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p Z7
Determ: grains, incense
in hieroglyphs

Kyphi is a compound incense that was used in ancient Egypt for religious and medical purposes.


Kyphi is latinized from Greek κυ̑φι for Ancient Egyptian "kap-t", incense, from "kap", to perfume, to cense, to heat, to burn, to ignite.[1][2] The word root also exists in Indo-European languages, with a similar meaning, like in Sanskrit कपि (kapi) "incense", Greek καπνός "smoke", and Latin vapor.[3][4]


According to Plutarch (De Iside et Osiride) and Suidas (s. v. Μανήθως), the Egyptian priest Manetho (ca. 300 BCE) is said to have written a treatise called "On the preparation of kyphi" (Περὶ κατασκευη̑ϛ κυφίων), but no copy of this work survives.[5][6] Three Egyptian kyphi recipes from Ptolemaic times are inscribed on the temple walls of Edfu and Philae.[7]

Greek kyphi recipes are recorded by Dioscorides (De materia medica, I, 24), Plutarch [8][6] and Galen (De antidotis, II, 2).[7]

The seventh century physician Paul of Aegina records a "lunar" kyphi of twenty-eight ingredients and a "solar" kyphi of thirty-six.[citation needed]


The Egyptian recipes have sixteen ingredients each. Dioscorides has ten ingredients, which are common to all recipes. Plutarch gives sixteen, Galen fifteen. Plutarch implies a mathematical significance to the number of sixteen ingredients.[7]

Some ingredients remain obscure. Greek recipes mention aspalathus, which Roman authors describe as a thorny shrub. Scholars do not agree on the identity of this plant: a species of Papilionaceae (Cytisus, Genista or Spartium),[7] Convolvulus scoparius,[7] and Genista acanthoclada[9] have been suggested. The Egyptian recipes similarly list several ingredients whose botanical identity is uncertain.

The manufacture of kyphi involves blending and boiling the ingredients in sequence. According to Galen, the result was rolled into balls and placed on hot coals to give a perfumed smoke; it was also drunk as a medicine for liver and lung ailments.[7]

Dioscorides (10 ingredients)[edit]

Plutarch (+6 ingredients)[edit]

Galen (+5 ingredients)[edit]

Egyptian (+6 ingredients)[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ E. A. Wallis Budge (1920), "kap-t", Egytian Hieroglyphic Dictionary, 2, John Murray, p. 786b
  2. ^ Heinrich Brugsch (1868), "kep, kepu", Hieroglyphisch-demotisches Wörterbuch, 4, Hinrich, p. 1492
  3. ^ August Fick (1871), "kvap, kap", Vergleichendes Wörterbuch der Indogermanischen Sprachen (2nd ed.), Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, p. 52
  4. ^ Monier Williams (1872), "कपि", A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Clarendon Press, p. 202a
  5. ^ E. A. Wallis Budge (1902), A History of Egypt, 1, Oxford University Press, p. 129
  6. ^ a b Leonhard Schmitz (1849), "MANETHO", in William Smith (ed.), Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 2, Murray, pp. 915a–916a
  7. ^ a b c d e f Victor Loret (1887), "Le kyphi, parfum sacré des anciens égyptiens", Journal asiatique, 10 (juillet-août): 76–132
  8. ^ Plutarch (1936), De Iside et Osiride (§80), in Moralia. with an English Translation by. Frank Cole Babbitt., Harvard University Press.
  9. ^ Immanuel Löw (1881), Aramäische Pflanzennamen, Engelmann, p. 341