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TheTeachings of Ptahhotep – Full Text English Translated

THE INSTRUCTION OF PTAH-HOTEP

The Ethics of Argument–Manners for Guests–From Father to Son–A Just
Judge–The Treatment of Servants–Duties of the Great–The Test of
Friendship–The Beauty of Obedience–One Generation to Another–Whom
the King Honoureth

 

The Instruction of the Governor of his City, the Vizier, Ptah-hotep, in
the Reign of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Isôsi, living for ever,
to the end of Time.

 

A. The Governor of his City, the Vizier, Ptah-hotep, he said: ‘O
Prince, my Lord, the end of life is at hand; old age descendeth [upon
me]; feebleness cometh, and childishness is renewed. He [that is old]
lieth down in misery every day. The eyes are small; the ears are deaf.
Energy is diminished, the heart hath no rest. The mouth is silent, and
he speaketh no word; the heart stoppeth, and he remembereth not
yesterday. The bones are painful throughout the body; good turneth
unto evil. All taste departeth. These things doeth old age for
mankind, being evil in all things. The nose is stopped, and he
breatheth not for weakness (?), whether standing or sitting.

‘Command me, thy 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 {42} hearkened unto the
gods. I pray thee, let this thing be done, that sin may be banished
from among persons of understanding, that thou may enlighten the lands.’

Said the Majesty of this God:[1] ‘Instruct him, then, in the words of
old time; may he be a wonder unto the children of princes, that they
may enter and hearken with him. Make straight all their hearts; and
discourse with him, without causing weariness.’

 

B. Here begin the proverbs of fair speech, spoken by the Hereditary
Chief, the Holy Father,[2] Beloved of the God, the Eldest Son of the
King, of his body, the Governor of his City, the Vezier, Ptah-hotep,
when instructing the ignorant in the knowledge of exactness in
fair-speaking; the glory of him that obeyeth, the shame of him that
transgresseth them.

He said unto his son:

 

1. Be not proud because thou art learned; but discourse with the
ignorant man, as with the sage. For no limit can be set to skill,
neither is there any craftsman that possesseth full advantages. Fair
speech is more rare than the emerald that is found by slave-maidens on
the pebbles.

2. If thou find an arguer talking, one that is well disposed and wiser
than thou, let thine arms {43} fall, bend thy back,[3] be not angry
with him if he agree (?) not with thee. Refrain from speaking evilly;
oppose him not at any time when he speaketh. If he address thee as one
ignorant of the matter, thine humbleness shall bear away his
contentions.

3. If thou find an arguer talking, thy fellow, one that is within thy
reach, keep not silence when he saith aught that is evil; so shalt thou
be wiser than he. Great will be the applause on the part of the
listeners, and thy name shall be good in the knowledge of princes.

4. If thou find an arguer talking, a poor man, that is to say not
thine equal, be not scornful toward him because he is lowly. Let him
alone; then shall he confound himself. Question him not to please
thine heart, neither pour out thy wrath upon him that is before thee;
it is shameful to confuse a mean mind. If thou be about to do that
which is in thine heart, overcome it as a thing rejected of princes.

5. If thou be a leader, as one directing the conduct of the multitude,
endeavour always to be gracious, that thine own conduct be without
defect. Great is Truth, appointing a straight path; never hath it been
overthrown since the {44} reign of Osiris.[4] One that oversteppeth
the laws shall be punished. Overstepping is by the covetous man; but
degradations (?) bear off his riches, for the season of his evil-doing
ceaseth not. For he saith, ‘I will obtain by myself for myself,’ and
saith not, ‘I will obtain because I am allowed.’ But the limits of
justice are steadfast; it is that which a man repeateth from his father.

6. Cause not fear among men; for [this] the God punisheth likewise.
For there is a man that saith, ‘Therein is life’; and he is bereft of
the bread of his mouth. There is a man that saith, ‘Power [is
therein]’; and he saith, ‘I seize for myself that which I perceive.’
Thus a man speaketh, and he is smitten down. It is another that
attaineth by giving unto him that hath not; not he that causeth men
dread. For it happeneth that what the God hath commanded, even that
thing cometh to pass. Live, therefore, in the house of kindliness, and
men shall come and give gifts of themselves.

7. If thou be among the guests of a man that is greater than thou,
accept that which he giveth thee, putting it to thy lips. If thou look
at him that is before thee (thine host), pierce him not {45} with many
glances. It is abhorred of the soul[5] to stare at him. Speak not
till he address thee; one knoweth not what may be evil in his opinion.
Speak when he questioneth thee; so shall thy speech be good in his
opinion. The noble who sitteth before food divideth it as his soul
moveth him; he giveth unto him that he would favour–it is the custom
of the evening meal. It is his soul that guideth his hand. It is the
noble that bestoweth, not the underling that attaineth. Thus the
eating of bread is under the providence of the God; he is an ignorant
man that disputeth it.

8. If thou be an emissary sent from one noble to another, be exact
after the manner of him that sent thee, give his message even as he
hath said it. Beware of making enmity by thy words, setting one noble
against the other by perverting truth. Overstep it not, neither repeat
that which any man, be he prince or peasant, saith in opening the
heart; it is abhorrent to the soul.

9. If thou have ploughed, gather thine harvest in the field, and the
God shall make it great under thine hand. Fill not thy mouth at thy
neighbours’ table….[6] If a crafty man be the {46} possessor of
wealth, he stealeth like a crocodile from the priests.

Let not a man be envious that hath no children; let him be neither
downcast nor quarrelsome on account of it. For a father, though great,
may be grieved; as to the mother of children, she hath less peace than
another. Verily, each man is created [to his destiny] by the God, Who
is the chief of a tribe, trustful in following him.

10. If thou be lowly, serve a wise man, that all thine actions may be
good before the God. If thou have known a man of none account that
hath been advanced in rank, be not haughty toward him on account of
that which thou knowest concerning him; but honour him that hath been
advanced, according to that which he hath become.

Behold, riches come not of themselves; it is their rule for him that
desireth them. If he bestir him and collect them himself, the God
shall make him prosperous; but He shall punish him, if he be slothful.

11. Follow thine heart during thy lifetime; do not more than is
commanded thee. Diminish not the time of following the heart; it is
abhorred of the soul, that its time [of ease] be taken away. Shorten
not the daytime more than is needful to {47} maintain thine house.
When riches are gained, follow the heart; for riches are of no avail if
one be weary.

12. If thou wouldest be a wise man, beget a son for the pleasing of
the God. If he make straight his course after thine example, if he
arrange thine affairs in due order, do unto him all that is good, for
thy son is he, begotten of thine own soul. Sunder not thine heart from
him, or thine own begotten shall curse [thee]. If he be heedless and
trespass thy rules of conduct, and is violent; if every speech that
cometh from his mouth be a vile word; then beat thou him, that his talk
may be fitting. Keep him from those that make light of that which is
commanded, for it is they that make him rebellious.[7] And they that
are guided go not astray, but they that lose their bearings cannot find
a straight course.

13. If thou be in the chamber of council, act always according to the
steps enjoined on thee at the beginning of the day. Be not absent, or
thou shall be expelled; but be ready in entering and making report.
Wide[8] is the seat of one that hath made address. The council-chamber
acteth by strict rule; and all its plans are in accordance with method.
It is the God that {48} advanceth one to a seat therein; the like is
not done for elbowers.

14. If thou be among people, make for thyself love, the beginning and
end of the heart. One that knoweth not his course shall say in himself
(seeing thee), ‘He that ordereth himself duly becometh the owner of
wealth; I shall copy his conduct.’ Thy name shall be good, though thou
speak not; thy body shall be fed; thy face shall be [seen] among thy
neighbours; thou shalt be provided with what thou lackest. As to the
man whose heart obeyeth his belly, he causeth disgust in place of love.
His heart is wretched (?), his body is gross (?), he is insolent toward
those endowed of the God. He that obeyeth his belly hath an enemy.[9]

15. Report thine actions without concealment; discover thy conduct
when in council with thine overlord. It is not evil for the envoy that
his report be not answered, ‘Yea, I know it,’ by the prince; for that
which he knoweth includeth not [this]. If he (the prince) think that
he will oppose him on account of it, [he thinketh] ‘He will be silent
because I have spoken.'[10]

16. If thou be a leader, cause that the rules {49} that thou hast
enjoined be carried out; and do all things as one that remembereth the
days coming after, when speech availeth not. Be not lavish of favours;
it leadeth to servility (?), producing slackness.

17. If thou be a leader, be gracious when thou hearkenest unto the
speech of a suppliant. Let him not hesitate to deliver himself of that
which he hath thought to tell thee; but be desirous of removing his
injury. Let him speak freely, that the thing for which he hath come to
thee may be done. If he hesitate to open his heart, it is said, ‘Is it
because he (the judge) doeth the wrong that no entreaties are made to
him concerning it by those to whom it happeneth?’ But a well-taught
heart hearkeneth readily.

18. If thou desire to continue friendship in any abode wherein thou
enterest, be it as master, as brother, or as friend; wheresoever thou
goest, beware of consorting with women. No place prospereth wherein
that 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 thereby; it is a wretched thing. As for the evil
liver, one leaveth him for what he doeth, he is avoided. If his
desires be not gratified, he regardeth (?) no laws.

{50}

19. If thou desire that thine actions may be good, save thyself from
all malice, and beware of the quality of covetousness, which is a
grievous inner (?) malady. Let it not chance that thou fall thereinto.
It setteth at variance fathers-in-law and the kinsmen of the
daughter-in-law; it sundereth the wife and the husband. It gathereth
unto itself all evils; it is the girdle of all wickedness.[11] But the
man that is just flourisheth; truth goeth in his footsteps, and he
maketh habitations therein, not in the dwelling of covetousness.

20. Be not covetous as touching shares, in seizing that which is not
thine own property. Be not covetous toward thy neighbours; for with a
gentle man praise availeth more than might. He [that is covetous]
cometh empty from among his neighbours, being void of the persuasion of
speech. One hath remorse for even a little covetousness when his belly
cooleth.

21. If thou wouldest be wise, provide for thine house, and love thy
wife that is in thine arms. Fill her stomach, clothe her back; oil is
the remedy of her limbs. Gladden her heart during thy lifetime, for
she is an estate profitable unto its lord. Be not harsh, for
gentleness mastereth her more than strength. Give (?) to her that for
which she sigheth and that toward which her {51} eye looketh; so shalt
thou keep her in thine house….

22. Satisfy thine hired servants out of such things as thou hast; it
is the duty of one that hath been favoured of the God. In sooth, it is
hard to satisfy hired servants. For one[12] saith, ‘He is a lavish
person; one knoweth not that which may come [from him].’ But on the
morrow he thinketh, ‘He is a person of exactitude (parsimony), content
therein.’ And when favours have been shown unto servants, they say,
‘We go.’ Peace dwelleth not in that town wherein dwell servants that
are wretched.

23. Repeat not extravagant speech, neither listen thereto; for it is
the utterance of a body heated by wrath. When such speech is repeated
to thee, hearken not thereto, look to the ground. Speak not regarding
it, that he that is before thee may know wisdom. If thou be commanded
to do a theft, bring it to pass that the command be taken off thee, for
it is a thing hateful according to law. That which destroyeth a vision
is the veil over it.

24. If thou wouldest be a wise man, and one sitting in council with
his overlord, apply thine heart unto perfection. Silence is more
profitable unto thee than abundance of speech. Consider {52} how thou
may be opposed by an expert that speaketh in council. It is a foolish
thing to speak on every kind of work, for he that disputeth thy words
shall put them unto proof.

25. If thou be powerful, make thyself to be honoured for knowledge and
for gentleness. Speak with authority, that is, not as if following
injunctions, for he that is humble (when highly placed) falleth into
errors. Exalt not thine heart, that it be not brought low.[13] Be not
silent, but beware of interruption and of answering words with heat.
Put it far from thee; control thyself. The wrathful heart speaketh
fiery words; it darteth out at the man of peace that approacheth,
stopping his path.

One that reckoneth accounts all the day passeth not an happy moment.
One that gladdeneth his heart all the day provideth not for his house.
The bowman hitteth the mark, as the steersman reacheth land, by
diversity of aim. He that obeyeth his heart shall command.[14]

26. Let not a prince be hindered when he is occupied; neither oppress
the heart of him that is already laden. For he shall be hostile toward
one that delayeth him, but shall bare his soul {53} unto one that
loveth him. The disposal of souls is with the God, and that which He
loveth is His creation. Set out, therefore, after a violent quarrel;
be at peace with him that is hostile unto [thee] his opponent. It is
such souls that make love to grow.

27. Instruct a noble in such things as be profitable unto him; cause
that he be received among men. Let his satisfaction fall on his
master, for thy provision dependeth upon his will. By reason of it thy
belly shall be satisfied; thy back will be clothed thereby. Let him
receive thine heart, that thine house may flourish and thine honour–if
thou wish it to flourish–thereby. He shall extend thee a kindly hand.
Further, he shall implant the love of thee in the bodies of thy
friends. Forsooth, it is a soul loving to hearken.[15]

28. If thou be the son of a man of the priesthood, and an envoy to
conciliate the multitude,….[16] speak thou without favouring one
side. Let it not be said, ‘His conduct is that of the nobles,
favouring one side in his speech.’ Turn thine aim toward exact
judgments.

{54}

29. If thou have been gracious at a former time, having forgiven a man
to guide him aright, shun him, remind him not after the first day that
he hath been silent to thee [concerning it].

30. If thou be great, after being of none account, and hast gotten
riches after squalor, being foremost in these in the city, and hast
knowledge concerning useful matters, so that promotion is come unto
thee; then swathe not thine heart in thine hoard, for thou art become
the steward of the endowments of the God. Thou art not the last;
another shall be thine equal, and to him shall come the like [fortune
and station].

31. Bend thy back unto thy chief, thine overseer in the King’s palace,
for thine house dependeth upon his wealth, and thy wages in their
season. How foolish is one that quarrelleth with his chief, for one
liveth only while he is gracious….

Plunder not the houses of tenants; neither steal the things of a
friend, lest he accuse thee in thine hearing, which thrusteth back the
heart.[17] If he know of it, he will do thee an injury. Quarrelling
in place of friendship is a foolish thing.

{55}

32. [Concerning continence].

33. If thou wouldest seek out the nature of a friend, ask it not of
any companion of his; but pass a time with him alone, that thou injure
not his affairs. Debate with him after a season; test his heart in an
occasion of speech. When he hath told thee his past life, he hath made
an opportunity that thou may either be ashamed for him or be familiar
with him. Be not reserved with him when he openeth speech, neither
answer him after a scornful manner. Withdraw not thyself from him,
neither interrupt (?) him whose matter is not yet ended, whom it is
possible to benefit.

34. Let thy face be bright what time thou livest. That which goeth
into the storehouse must come out therefrom; and bread is to be shared.
He that is grasping in entertainment shall himself have an empty belly;
he that causeth strife cometh himself to sorrow. Take not such an one
for thy companion. It is a man’s kindly acts that are remembered of
him in the years after his life.[18]

35. Know well thy merchants; for when thine affairs are in evil case,
thy good repute among thy friends is a channel (?) which is filled. It
is more important than the dignities of a man; and {56} the wealth of
one passeth to another. The good repute of a man’s son is a glory unto
him; and a good character is for remembrance.

36. Correct chiefly; instruct conformably [therewith]. Vice must be
drawn out, that virtue may remain. Nor is this a matter of misfortune,
for one that is a gainsayer becometh a strife-maker.

37. If thou make a woman to be ashamed, wanton of heart, one known by
her townsfolk to be falsely placed, be kind unto her for a space, send
her not away, give her to eat. The wantonness of her heart shall
esteem thy guidance.

 

C. If thou obey these things that I have said unto thee, all thy
demeanour shall be of the best; for, verily, the quality of truth is
among their excellences. Set the memory of them in the mouths of the
people; for their proverbs are good. Nor shall any word that hath here
been set down cease out of this land for ever, but shall be made a
pattern whereby princes shall speak well. They (my words) shall
instruct a man; how he shall speak, after he hath heard them; yea, he
shall become as one skilful in obeying, excellent in speaking, after he
hath heard them. Good fortune shall befall him, for he shall be of the
highest rank. He shall be gracious to the end of his life; he shall be
{57} contented always. His knowledge shall be his guide (?) into a
place of security, wherein he shall prosper while on earth. The
scholar[19] shall be content in his knowledge. As to the prince, in
his turn, forsooth, his heart shall be happy, his tongue made straight.
And [in these proverbs] his lips shall speak, his eyes shall see, and
his ears shall hear, that which is profitable for his son, so that he
deal justly, void of deceit.

38. A splendid thing is the obedience of an obedient son; he cometh in
and listeneth obediently.

Excellent in hearing, excellent in speaking, is every man that obeyeth
what is noble; and the obedience of an obeyer is a noble thing.

Obedience is better than all things that are; it maketh good-will.

How good it is that a son should take that from his father by which he
hath reached old age (Obedience).

That which is desired by the God is obedience; disobedience is abhorred
of the God.

Verily, it is the heart that maketh its master to obey or to disobey;
for the safe and sound life of a man are his heart.

It is the obedient man that obeyeth what is said; he that loveth to
obey, the same shall carry out commands.

{58}

He that obeyeth becometh one obeyed.

It is good indeed when a son obeyeth his father; and he (his father)
that hath spoken hath great joy of it. Such a son shall be mild as a
master, and he that heareth him shall obey him that hath spoken. He
shall be comely in body and honoured by his father. His memory shall
be in the mouths of the living, those upon earth, as long as they
exist.[20]

39. Let a son receive the word of his father, not being heedless of
any rule of his. Instruct thy son [thus]; for the obedient man is one
that is perfect in the opinion of princes. If he direct his mouth by
what hath been enjoined him, watchful and obedient, thy son shall be
wise, and his goings seemly. Heedlessness leadeth unto disobedience on
the morrow; but understanding shall stablish him. As for the fool, he
shall be crushed.

40. As for the fool, devoid of obedience, he doeth nothing. Knowledge
he regardeth as ignorance, profitable things as hurtful things. He
doeth all kind of errors, so that he is rebuked therefor every day. He
liveth in death {59} therewith; it is his food. At chattering speech
he marvelleth, as at the wisdom of princes, living in death every day.
He is shunned because of his misfortunes, by reason of the multitude of
afflictions that cometh upon him every day.

41. A son that hearkeneth is as a Follower of Horus.[21] He is good
after he hearkeneth; he groweth old, he reacheth honour and reverence.
He repeateth in like manner to his sons and daughters, so renewing the
instruction of his father. Each man instructeth as did his begetter,
repeating it unto his children. Let them [in turn] speak with their
sons and daughters, that they may be famous in their deeds. Let that
which thou speakest implant true things and just in the life of thy
children. Then the highest authority shall arrive, and sins depart
[from them]. And such men as see these things shall say, ‘Surely that
man hath spoken to good purpose,’ and they shall do likewise; or, ‘But
surely that man was experienced.’ And all people shall declare, ‘It is
they that shall direct the multitude; dignities are not complete
without them.’

Take not any word away, neither add one; {60} set not one in the place
of another. Beware of opening…[22] in thyself.

Be wary of speech when a learned man hearkeneth unto thee; desire to be
stablished for good in the mouth of those that hear thee speaking. If
thou have entered as an expert, speak with exact (?) lips, that thy
conduct may be seemly.

42. Be thine heart overflowing; but refrain thy mouth. Let thy
conduct be exact while amongst nobles, and seemly before thy lord,
doing that which he hath commanded. Such a son shall speak unto them
that hearken to him; moreover, his begetter shall be favoured. Apply
thine heart, what time thou speakest, to saying things such that the
nobles who listen declare, ‘How excellent is that which cometh out of
his mouth!’

43. Carry out the behest of thy lord to thee. How good is the
teaching of a man’s father, for he hath come from him, who hath spoken
of his son while he was yet unborn; and that which is done for him (the
son) is more than that which is commanded him. Forsooth, a good son is
of the gift of the God; he doeth more than is {61} enjoined on him, he
doeth right, and putteth his heart into all his goings.

 

D. If now thou attain my position, thy body shall flourish, the King
shall be content in all that thou doest, and thou shalt gather years of
life not fewer than I have passed upon earth. I have gathered even
fivescore and ten years of life, for the King hath bestowed upon me
favours more than upon my forefathers; this because I wrought truth and
justice for the King unto mine old age.

 

IT IS FINISHED

FROM ITS BEGINNING TO ITS END

EVEN AS FOUND IN WRITING.