Kyphi (Kapet) was one of the most popular types of temple incense in Ancient Egypt and it was also used as a remedy for a number of ailments. The name Kyphi is actually the latin version of the Greek transcription of the egyptian word Kapet and it is thought that it originally referred to any substance used to clean and perfume the air only later developing into a specific type of incense. Kyphi is still best considered as a type of incense rather than a specific recipe as the ingredients listed in ancient sources, both Egyptian and later Greek and Syrian, are varied with only a few ingredients appearing in every recipe. We have four complete recipes for Kyphi, two of which are in Greek and date to later periods, but sufficient information to hazard a guess at a further three recipes.
It is difficult to confirm the identity of some of the ingredients of Kyphi, but based on the information avaiable Kemet Design has developed Kyphi (Kapet) incense which is as similar as possible to the traditional incense of Ancient Egypt.
The first reference to Kyphi is in the Pyramid Texts which date to the fifth and sixth dynasties of Ancient Egypt (Old Kingdom). The texts do not confirm the recipe for Kyphi at this time, nor list any of the ingredients but they do confirm that Kyphi was one of the luxuries that any self respecting Pharaoh hoped to enjoy in the afterlife.
The earliest recipe for Kyphi Ebers Papyrus (circa 1500 BC). This recipe was intended to be used to purify the home and give clothes and breath a pleasant aroma so may have differed a little from the recipes used by temples at the time. Most notably, there is no mention of raisins in this recipe (although it is possible that the inclusion of raisins was assumed) and the Kyphi is prepared by simply boiling the ingredients in honey.
Papyrus Harris I was composed during the reign of Ramesses IV during the twentieth dynasty (Ptolemaic Period of Ancient Egypt). The papyrus records the donations made by Ramesses III to a number of temples and refers to the delivery of six of the ingredients found in the Edfu recipe to temples so that they can prepare Kyphi. The ingredients listed are mastic, pine resin (or wood) camel grass, mint, sweet flag and cinnamon. It is assumed that the recipe would also have included raisins wine and honey but that theses supplies would not have to be delivered from the central stores as the temples would be able to source them locally. Unfortunately the papyrus Harris does not confirm the recipe or the method of preparation.
Plutarch visited Egypt durint the first century BC (the Ptolemaic Period of Ancient Egypt). He had access to a text by Manetho (third century AD) called "Preparation of Kyphi-Recipes" no copies of which have been recovered. Plutatch quotes a recipe from this important text and clarifies the method of prearation of Kyphi. According to Manetho the ingredients are not added at the same time and ground, but rather added one at a time as magical texts are read aloud.
Plutarch also confirms that Kyphi was drunk to cleanse the body and was thought to bring restful sleep with vivid dreams. According to Plutarch Ancient Egyptian priests burned incense in the temple three times a day: frankincense at dawn, myrrh at midday, and Kyphi at dusk.
The Temple of Edfu was built in the first century BC (the Ptolemaic Period of Ancient Egypt). There are two different recipes for Kyphi inscribed on the walls of the temple, one of which includes synonms for many of the ingredients and explanatory notes. The two recipes differ only in the quantities of each ingredients. A similar recipe (again with the same ingredients but in slightly different quantities) can be found on the walls of the Temple of Philae.
The preparations of these recipes is much more complex than the later Greek versions and there are also more ingredients. The mastic, pine resin, sweet flag, aspalathos, camel grass, mint and cinnamon are ground together in a mortar and the liquid residue discarded. Then the cyperus, juniper berries, pine kernels and peker are ground to a fine powder and combined with the mastic mixture. The combined mixture is moistened with a little wine and left to steep overnight. The raisins are steeped in wine and combined with the mixture and this is allowed to steep for a further five days. The mixture is then boiled until it has reduced by one fifth and the honey and frankincense are combined and boiled to reduce by one fifth. The two mixtures are combined and the myrrh is then ground and added to make the final mixture which was formed into small pellets for burning.
Galen (circa 200 AD) studied medicine in Alexandria and so had access to many of the texts from Ancient Egypt which have since been destroyed. He wrote an essay called "On Antidotes" which refers to a scroll written by Damocrates (now lost) in which Damocrates confirmed that he had used the recipe for Khypi set down by Rufus of Ehpesus (circa 50AD) which he includes in his scroll.
To make Kyphi Rufus advised that the honey and raisins should be mashed together. Then the bdellium and myrrh should be ground with some wine until the mixture had the consistency of runny homey before being combined with the honey and raisin mixture.the rest of the ingredients could then be ground and added and the incense ofrmed into pellets for burining.
Damocrates also confirms that according to Rufus cardomom may be a substitute for Cinnamon and that the mixture was used to purify the temple but also as a remedy for snakebite.
Dioscorides (circa 100 AD) provides us with a recipe for Kyphi in "De Materia Medica" and this is thought to be the first Greek description of the material. He confirms that Kyphi was primarily used to purify the temple but was also made into a drink which was taken as a remedy for asthma. He notes that there are a number of recipes for Kyphi and quotes one of them.
Raisins, wine and myrrh are ground together. The remaining ingredients (except the honey and resoin) are ground together and added to the raising mixture and the resulting mixture is left to steep for a day. The resin is then melted slowly with the honey and then ground into the first mixture.
There are no exotic spices in this recipe and is is proposed by Manniche that this recipe was primarily an antidote rather than an incense recipe. She suggests that the exotic spices were not considered necessary for the medicinal use of Kyphi but would have been used to enhance the aroma of Kyphi when it was prepared as incense.
Around the time of Galen (circa 200 AD) an unnamed scholar was compiling a book on medicine in Syriac (Aramaic). He made refenece to a substane named "Kupar" whicb is thought to be a version of Kyphi. He advises that the rasins and other soluble ingredients should be dissolved in wine. The dry ingredients are then ground in a mortar and the frankincense and honey are warmed together. All of the ingredients are then combined.
Kupar is described as an incense with a very plesant aroma and a remedy for liver disease, and for coughs and other diseases affecting the lungs.
Rufus of Ephesus
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