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Amenemope Maxims

Funerary mask of King Amenemope of the 21st dynasty of Egypt
Another Amenemope: King Amenemope

A Brief Foreword

Amenemope Instructions in Living Below are selected instructions about life, a guide for well-being, and some advice on official duties as well as some of the humanistic values of ancient Egyptian society. The work is of Ancient Egypt, by Amenemope(t), a resident of Akhim, a town in Upper Egypt on the east side of the Nile, and son of Kanakht (This Amenemope was not the pharaoh whose mask is shown above).

In the text, a father is passing on his wisdom to his son through many maxims and admonitions for living living, in thirty chapters. This ancient papyrus text is known mainly from a manuscript papyrus owned by the British Museum.. The instructions were probably composed during the late New Kingdom (1300-1075 BCE), from the period of the Ramesses kings, and can be compared with the earlier instruction by Ptah-Hotep.

As seen in chapters 13 and 16, some of these sayings parallell proverbs of much later folklore. Also, the Hebrew Book of Proverbs contains sayings that parallell this work or are fragments of it. Some scholars say that the Book of Proverbs is dependent in some part on Amenemope's work. John A. Wilson finds for example, "We believe that there is a direct connection between these two pieces of wisdom literature, and that Amen-em-Opet was the ancestor text. The secondary nature of the Hebrew seems established." Some agree, but a few have challenged that view and have suggested that both works are linked to a possible common, earlier work - but that appears to be speculation so far.

Those who are interested in seeing how the ancients saw it fit to live in a harmonious, wealthy, and successful civilisation, what kind of moral they advocated or sought to live by, should find plenty of interest in this text - find things fit for a decent and good life, perhaps.

I have brought a few notes of comparison: One is a reflection on the similarities between the ancient Egyptian uraeus (a raised serpent on the headdress of rulers), a symbol of divinity, etc and the raised kundalini serpent of awakened yogis (ch 8). Another is a brief mention between the potter figure of speech in the work and in one long lament of Jeremiah (ch 25).

Below is gist from the Egyptian work. Some selected passages may be tried or applied in modern conditions. Where the translated text applies as it is, it is not changed. But some passages contain rather irrelevant material. Such passages have been abridged, and in a few places rendered freely. Other passages are slightly modified, for example: Yet all is related to the text that is supposed to be over 3 000 years old.

You can study a complete translation if you follow the link at bottom of the page and see for yourself what abridgements are made below, for example.

- Tormod Kinnes

Introduction

Know how to refute an accusation and to send back a reply.

Be set straight on the paths of life, and prosper.

Steer clear of evil, and mark boundaries. Be saved from foolish talk of others.

Spend your life with these guiding words in your heart.

It pays to be respected in the art of speaking and experienced in one's office.

An initiate of the mysteries should work to give land grants to the people and supply the storerooms, and inspect very well.

Chapter 1

Listen carefully, and delve into interpreting what is communicated.

Try to put profitable expressions and ideas in your heart, and let them rest there. When a storm of words comes, your heart stores will be a mooring post on your tongue.

If you spend a lifetime with these things in your heart, you may find good fortune in it, and you may flourish.

Chapter 2

Beware of stealing from a miserable man and of raging against the cripple.

Don't get involved in a fraudulent business or desire that it is carried out.

Throw an evildoer in the canal, and he will bring back its slime.

The crocodiles are nasty. Hot-headed man, what are you like?

Row and ferry the evil man away. Do not act according to his evil nature. Alternatively, fill his gut with your own food that he may be sated and ashamed.

Stop and think before speaking. It is to God's liking.

Chapter 3

Do not get into a quarrel with the argumentative man or incite him with words. Proceed cautiously before an opponent.

Sleep on a matter before speaking, and may you be restrained.

You can leave the garrulous one to himself.

Chapter 4

The temperate man sets himself apart. He is like a tree grown in a sunlit field: It flourishes, it doubles its yield, its fruit is sweet, its shade is pleasant, and it reaches its end in time.

Chapter 5

When tomorrow comes, today is past.

Fill yourself with silence, and you should find life, and flourish.

Chapter 6

Do not be greedy for a plot of land, nor overturn the boundaries of a widow.

Who takes common goods by might, and traps by deceptive attestations, will be lassoed by the moon, by Luna.

Such a one is an enemy overturned inside himself; his household is hostile, and his property taken from his children. To someone else his possessions are eventually given.

Desire to make yourself prosper. Take care.

Better is the bushel which God gives you than five thousand deceitfully got.

Better is bread when the mind is at ease than riches with anxiety.

Chapter 7

A thief, the earth swallows him up and drowns him in the deep - a great hole. They have sunk themselves in a tomb like that.

Do not be pleased with yourself (because of) riches acquired through robbery.

The boat of the covetous is abandoned in the mud.

God will give you your necessities for life.

Chapter 8

Set your good deeds so that you may rejoice for the Uraeus*, and spit against the [demon] Apophis.

Uraeus: a stylized upright serpent used as a symbol of deity and divine authority. Compare the kundalini serpent symbol of awakening.

Chapter 9

Do not allow your superior to cast words only to entrap you, and be not too free in your reply. Discuss the reply with a man of your own station, and take care of speaking thoughtlessly.

When a man's heart is upset, words travel faster than wind and rain.

The wolf cub in the farmyard sets families to argue. He curls himself up to inflict harm. Fire burns inside him. Do not fly up to join him.

Chapter 10

Do not destroy your own mind.

Avoid saying to someone, "May you be praised", without meaning it.

To converse falsely with another is an abomination of God.

Chapter 11

Steer away from the poor man on the road, that you may keep clear of his property.

Chapter 12

If a man is detected in a dishonest transaction, never again will he be employed.

Chapter 13

Neither lead a man astray with pen or document, nor attest a false statement. Let not your pen be false.

Better is bread when the mind is at ease than riches with all sorts of troubles.

Chapter 15

Do well; you are then on the way of gaining influence.

Chapter 16

Do not unbalance the scale nor make the weights false, nor diminish the fractions of the grain measure.

Do not wish for the grain measures of the fields and then cast aside those of the treasury. [cf. A fish in the hand is more worth than ten in the open sea.]

What good is one cloaked in fine linen when he cheats before God?

Chapter 17

Do not act wrongfully through force.

Measure exactly and with precision.

More important is the threshing floor for barley than swearing by the Great Throne.

Chapter 18

When day breaks, man knows not what tomorrow is!

Strong in your heart, make your mind firm.

The Lord of All is the true pilot of the boat of life.

Chapter 19

Do not falsify your speech. Tell the truth.

Do not overstate a thing by solid oaths.

Chapter 20

Do not put aside the just man.

Do not repress the weak for the strong.

Justice is a wonderful gift of God.

Do not falsify the oracles.

Hand property over to its (rightful) owners.

Chapter 21

Sound tranquillity will cause God's plans to open.

Empty not your soul to everybody and do not diminish thereby your importance.

Do not fraternize with one who is too candid.

Better is a man whose knowledge is inside him than one who talks to disadvantage.

Chapter 22

Do not let your companion tell his innermost thoughts.

Chapter 23

If you are satisfied with false words, enjoy yourself with your spittle.

Chapter 24

Do not act so that your heart will be grieved. Take care not to slight the heart of man.

Chapter 25

Man is clay and straw, and God is his potter; he overthrows and he builds daily. [Jeremiah uses the same metaphor]

How fortunate is the one who is safe in the hand of God.

Chapter 26

Take as a friend for yourself someone compatible.

Give a hand to an old man filled with beer; respect him as his children would.

Better is the poor man who speaks sweet words than the rich man who speaks harshly.

Chapter 27

Do not let yourself be reported to God with the words, "Here is another very sick young man who has reproached an elder."

Chapter 28

God loves him who cares for the poor, more than him who respects the wealthy.

Chapter 29

Do not turn people away from crossing the river when you have room in your ferryboat.

If a steering oar is given you in the midst of the deep waters, take it up.

Chapter 30

Put these teachings in your mind, and have sound men interpret them, explaining as good teachers.

It is finished.


Amenemope Instructions in Living, Literature  

Brown, Brian, ed. The Wisdom of the Egyptians: The Story of the Egyptians, the Religion of the Ancient Egyptians, the Ptah-Hotep and the Ke'gemini, the "Book of the Dead," the Wisdom of Hermes Trismegistus, Egyptian Magic, the Book of Thoth. New York: Brentano's, 1923.

Horne, Charles Francis, ed. The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East; with an Historical Survey and Descriptions. Vol. 2, Egypt. New York: Parke, Austin and Lipscomb, 1917.

Massey, Gerald. Ancient Egypt: The Light of The World. 2 Vols. Leeds: Celphais Press, 2008.

Massey, Gerard. Egyptian Book of the Dead and the Mysteries of Amenta. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1907.

Oesterley, William Oscar Emil. The Wisdom of Egypt and the Old Testament: in the Light of the Newly Discovered Teachings of Amen-em-ope. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1927

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