DDR: A very special stamp

On the stamp DDR 18 August 1981 - 20 pf. under the title "Kostbarkeiten in Bibliotheken der DDR. " (valuables in the libraries of the DDR) is printed a part of the 'Papyrus Ebers'. 

One of the oldest medical papyri, which has stood the test of ages. This document must have been written around 1550 B.C. It was recovered in the second half of the 19th. Century. The papyrus is named after Georg Ebers, who published a facsimile edition in 1875.

The 'Papyrus Ebers' is a compilation of different rolls, that date from former periods. The contents are based on empirical knowledge and is mainly made up of prescriptions for numerous complaints. Descriptions of sicknesses are rare. The text is spred over 108 columns. Every column is 20 - 22 lines long. Probably the author has made a mistake with the pagination: the numbers 28 and 29 are missing. But the text goes scamless futher from column 27 to column 30. The last column has number 110.

The papyrus is written in hieratic characters. A notation in italics developed from the hieroglyphes. Documents in hieratic characters were usualy written with black ink. But the clerks used red ink to mark important passages (at the beginning of a text, the result of an enumcration, etc.). We can see this colour duferentiation on the 'Papyrus Ebers' too.

After a triad of swearings, which have to declaimed by a priest before a medical treatment, the 'Papyrus Ebers' Starts with a group prescriptions (from column 2-line 7 till column 36-line 3). The group has the title "a collection of remedies to dissipate illnesses of the belly".

The text fragment on the DDR stamp (red from right to left) shows the first 9 lines of column 3 and contains two prescriptions; lines 3 till 9 are for the second prescription. On the stamp is written:

Kostbarkeiten in Bibliotheken der DDR

washed down with ale 1/32
or wine  

another (prescription - J.d.C.
Aaam plant   1/8
colocynth    1/8
herbs from the field  1/8
honey                                  1/32
are mixed
are eaten by the man on one day.


How to Interpret the prescription ?

According to B. Ebbeil - one of the translaters of the 'Papyrus Ebers' - the Egyptian reader had no need for comprehensive descriptions of the illnesses. The name of the illness was given and the medical man knew enough. Ebbeil thought the names of the Egyptian illnesses are not pointing to the total illness, but to the simple symptons; even recognizable for ordinary people. Ebbeil seems to know for sure which illness is ment. Because he translated the lines preceding the lines 1 and 2 of column 3 with: "remedy against dejecuon: colocynlh 4 ro, honey 4 ro, are mixed, eaten and ... "

More recently the German researcher H. Grapow devoted a new study to the medical texts of Ancient Egypt. He thinks the translations of Ebbeil are dubious on many points. Particulary on the point of the determination of illnesses. Instead of "remedy against dejecuon" Grapow translate "remedy to excrete" or "purgative". When this translation is correct, our modern laxatives have a case history of at least 3500 years !!

by Jan de Crom  
taken from "The Postal Bee" 4/1998 
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