Looking back in time, it’s easy to picture the need for a barefoot society—ancient Egyptians went barefoot— to pay attention to feet. But, what is it about the scenes of footwork from ancient Egypt that so captures the attention and imaginations of reflexologists? It could be any one of a number of things.
Seeing foot work depicted from ancient times and spanning thousands of years of Egyptian culture links reflexologists to a timeless tradition.
For a generations of reflexologists it is an iconic image of reflexology, the pictograph of hand and footwork from ancient Egypt. Hugely significant at the time of its discovery in 1980, it and other images from ancient Egypt give reflexology roots in ancient times.
“The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past.” William Faulkner
So much of what is represented by foot work artifacts from ancient Egypt speak to reflexologists and reflexology use today.
• Roman emperor Octavian complained of Mark Anthony’s “pathetic enslavement to her (Cleopatra) -- he even massaged her feet at dinner parties.” For reflexologists, however, the scene creates a picture of one person reaching out to another, especially a loved one.
• To reflexologists who often find themselves fighting the battle of tired feet on behalf of foot sore clients, a pictograph of foot work commemorating the battle of Kadesh during the rule of Rameses II conjures up the image of a moment in ancient times on some dusty path when a foot sore soldier needed help. Reflexologists are frequently visited by foot sore clients seeking relief.
• Words attributed to the figures in the pictograph sound familiar to today’s practicing reflexologists: “Do not let it be painful” and “I do as you say.” A discussion of comfort level with the client is a part of the reflexologist’s service.
The enduring mystery of foot work in Egypt / Link to ancient medicine
What exactly were the ancient Egyptians doing? Does the work on feet depicted in pictographs illustrate a therapy, a foot operation, a pedicure? There are arguments to support each and any viewpoint. Each new comment or book on the subject seems to add another layer of mystery.
Among clues to the meaning of pictographs are their locations in tombs. Pictographs of footwork are located in The Tomb of the Physician. They are located in the entry hall the site indicating the profession of the tomb’s owners.
What is meant by the hieroglyphs?
The hieroglyphs accompanying the foot work pictographs in The Tomb of the Physician have long been accepted to read, “Do not let it be painful” and “I do as you say.” Yet graduate students who spent months studying the Tomb have a different take.
“In one scene the right hand is treated; in the other, the toe of the left foot. The inscriptions do not elucidate the procedure: “Make these give strength!” To which the operator responds: “I will do to thy pleasure, sovereign!” This answer inscribed between the two operators could also be valid for the one to the right, who treats the toe of a patient who is begging: “Do not cause pain to these!”
The comments on “doing thy pleasure” and “not causing pain” are self explanatory. But what could be the meaning of “Make these give strength!”? Could “these” be the feet? The paragraph quoted above begins with: “As a result of walking barefoot, minor accidents and ailments requiring surgery must certainly have been common.”
Foot work spans thousands of years of an ancient culture
It could be said that work on feet for a purpose dates from the earliest times of recorded human history as shown by ancient Egyptian artifacts. Not only that but foot work was practiced throughout ancient times.
2323-2291 B. C.; Teti. First Pharaoh, Sixth Dynasty
Work on hands and feet is depicted in bas relief carvings at the entrance to the tomb of pharaoh Teti official Ankmahor. The placement of such carvings in an entrance typically signified the profession of the individual. The tomb is referred to as "Tomb of the Physician”
1279-1213 B. C.; Ramesses II; Third Pharaoh, Nineteenth Dynasty
A pictograph of work on feet of "tending" to the feet of foot soldiers on a military campaign involving a long march during the battle of Qadesh during the reign of Ramesses II. The battle is well known because it was commemorated by Ramesses in the building of at least eight temples that have survived.
69-30 B. C. E.; Cleopatra; Greco-Roman Period
Mark Anthony reported to “massage her (Cleopatra's) feet at dinner parties.”
Mohammed elAwany of Egypt’s Vision Travel and Tours notes that individuals who continue the ancient footwork practice may be found in some remote Egyptian villages.