The Maxims of Ptahhotep

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The Maxims of Ptahhotep or Instruction of Ptahhotep is an ancient Egyptian literary composition composed by the VizierPtahhotep around 2375–2350 BC, during the rule of King Djedkare Isesi of the Fifth Dynasty.The Instructions of Ptahhotep are considered didactic wisdom literature belonging to the genre of sebayt.[3. The text presents a very good picture of the general attitudes of that period.[4] The Instructions of Ptahhotep addresses various virtues that are necessary to live a good life and how to live accordingly to Maat, which was an important part of the Egyptian culture.

Selected passages

Quotations are taken from Christian JacqThe Living Wisdom of Ancient Egypt.[8]

  • “Great is the Law (Maat).” (p. 24)
  • “All conduct should be so straight that you can measure it with a plumb-line.” (p. 27)
  • “Injustice exists in abundance, but evil can never succeed in the long run.” (p. 32)
  • “Punish with principle, teach meaningfully. The act of stopping evil leads to the lasting establishment of virtue.” (p. 32)
  • “The human race never accomplishes anything. It’s what God commands that gets done.” (p. 41)
  • “Those whom God guides do not go wrong. Those whose boat He takes away cannot cross.” (p. 43)
  • “Follow your heart all your life, do not commit excess with respect to what has been ordained.” (p. 66)
  • “If you work hard, and if growth takes place as it should in the fields, it is because God has placed abundance in your hands.” (p. 74)
  • “Do not gossip in your neighbourhood, because people respect the silent.” (p. 74)
  • “Listening benefits the listener.” (p. 74)
  • “If he who listens listens fully, then he who listens becomes he who understands.” (p. 76)
  • “He who listens becomes the master of what is profitable.” (p. 76)
  • “To listen is better than anything, thus is born perfect love.” (p. 76)
  • “God loves him who listens. He hates those who do not listen.” (p. 76)
  • “As for the ignorant man who does not listen, he accomplishes nothing. He equates knowledge with ignorance, the useless with the harmful. He does everything which is detestable, so people get angry with him each day.” (p. 77)
  • “A perfect word is hidden more deeply than precious stones. It is to be found near the servants working at the mill-stone.” (p. 78)
  • “Only speak when you have something worth saying.” (p. 79)
  • “As for you, teach your disciple the words of tradition. May he act as a model for the children of the great, that they may find in him the understanding and justice of every heart that speaks to him, since man is not born wise.” (p. 85)
  • “A woman with happy heart brings equilibrium.” (p. 107)
  • “Love your wife with passion.” (p. 107)
  • “As for those who end up continually lusting after women, none of their plans will succeed.” (p. 108)
  • “How wonderful is a son who obeys his father!” (p. 112)
  • “How happy he is of whom it is said: ‘A son is kind-natured when he knows how to listen.'” (p. 112)
  • “Do not blame those who are childless, do not criticise them for not having any, and do not boast about having them yourself.” (p. 113)
  • “May your heart never be vain because of what you know. Take counsel from the ignorant as well as the wise…” (p. 119)
  • “So do not place any confidence in your heart in the accumulation of riches, since everything that you have is a gift from God.” (p. 126)
  • “Think of living in peace with what you possess, and whatever the Gods choose to give will come of its own accord.” (p. 127)
  • “Do not repeat a slanderous rumour, do not listen to it.” (p. 139)
  • “He who has a great heart has a gift from God. He who obeys his stomach obeys the enemy.” (p. 140)
  • “Those who[m] the Gods guide cannot get lost. Those they forbid passage will not be able to cross the river of life.” (p. 143)