not in him the lips of knowledge.
14:16 A wise man fears, and departs from evil: but the fool rages, and is confident.
14:17 He that is soon angry deals foolishly: and a man of wicked devices is hated.
14:18 The simple inherit folly: but the prudent are crowned with knowledge.
14:19 The evil bow before the good; and the wicked at the gates of the righteous.
14:20 The poor is hated even of his own neighbor: but the rich has many friends.
14:29 He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalts folly.
15:1 A soft answer turns away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.
15:13 A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.
15:14 The heart of him that has understanding seeks knowledge: but the mouth of fools feeds on foolishness.
15:15 All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart has a continual feast.
15:19 The way of the slothful man is as an hedge of thorns: but the way of the righteous is made plain.
15:32 He that refuses instruction despises his own soul: but he that hears reproof gets understanding.
16:18 Pride goes before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
16:32 He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that rules his spirit than he that takes a city.
17:5 Whoever mocks the poor reproaches his Maker: and he that is glad at calamities shall not be unpunished.
17:15 He that justifies the wicked, and he that comdemns the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD.
17:20 He that has a fraudulent heart finds no good: and he that has a perverse tongue falls into mischief.
18:13 He that answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.
18:24 A man that has friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.
19:10 Delight is not seemly for a fool; much less for a servant to have rule over princes.
19:18 Chasten your son while there is hope, and let not your soul spare for his crying.
19:19 A man of great wrath shall suffer punishment: for if you deliver him, yet you must do it again.
19:22 The desire of a man is his kindness: and a poor man is better than a liar.
19:25 Smite a scorner, and the simple will beware: and reprove one that has understanding, and he will understand knowledge.
19:27 Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causes to err from the words of knowledge.
19:28 An ungodly witness scorns judgment: and the mouth of the wicked devours iniquity.
19:29 Judgments are prepared for scorners, and stripes for the back of fools.
20:1 Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whoever is deceived thereby is not wise.
20:2 The fear of a king is as the roaring of a lion: whoever provokes him to anger sins against his own soul.
20:3 It is an honor for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling.
20:4 The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing.
20:5 Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.
20:6 Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?
20:7 The just man walks in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.
20:8 A king that sits in the throne of judgment scatters away all evil with his eyes.
20:9 Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?
20:10 Divers weights, and divers measures, both of them are alike abomination to the LORD.
20:11 Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.
20:12 The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the LORD has made even both of them.
20:13 Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you shall be satisfied with bread.
20:14 It is naught, it is naught, said the buyer: but when he is gone his way, then he boasts.
20:15 There is gold, and a multitude of rubies: but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.
20:16 Take his garment that is surety for a stranger: and take a pledge of him for a strange woman.
20:17 Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel.
20:23 Divers weights are an abomination to the LORD; and a false balance is not good.
20:28 Mercy and truth preserve the king: and his throne is upheld by mercy.
21:2 Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD ponders the hearts.
21:4 An high look, and a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked, is sin.
21:6 The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death.
21:11 When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise: and when the wise is instructed, he receives knowledge.
21:13 Whoever stops his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.
21:14 A gift in secret pacifies anger: and a reward in the bosom strong wrath.
21:16 The man that wanders out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.
21:17 He that loves pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loves wine and oil shall not be rich.
21:19 It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman.
21:21 He that follows after righteousness and mercy finds life, righteousness, and honor.
21:25 The desire of the slothful kills him; for his hands refuse to labor.
22:3 A prudent man foresees the evil, and hides himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished.
22:4 By humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, and honor, and life.
22:5 Thorns and snares are in the way of the fraudulent: he that does keep his soul shall be far from them.
22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
22:7 The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.
22:8 He that sows iniquity shall reap vanity: and the rod of his anger shall fail.
22:9 He that has a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he gives of his bread to the poor.
22:10 Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yes, strife and reproach shall cease.
22:11 He that loves pureness of heart, for the grace of his lips the king shall be his friend.
22:16 He that oppresses the poor to increase his riches, and he that gives to the rich, shall surely come to want.
22:24 Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man you shall not go:
22:25 Lest you learn his ways, and get a snare to your soul.
22:28 Remove not the ancient landmark, which your fathers have set.
23:6 Eat you not the bread of him that has an evil eye, neither desire you his dainty meats:
23:9 Speak not in the ears of a fool: for he will despise the wisdom of your words.
23:13 Withhold not correction from the child: for if you beat him with the rod, he shall not die.
23:14 You shall beat him with the rod, and shall deliver his soul from hell.
23:24 The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice: and he that begets a wise child shall have joy of him.
23:30 They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine.
23:31 Look not you on the wine when it is red, when it gives his color in the cup, when it moves itself aright.
23:32 At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder.
23:33 Your eyes shall behold strange women, and your heart shall utter perverse things.
23:34 Yes, you shall be as he that lies down in the middle of the sea, or as he that lies on the top of a mast.
23:35 They have stricken me, shall you say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.
24:1 Be not you envious against evil men, neither desire to be with them.
24:2 For their heart studies destruction, and their lips talk of mischief.
24:10 If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.
24:11 If you forbear to deliver them that are drawn to death, and those that are ready to be slain;
24:12 If you say, Behold, we knew it not; does not he that ponders the heart consider it? and he that keeps your soul, does not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?
24:17 Rejoice not when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles:
24:19 Fret not yourself because of evil men, neither be you envious at the wicked:
24:20 For there shall be no reward to the evil man; the candle of the wicked shall be put out.
24:27 Prepare your work without, and make it fit for yourself in the field; and afterwards build your house.
24:29 Say not, I will do so to him as he has done to me: I will render to the man according to his work.
25:28 He that has no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.
26:8 As he that binds a stone in a sling, so is he that gives honor to a fool.
26:11 As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool returns to his folly.
26:12 See you a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him.
26:28 A lying tongue hates those that are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth works ruin.
27:5 Open rebuke is better than secret love.
27:12 A prudent man foresees the evil, and hides himself; but the simple pass on, and are punished.
27:22 Though you should bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet will not his foolishness depart from him.
28:6 Better is the poor that walks in his uprightness, than he that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich.
28:7 Whoever keeps the law is a wise son: but he that is a companion of riotous men shames his father.
28:9 He that turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.
28:17 A man that does violence to the blood of any person shall flee to the pit; let no man stay him.
28:24 Whoever robs his father or his mother, and said, It is no transgression; the same is the companion of a destroyer.
29:9 If a wise man contends with a foolish man, whether he rage or laugh, there is no rest.
29:10 The bloodthirsty hate the upright: but the just seek his soul.
29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself brings his mother to shame.
29:27 An unjust man is an abomination to the just: and he that is upright in the way is abomination to the wicked.
30:8 Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:
30:33 Surely the churning of milk brings forth butter, and the wringing of the nose brings forth blood: so the forcing of wrath brings forth strife.
31:10 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
31:26 She opens her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
31:31 Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.
On reading these selected proverbs, they seem to be those of an Old Testament prophet, and not the kind of things a builder of the first pyramid would be saying. They don’t seem to be the words of a great medical doctor either, nor of a philosopher seeking depth of knowledge. They are suggestions to a young man for cultivating proper behavior. So I must assume that my having heard the Proverbs had some wisdom derived from Imhotep was wrong, or I haven’t any idea of what Imhotep’s thinking was like. There is wisdom here:
Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all your getting get understanding.