Egyptian Philosophy – Ptahhotep

The best known and preserved Egyptian wisdom text, what some have called the first philosophy in history, is The Instructions of Ptahhotep, a work with an introduction, 37 maxims and conclusion that survives on three ancient papyrus scrolls.  While translations differ, most agree that the text teaches to practice moderation, kindness, justice and honesty towards everyone equally.  In the intro, Ptahhotep praises his pharaoh, who lives forever, and curses the old age he feels, which is evil in everything it does to us, but hopes that he can be a staff of wisdom that stands for the ways of the ancients, taking pain from the people.

1) Don’t be proud of what you know.  Talk to the foolish as well as the wise.  The limits of skill have no limit. No artist’s craftwork is perfect.  Wise words are as rare as jewels, but can be found in the mouths of the maids at the grindstone.

2) If you meet an enemy stronger than you, fold your arms and bend your back.  Talking won’t make them agree with you. Make nothing of what they say or stop what they do.  They will be called fools. Your wisdom will match their pile of words.

3) If you meet an enemy who is on your level, you will outdo them by silence.  While they speak evil, those who hear will talk, and your name will be fine as far as the judges know.

4) If you meet an enemy who is weaker than you, do not attack them.  Leave them alone and they will fight themselves. Do not talk to them to heal your heart.  Do not wash your heart by venting what you feel. Only the evil injure the weak. Others will want to do what you want to do, and the judges will punish them for you.

14) If you are with people, gain support through trust.  The trusted who don’t let their stomachs do the talking take the lead.

16)  If you lead others, reach widely and do great things.  Remember the next day is coming. There is no pain in the middle of honors, but hate rises when the crocodile comes.

17)  If you lead others, listen calmly to those who ask.  Don’t stop what they need and plan to let out. Those in pain want to pour out their heart more than win their case.  Others ask questions about us if we don’t let others question us. You can’t give everyone everything they want, but hearing others heals the heart.

19) If you want to be perfect and free from evil, guard against greed, a sickness without cure.  There is no treatment for fathers, mothers, brothers of mothers, parting wives from husbands, a mix of all evils, a bundle of all we hate.  Those who endure rule themselves right and walk a straight line. Those who rule write a will, while the greedy have no tomb.

20)  Don’t be greedy cutting pieces or want more than your share.  Do not be greedy towards those you love, as the kind get more than the cruel.  Those who shut others out lose, lacking interaction. Just a little of what you want turns an enemy into a friend.

21)  When you grow and build a house, love your wife, fill her belly, clothe her back, give oil for her limbs and make her heart happy as long as you live, for she is a fertile field for you.  But do not argue with her in court and do not let her take over your house. The gaze of her eye is a storm.

23)  Do not repeat or listen to slander, the spouting of hot bellies.  Say what you see, not what you hear. If it is not important, don’t say anything.  Others can see what you are worth. Hate rises against those who take things. Slander is like covering the face to stop dreaming.

24)  Focus on excellence.  Silence is better than chatter.  Speak when you know you have a solution.  The skilled should speak. Speaking is harder than all other work.  Those who understand use it well.

25)  If you are strong, gain praise through knowledge and kind words.  Don’t lead unless it fits, as those who stir get trouble. Don’t be proud, or you will be humbled.  Don’t say nothing, or others will say things. When you talk to the angry, tilt your face and keep hold of yourself.  The flame of hot hearts spreads. Those who step gently have paved paths. Those who worry all day never have a happy moment.  Those who are happy all day can’t keep house.

28)  If you are a respected judge who helps the people, draw a straight line.  When you speak don’t lean to one side. Take care others don’t say you’re unbalanced and your judgement turns into a judgement of you.

29)  If you are angry at someone lean toward the better in them.  Pass over it and don’t recall it, just as they and we were on our first day in the world.

Epilogue)  The wise are known by wisdom, the great by good actions.  Their heart match their tongue, lips straight when they speak.

If hearing enters those who hear, the hearer becomes a listener.  Hearing well is speaking well. Hearing is useful to those who hear.  Hearing is better than all else. It creates good will.

The fool who does not hear can do nothing at all, sees knowledge in ignorance, use in harm.  Fools do everything we hate and are blamed for everything every day.

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