Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ptah-Hotep's Early Egyptian Teachings on Etiquette

Ptah-Hotep, a prominent figure of Ancient Kemet society is the first recognized philosopher of moral values.  He wrote an early piece of Egyptian "wisdom literature" meant to instruct young men in appropriate behavior, or etiquette.

Ptah-Hotep; 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.

In the 3rd millennium BC, Ptah-Hotep wrote The Maxims of Ptah-Hotep. The Maxims were conformist precepts extolling such civil virtues as truthfulness, self-control and kindness towards one's fellow beings. Learning by listening to everybody and knowing that human knowledge is never perfect are a leitmotif. Avoiding open conflict wherever possible should not be considered weakness. Stress is placed on the pursuit of justice, although it is conceded that it is a god's command that prevails in the end. Some of the maxims refer to one's behaviour when in the presence of the great, how to choose the right master and how to serve him. Others teach the correct way to lead through openness and kindness. Greed is the base of all evil and should be guarded against, while generosity towards family and friends is deemed praiseworthy.


Some of Ptah-Hotep's Teachings

Rules for Courteous Debate


If you find an debater talking, one that is well disposed and wiser than you, let your arms fall, bend your back, be not angry with him if he agrees not with you. Refrain from speaking evilly; oppose him not at any time when he speaks. If he address you as one ignorant of the matter, your humbleness shall bear away his contentions.

If you find an debater talking, your fellow, one that is within your reach, keep not silence when he says anything that is evil; so shall you be wiser than he. Great will be the applause on the part of the listeners, and your name shall be good in the knowledge of princes.

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

Proper Etiquette as a Guest


If you be among the guests of a man that is greater than you, accept that which he gives you, putting it to your lips. If you look at him that is before you (your host), pierce him not with many glances. It is abhorred of the soul to stare at him.

Speak not till he address you one knows not what may be evil in his opinion. Speak when he questions you ; so shall your speech be good in his opinion.

The noble who sits before food divides it as his soul moves him; he gives unto him that he would favor- [it] is the custom of the evening meal. It is his soul that guides his hand. It is the noble that bestows, not the underling that attains. Thus the eating of bread is under the providence of the God; he is an ignorant man that disputes it.

Do Not Gossip


Repeat not extravagant speech, neither listen to it; for it is the utterance of a body heated by wrath. When such speech is repeated to you, do not listen to it, look to the ground. Speak not regarding it, that he that is before you may know wisdom..