The temple of Kom Ombo in Egypt. Photos by Büm Tenorio Jr.

Modern is ancient Egypt
(The Philippine Star) - December 9, 2017 - 4:00pm

Even at the onset, Egypt is an acquired taste. Anywhere you go, every city and town is awash in the color of the desert sand — some settlements are brown in color, others sparkle in the tinge of honey. There seems to be powder dust suspended in the air all the time.

But the dust that lands on your skin is just barely scratching what this African country has to offer. When you become witness to its more than 5,000 years of civilization, even the searing heat or numbing cold of Egypt is immaterial to your excursion.

I recently joined a Nile River cruise that sailed from Luxor to Abu Simbel and in between those cities that took my breath away, I discovered a special affinity to Kom Ombo, an agricultural town 50 kilometers north of Aswan in Upper Egypt. The town is famous for the Kom Ombo Temple, which was built in the beginning of 2nd Century BC. (The Nile River runs a distance of 6,650 kilometers, beginning from Kenya, all the way to Eritrea, Congo, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.) 

What is amazing for me about Kom Ombo is how the town and the temple became witnesses to the ancient Egyptians’ advanced knowledge in “modern obstetrics, surgery and ophthalmology.”

“Since the temple was built from the 2nd Century BC until the 1st Century AD, the Kom Ombo Temple has been considered, well, ‘modern history.’ That is if we take into consideration the more than 5,000 years of Egypt’s history,” said Shereen Tousson, our Egyptology expert from Cairo. She always referred to the Great Pyramid of Giza — whose engineering and architecture blew my mind away — as benchmark for what is “super ancient” in Egypt because the Great Pyramid of Giza, the largest in existence among the remaining 100 plus in the whole of Egypt, were built more than 5,000 years ago.

The temple of Kom Ombo is imposing, authoritative, yet it also possesses that nurturing characteristic. The nurturing part, perhaps, is courtesy of the fact that the first modern hospital in the world was once on this site. The hieroglyphs on the temple’s walls show images of medical surgical instruments like forceps, scalpels, scissors and medical prescriptions plus two goddesses sitting on birthing chairs.

Did you know that long, long before the advent of the ultrasound tests, the ancient Egyptians already had a way of determining the sex of the child in the mother’s womb? And the process is not complicated.



“As documented in the medical papyri, urine test was used in ancient Egypt to determine if the woman was pregnant. The physician priest soaked barley and wheat seeds in the urine of the woman. If the seeds grew, the woman is 100-percent sure pregnant.”

But the ancient Egyptians did not only stop there. They went further in determining the sex of the child in the mother’s womb.

“On the seventh month of pregnancy, wheat and barley seeds would be put again in a container with the urine of the pregnant woman. If the barley grew faster and taller than the wheat, 100-percent sure, the child would be a boy. And vice versa,” Shereen explained while pointing to the writings on a wall of Kom Ombo Temple.

Even the term “Caesarian” is attributed to Cleopatra’s giving birth to Caesarion, her child with Julius Caesar. She did not give birth the natural way but through Caesarian, which, in ancient Egyptian, meant “cutting of the wall.”

Cleopatra (formally know as Cleopatra VII) was the fiercest, most beautiful and most powerful queen of Egypt during the Ptolemaic era. According to Shereen, Cleopatra is not well revered among the Egyptians of today because “she was not pure Egyptian, she was part Greek.”

And search if you may the whole of Egypt, you will hardly find a statue of Cleopatra because her images were destroyed, defaced and dismantled in all the temples that bore them as ordered by a jilted Roman leader named Octavius, according to Shereen’s account.

Because the medical science is believed to have been started by the Egyptians, Shereen also explained that the logo of “Rx” to denote medical prescription has its history traced back in Egypt. At the Kom Ombo Temple, the original script is still on the wall, accompanied by hieroglyphs that tell the mythological story of god Horus as the first ever eye patient.   

According to Shereen, in Egyptian mythology, main gods Isis and Osiris had a son named Horus. Horus had an evil uncle named Seth who killed Osiris. Avenging his father’s death, Horus fought with Seth and during their duel, Seth plucked out Horus’ left eye and tore it apart.

Thot, god of wisdom and magic, searched for the eye, pieced it together and gave it back to Horus, who, in turn, offered it to his father Osiris so he would come back to life.

“From then on, the Eye of Horus became a powerful symbol in ancient Egypt. It was worn as an amulet to invite good health and ward off evil spirits,” says Shereen.

The Eye of Horus on the wall of Kom Ombo is shown as a human eye with an eyebrow and a falcon under the eye since Horus had the head of a falcon. When the whole script is seen from a mirror image, it forms the symbol “Rx.” Shereen can only guess that it then became the pharmacist’s symbol of prescription to denote security of health.

“After all, pharmacy is from the Egyptian word ‘pharmaki,’ meaning ‘bestower of security’,” ends Shereen.

To cruise the Nile River is to discover that the ancient world of Egypt is a mind-boggling modern civilization. Kom Ombo’s contribution to its country’s history is perhaps the “most modern” in its ancient treasure trove that has vestiges of modern science on its record.

These and more are written on the walls of Kom Ombo Temple.

(For inquiries about tours to Egypt, call the Manila office of Royal Way Tours at 0919-4306630 or 0915-8686895. E-mail me at Have a blessed Sunday!)

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