Based on a book by Brian Brown, editor: The Wisdom of the Egyptians. New York: Brentano's, 1923.
Many of the virtues which we are apt to suppose a monopoly of Christian culture appear as the ideal of these old Egyptians. - Brian Brown.
He Loved, Rejoiced and Was Easily Pleased
"The average Egyptian . . . had a keen sense of humor and was easily pleased. He loved eating and drinking, music and dancing, festivals and processions, and display of all sorts and kinds, and he enjoyed himself whenever an opportunity offered. Over and over again the living are exhorted to eat and drink and enjoy themselves. His morality was of the highest kind, and he thoroughly understood his duty towards his neighbour. He was kindly and humane, he fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, lent a boat to the shipwrecked man, protected the widows and orphans, and fed the starving animals of the desert. He loved his village and his home and rejoiced when he was "loved by his father, praised by his mother, and beloved by his brothers and sisters." He was a hard worker . . . He was slow to anger and disliked military service and war . . . [H]e wished above all things to be allowed to till his land and do his own business in his own way in peace . . . The influence of his beliefs and religion, and literature, and arts and crafts on the civilization of other nations can hardly be overestimated." - Dr. Wallis Budge.
The recent excavations around the pyramids have revealed that they were not all built by sour slaves, but rather by free men who competed in groups most of the time. There were regal conspiracies, though.
The Ptah-Hotep and the Ke'gemni: One of the Oldest Books in the World
The translator Brian Brown goes into the history of the texts, and the following is extracted:
The instructions of the nobles Ptah-hotep and of Ke'gemni were composed about 4.000 years BCE and 3.550 years BCE if the datings and ascriptions in them be accepted as trustworthy. And that should make them the oldest known books in the world.
However, the Rigveda may at least in part be traced back to times before 4000 BCE, based on its descriptions of astronomical occurrences from earlier than 4000 BC.
Ptah-hotep of Memphis summarised for the benefit of future generations the leading principles of morality in his day. Nothing definite is known about him or Ke'gemni beyond what is said of them in their works.
You can place yourself at the period at which Ptah-hotep lived (ca. 3550 BCE), "under King Isosi, living forever." Only after 2.000 years shall Moses write on stone tablets and the Sanskrit Vedas be arranged in their present form. It will be 2.500 years before Solomon sets in order many proverbs [attributed to him] and writes books that resemble that of Ptah-hotep so much in form and style. The space of years between Solomon and ourselves is not so great as that between Solomon and Ptah-hotep.
[Based on an introduction by Brian Brown in 1923 - p. 93-96]
The manuscript in transliteration:
The sayings or periods of the numbered sections unite. Still, many sayings are likable alone too, and therefore some are spaced in this abridged text.
The Instruction of the Governor of his City, the Vizier, Ptah-hotep (The God Ptah Is Satisfied), in the Reign of King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Isosi, living forever, to the end of Time.
Vizier Ptah-hotep said: "The end of life is at hand; old age descends; feebleness comes, and childishness is renewed. The bones are painful throughout the body. These things old age does for mankind."*
His king: "Instruct [your son] then, in the words of old time; may he be a wonder to [those who] listen well with him. Make straight all their hearts.
Discourse with [your son] without causing weariness."
The vizier Ptah-hotep, instructing in the knowledge of exactness in fair speaking, said to his son:
Do not be proud because you are learned; but discourse with the ignorant man as with the sage. For no limit can be set to skill.
There is no craftsman that possesses full advantages.
Fair speech is more rare than the emerald that is found by slave-maidens on the
If you find an arguer talking, one that is well disposed and wiser than you . . ., be not angry with him if he does not agree (?) you.
Refrain from speaking evilly.
If you find an arguer talking, your fellow, one that is within your reach, do not
keep silence when he says anything that is evil; so shall you be wiser than he.
If you find an arguer talking, a poor man, that is to say not your equal, do not be scornful toward him because he is lowly.
Let [a poor, talking arguer well] alone; then shall he confound himself.
Do not question [the a poor, talking arguer] to please your heart, nor pour out your wrath on him before you.
It is shameful to confuse a [lowly] mind.
If you are a leader, as one directing the conduct of the multitude, endeavor always to be gracious, that your own conduct be without defect.
Great is Truth, appointing a straight path . . ..
Overstepping is by the covetous man.
Always find out what is allowed.*
The limits of justice are steadfast; it is that which a man repeats from his
Cause not fear among men; for the God punishes [it] likewise . . .. There is a man that says, "Power – is in it"; and he says, "I seize for myself that which I perceive." Thus a man speaks, and he is smitten down.
[One may attain something] by giving to him that has not.
Live . . . in the house of kindliness.
If you are among the guests of a man that is greater than you, accept that which he gives you, putting it to your lips.
If you look at [your host], do not pierce him with many glances. [Such staring] is abhorred of the soul [ka].
Do not speak till he address you; one does not know what may be evil in his opinion.
Speak when he questions you; so shall your speech be good in his opinion.
The noble who sits before food divides it as his soul moves him; he gives to him that he would favour – it is the custom of the evening meal. It is his soul that guides his hand. It is the noble that bestows, not the underling that attains.
He is an ignorant man that disputes that the eating of bread is under the
providence of the God.
If you are an emissary sent from one noble to another, be exact after the
manner of him that sent you, give his message even as he has said it. Beware of making
enmity by your words, setting one noble against the other by perverting truth. Do not
overstep it, neither repeat that which any man, whether prince or peasant, says in opening
the heart; it is abhorrent to the soul.
If you have ploughed, gather your harvest in the field.
If a crafty man be the possessor of wealth, he steals like a crocodile . . ..
Do not let a man be envious that has no children; let him be neither downcast nor quarrelsome on account of it.
A father, though great, may be grieved.
The mother of children has less peace than another.
Verily, each man is created by the God; [remain] trustful in following him.
If you are lowly, serve a wise man, that all your actions may be good.
If you have known a man of no account that has been advanced in rank, do not be haughty toward him on account of that which you know about him; but honour him that has been advanced according to that which he has become.
Riches do not come of themselves. [If someone] bestir himself and collects them
himself, the God shall make him prosperous.
Follow your heart during your lifetime; do not do more than what is commanded you.
Do not diminish the time of following the heart; it is abhorred of the soul, that its time be taken away.
Do not shorten the daytime more than is needful to maintain your house.
When riches are gained, follow the heart; for riches are of no avail if one be
If you would be a wise man, beget a son in order to please the God. If [your son] makes straight his course after your example, if he arrange your affairs in due order, do to him all that is good, for your son he is, begotten of your own soul. Do not sunder your heart from him, or your own begotten shall curse.
If [your son] should be heedless and trespass your rules of conduct, and is violent; if every speech that comes from his mouth is a vile word; then beat him, so that his talk may be fitting.
Keep [your son] from those that make light of what is commanded, for it is they that make him rebellious.
Those who are [carefully] guided do not go astray - but they that lose their
bearings; they cannot find a straight course.
In the council chamber, act always according to the steps enjoined on you at the start of the [session or] day. [Do not act so that you get expelled].
The council chamber's plans are in accordance with method.
It is the God that advances one to [a high and good position].
A high position can be ruinous for elbowers.*
If you are among people, make love the beginning and end of the heart for yourself.
One that does not know his course shall say to himself – seeing you – , "He that orders himself duly becomes the owner of wealth; I shall copy his conduct."
The man whose heart obeys his belly, causes disgust in place of love. His heart is
wretched (?) . . . he is insolent toward those endowed of the God. He that
obeys his belly has an enemy [it could be the belly].
Report your actions without concealment . . .
If you are a leader, cause [see to] that the rules that you have enjoined be carried out. And do all things as one that remembers the coming days, when speech is of no avail.
Do not be lavish of favours; it leads to servility (?), producing
If you are a leader, be gracious when you listen to the speech of a suppliant. Do not let him hesitate to deliver himself of that which he has thought to tell you; but be desirous of removing his injury. Let him speak freely, so that the thing that he has come to you for, may be done.
A well taught heart listens readily.
If you desire to continue friendship anywhere as master, brother, or friend, beware of consorting with women.
No place prospers where [consorting with women] is done. Nor is it prudent to take part in it; a thousand men have been ruined for the pleasure of a little time short as a dream. Even death is reached by it; it is a wretched thing.
As for the evil liver, [good] people leave him for what he does, and he is
If you desire that your actions may be good, save yourself from all malice.
[If you desire that your actions may be good, also] beware of covetousness, which is a grievous malady. Do not let it chance that you fall into that.
[Covetousness] sets at variance fathers-in-law and the kinsmen of the daughter-in-law; it sunders the wife and the husband. It gathers to itself all evils; it [contains all] wickedness.
But the just man flourishes; truth goes in his footsteps, and he makes habitations
in it [in truthfulness], not in the dwelling of covetousness.
Do not be covetous as touching shares, in seizing that which is not your own property.
Do not be covetous toward your neighbours; with a gentleman praise avails more than might.
Covetousness suggests being void of the persuasion of speech.*
Even a little covetousness gives remorse when "the belly cools".
If you would be wise, provide for your house, and love your wife in your arms. Fill her stomach, clothe her back; oil is the remedy of her limbs. Gladden her heart during your lifetime, for she is an estate profitable to its lord.
Do not be harsh [to your dear wife], for gentleness masters her more than strength.
Give (?) to her that for which she sighs and that toward which her eye looks; so
shall you keep her in your house. . . .
Satisfy your hired servants out of such things as you have; it is the duty of one that has been favoured of the God.
Truly, it is hard to satisfy hired servants.
And when favours have been shown to servants, they say, "We go."
Peace does not stay in that town where wretched servants live.*
Do not repeat extravagant speech, nor listen to it; for it is the utterance of a body heated by wrath.
When [extravagant] speech is repeated to you, do not listen well to it, and look to the ground.
Do not speak of it, so that he that is before you may know wisdom.
If you are commanded to do a theft, bring it to pass that the command be taken off you,
That which destroys a vision is the veil over it.
If you would be a wise man, and one sitting in council with his overlord, apply your heart to perfection.
Silence [can be] more profitable to you than abundant speech.
Consider how you may be opposed by an expert . . ..
Do not speak above your limits.*
If you are powerful, make yourself honoured for knowledge and for gentleness. Speak with authority, that is, not as if following injunctions, for he that is humble – when highly placed – falls into errors.
Do not exalt your heart, that it may not be brought low.
Do not be silent, but beware of interruption and of answering words with heat. Put it far from you; control yourself. The wrathful heart speaks fiery words; it darts out at the man of peace that approaches, stopping his path.
One that reckons accounts all the day does not pass a happy moment.
One that gladdens his heart all the day does not provide for his house.
The bowman hits the mark, as the steersman reaches land, by diversity of aim. (NOTE: In life, by diversity of aim, alternating work and play, happiness is secured. Tacking is evidently meant in the case of the steersman.)
He that obeys his heart shall command.
Do not let a prince be hindered when he is occupied.
Do not oppress the heart of him that is already laden.
The prince shall be hostile toward one that delays him, but shall bare his soul to one that loves him.
The disposal of souls is with the God, and that which He loves is His creation.
Set out, therefore, after a violent quarrel; be at peace with him that is hostile
to you. Such souls make love grow.
Instruct a noble in things that are profitable to him; because of it he is received among men. Your provision depends on his satisfaction and subsequent will.* By reason of it your belly shall be satisfied; your back will be clothed by it.
Let [the well instructed noble] receive your heart, that your house may flourish and your honour – if you wish it to flourish – by it.
[The carefully instructed noble] shall extend you a kindly hand. Further, he shall implant the love of you in the bodies of your friends. Indeed, it is a soul loving to listen well.
(NOTE: This section refers to the relations between the son of a nobleman and his
tutor, dwelling on the benefits from former pupils in high places, if their school days
have been pleasant.)
Objectivity or fairness is for the priesthood too:* [!] Speak without favouring
one side. Do not let it be said: "His conduct is that of the nobles, favouring one side in
his speech." Turn your aim toward exact judgements.
If you are great after having been held of no account before, and have gotten riches after squalour, being foremost in these in the city, and have knowledge about useful matters so that promotion has come to you; then do not swathe your heart in your hoard, for you have become the steward of the endowments of the God.
You are not the last [of the line, etc.]; another shall be your equal, and to him
shall come the like - fortune and station.
Do not plunder the houses of tenants; nor steal the things of a friend, so that he will not accuse you in your bearing; and that prevents the heart from advancing (?).
If your friend gets to know you steal his things, he will do you an injury.*
Quarrelling in place of friendship is a foolish thing.
If you would seek out the nature of a friend, do not ask it of any companion of his; but pass a time with him alone, so that you do not injure his affairs.
Debate with [a friend] after a season; test his heart in an occasion of speech.
When [a friend] has told you his past life, he has made an opportunity that you may either be ashamed for him or be familiar with him.
Do not be reserved with [a friend] when he opens speech, neither answer him after a scornful manner.
Do not withdraw yourself from [a friend], nor interrupt (?) him whose matter is
not yet ended, whom it is possible to benefit.
Let your face be bright the time you live.
That which goes into the storehouse must come out from there; and bread is to be shared.
He that is grasping in entertainment shall himself have an empty belly.
He that causes strife comes himself to sorrow. Do not take such a one for your companion.
It is a man's kindly acts that are remembered of him in the years after his life
(Literally: after his stick or sceptre).
Know well your merchants; for [the sake of such as] your good repute.
The wealth of one passes to another. The good repute of a man's son is a glory to
him; and a good character is for remembrance.
Correct chiefly; instruct correspondingly.
Vice must be drawn out so that virtue may remain. Nor is this a matter of
misfortune, for one that is a gainsayer becomes a strifemaker.
If you make a woman ashamed, wanton of heart, not known by her townfolk, or cause
her to be falsely placed, be kind to her for a space, do not send her away, give her to
eat. Let the wantonness of her heart determine your guidance.
If you obey these things that I have said to you, all your demeanour shall be of the best.
Set good proverbs in the mouths of the people. They make the pattern whereby folks speak well. Good proverbs instruct a man how he shall speak and excel in speaking. Thus, good fortune [may at times] befall him, he shall be gracious and contented. His knowledge shall be his guide (?) into a place of security, wherein he shall prosper while on earth. The scholar (who knows them) shall be content in his knowledge.*
As to the prince, in his turn, his heart shall indeed be happy, his tongue made
straight. Through proverbs he shall speak, shall see, and shall hear, that which is
profitable for his son, so that he deals justly, void of deceit.*
A splendid thing is the obedience of an obedient son.
Obedience [calls for] good-will.
That which is desired by the God is [persistent] obedience; [annoying] disobedience [that is persisted in] is abhorred of the God.
Verily, it is the heart that makes its master obey or disobey; for the safe and sound life of a man is his heart.
He that obeys [may sooner or later be] obeyed.
A properly obedient son shall be mild as a master, and he that hears him shall obey him that has spoken.
A properly obedient son shall be comely in body and honoured by his father.
Let a son receive the word of his father, not being heedless of any rule of his.
Those who are watchful and obedient are quite wise, and their goings may appear seemly.*
Understanding shall establish a wise one.*
The fool regards good knowledge as ignorance and profitable things are hurtful things.*
A fool does all kinds of errors; at chattering speech he marvels.
A fool is shunned because of his misfortunes and the many afflictions that come on
him [even] daily.
A son that listens carefully, he listens carefully; he reaches honour and reverence.
Pass on the teachings that they may work well.*
Let that which you speaks implant true and just things in the life of your children. Then sins shall depart.
Be wary of speech when a learned man listens carefully to you; desire to be established for good in the mouth of those that hear you speaking.
If you have entered as an expert, speak with exact (?) lips, that your conduct may
Let your heart overflow; but restrain your mouth [a bit]. Let your conduct be exact while among nobles, and seemly before your lord. . . .
Apply your heart, whatever time you speak, to saying things that are really noble
and excellent for you or your reputation, so that you can live well.*
A good son is of the gift of the God; and he does more than is enjoined on him, he
does right, and puts his heart into all his goings.
It helps to attain a suitable position, so that the body shall flourish and the [leader] is content in all that you do, and you shall gather [many good] years of life on earth.
I have gathered even fivescore and ten years of life, [for] I wrought truth and justice for the King to my old age.
The cautious man flourishes, the exact one is praised; the innermost chamber opens to the man of silence.
Wide (comfortable) is the seat of the man gentle of speech; but knives are
prepared against one that forces a path, that he does not advance, save in due
If you sit with a company of people, do not desire the bread that you like; short is the time of restraining the heart, and gluttony is an abomination; in it is the quality of a beast. A handful of water quenches the thirst, and a mouthful of melon supports the heart.
A good thing stands for goodness, but some small thing stands for plenty.
A base man is he that is governed by his belly; he departs only when he is no
longer able to fill full his belly in men's houses. [Do not get overloaded, then.]
If you sit with a glutton, eat with him, then depart (?).
If you drink with a drunkard, accept – drink – and his heart shall be satisfied.
Do not refuse meat when with a greedy man. Take that which he gives you; do not
set it on one side, thinking that it will be a courteous thing.
If a man is lacking in good fellowship, no speech has any influence over him. He
is sour of face toward the glad-hearted that are kindly to him; he is a grief to his
mother and his friends . . .
Do not be haughty because of your might in the middle of your young soldiers.
Beware of making strife, for one does not know the things that the God will do when He
"Listen well to everything that is in writing in this book, even as I have said it in adding to profitable sayings."
And . . . they read it as it was written. And it was better in their opinion than anything in this land [Egypt] to its limits.
They were living when His Majesty, the King of upper and lower Egypt, Heuni, departed, and His Majesty, the King of upper and lower Egypt, Senforu, was enthroned as a gracious king over the whole of this land.
Then was Ke'gemni made Governor of his city and Vizier.
Shine forth, even as the God.* Listen well to that which I say to you; that you
may reign over the land, that you may govern the world, that you may excel in
Be wholly withdrawn from subordinates. It happens that mankind give their hearts
to one that causes them fear. Do not mix among them alone; do not fill your heart with a
brother; do not know a trusted friend; make for yourself no familiar dependents; in these
things is no satisfaction. [The counsel is given in "Pharaoh times", and they were
different from ours, as will be seen in the following:]
When you lie down have a care for your very life, since friends do not exist for a
man in the day of misfortunes. I gave to the beggar, and caused the orphan to live. The
one that did not have, I made to attain, just as he that had.
But it was the eater of my food that made insurrection against me; to whom I gave
my hands, he created disturbance by it; they that arrayed them in my fine linen regarded
me as a shadow; and it was they that anointed themselves with my spices that entered my
My images are among the living; and my achievements are among men. But I have made
a heroic story that has not been heard; a great feat of arms that has not been seen.
Surely one fights for a lassoed ox that forgets yesterday; and good fortune is of no avail
to one that cannot perceive it.
It was after the evening meal, and night was come. I took for myself an hour of
ease. I lay down on my bed, for I was weary. My heart began to wander (?). I slept. And
lo! weapons were brandished, and there was conference about me. I acted as the serpent of
I awoke to fight; I was alone. I found one struck down, it was the captain of the
guard. Had I received quickly the arms from his hand, I had driven back the dastards by
smiting around. But he was not a brave man on that night, nor could I fight alone; an
occasion of prowess does not come to one surprised. Thus was I.
Behold, then, vile things came to pass, for I was without you; the courtiers did
not know that I had passed on to you – my power. I did not sit with you on the throne.
Let me, then, make my plans. Because I did not awe them I was not unmindful of them; but
my heart does not bring to remembrance the slackness of servants.
Have ever women gathered together assailants? Are assassins reared within my
palace? Was the opening done by cutting through the ground? The underlings were deceived
as to what they did. But misfortunes have not come in my train since my birth; nor has
there existed the equal of me as a doer of valiance.
I forced my way up to Elephantine, I went down to the coast-lakes; I have stood on
the boundaries of the land, and I have seen its centre. I have set the limits of might by
my might in my deeds.
I raised corn, . . . the Nile begged of me every valley. In my reign none
hungered; none thirsted in it. They were contented in that which I did, saying about me,
"Every commandment is meet."
I overcame lions; I carried off crocodiles. I cast the Nubians under my feet; I
carried off the southern Nubians; I caused the Asiatics to flee, even as hounds.
I have made me a house adorned with gold, its ceilings with lapis lazuli, its
walls having deep foundations. Its doors are of copper, their bolts are of bronze. It is
made for everlasting; eternity is in awe of it [Bah!]. I know every dimension of it,
There are divers devices in buildings. . . . My Son, Senwesert: Life, safe and
sound, be to you – By your feet I walk; you are after my own heart. By your eyes I see;
you were born in an hour of delight; with spirits that rendered you praise.
See that which I did at the beginning, let me set it in order for you at the end; let me be the landing-place of that which is in your heart.
Breasted, James Henry. Ancient Records of Egypt. Vols 1-5. London: The University of Chicago Press, 1906. Online.
Brewer, Douglas J. Ancient Egypt: Foundations of a Civilization. Harlow, GB: Pearson Education, 2005.
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.
Cameron, Louise et al. Art of Ancient Egypt. St. Louis: Saint Louis Art Museum, 2005.
Clark, Rosemary. The Sacred Tradition in Ancient Egypt: The Esoteric Wisdom Revealed. St. Paul, MI: Llewellyn, 2000. ⍽▢⍽ Interesting, although not a scientific approach of interpreting symbols differently. Solid proof of some interpretations is missing.
Gardiner, Alan H, Sir. The Admonitions of an Egyptian Sage from a Hieratic Papyrus in Leiden. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1909.
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.
Kamil, Jill. The Ancient Egyptians: Life in the Old Kingdom. Rev ed. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 1996.
Lichtheim, Miriam. Moral Values in Ancient Egypt. Fribourg, Switzerland: University Press, 1997.
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.
Redford, Donald B, ed. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Vols 1-3. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. ⍽▢⍽ Very much content.
Ruiz, Ana. The Spirit of Ancient Egypt. New York: Algora Publishing, 2001.
Simpson, Kelly, ed. The Literature of Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Stories, Instructions, Stelae, Autobiographies, and Poetry. 3rd ed. London: Yale University Press, 2003.
Trigger, Bruce G. Early Civilizations: Ancient Egypt in Context. 4th paperback printing. New York: The American University in Cairo Press, 2001.
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