Ancient Egypt had a long and largely unbroken history. Nearly 3,000 years before the current era (BCE), the Egyptians had reached a high stage of civilization where the boys of the ruling class were taught such as:
Rulers should aim to make their people prosperous.
Those who have bread need to share it with the hungry.
Humble and lowly people must be treated with kindness.
It would profit a man to have acted justly, at least when judged at death, if not before.
Egyptian teachings are included in the Book of Proverbs of the Bible, mainly 22:17–24:22 These sayings parallell the older Amenemope text or are fragments of it. [EB, "biblical literature > proverbs"]
Also worth noting: In Wisdom of the Egyptians, Brian Brown observes that "virtues which we are apt to suppose a monopoly of Christian culture appear as the ideal of these old Egyptians." (1923:xii)
Below are Egyptian precepts and proverbs to ponder.
Beautiful discourse is rarer than emerald, yet it can be found among the servant girls at the grindstones. [Ptah-Hotep]
Declare your line of conduct without reticence. [Ptah-Hotep]
Do not weaken the attention of him who is occupied. [Ptah-Hotep]
Error carries away the unteachable. [Ptah-Hotep]
Evil words fill some with astonishment. [Ptah-Hotep]
Great God is the ruler of all the gods. [Papyrus of Ani, modified]
If you are a leader of peace, listen to the discourse of the petitioner. Be not abrupt with him; that would trouble him. [Ptah-Hotep]
If you are wise, look after your house; love your wife without alloy. [Ptah-Hotep]
It is a wretched thing to injure a poor man.
The man who has plenty of means of existence, conducts himself pretty much as he himself wishes. [Ptah-Hotep, modified]
Know those who are faithful to you when you are in low estate. [Ptah-Hotep]
Learn to rise up out of the enigmatic egg in the hidden land. [Papyrus of Ani, modified]
Hermopolitan creation had several variations of the Golden Egg myth. In one, the Cosmic Egg was laid by the Great Cackler, i.e., the celestial goose [also: Great Honker], while in another, the egg was laid by an ibis, the bird identified with the god Thoth. In a third variation, a lotus flower emerged from the waters and opened to reveal a child-god.
Listen with kindness for a clear explanation. [With Ptah-Hotep]
May no lies be spoken against me in the presence of God. [Papyrus of Ani, modified]
My KA dwells in my body. Insult it not. [Papyrus of Ani, elaborated]
Never speak untruth and falsity knowingly. [Papyrus of Ani, elaborated]
One should do nothing with a false heart. [Papyrus of Ani, modified]
Shining I Inside, let Him guide my heart. [Papyrus of Ani, modified]
That which is said in your heart, let it be realised by springing up spontaneously - [Ptah-Hotep]
The great Heaven [the Ocean inside] is found inside the Eye of God - [Papyrus of Ani, modified]
The wise man is great through his own merits. [Ptah-Hotep]
Those who are in the following of the prince of everlastingness and God of Life, sing with joy. [Papyrus of Ani, modified]
To seek without finding, equals waste of time. [Papyrus of Ani, modified]
Wealth can come through your Creator's good-will. [With Ptah-Hotep]
When a son attends to his father, it is a twofold joy for both; when wise things are prescribed to him, the son is [to be] gentle. [Ptah-Hotep]
When He opens up His path, may He carry me along, safe and sound. [Papyrus of Ani, modified]
When you speak, know that which can be brought against you. [Ptah-Hotep]
Who has not done any evil act, his or her heart may be found right. [Papyrus of Ani, modified]
Wise rising gives joy. [Papyrus of Ani, amplified]
Sebayt literally means 'teachings' or 'instructions', and refers to ethical teachings focused on the "way of living truly". Most Sebayt are preserved on papyrus scrolls that are copies of earlier works.
Demotic: A simplified form of the ancient Egyptian hieratic writing. The two main sources of this section of Sebayt written in Demotic, are the Insinger Papyrus (Papyrus Insinger) and the Instructions of Ankhsheshonq:
Translations may differ somewhat. The main sources drawn on here are Miriam Lichtheim (2006) and William Simpson (2003). (Book data are at the bottom of the page).
A good woman who does not love another man in her family is a wise woman. (Papyrus Insinger)
A great temple is ruined because its leaders are in discord. (P. Insinger)
A man should do what profits his ba.
A short day in misfortune is many (days) in the heart of the impatient man. (P. Insinger)
A time in misfortune does not make the man of god give up. (P. Insinger)
An amulet that does no harm protects its owner from it. (P. Insinger)
Better an honourable failure than a half success. (Ankhsheshonq)
Beware of being surrounded by the serfs of the foe - caution prolongs life.
Copy your fathers, your ancestors, see, their words endure in books. Open, read them, copy their knowledge: He who is taught becomes skilled. Don't be evil, kindness is good. (from the Testament of a Heracleopolitan King)
Do not abandon a woman of your house when she does not become pregnant or give birth.
Do not be a glutton, lest you become the companion of poverty. (P. Insinger)
Do not be active in all sorts of business and slack in your own. (Ankhsheshonq)
Do not be greedy lest your name stink. (P. Insinger)
Do not be mean lest you be slighted. (P. Insinger)
Do not cause a man to sue you. (Ankhsheshonq)
Do not do a thing that you have not first examined. (Ankhsheshonq)
Do not do to a man what you dislike, so as to cause another to do it to you. (Ankhsheshonq 15.23)
Do not hand over your property to your younger brother and thereby make him act as your elder brother. (Ankhsheshonq)
Do not hate a man to his face when you know nothing of him.
Do not have a thief for a companion [lest] he cause you to be killed. (Ankhsheshonq)
Do not let your flesh suffer when you have something in the storehouse. (P. Insinger)
Do not let yourself be called "the prattler" because your tongue is everywhere. (P. Insinger)
Do not make many words. (Ankhsheshonq)
Do not praise a woman who is disliked. (Ankhsheshonq)
Do not prefer the wellborn to the commoner, choose a man on account of his skills.
Do not say something when it is not the time for it. (Ankhsheshonq)
Do not send a wise man in a small matter when a big matter is waiting.
Do not set your heart on the property of another, saying: "I shall live by means of it." Acquire for yourself your own.
Do not slight a small illness for which there is a remedy; use the remedy. (P. Insinger)
Do not slight a small thing lest you suffer from it. (P. Insinger)
Do not squander the little you have if there is no storehouse behind you. (P. Insinger)
Do not start a fire if you cannot put it out. [Probably] (Ankhsheshonq)
Do not suffer. (Ankhsheshonq)
Do not trust a fool because of an oath. (P. Insinger)
Do not trust a thief, lest you come to grief. (P. Insinger 13.9)
Do not walk alone at night. (Ankhsheshonq)
Enjoy yourself with whom you wish as long as no fool joins you. (P. Insinger)
Even a small concern has a man in its grip. (Ankhsheshonq)
Examine . . . that you may understand. (Ankhsheshonq)
Few are the great things that are worthy of admiration. (P. Insinger)
Good steering comes out of trouble after grief. (P. Insinger)
Greed causes disturbance in a family. (P. Insinger)
Grief comes to the people through the disorder caused by the fool. (P. Insinger)
Harm attains the fool because he does not take counsel. (P. Insinger)
He created the dream to show the way to the dreamer in his blindness. (P. Insinger)
He is a rich man who lacks nothing.
He lets the stranger who has come from outside live like the citizen. (P. Insinger)
He who dies in the middle of life, the god knows what he has done. (P. Insinger)
He who digs a pit for another will fall into it." (Jf. Proverbs xxvi:27).
He who does not gather wood in summer will not be warm in winter. (Ankhsheshonq)
He who has wealth at home [may] not be partial.
He who makes his behaviour harsh goes to a bad death. (P. Insinger)
He who sends spittle up to the sky will have it fall on him. (Ankhsheshonq)
I entered the Presence to resolve difficulties. (Statue Inscription of Harwa)
If a crocodile loves a donkey it puts on a wig. (Ankhsheshonq)
If property accrues to you give a portion to the god; that is the portion of the poor. (P. Insinger)
If there is no calm in a feast its master cannot enjoy himself. (P. Insinger)
In turn harm is done to a great man for slighting smallness. (P. Insinger)
It is . . . good when beds are readied.
It is not of a bull that a bull is born. (Ankhsheshonq)
It is not only in one way that (the fool) becomes miserable. (P. Insinger)
Learn the constitution of the earth. (Ankhsheshonq)
Let your heart not sink!
Man proposes, God disposes. (Cf. Amenemope 19.16)
May you sail without getting stranded, so that you may reach the abode of generations without coming to grief! (Sishu, father of Petosiris, Inscription No. 1.16)
One cannot eat lapis lazuli - barley is foremost and strong!
One day is not like another for him whose heart cares. (P. Insinger)
One does not discover (the heart) of a trustworthy man if one has not sought something from him. (P. Insinger)
One does not judge according to the complaint of a fool because it is loud. (P. Insinger)
One does not understand the heart of the god until what he has decreed has come. He created the earth - day, month, and year - summer and winter. He created food - the constellation(s) in the sky, so that those on earth should learn them. He created sweet water. He created birth in every womb from the semen they receive. He created going and coming. He created sleep to end weariness, waking for looking after food. He created remedies - He created the succession of generations so as to make them live. (P. Insinger)
One had better not abandon the place in which one can live. (P. Insinger)
Silence conceals foolishness. (Ankhsheshonq)
Sitting still is better than doing a mean errand. (Ankhsheshonq)
Spend according to the size of your means. (Ankhsheshonq)
Strengthen your borders, your frontier patrols; It is good to work for the future. One respects the life of the foresighted, while he who trusts fails. (Testament of a Heracleopolitan King)
The crocodiles get their portion of the fools because of (their) roaming. Such is the way of life of people who roam. (P. Insinger)
The death of the evil man is a feast for the household left behind. (P. Insinger)
The god does not forget, but the impious man does not fear retaliation. (Mod) (P. Insinger)
The heart of the wise man, its reward is the eye of the god . . . (P. Insinger)
The loaf [or character] of the upright is preferred to the ox of the evildoer.
The oxen harvest the barley and emmer, the donkeys eat it. (Ankhsheshonq)
The property of a wise man is lost through being left in the hand of a fool. (P. Insinger)
The small document has great benefit. (P. Insinger)
The small falsehood makes trouble for him who commits it. (P. Insinger)
The waste of a boat is carrying straw. (Ankhsheshonq)
There is he who meets grief because he has met a fool. (P. Insinger 13.21)
There is no [true] brother in a family except the brother who is kind-hearted. (P. Insinger)
Wealth takes hold of its owner. (Ankhsheshonq)
What is in the heart of the wise man is what one finds on his tongue. (P. Insinger)
When [retaliation] comes to the wise man, it makes (him) foolish, bad, and stupid. (P. Insinger)
When a man is suffering his wife is a lioness before him. (Ankhsheshonq)
When a wise man is far away his heart seeks his town. (P. Insinger)
When insult occurs beating occurs. (Ankhsheshonq)
Wine matures as long as one does not open it. (Ankhsheshonq)
Wine, [fine] women, and food give gladness to the heart. (Papyrus Insinger)
Here are elegant sayings from ancient Egypt, and a few attributed ones:
The star (*) means: "Phrases marked with a star, are sewn together by me. Sow fragments and phrases yourself according to metrics. Or maybe you will reflect on it in the light of the Djehuty-attributed "Man is a star entrapped by darkness"?
1. The friend of a wise person may be kind -
Do not hate a man to his face when you know nothing of him. (Ankhsheshonq)
Man must learn that what he does may have consequences. [Mod] (Karnak Temple)
May I recognize my brother and sister that I may open my heart to them. (Ankhsheshonq)
Seeds that sprout upwards at the same time send roots into the ground. (Karnak Temple)
Angry with a land, the Light of God makes law and justice cease in it, makes value scarce in it; sets the fools over the wise, lets the ruler mistreat its people. (Ankhsheshonq)
The disciple must experience in himself each stage of developing. And he will know nothing for which he is not ripe. (Karnak Temple)
The friend of a wise person is another wise person. (Ankhsheshonq)
The nut does not reveal the tree it contains. (Karnak Temple)
A woman who remains a woman at night is praised during the day. (Ankhsheshonq)
Advice given to the stupid weighs as little as the wind. (Ankhsheshonq)
If you want something, look for the complement that will elicit it. (Karnak Temple)
You are only a spirit. [Djehuti, attr.]
May I have something and my relatives have something so that I may eat my own food without holding back. (Ankhsheshonq)
Cognition comes from inside ourselves, but the Master gives the keys. (Karnak Temple)
Material and intellectual wealth are no real securities. (Ankhsheshonq)
Do not prefer one of your children to the other, for you know not which one of them will be kind to you. (Ankhsheshonq)
Organisation cannot be good enough unless those who know laws of harmony lay the foundation. [Mod] (Karnak Temple)
Never let an ungodly or a mediocre man give orders to people. (Ankhsheshonq)
Qualities of a moral order are measured by deeds. (Karnak Temple)
Serve your mother and father that you may go forward and prosper. (Ankhsheshonq)
Our senses serve to affirm, not to know. (Karnak Temple)
The wealth of a workman could be his tools. [Mod] (Ankhsheshonq)
Do not ask God for advice and then disregard it. (Ankhsheshonq) ◊
Do not instruct a fool lest he hate you for it. (Ankhsheshonq)
Do not rely on a fool. (Ankhsheshonq)
Do not rely on the property of an idiot. (Ankhsheshonq)
Do not teach those who do not want to hear. (Ankhsheshonq)
Popular beliefs on essential matters must be examined in order to discover the original thought. (Karnak Temple)
Break through the web of Ignorance. [Djehuti, attr.]
Do not rely on the property of another - acquire your own. [Abr] (Ankhsheshonq)
If the God of Light, is angry with a country, law, justice and values break down and fools take the place of wise men. (Ankhsheshonq)
There grows no wheat where there is no grain. (Karnak Temple)
Love is one thing, knowledge is another. (Karnak Temple)
True teaching is not an accumulation of knowledge; it is an awakening of consciousness through successive stages. (Karnak Temple)
2. Look to your own feet and their standing, and truly prosper.
Know the world in yourself. Never look for yourself in the world, for this would be to project your illusion. (Karnak Temple)
In helplessness lies undoing. *
Blithe advice given to a fool, often leads to humiliations one way or another. Act righteously rather than humiliate. *
Recognise your brother's acre and look to your own, if you don't lack understanding. *
Man should try not to give away tools to fools with secret meanness in their hearts, by getting nearer reality.*
If fools are well praised all over the country, it is not heading for security.*
Some wander to get wiser. However, no discussion can throw light if it wanders. [Hum]*
You will free yourself when you learn to be neutral and follow the instructions of your heart without letting things perturb you. This is the way of Maat. (Karnak Temple)
Matter is fluid and flows like a stream. [Djehuti, attr.]
Truths you learn, could take the place of other thoughts you had, and break some of them. �
Every man is rich in excuses to safeguard his prejudices, his instincts, and his opinions. (Karnak Temple)
A pupil may show you by his own efforts how much he deserves to learn from you. (Karnak Temple) ◊
The wealth of a house is a wise woman. (Ankhsheshonq)
Each truth you learn will be new to you. (Karnak Temple)
Do not say "Here is my brother's acre"; look to your own. (Ankhsheshonq)
May I recognize my friends that I may share with them. [Mod] (Ankhsheshonq)
In helplessness lies humiliations. (Karnak Temple)
One foot isn't enough to walk with. (Karnak Temple)
No discussion can throw light if it wanders from the real point. (Karnak Temple)
There is no one who deceives who is not deceived, and no one who does wrong that goes on and truly prospers at length. (Ankhsheshonq)
3. The riches of the miser - cold!
Do not let a fool intervene in an important matter. (Ankhsheshonq) [Abr]
The death of an evil man is a cause for celebration for those he leaves behind. (Ankhsheshonq)
Routine and prejudice distort vision. Each man thinks his own horizon is the limit of the world. (Karnak Temple)
Do not say "I am learned" but rather set yourself to become wise. (Ankhsheshonq)
Do not belittle the elderly in your heart. (Ankhsheshonq)
He cannot be heard with ears, nor seen with eyes, nor expressed in words; but only in mind and heart. [Djehuti, attr.]
He who has been chosen out of the crowd is not automatically a wise man because of that. (Ankhsheshonq)
Serve a wise person that he or she may serve you. (Ankhsheshonq)
The riches of the generous man are greater than those of the miser. (Ankhsheshonq)
Understanding develops by degrees. (Karnak Temple)
People bring about their own undoing through their tongues. (Karnak Temple)
Suffer not yourselves to be carried with the Great Stream, but stem the tide you that can lay hold of the Haven of Safety, and make your full course towards it. [Djehuti, attr.]
Images are nearer reality than cold definitions. (Karnak Temple) ◊
Lacking images, men invent idols. Found the images on realities that lead the true seeker to the source. Maat (Karnak Temple)
True sages are those who give what they have, without meanness and without secret. (Karnak Temple)
When the governing class is not chosen for quality it is chosen for material wealth: this always means decadence for a society to reach. (Karnak Temple)
The good fortune of a town is a leader who acts righteously. (Ankhsheshonq)
Do not let your servant force your son. [Abr] (Ankhsheshonq)
Do not take yourself a woman whose husband is alive. [Abr] (Ankhsheshonq)
It is better to have a serpent hanging around the house than a fool. (Ankhsheshonq)
Do not do to a person what you dislike [If you are sane]. (Ankhsheshonq)
If you would know yourself, take yourself as starting point and go back to the source. (Karnak Temple)
Do not long for your home to drink beer in it in midday. (Ankhsheshonq)
Don't believe something without putting its truth to the test; the faculty of discernment is indispensable to the Seeker. Sound scepticism. (Karnak Temple)
The friend of a fool is a fool. (Ankhsheshonq)
Judge by cause and also by effects [Mod] (Karnak Temple)
May the heart of a wife be the heart of her husband so that they may be free of contention. (Ankhsheshonq)
Ra is angry with a land (and) its rulers neglect the law. (Ankhsheshonq)
The plant reveals what is in the seed. (Karnak Temple)
Look above or look below and find that Oneness is at the Source of the Law. [Djehuti, attr. and abr]
In all formed matter, the heart of Light always exists. Even though bound in the darkness, inherent Light always exists. [Djehuti, attr.]
Do not do a thing that you have not first examined. (Ankhsheshonq) ◊◊
The body is the house of God. That is why it is said, "Man know yourself." (Karnak Temple)
Celebrate the glad day. [Coffin text, abr.]
May your fate not be the fate of one who begs and is given. (Ankhsheshonq)
Speak truth to everyone [some things are private, though]. (Ankhsheshonq)
Man is a star entrapped by darkness. [Djehuti, attr.]
The friend of a wise person takes an overlook at his life or standing to counteract getting miserly cold as clay in times ahead.
A mean phrase slights its sayer.
An absent person should have his excuse (Don't jump to conclusions, and don't blame someone not present until you hear his or her side of the story.)
Be patient with a bad neighbour: he may move or face misfortune.
Bed is the poor man's opera.
Borrowing is bad, and paying back is a loss. (Counsel to discourage borrowing.)
Does sheep manure turn to caramel? (Don't expect a bad person to suddenly turn good.)
Dress up a stick and you get a doll. (Clothes and cosmetics can make the ugly look quite pretty. So don't be fooled by appearances.)
Education is what you know, not what's in the book. (Thinking can be more important than collecting material. So: people should try to use their minds too.)
Grapes are eaten one by one. (One step at a time.)
I believe what you say, I'm only surprised at what you do. (Your words contradict your actions. Used when someone's actions contradict his speech etc.)
If you "marry" a monkey for his wealth, the money goes and the monkey remains. (Don't get attracted by money. It is said to a girl who wants to marry for riches.)
If you have to drag a dog to the hunt, neither he nor his hunting is any good. (Someone who does unwillingly what he is supposed to do quite naturally, may not work all right. Used for commenting on someone who does not perform up to standards he or she is supposed to do.)
If you live in a glass house, don't throw stones (What you do to others may come round - and aren't you vulnerable?)
If your friend is like honey, don't lick all of it! (Do not take advantage of the sweetness of a dear friend! Used to take to task someone who abuses the generosity of a friend.)
Learn politeness from the impolite.
Making money on manure is better than losing money on musk.
Money goes to peacocks (Vainglorious people get wealth also.)
Protect the flame of your candle and it will light more. (Don't brag about your blessings or you could lose them. Use: As in "A cake watched never rises".)
Stretch your legs as far as your quilt (blanket) goes. (Do not do what you cannot afford.)
The costly news of today will be free tomorrow. (What becomes common, its value may drop.)
The miserable got together with the hopeless. (Little good may come out of such a union. Used to comment on two disadvantaged people who want to join efforts.)
The son of the swan is a good swimmer (Like father like son. Used when a son is able, just like his father, etc.)
They couldn't beat the donkey so they beat the saddle! (Suggested: Address the source of the problem, rather.)
We let him in, he brought his donkey along. (Be careful with some people, they try to take advantage of others. This proverb is used when somebody doesn't stop at the limits set for him or her.)
What comes this way, goes this way. (Also: Easy come, easy go.)
Ashby, Muata, coll. Ancient Egyptian Proverbs. 4th ed. Miami, FLA: Sema Institute, 2005.
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EB: Encyclopaedia Britannica (Online)
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