Precepts of Ptah

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Take a look at the Precepts of Ptah in this section. Pick out one of the points raised and discuss what you think about it in your own words

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The Precepts of Ptah-Hotep, c. 2200 BCE

The prefect, the feudal lord Ptah-hotep, says: O Ptah with the two crocodiles, my lord, the
progress of age changes into senility. Decay falls upon man and decline takes the place of youth.
A vexation weighs upon him every day; sight fails, the ear becomes deaf; his strength dissolves
without ceasing. The mouth is silent, speech fails him; the mind decays, remembering not the
day before. The whole body suffers. That which is good becomes evil; taste completely
disappears. Old age makes a man altogether miserable; the nose is stopped up, breathing no more
from exhaustion. Standing or sitting there is here a condition of . . . Who will cause me to have
authority to speak, that I may declare to him the words of those who have heard the counsels of
former days? And the counsels heard of the gods, who will give me authority to declare them?
Cause that it be so and that evil be removed from those that are enlightened; send the double . . .
The majesty of this god says: Instruct him in the sayings of former days. It is this which
constitutes the merit of the children of the great. All that which makes the soul equal penetrates
him who hears it, and that which it says produces no satiety….
If you find a disputant while he is hot, and if he is superior to you in ability, lower the hands,
bend the back, do not get into a passion with him. As he will not let you destroy his words, it is
utterly wrong to interrupt him; that proclaims that you are incapable of keeping yourself calm,
when you are contradicted. If then you have to do with a disputant while he is hot, imitate one
who does not stir. You have the advantage over him if you keep silence when he is uttering evil
words. “The better of the two is he who is impassive,” say the bystanders, and you are right in
the opinion of the great.
If you find a disputant while he is hot, do not despise him because you are not of the same
opinion. Be not angry against him when he is wrong; away with such a thing. He fights against
himself; require him not further to flatter your feelings. Do not amuse yourself with the spectacle
which you have before you; it is odious, it is mean, it is the part of a despicable soul so to do. As
soon as you let yourself be moved by your feelings, combat this desire as a thing that is reproved
by the great….
Inspire not men with fear, else Ptah will fight against you in the same manner. If any one asserts
that he lives by such means, Ptah will take away the bread from his mouth; if any one asserts that
he enriches himself thereby, Ptah says: I may take those riches to myself. If any one asserts that
he beats others, Ptah will end by reducing him to impotence. Let no one inspire men with fear;
this is the will of Ptah. Let one provide sustenance for them in the lap of peace; it will then be
that they will freely give what has been torn from them by terror.
If you are among the persons seated at meat in the house of a greater man than yourself, take that
which he gives you, bowing to the ground. Regard that which is placed before you, but point not
at it; regard it not frequently; he is a blameworthy person who departs from this rule. Speak not
to the great man more than he requires, for one knows not what may be displeasing to him.
Speak when he invites you and your worth will be pleasing. As for the great man who has plenty
of means of existence, his conduct is as he himself wishes. He does that which pleases him; if he
desires to repose, he realizes his intention. The great man stretching forth his hand does that to
which other men do not attain. But as the means of existence are under the will of Ptah, one can
not rebel against it….

If you abase yourself in obeying a superior, your conduct is entirely good before Ptah. Knowing
who you ought to obey and who you ought to command, do not lift up your heart against him. As
you know that in him is authority, be respectful toward him as belonging to him. Wealth comes
only at Ptah’s own good-will, and his caprice only is the law; as for him who . . Ptah, who has
created his superiority, turns himself from him and he is overthrown.
Be active during the time of your existence, do no more than is commanded. Do not spoil the
time of your activity; he is a blameworthy person who makes a bad use of his moments. Do not
lose the daily opportunity of increasing that which your house possesses. Activity produces
riches, and riches do not endure when it slackens….
If you desire to excite respect within the house you enter, for example the house of a superior, a
friend, or any person of consideration, in short everywhere where you enter, keep yourself from
making advances to a woman, for there is nothing good in so doing. There is no prudence in
taking part in it, and thousands of men destroy themselves in order to enjoy a moment, brief as a
dream, while they gain death, so as to know it. It is a villainous intention, that of a man who thus
excites himself; if he goes on to carry it out, his mind abandons him. For as for him who is
without repugnance for such an act, there is no good sense at all in him.
If you desire that your conduct should be good and preserved from all evil, keep yourself from
every attack of bad humor. It is a fatal malady which leads to discord, and there is no longer any
existence for him who gives way to it. For it introduces discord between fathers and mothers, as
well as between brothers and sisters; it causes the wife and the husband to hate each other; it
contains all kinds of wickedness, it embodies all kinds of wrong. When a man has established his
just equilibrium and walks in this path, there where he makes his dwelling, there is no room for
bad humor.
Be not of an irritable temper as regards that which happens at your side; grumble not over your
own affairs. Be not of an irritable temper in regard to your neighbors; better is a compliment to
that which displeases than rudeness. It is wrong to get into a passion with one’s neighbors, to be
no longer master of one’s words. When there is only a little irritation, one creates for oneself an
affliction for the time when one will again be cool.
If you are wise, look after your house; love your wife without alloy. Fill her stomach, clothe her
back; these are the cares to be bestowed on her person. Caress her, fulfil her desires during the
time of her existence; it is a kindness which does honor to its possessor. Be not brutal; tact will
influence her better than violence; her . . . behold to what she aspires, at what she aims, what she
regards. It is that which fixes her in your house; if you repel her, it is an abyss. Open your arms
for her, respond to her arms; call her, display to her your love.
Treat your dependents well, in so far as it belongs to you to do so; and it belongs to those whom
Ptah has favored. If any one fails in treating his dependents well it is said: “He is a person . . .”
As we do not know the events which may happen tomorrow, he is a wise person by whom one is
well treated. When there comes the necessity of showing zeal, it will then be the dependents
themselves who say: “Come on, come on,” if good treatment has not quitted the place; if it has
quitted it, the dependents are defaulters….
If you hear those things which I have said to you, your wisdom will be fully advanced. Although
they are the means which are suitable for arriving at the maat, and it is that which makes them

precious, their memory would recede from the mouth of men. But thanks to the beauty of their
arrangement in rhythm all their words will now be carried without alteration over this earth
eternally. That will create a canvass to be embellished, whereof the great will speak, in order to
instruct men in its sayings. After having listened to them the pupil will become a master, even he
who shall have properly listened to the sayings because he shall have heard them. Let him win
success by placing himself in the first rank; that is for him a position perfect and durable, and he
has nothing further to desire forever. By knowledge his path is assured, and he is made happy by
it on the earth. The wise man is satiated by knowledge; he is a great man through his own merits.
His tongue is in accord with his mind; just are his lips when he speaks, his eyes when he gazes,
his ears when he hears. The advantage of his son is to do that which is just without deceiving
To attend therefore profits the son of him who has attended. To attend is the result of the fact that
one has attended. A teachable auditor is formed, because I have attended. Good when he has
attended, good when he speaks, he who has attended has profited, and it is profitable to attend to
him who has attended. To attend is worth more than anything else, for it produces love, the good
thing that is twice good. The son who accepts the instruction of his father will grow old on that
account. What Ptah loves is that one should attend; if one attends not, it is abhorrent to Ptah. The
heart makes itself its own master when it attends and when it does not attend; but if it attends,
then his heart is a beneficent master to a man. In attending to instruction, a man loves what he
attends to, and to do that which is prescribed is pleasant. When a son attends to his father, it is a
twofold joy for both; when wise things are prescribed to him, the son is gentle toward his master.
Attending to him who has attended when such things have been prescribed to him, he engraves
upon his heart that which is approved by his father; and the recollection of it is preserved in the
mouth of the living who exist upon this earth.
When a son receives the instruction of his father there is no error in all his plans. Train your son
to be a teachable man whose wisdom is agreeable to the great. Let him direct his mouth
according to that which has been said to him; in the docility of a son is discovered his wisdom.
His conduct is perfect while error carries away the unteachable. Tomorrow knowledge will
support him, while the ignorant will be destroyed….
A son who attends is like a follower of Horus; he is happy after having attended. He becomes
great, he arrives at dignity, he gives the same lesson to his children. Let none innovate upon the
precepts of his father; let the same precepts form his lessons to his children. “Verily,” will his
children say to him, “to accomplish what you say works marvels.” Cause therefore that to
flourish which is just, in order to nourish your children with it. If the teachers allow themselves
to be led toward evil principles, verily the people who understand them not will speak
accordingly, and that being said to those who are docile they will act accordingly. Then all the
world considers them as masters and they inspire confidence in the public; but their glory
endures not so long as would please them. Take not away then a word from the ancient teaching,
and add not one; put not one thing in place of another; beware of uncovering the rebellious ideas
which arise in you; but teach according to the words of the wise. Attend if you wish to dwell in
the mouth of those who shall attend to your words, when you have entered upon the office of
master, that your words may be upon our lips . . . and that there may be a chair from which to
deliver your arguments.

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Last Updated on April 25, 2020 by