When illness or injury inflicted people in the ancient world, they often turned to a trustworthy person who was familiar with ... magic.

That connection between the world of the physical and what today people would consider the psychological aspect of healing will get a review this fall in an October series of free lectures at University of Chicago's Breasted Hall in the Oriental Institute titled “Medicine and Magic in the Ancient World, A Search for the Cure.

"In our own culture, we take for granted that medicine, religion, and magic are all separate things. But in fact, those categories of knowledge are cultural inventions, unique to each civilization,” said Gil Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute at University of Chicago. “The ancient Mesopotamians, Greeks and Egyptians thought about themselves and the laws of nature quite differently from the way we do. And those differences can give us deep insights into these civilizations." 

Robert Ritner, Professor of Egyptology at the Oriental Institute, will open the series with a talk titled “The Theory and Practice of Medicine and Magic in Ancient Egypt,” from 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 10. The series will continue on Wednesdays Oct. 17 and 24 and Saturday Oct. 27 with talks about medicine and its connection with magic in Greece and Mesopotamia.

Egyptian doctors also were magicians, but it was not the kind of magic people see today that we consider a form of entertainment. Instead of being used for clever tricks, magic to the Egyptians was part of a comprehensive approach to life and provided a way to connect spiritually with the powers of their deities. The spells and amulets the doctors gave their patients at the end of their visit reassured them.

Egyptian medicine was based on observations of the natural world and was in many ways similar to the practice of medicine today. The Egyptian tradition of medicine lives on today in the American symbol commonly used to denote medicine. The two serpents on a staff is a symbol of Thoth, the Egyptian deity associated with magic and science.