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The Instruction of Ptah-Hotep is the most ancient complete literary work existing. It was written in the Fifth Egyptian Dynasty, 3580 B.C. to 3536 B.C. In this papyrus book, Ptah-Hotep sets down the rules of behavior that all wise men should convey to their sons.

The Instruction of Ptah-Hotep

From the translation by Battiscombe G. Gunn

The Instruction of Ptah-HotepThe Instruction of the Governor of his City, the Vizier, Ptah-Hotep, in the Reign of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Isosi, living forever, to the end of Time.

The Governor of his City, the Vizier, Ptah-Hotep, he said: 'O Prince, my Lord, the end of life is at hand; old age descends [upon me]; feebleness comes, and childishness is renewed. He [that is old] lies down in misery every day. The eyes are small; the ears are deaf. Energy is diminished, the heart has no rest. The mouth is silent, and he speaks no word; the heart stops, and he remembers not yesterday. The bones are painful throughout the body; good turns unto evil. All taste departs. These things does old age for mankind, being evil in all things. The nose is stopped, and he breathes not for weakness, whether standing or sitting.

Command me, your servant, therefore, to make over my princely authority [to my son]. Let me speak unto him the words of them that hearken to the counsel of the men of old time; those that hearkened unto the gods. I pray you, let this thing be done, that sin may be banished from among persons of understanding, that you may enlighten the lands.

Said the Majesty of this God [the King]: 'Instruct him, then, in the words of old time. May he be a wonder unto the children of princes, that they may enter and learn with him. Make straight all their hearts; and speak with him, without causing weariness.'

Here begin the proverbs of fair speech, spoken by the Hereditary Chief, the High Priest, Beloved of the God, the Eldest Son of the King, of his body, the Governor of his City, the Vizier, Ptah-Hotep, when instructing the ignorant in the knowledge of exactness in fair-speaking; the glory of him that obeys, the shame of him that transgress.

The wisdom of Ptah-Hotep (click items below):

  1. Take No False Pride In Education
  2. Rules for Courteous Debate
  3. Set a Good Example
  4. Follow the Path of Truth
  5. Obey the Law
  6. Be Kind and Receive Kindness in Return
  7. Proper Etiquette as a Guest
  8. Be a True Emissary
  9. Be Industrious, Fair to Your Neighbors and Pay Your Taxes
  10. The Blessing of Children
  11. Honor the Advancement of Others and Serve a Wise Man
  12. Work Hard, Be Not Slothful
  13. Take Time to Refresh Your Spirit
  14. Guidance and Vigilance are Needed to Raise a Good Son
  15. Guide to Conduct within the Council Chamber
  16. Love Your Neighbor and You will Prosper
  17. Selfish Indulgence Leads to Ruin
  18. Your Prince May Keep His Own Counsel
  19. Advice to Leaders
  20. Beware of Consorting with Women
  21. Beware of Those Who Lead Evil Lives
  22. Be Not Covetous in Your Family
  23. Be Not Covetous with Your Neighbors
  24. Cherish Your Wife
  25. On Hired Servants
  26. Do Not Gossip
  27. Do Not Steal
  28. Offer Your Opinion Sparingly
  29. Proper Conduct for the Powerful
  30. Be Moderate in All Things
  31. Be Compassionate and Make Your Peace after Quarreling
  32. The Role of the Tutor to the Son of the Master
  33. Be a Fair Mediator Between the Noble and the Multitude
  34. Forgive and Do Not Seek Gratitude for it
  35. Success is the Gift of the Gods
  36. Propitiate Your Boss
  37. Cherish Friends and Tenants
  38. How to Speak as a True Friend
  39. Live Joyfully and Cause No Strife
  40. Guard Your Reputation
  41. Correct and Instruct
  42. Treat Women with Compassion
  43. Do These Things and Prosper
  44. On Being an Obedient Son
  45. Let a Son Heed his Father and Instruct his Son
  46. A Fool Does not Obey and Does not Listen to Wisdom
  47. Pass Down the Wisdom to the Generations
  48. Be Prudent with Advice
  49. A Good Son is the Gift of the God
  50. Go and Prosper in the Service of the King

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