The history of ancient Egypt may sometimes seem very distant, but people living thousands of years ago had many problems and feelings that trouble us today.
During the Fifth Dynasty (2,500 B.C. – 2,350 B.C), Egyptian Vizier Ptahhotep, occasionally known as Ptahhotep I, Ptahhotpe or Ptah-Hotep wrote several instructions based on his wisdom and experiences.
His precious text contains advice on how to live your life, and much of what he wrote is still highly relevant today.
The Maxims of Ptahhotep influenced later philosophical works, and his work is one of the first Egyptian books.
This precious ancient text was discovered in Thebes in 1847 by Egyptologist M. Prisse d’Avennes. There are four copies of the Instructions, and the only complete version, Papyrus Prisse, is located in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.
Vizier Ptahhotep’s wisdom literature was basically a set of moral advice and proverbs for young men. Ptahhotep was a very intelligent man who was the city administrator and vizier (first minister) during the reign of Djedkare Isesi. He had a son named Akhethotep, who was also a vizier. He and his descendants were buried at Saqqara.
His grandson Ptahhotep Tshefi’s writings were collected from his grandfather’s texts that were written using hieratic writing, that is, a simplification of the hieroglyphic writing used by the scribes to write on papyri.
In his writings, Ptahhotep reveals that he has dedicated his long life to obtaining wisdom, which can never be completely achieved.
Then the book is spelled out in a series of brief tips that are grouped into 37 topics. In his introduction, reminded us that knowledge is endless. “Do not be arrogant because of your knowledge, but confer with the ignorant man as with the learned. For knowledge has no limits, and none has yet achieved perfection in it.”
Ptahhotep also advises against listening to rumors and spreading slander. Maxim no. 21 states: “Do not repeat slander; you should not hear it, for it is the result of hot temper.”
From Maxim no. 34 we learn that Ptahhotep was a man of peace, rather than war. He advised: “Be a craftsman in speech that thou mayest be strong, for the strength of one is the tongue, and speech is mightier than all fighting.”
There are naturally many more examples of guidance, and anyone interested in ancient Egyptian wisdom may find his thought interesting. His wisdom quotes are collected in The Teachings of Ptahhotep: The Oldest Book in the World.
Ptahhotep rests in the mastaba designated D64. His tomb is famous for its outstanding depictions.
The reliefs in the tomb chamber are the best preserved in the Old Kingdom.