The Maxims of Ptahhotep, Maxim 1
Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings. Volume I: The Old and Middle Kingdoms, University of California Press, 19731
This long work has survived in four copies, three of which are written on papyrus rolls while the fourth, containing only the beginning, is on a wooden tablet. The only complete version is that of Papyrus Prisse of the Bibliothèque Nationale, which dates from the Middle Kingdom. The other two papyri, both in the British Museum, are from the Middle and New Kingdoms, respectively. The wooden tablet, Carnarvon Tablet I in the Cairo Museum, also dates from the New Kingdom. The version of P. Prisse differs considerably from that of the other three copies. The translation here given reproduces the text of P. Prisse only.
The work consists of thirty-seven maxims framed by a prologue and an epilogue. Each maxim is developed as a unit of at least four, and rarely more than twelve, sentences and clauses. In one case, maxims 2-4, a theme is developed over three consecutive maxims thus forming a larger whole. Some themes and topics recur several times, an indication of their importance in the scale of values.
Taken together, the thirty-seven maxims do not amount to a comprehensive moral code, nor are they strung together in any logical order. But they touch upon the most important aspects of human relations and they focus on the basic virtues. The cardinal virtues are self-control, moderation, kindness, generosity, justice, and truthfulness tempered by discretion. These virtues are to be practiced alike toward all people. No martial virtues are mentioned. The ideal man is a man of peace.
Part One: The Old Kingdom, Chapter V, Didactic Literature, The Instruction of Ptahhotep, Maxim 1, p. 63:
Don’t be proud of your knowledge,
Consult the ignorant and the wise;
The limits of art are not reached,
No artist’s skills are perfect;
Good speech is more hidden than greenstone,
Yet may be found among maids at the grindstones.
Zbyněk Žába, Les maximes de Ptaḥḥotep, Éditions de l’Académie Tchécoslovaque des Sciences, Prague, 19562
Mark-Jan Nederhof, St Andrews Corpus3 4 2 5
Papyrus Prisse, Bibliothèque nationale de France6 7
British Museum EA10509,18
Late 18th Dynasty papyrus with hieratic literary text on recto: The Teaching of Ptahhotep column 1, with blank margin. This sheet contains the Title, Prologue and maxims 1-2 (verses [ed. Zaba] 1-66). Part of an archive of literary texts, mostly now in Moscow, apparently from Luxor. The manuscript is carefully written with rubrics marking the start of verses and some corrections.
University College London, Digital Egypt for Universities, Teaching of Ptahhotep9
Maxim 1, Papyrus Prisse, column 5, lines 8-10:
Then he addressed his son:
Do not be proud on account of your knowledge,
but discuss with the ignorant as with the wise.
The limits of art cannot be delivered;
there is no artist whose talent is fulfilled.
Fine words are more sought after than greenstone,
but can be found with the women at the grindstone.
Dd.in.f xr sA.f
m aA ib.k Hr rx.k
nDnD r.k Hna xm mi rx
n in.tw Drw Hmwt
nn Hmww apr Axw.f
dgA mdt nfrt r wAD
iw gm st m-a Hmwt Hr bnwt
Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae, pPrisse = pBN 186-194, Die Lehre des Ptahhotep10
§ (D51) Dd.jn =f xr zA =f
§ (D52) m aAi jb =k Hr rx =k
§ (D54) nDnD r =k Hna xm mj rx
§ (D55) n jni.tw Dr,w Hmw,t
§ (D56) nn Hmw,w apr Ax,w =f
§ (D58) dgw md,t nfr.t r wAD
§ (D59) jw gmi.t(w) =s m-a Hm,t.(Pl.) Hr bnw,t.(Pl.)
Miriam Lichtheim Ancient Egyptian Literature Vol I. Archive.org ↩
Electronic Publications of the Czech Institute of Egyptology. Zbyněk Žába, Les maximes de Ptaḥḥotep, Éditions de l’Académie Tchécoslovaque des Sciences, Prague, 1956. pp. 20-21 ↩ ↩2
Mark-Jan Nederhof and Robert Myers, Instruction of Ptahhotep ↩
“Hieroglyphic text of the Maxims of Good Discourse of Papyrus Prisse, Papyri BM & the Carnarvon Tablet by Zbynek Zába (1956)”. Hieroglyphs scanned & edited by Wim van den Dungen ↩
Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF). Département des Manuscrits. Papyrus Prisse. Egyptien 186. Enseignement de Ptahhotep (1-73) ↩
BnF Archives et manuscrits. Egyptien 183-194. Papyrus Prisse ↩
University College London, Digital Egypt for Universities, Teaching of Ptahhotep, 2003 ↩