The Edwin Smith surgical papyrus: description and analysis of the earliest case of aphasia

J Med Biogr. 2003 May;11(2):114-7. doi: 10.1177/096777200301100214.


The Edwin Smith surgical papyrus, which dates back nearly five millennia, is the oldest known medical text and contains the first written example of the word "brain", as well as the earliest known descriptions of the meninges and the cerebrospinal fluid. The papyrus describes 48 cases and gives the first accounts of several forms of brain injury and their associated complications. The Egyptian author presents an analytical approach to the reported cases and classifies them as favourable, uncertain or intractable, depending on prognosis. The authors believe that case 20 of the papyrus presents the first possible case of aphasia, which occurred following head trauma. The patient, frustrated by his inability to speak, developed nuchal stiffness, which might have been due to meningeal irritation. The case concludes with the advice that a patient with such a grave condition should only be comforted, not treated.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Aphasia / history*
  • Archaeology
  • Egypt
  • General Surgery / history*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Manuscripts, Medical as Topic / history*
  • United States

Personal name as subject

  • Edwin Smith