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The Teaching of the Vizier Ptahhotep

1 (P 4.1) The Teaching of the Lord Vizier Ptahhotep,1 The initial title sets the scene that is developed in the prologue. Lord Vizier is literally ‘The Overseer of the (capital) city, and Vizier’. Isesi was the penultimate king of the Fifth Dynasty (c.2388–2356 BC). Two viziers Ptahhotep are known from this period; the first (Ptahhotep I) is probably the historical basis for the character here. Both of their tombs may show signs of later reverence, suggesting that they were regarded as culture heroes by the start of the Middle Kingdom. under the Majesty of the Dual King Isesi, may he live for all time and eternity! The Lord Vizier Ptahhotep said, ‘Sovereign, my lord!2 The prologue opens with a comprehensive description of old age and its evils; this contrasts with what the audience might expect—a description of a happy old age as a reward for virtue. The failure of the sage's heart—the organ of wisdom—is striking; its inability to remember the past (yesterday) is a bitter irony, since the past is when wisdom originated (cf. 31–2) and for the original audience it is the time to which Ptahhotep belongs. The passage ends with the absence of the most basic necessity of life, breath, which was often referred to as being in the king's giving; this allusion to the sage's death-in-life prepares for the subsequent request to the king (28–32). Elderiness has occurred, old age descended; woe is come and weakness is renewing itself; 10 (P 4.3) the heart passes the night in pain, every day; the eyes are shrunk, the ears made deaf; strength now perishes because of the heart's weariness; the mouth is silent and cannot speak; the heart has stopped and cannot recall yesterday; the bones hurt because of their length; good has become evil; all taste is gone. 20 (P 5.2) What age does to people is evil in every aspect; the nose is blocked and cannot breathe, because of the difficulty of standing and sitting. May One decree for this humble servant that a Staff of Old Age be appointed,3 The Staff of Old Age is an office held by the son as his father's helper, agent, and named successor, who will support Ptahhotep in his infirmity; the role of the sage's speech in training his son is underlined by wordplay: Staff and words are homophonous. This humble servant is the vizier himself (see The Tale of Sinuhe, B 175 and n. 44). The continuity between the primordial past of the Gods and his heir offers a chance of immutability, and affirms the value of ancient things in contrast with the decline of old age. The sage then turns to the future with a reciprocal wish for the king. The Two Banks are the totality of Egypt. 30 (P 5.3) so that I may tell him the words of the hearers, the counsels of the ancestors who once listened to the Gods. So may the like be done for you: may sorrows be driven off from the folk, may the Two Banks serve you!’ And the Majesty of this God said,4 The king is divine like the gods, who are the origin of wisdom; later in the Teaching ‘God’ refers to the undifferentiated divine, rather than a specific god or the king, and is often resumed with ‘They’. The king's speech affirms that teaching is needed to supplement the imperfection of mankind. ‘Teach him according to the speech of the past, so that he will be a model for the officials’ offspring! 40 (P 5.5) May hearing enter him, and all honesty. Speak to him! No one is born already knowledgeable!’

Beginning of the verses of perfect speech5 A full title now introduces the Teaching proper; for the sage's titles, see The ‘Loyalist’ Teaching, n. 1). Perfect speech refers to ethical as well as rhetorical perfection: it is the spoken embodiment of the ideal of wisdom. The title establishes the ostensibly pragmatic tone of the subsequent maxims, in which the effects of virtue are manifest in material prosperity and success, and raises the question of ethical choice and obedience. spoken by the Patrician and Count, the God's father, whom the God loves, 50 (P 5.8) the eldest King's Own Son, the Lord Vizier Ptahhotep, in teaching the ignorant to be wise, and to be the standard of perfect speech, good for him who will hear, woeful for him who will transgress it. And he spoke before his son,

‘Do not be proud because you are wise!6 In the first maxim the limitations of wisdom are stated: absolute wisdom and virtue are impossible unattainable ideals. Wisdom and wise perfect speech are likened to art; this (like mastery) is a term also applied to the efficacy of magic. Malachite (literally ‘greenstone’) is a semi-precious mineral. Complementary to this is the idea that social success and wisdom are not necessarily correlated: wisdom can belong to lowly maidservants, who cannot hope to benefit from their virtue, unlike the privileged audience of the Teaching. Consult with the ignorant as with the wise! The limits of art are unattainable; no artist is fully equipped with his mastery. Perfect speech is more hidden than malachite, yet it is found with the maidservants at the millstones.

60 (P 5.10) If you encounter a disputant in his moment,7 The second maxim begins a sequence of three on how to deal with disputants in a law court. These return to the specifically official setting after the general opening maxim, but reveal the Teaching's concern with all levels of society: they are ordered hierarchically from social superior to inferior. In his moment refers to the moment of confrontation, the climax of a person's case. The sage advocates deference to a social superior. Wordplay with riches (homonymous with ‘lifetime’) gives the maxim a wider perspective, but also helps establish a tension between the material status quo and ethical qualities (such as selfrestraint), although the sage relies on society's judgement. an authoritative man, who is better off than you, bend your arms, bow your back! When your heart defies him, he will not support you. You will make little of such a one who speaks evil, by not opposing him in his moment. He will be summoned as “this ignoramus”, your self-restraint having matched his riches.

If you encounter a disputant in his moment,8 The third maxim concerns an equal in a court case, who is to be silently opposed. The sage again trusts in the state's official judgement of the case to uphold virtue, and advocates passive inaction. (Judges and officials are synonymous here.) 70 (P 5.13) a man like you, who is a match for you, you should better him by silence, while he is speaking evil. Great will be the acclamation by the judges, and your name will be good in the officials’ assessment.

If you encounter a disputant in his moment,9 The fourth maxim advises that one should not take action against social inferiors who are in the wrong: they will defeat themselves in the eyes of society if one is patient. who is poor, not a man like you, do not be aggressive to him because he is vilely poor! Ignore him, and he will oppose himself. Do not address him to lighten your heart! Do not vent your feelings on the man facing you! 81 (P 6.2) The man who destroys the poor-hearted gets pain, but what is in your heart will be done: you will beat him through the officials’ punishment.

If you are a leader,10 The fifth maxim asserts the absolute and eternal value of Truth, in contrast with the relative values advocated in the second and third maxims; it moves from social concerns to eternal and abstract ones. Truth is order—both social and ethical—and right, on which the world, the state, and its laws are based. Enacting Truth with worthy deeds is the responsibility of any official. Osiris is a god who ruled the earth in primeval times, whose death and resurrection are archetypes for the vindication of Truth (there is also wordplay between his name and the homophonous divine epithet ‘He who created it (Truth)’). He is the judge of the dead, and the theme of otherwordly judgement is taken up in the following verses. ordaining the disposition of the masses, seek out for yourself every worthy deed, so that your disposition will be faultless! Great is Truth, enduring in potency; it is undisturbed since the time of Osiris. 90 (P 6.5) The man who transgresses the laws is punished— it is a transgression even in the eyes of the selfish. Baseness can carry off riches,11 The sage now uses allegorical personifications to affirm the impermanence of illgotten riches (homonymous with ‘lifetime’); to bring to land is both to reach a successful conclusion and to reach eternity after the voyage of life. The following speeches affirm that no man can prey on others while justifying himself by his official position, and that Truth belongs to a virtuous man like an inherited estate. but wrong has never yet brought its deed to land. A man says, “I will snare for myself ”, but he cannot say, “I will snare because of my occupation”. When the end comes, Truth endures; a man will then say, “It is my paternal heritage”.

You should not make schemes about people;12 The sixth maxim warns against predatory scheming. As in the stylistically similar preceding maxim, ignoble actions have their consequences, as is shown by a series of hapless schemers. The antithetical statements give a sense of human futility, which must be calmly borne, in the face of the gods’ laws of reciprocity which alone can avail. Prosperity comes of itself as the reward to virtue from the gods (They), and cannot be forced by man. Human life is governed by absolute forces. 100 (P 6.8) God will punish with the like. A man says, “I shall live by these”— he lacks bread for his mouth. A man says, “I shall be powerful by these”, and says, “I shall snare for myself whatever I notice!”. 111 (P 6.9) A man thinks to rob another—he ends by being given to a stranger. The schemes of men have never yet come about. Only what God ordains comes about. Plan to live in deep calmness; what They give will come by itself.

If you are a man among those who sit13 The seventh maxim urges patient respect towards one's social superiors as well as towards the gods; both will give to the virtuous man. Those who sit are privileged people of high rank. The principles of the preceding maxim are presented in the more pragmatic terms of human society. (A person's spirit and food are homonyms). 120 (P 6.11) at a place on your superior's table, take what he gives, when it is placed under your nose. You should look at what is in front of you— do not pierce him with many looks! Imposing on him is a horror to the spirit. Do not speak to him until he calls! One cannot know what seems evil to the heart. You should speak only when he addresses you. 130 (P 7.1) Then what you say will seem perfect to the heart. A great man, when he is at food, behaves as his spirit commands. He will give to the man he favours. This is how night-time behaviour happens: it is the spirit which extends his hands. 140 (P 7.2) A great man gives, when a man does not exert pressure. Eating bread is according to the counsel of God.14 The concluding couplet affirms the relationship between social order and abstract ideals. Etiquette and night-time behaviour embody eternal principles of reciprocity—the counsel of God: if you behave properly, then you will be rewarded (behaviour and counsel are the same Egyptian word). These principles are inevitable, and protest is useless. Only the fool will moan about this.

If you are a man of close trust,15 The eighth maxim is about discretion when acting for a superior. The mention of a great man and the horror to the spirit recall the preceding maxim (120, 125). Truth as an abstract principle involves moderation, and excess is alien to it; the sage advises against repeating truth indiscreetly and maliciously. whom one great man sends to another great man, be entirely exact when he sends you! Do the commission for him as he says! 150 (P 7.4) Beware of making evil with a speech which embroils one great man with another great man! Hold fast to Truth! Do not exceed it! An outburst is not to be repeated; do not speak out against anyone! 160 (P 7.4) Great or small, it is a horror to the spirit.

If you plough and there is growth in the countryside,16 The ninth maxim is also about temperance, but in a context of power rather than subservience. The ploughing of the first verse is metaphorical for the growth of an official's prosperity and progeny. The crocodile is a positive image of ferocious capacity and retribution, but its darker undertones are developed in the warnings against preying on the lonely in the second half of the maxim. A man without children was considered socially unfortunate, as he lacked an heir to ensure his continuity in this world and the next, but he is not to be despised for that reason, as god may still make him more fortunate than a man with a family and vindicate him. The final verse means that the man who has a faithful family can, despite this, come second to the virtuous solitary man. and God causes it to be great with you, do not satisfy your mouth right beside your neighbours! Great is the respect paid to the quiet man. The lord of character who is a lord of property seizes in the court like a crocodile. Do not make a claim against someone without children! 170 (P 7.6) Do not degrade anyone, do not boast about it! There is many a father who suffers, and for many a mother who has given birth there is someone happier. It is the solitary whom God brings up; a lord who is prayed for by his kin comes second.

If you are vilely poor, follow an excellent man!17 The tenth maxim concerns attitudes towards power in others. The sage warns that the parvenu and those who have risen by merit should not be despised, as their success is a reward that has been earned. The sage implies that social position may not be stable and that wealth may prove transitory—which is taken up later in the thirtieth maxim (428–40). They are the gods, who here give prosperity, as well as caring for the socially alienated (as in 173). This and the preceding maxim are linked by follow (174), and by the general reference to vileness: these maxims also imply that the dispossessed may be more excellent than the wealthy. Then all of your condition is good before God. Do not acknowledge to yourself that he was little before. You should not be proud against him because you knew about him before. 180 (P 7.8) Respect him because of what has happened to him, for no property comes by itself: it is Their law for those They love. His plenty, he gathered it himself. It is God who made him excellent, and He protects him while he sleeps.

Follow your heart as long as you live!18 In the eleventh maxim, the pupil is urged to follow not his superior, but his own heart, or desire. This is an injunction to hedonism, but as the heart is a moral force and the seat of wisdom—the conscience—free-thinking and self-reliant morality is also encouraged. After two maxims on the value of material goods, this maxim puts the question of wealth into a broader perspective; all three, however, advocate a lack of immoderate concern for property and wealth. Do no more than you are told! Do not shorten the time of following the heart: to destroy such a moment is a horror to the spirit! 190 (P 7.9) Turn away no chance in the course of a day, beyond the needs of establishing your household! Property will exist regardless, so follow the heart! Property is of no avail, when the heart is disregarded.

If you are a man of excellence,19 The twelfth maxim deals with how to react to a good son—who is not to be spurned—and a bad son—who is to be cast off. The structurally central verse warns that a son (like property) can cause trouble (progeny—literally ‘seed’—wordplays with the homonym ‘poison’). Once again, ethical qualities are here more important than social links: excellence is taken up from the last maxim but one (175, 184), and is a concern parallel to ‘following the heart’ in the preceding maxim (186, 188). Virtue is foreordained, and the maxim, like others, ends by affirming man's dependence on the gods (Them). you should beget a son to please God. If he is upright, takes after your character, 202 (P 7.11) and cares for your property in the proper way, do all that is good for him: he is your son; he is of your spirit's seed! You should not withdraw your heart from him! Progeny can cause quarrels. 210 (P 7.12) If he goes astray and transgresses your counsels, having defied all that was said, his speech coming out with vile words, you should belabour him for his speech as is fitting. Strike out at someone whom They detest— he is someone on whom doom was imposed in the womb! The one whom They guide cannot go astray, the one whom They leave boat-less cannot find a crossing.

220 (P 8.2) If you are a member of the law courts,20 The thirteenth maxim asserts the value of the social status quo. Stand and sit is an expression for ‘behave’. Social order is presented as part of divinely ordained creation (for the First Day as the moment of creation, see 425 and n. 38), and the maxim warns against social ambition, as this disrupts the justice established in society. Once again, the maxim concludes with a reference to the divine, and to man's helplessness. stand and sit according to your duties, which were ordained for you on the First Day. Do not overstep, or you will come to be opposed! Intelligent is the man who enters when announced, and wide is the access for the man who has been summoned. The law court is according to the standard; all behaviour is by measure. It is God who advances position; 231 (P 8.5) the jostler is not appointed. If you are with people,21 The fourteenth maxim concerns social responsibility; it describes the effects both of trust and of self-willed indiscretion (the latter description echoes that of old age in the prologue (8–27 and n. 2) ). At the centre is a description of the rewards of discretion and of society's recognition of unassuming virtue. The maxim concludes with a couplet summarizing the contrast between the selfless and the selfish with reference to the divine. To belong to the enemy means ‘to fall prey to’ as well as ‘to be one of’. make supporters for yourself by being trustworthy! The trustworthy man, who is not led by his temper's urgings, becomes his own commander, and a lord of property because of how his behaviour is. 240 (P 8.8) And so your name is good, and no one speaks out against you; your limbs sleek, you are held in regard by your neighbours, and boasted of without your knowing. The heart of someone who listens to his temper is such that it replaces love of him with disdain; his heart becomes worn away, and his limbs parched. The heart of God-given people is great; the man who listens to his temper belongs to the enemy.

Report your conduct without dissimulating,22 The fifteenth maxim advocates honesty. In the first part, the sage affirms that no harm will come to a messenger who repeats all his report, and in the second, that no punishment will befall a messenger who repeats all he can, even when his knowledge is incomplete. Quietness is a positive ethical quality in other contexts. 250 (P 8.11) when your counsel is given in the council of your lord! As for gushing when speaking, there is no pain for the messenger of a report. Nor can a great man reply “So who does know it?” when the messenger's knowledge fails. If the great man plans to punish him for this, he should be quiet, saying, “I have spoken.”

If you are a leader,23 The sixteenth maxim describes the leader's position (cf. the fifth maxim (84–98)) and the effect of his actions on his fate. It warns against complacency: a leader should act virtuously even when he has no apparent need to. The final verse asserts that everything can go sour for a man when adversity suddenly strikes; the crocodile is often an agent of retribution (cf. n. 16). Implicit in this is the belief that a man's distinguished things will be remembered by society and will ensure goodwill towards him even in adversity. and wide-ranging the affairs at your command, you should do distinguished things. 260 (P 9.1) Remember the days that come after! No matter comes awry in the midst of favours— but the lurking crocodile emerges, and resentment exists.

If you are a leader,24 The seventeenth maxim presents virtuous leadership more specifically and very pragmatically, in terms of an official's responsibility for the happiness of those who petition him. be calm while you hear a petitioner's speech! Do not prevent him from purging his body of what he planned to tell you! A wronged man loves to pour his heart out more than achieving what he came for. 273 (P 9.5) About someone who prevents petitions, they say, “So why does he thwart it?” Everything for which a man petitioned may not come about, but a good hearing is what soothes the heart.

If you want to make friendship last25 The eighteenth maxim is a warning against interfering with another man's women. In Egyptian literature, sexual desire can be irregular and undermine the social structure, of which the possession of women, as wives or as servant girls, is an integral part. Two triplets state the fatal consequences of sexual pleasure in broad terms (as affecting a thousand men) and describe the transience of the pleasure itself (as opposed to the lasting harm it can cause). Knowing and conceive can have a sexual meaning. inside a house you enter— whether as lord, or brother, or friend, 280 (P 9.9) wherever you enter— beware of approaching the women! There is nothing good about the place where this is done; there is nothing intelligent about the man who uncovers them. A thousand men are turned away from their good— a little moment, the likeness of a dream, and death is reached by knowing them! 292 (P 9.12) It is a vile matter, conceived by an enemy; one emerges from doing it with a heart already rejecting it. Someone who fails through lusting after them, no plan by him can ever succeed.

If you wish your condition to be good,26 The nineteenth maxim is numerically the central maxim, and concerns the sin of selfishness (literally ‘graspingness of heart’). Like the preceding maxim, it concerns social ties (the phrasing reinforces this: 298 echoes 277), but with an even wider perspective and with as absolute a condemnation. The sin is presented as a fatal disease; compound and sum are medical terms, but continue the metaphor ironically, since they are terms for remedies. The imagery of wisdom as health runs throughout the Teaching. save yourself from every evil! 300 (P 10.1) Beware of the selfish man's deed! It is a painful disease of an incurable. The man who catches it cannot survive: it alienates fathers and mothers, and even the closest brothers; it drives apart husband and wife. It is a compound of all evil; 310 (P 10.4) it is a sum of all that is detested. A man will last when he uses Truth aright.27 Truth and unselfishness, by contrast, bring eternal well-being, both in this life—with the continuity of property (legacy)—and in the next (the tomb-chamber, which is a desirable possession). The disease of the selfish reaches its fatal conclusion here. The man who goes according to his duties makes a legacy by this: there is no tomb-chamber for the selfish.

Do not be selfish in the division!28 The twentieth maxim continues the subject of selfishness with the specific example of distributing provisions; this was a duty of administrative officials and landowners. After three warnings, a triplet affirms that a claim by a goodnatured official will be heard, and that ignoring the needs of others can lessen a man's well-being; he is deprived of the benefits of communication (speech). The final couplet offers the pragmatic advice that a little generosity will calm opposition. Do not be greedy, not even for your portion! Do not be selfish against your neighbours! The claim of the mild-mannered is greater than the mighty's. 320 (P 10.7) The man who shuns his neighbours is diminished, deprived of the gift of speech. A little of what is craved is enough to make the quarrelsome man cool-tempered.

If you are excellently well off, you should establish your household,29 The twenty-first maxim continues the sequence of domestic references, contrasting in subject matter with the eighteenth (277–97; cf. also the twelfth and twenty-fourth maxims (197–219, 362–9) ). The restricted role of women in Egyptian society is reflected here. The first half of the maxim asserts the benefits of a wife to her husband, while the second asserts the need to keep a woman under control. Being judged alludes to divorce proceedings. Both halves of the maxim mobilize agricultural imagery, but the prosperity of a well-irrigated field (an image with sexual overtones) becomes storm-wind and inadequate rainwater, which damage crops. and love your wife with proper ardour: fill her belly, clothe her back! Perfume is a restorative for her limbs. Make her joyful as long as you live! 330 (P 10.10) She is a field, good for her lord. You should not have her judged. Remove her from power, suppress her! When she sees anything her eye is a storm-wind to her. Restraining her is how to make her remain in your house; a female who is under her own control is rainwater: when one enquires after her, she has flown away.

Gratify your close friends with what comes to you,30 The twenty-second maxim about generosity reformulates the twentieth maxim (316–24) in positive terms. It draws a contrast between the gains of temporary wealth (mocked by ironic comment) and contentment, and the more enduring benefits of friends. The equivalence of generosity and virtue is expressed with wordplay: spirit is homonymous with ‘sustenance’. 340 (P 11.1) which has come to someone favoured by God. Of the man who fails to gratify his close friends, they say, “Isn't he a lovely spirit?” What will happen cannot be known, when thinking of tomorrow. The upright spirit to whom people are grateful is truly a spirit. If occasions of favour come, it is close friends who say, “Welcome!” If there are no means of contentment brought into harbour, then there are still close friends, even though there is ruin.

350 (P 11.5) You should not repeat gossip about something you did not hear direct!31 The twenty-third maxim warns against gossip and slander (cf. the eighth maxim (145–60) ). The sage's advice to repeat only what one has experienced directly leads to a reference to his own acknowledged wisdom (the man before you). The final verses present two analogies for the effects of gossip—an act of plunder that rebounds on the plunderer, and a terrifying nightmare (this latter recalls the dangerous dream of 287). It is the outpouring of the hot-tempered to repeat a matter that is only seen from a distance and not heard direct— ignore that, do not tell it at all! Look at the man before you, by whom excellence is known! When theft is ordered, that act is made into something hateful against the taker, according to the law. 360 (P 11.8) Look, gossip is a self-destructive dream, at which one covers the face.

If you are an excellent man,32 The twenty-fourth maxim develops the preceding maxim's reference to the sage's excellence (355). Wisdom and intellectual excellence requires skill and humility before it can be put into effective speech by a man advising his superior in his council. The potent herb is the unidentified teftef-plant, which may have had medicinal properties. who sits in the council of his lord, concentrate on excellence! You should be quiet! This is better than a potent herb. You should speak when you know that you understand: only the skilled artist speaks in the council. Speaking is harder than any craft: only the man who understands it puts it to work for him.

370 (P 11.12) If you are powerful, promote respect for yourself,33 The twenty-fifth maxim urges modesty and restraint in the mighty. The sage warns against passionate behaviour and speech; passion is, like a flame, shortlived and ineffective, and it can create opposition against even a pleasant man. by wisdom, by calmness of speech! Give no instructions except according to circumstances! The provoker always begins to go wrong. Do not be haughty, lest your heart be humiliated! Do not be silent—but beware lest you offend when you answer a speech with ardour! Turn away your face! Govern yourself! The flame of the hot-hearted disperses. Even the pleasant man, when he offends, has his way blocked. 380 (P 12.4) The man who is sullen all day long34 The sage now affirms that either of two extremes of character (sullenness and light-heartedness) cannot bring success; the success of the moderate man is expressed with the metaphor of voyaging: he lands achievement after achievement. Steering is often a metaphor for social responsibility. The heart and its passions are here a source of evil, and of regret. cannot spend one happy moment. The man who is light-hearted all day long, he cannot found a house; while the man who aims at completion is like someone who steers a deed to land, and another deed is secured. The man who listens to his heart will feel “If only!”

Do not let yourself oppose a great man in his moment.35 The twenty-sixth maxim urges respect towards one's superiors, and warns against reacting intemperately to a superior's troubled behaviour. It is linked to the preceding maxim by mentions of opposition and wrath, and is similar in sentiment to other maxims that concern great men's favour and support (e.g. the seventh (119–44) ). The central couplet affirms that social and divine order are complementary. For the enemy, see 248 and n. 21; sustenance and spirit are homonyms, expressing the dependence of favours on goodwill. 391 (P 12.7) Do not be wrathful-hearted to him when he is burdened; his ill-will will be against someone who quarrels with him. The spirit will be free with someone who loves him. He is a giver of sustenance, together with God. What he loves is what should be done for him. Compose your face after tumult! Peace is with his spirit, ill-will with the enemy. Cultivating love is sustenance.

Teach the great man about what is good for him!36 The twenty-seventh maxim is also about relations with one's superiors, but is more positive than the twenty-sixth (388–98; the mention of love and spirit echoes 397–8). It advises helping and supporting a superior, since this will lead him to reciprocate. Teaching is appropriate for the didactic context of the poem. The love that this fosters spans society from the superior's master, through the superior, the audience, to the audience's household, and is reciprocal. The concluding verse means that the man who follows this advice will be provisioned and blessed by his superior (hearer, i.e. judge). 400 (P 12.10) Create support for him among the people! You should cause his knowledge to strike his lord. Food for you comes from his spirit. The favourite's body will feel content. Your back will be clothed with this. Your support of him will be the life of your house through your noble, whom you love. 410 (P 12.12) He lives through this, and he will be a great help for you also. Now, this is how your love will last in everybody that loves you. Look, the man a hearer loves is a spirit.

If you have the rank of a gentleman who belongs to the council,37 Two maxims, the twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth, concerning judgement and behaviour in court cases and disputes follow. In the twenty-eighth the sage advises that negligence or distortion will rebound on the unjust and discredit them. someone commissioned with appeasing the masses, shun negligence in judgement! You should speak, but do not distort! 420 (P 13.2) Beware lest someone tells his thoughts—“Officials, he has distorted the matter!”— and your action is prevented from reaching judgement!

If you are merciful about a misdeed that has happened,38 The twenty-ninth maxim admits that one case where partiality is acceptable is when showing leniency to a fundamentally righteous man, but it urges that leniency should not be granted only in order to exert pressure later. The First Day is an allusion to the moment of creation (cf. 222): unconditional leniency without recriminations can provide a return to primordial calm. and incline towards a man on account of his usual righteousness, pass over this! Do not remember this, since he was quiet to you on the First Day! If you are great after being little,39 The thirtieth maxim begins a sequence of maxims dealing with social relations with various types of people that continues until the last maxim; it recalls the tenth maxim about how to treat a superior with a lowly past (175–85), and the twentieth maxim (316–24). It warns against trusting in good fortune and asserts that a prudent attitude towards gain will ensure respect from society. and you acquire property after former want, 431 (P 13.7) in a town you know, which is aware of what happened to you previously, do not trust in your riches, which came to you as a gift of God! Then you will not lag behind another man like you, to whom something similar has happened.

441 (P 13.9) Bow your back to your superiors,40 The thirty-first maxim once again urges respect towards social superiors (cf. the seventh maxim (119–44), and the twenty-sixth (388–98) ), which will ensure their reciprocal support for the pupil and his property. Baring the arm is a gesture of reverence that costs nothing. The second half of the maxim urges respect towards the property of others, in similar terms. Stubborn disrespect for others will create a hostile environment. and your overseer from the palace! Then your household will endure in its property, with your rewards where they should be. The man who opposes a superior will feel pain. One lives for as long as he is merciful. The arm is not sprained by baring it. 450 (P 13.12) Do not rob a neighbour's house! Do not take the property of someone close to you! Let him have no cause to denounce you, before you hear it! The man who is stubborn has a defective heart. A heart that is experienced in this will create quarrels. An opposer in the neighbourhood suffers pain.

You should not have sex with a woman-boy, for you know that what is condemned41 The thirty-second maxim warns against venting sexual desire on a woman-boy—apparently a boy prostitute who takes the female role in sexual intercourse. The act does not reflect on the character of the active partner, and has no social consequences for him (unlike the socially unacceptable sexual intercourse with women in the eighteenth maxim (277–97) ). The boy's desire is perverse, and socially unacceptable, and must not be encouraged. His physical desire (what is in his belly) cannot find relief except by being renounced (the image of sexual gratification as being sprinkled with cool water wordplays with ‘semen’). will be water on his breast. There is no relief for what is in his belly. 460 (P 14.5) Let him not spend the night doing what is condemned; he will find relief only when he has abandoned his desire.

If you investigate the character of a friend,42 The thirty-third maxim is the first of three on social relationships with dependents and associates, that are concerned with increasingly wider social spheres. This maxim, which is dominated by imperatives, recommends trust when dealing with a friend. In the second half, the sage advocates a restrained response to a friend who has been indiscreet or infuriating. A generalizing couplet concludes the maxim, asserting that a friend who does wrong will be found out eventually; the phrasing suggests that this might take place only after death and not in this life. do not question someone who is close to him, but deal with him alone, until you are no longer pained by his manner! Dispute with him after a while! 470 (P 14.8) Broach his heart in conversation! If he lets slip something he has seen, and does a deed at which you are angry, be friendly with him still! Do not remove your regard! Be composed! Do not reveal the matter to him! Do not respond with uproar! Do not turn away from him! Do not trample on him! His time has never yet failed to come. 480 (P 14.12) No one can escape his destiny.

Be benevolent as long as you live!43 The thirty-fourth maxim urges generosity. The sage advises that, once goods are issued from the storeroom, they may as well be distributed freely, as they cannot return. Memory of a man's generosity will sustain him in old age and in death, after leaving his office. As the maxims reach their conclusion, there are several references to future memory. Lack of generous treatment will stir up social unrest and create enemies. What has come out of the storeroom cannot return. It is bread for sharing that can inspire greed: the man with an empty belly is an accuser. An opponent becomes someone who inflicts suffering— do not appoint him as someone close to you! Kindness is the memorial of a man, in the years that come after the staff of office.

Acknowledge your former associates, and your property will exist!44 The thirty-fifth maxim affirms, like the preceding one, that generosity brings its rewards. A distinction is drawn between material goods and the true prosperity of friends and virtue; success is not defined in simple terms of property or the like. The paradox of the first verse—that generosity to one's former associates will bring wealth—is explicated with imagery that recalls that of the twenty-first maxim (330). The sentiment is similar to that of the twenty-second maxim (339–49), and the final verse recalls the preceding maxim (487–8). 490 (P 15.3) Do not be vile-natured to your friends: they are a riverbank which is fertile, are greater than its riches! The property of one man can belong to another; a gentleman's qualities are excellent for him alone. Good character will be a memorial.

Punish promptly!45 The thirty-sixth maxim advises immediate punishment to correct faults, but it is also a final warning about unwarranted correction. The sage asserts that undeserved punishment will make a minor fault into a major one, and cause social unrest (opposition). Instruct absolutely! The restraint of wrongdoing will establish a good example. An act not in response to evil is what makes grumbling become opposition.

500 (P 15.6) If you take to wife a plump woman,46 The thirty-seventh maxim returns to the subject of marriage. The series of maxims ends with an affirmation of the importance of light-heartedness, which was earlier condemned (in the twenty-fifth maxim (382) ). Plumpness in women was not usually considered admirable. Fresh water is an image of prosperity (wellwatered ground and drinking water), and pleasure (the relief of cool water). someone light-hearted, well known to her town, who is volatile, to whom the moment is fair, do not reject her! Let her eat! The light-hearted woman provides fresh water.

If you listen to these things I have told you,47 An epilogue of more reflective stanzas follows, in which the specific wisdom of the Teaching is presented in more generalized terms, and its eternal values are articulated more explicitly. The epilogue begins with a conditional clause, like many of the maxims, and the opening verses proclaim the effective virtue of the maxims: they affirm Truth and their wisdom is true. The perfection of the verses, both rhetorical and ethical, results in their transmission, which is a transmission of cultural values—which will be acknowledged by society—through succeeding generations of sons to the future and to eternity. all your affairs will advance. Their Truthfulness is their value. 510 (P 15.9) Memory of them will not depart from the mouths of men, because of the perfection of their verses. Every word will be attained; none can perish in this land for all time. When well uttered, it should be enacted, so that the officials will speak of it. This is teaching a man to speak to the future.48 A triplet affirms that hearing the Teaching induces a man to speak it again to future generations. Hearing is a sign of understanding, obedience, and wisdom, and hearers is a term for the officials’ role in society as judges. These verses develop the opening statements of the epilogue; a second triplet then affirms the eternal value of the wise deeds which result from this listening. If he listens, he will become an artist of hearing. It is good to speak to the future; it will listen. 520 (P 15.11) If a good deed happens because of someone who is a chief, he will be excellent for eternity. All his knowledge is for all time. Only a wise man sustains his soul with what ensures permanence,49 The sage states that wisdom is the only means of enduring, and is its own reward. First a triplet describes the wise man. Then the official who enacts Truth is presented in an image of physical well-being. Virtue's reward is not presented merely as material advancement, but as something inherent—personal fulfilment (to satisfy is homophonous with ‘to be knowledgeable’). The old age suffered by the sage in the prologue (8–27 and n. 2) is here regenerated by the speaking of wisdom; the description ends with a reference to hearing as ensuring continuity through the hearer's son. The epithets in the final verse resemble those found in praise songs and funerary inscriptions, and describe the wise man in broad abstract terms. so that his soul is happy with him on earth. The wise man will be satisfied through his wisdom. Only the official who is about his good deed twines together his heart and his tongue; his lips are righteous while he is speaking, 530 (P 16.1) his eyes see, and his two ears hear what is excellent for his son— a doer of Truth, free from Falsehood!

Hearing is excellent for a son who hears.50 The second stanza of the epilogue describes the benefits of hearing a father's wisdom, developing the theme of the preceding stanza (507–33). A virtuosic and repetitive passage plays on the word hear (and on how hearing enables speech and creates love), in the manner of a toccata, teasing out the possibilities of the thematic material. The passage returns to the specific context of the Teaching—a father speaking to his son (1–41)—and extols hearing for how it provides a good old age and favour from God, such as the sage has gained. Hearing enters the hearer, so that the hearer becomes someone who is heard. Good is hearing; good then is speaking; the hearer is a lord of excellence. 540 (P 16.4) Hearing is excellent for the hearer. Hearing is better than anything, so that perfect love comes into being. How good for a son to receive his father's speech! He will have an old age through it. Someone who hears is loved by God. Someone hated by God does not hear. 550 (P 16.7) It is the heart which makes its lord51 After a verse suggesting that a man's ability to hear is predetermined by god, comes a triplet which forms the centre of the stanza. This triplet states that an individual is himself responsible for whether he is virtuous or not: the human heart has potential for good and evil. Life, prosperity, and health (i.e. well-being) is a grand phrase, originally used as a wish for the well-being of royalty: the heart can elevate a man. The two contrasting views of responsibility for ethical choice—predetermined by the gods or taken by man—are juxtaposed to suggest the uncertainty of how a man's nature is determined. a hearer or a non-hearer— a man's heart is his life, prosperity, and health! It is a hearer who hears speech.52 In the rest of the stanza, the sage returns to the motif of the son, symmetrically echoing the first section. Hearing and speaking are increasingly interwoven in the epilogue, as the sage extols the consequences of wisdom; hearing is not just a passive virtue. A concluding couplet extols how a virtuous man will be remembered; in this the sage uses a phrase that was earlier used of the Teaching itself (510 and n. 47), to imply that the pupil's reputation is, in a sense, the essence of the Teaching. The man who does what is said is someone who loves hearing. How good for a son to listen to his father! 560 (P 16.11) How joyful is someone of whom this is said, “This son is a fine lord of hearing.” The hearer of whom this is said has a splendid person, and is blessed before his father. He is remembered in the mouths of the living, those on earth and those who will be.

If a gentleman's son receives his father's speech,53 The third stanza explicates the preceding stanza's affirmations, presenting those claims in a more practical, worldly manner. A conditional clause, reminiscent of the start of many of the preceding maxims, marks a return to specific instances. The sage again addresses the pupil directly, and extends the Teaching into the next-but-one generation. The stanza ends with a generalizing verse on the benefits of seeking after excellence, and thus avoiding the hardships of the fool (fool is homophonous with ‘night’, pointing the contrast with the wise man who rises early at dawn). no plan of his can miscarry. You should teach a hearer in your son, someone who will seem excellent to the official's hearts, guiding his mouth by what is said to him, and regarded as a hearer. 570 (P 17.2) Such a son is excellent, his actions distinguished, while the installation into office of a non-hearer will miscarry. The wise man will rise early to establish himself; the fool is hard-pressed.

As for the fool who does not hear, he can do nothing.54 A fourth stanza has the fool as subject; the description balances the preceding stanza's presentation of the virtuous man (564–74), and develops the antithesis of that stanza's final verse (573–4). The sage now warns against folly rather than affirming the benefits of virtue. He ironically echoes the title of the Teaching (47–50): while the sage teaches how to live truly, the fool makes life like death. He is transient, a parody of the true way of life, and as such is despised, with his deeds being ignored by the officials. He will see wisdom as ignorance, excellence as harm. 580 (P 17.6) He does everything detestable, so that he is complained about every day. He lives on that by which one dies. Distorted speech is his sustenance; and this character of his is known to the officials, who say “Every day, a living death!” His deeds are passed over, because of the many evils due to him every day. And a son who hears is a Follower of Horus.55 The fifth stanza resumes the description of the son's increasing wisdom, and elevates him to a courtly and almost semi-divine level: the Followers of Horus are both the king's courtiers (Horus is the kingly god), and the semi-divine associates of the god himself. This stanza places wisdom more explicitly than before in a grand chronological frame, moving from the teacher—who will achieve blessedness in death—to his descendants in a spiral of regeneration and continuity. Society will recognize this continuity, and people who witness how a wise man's children behave will favour them for being like him, even in misfortune (involved with injustice). Obedient children are the essence of success through the generations. It is good for him when he hears. 590 (P 17.10) He will attain old age; he will reach blessedness. He will tell the like to his children, renewing what his father taught, every man being taught as he was. He will tell it before his offspring, so that they will speak to their children. Set a good example! Give no offence! Make Truth strong, and your offspring will live! The first of them who will be involved with injustice, 600 (P 18.3) people who see will still say, “They are exactly like him”, and they who hear this will have said, “They are exactly like him” too. Everybody looks to them, and the masses are pacified. Without them, riches are of no avail. Do not chop, do not change a word!56 The second section of the stanza turns from the value of children to the value of carefully transmitting the wisdom enshrined in the Teaching. The continuity of textual transmission complements the continuity of children, and is merged with speaking the wisdom with art. Speaking Truth is the archetypal active virtue, the enactment of the passive virtue of listening to wisdom. Do not put one in the place of another! 611 (P 18.8) Beware! Do not let loose the restraints in you! Watch out lest a sage tells you to listen, when you wish to establish yourself in the mouths of the hearers! You should speak when you have entered into the art, and you will speak to good effect; then all of your affairs will be as they should be!

Suppress your heart, control your mouth,57 The sixth stanza continues the movement from hearing to speaking. Advice to be restrained in speech is interwoven with the motif of wisdom passing from father to son to their mutual renown. The son is urged to behave in a manner worthy of his father. This stanza returns to a more consistently didactic mode, and turns from considering the pupil's children to the pupil's role as the teacher's child, citing speeches by officials who witness his deeds of wisdom (as in the preceding stanza (600–3) ). so that your affairs will be amongst the officials’! 620 (P 18.13) Be entirely upright before your lord; act so that they say to him, “He is the son of that one,” and say to those who will listen, “Now, favoured is the man to whom he was born!” Be patient as long as you speak! You should say distinguished things, so that the officials who hear will say, “How good is what comes out of his mouth!”

Act thus, until your lord says about you,58 The final stanza takes up the didactic themes and interweaves generalizing descriptions and injunctions in a final rhetorical flourish about hearing and wisdom. There are reprises of motifs such as speaking before one's lord, the complementarity of Truth and social position, and well-being as a result of virtue. These are described with reference to an ideal son who will surpass his ancestors and develop and increase the sage's wisdom and teaching. The sage then returns to the actual setting, referring to his own good fortune in making the Teaching before the king. The prominence of the king in the final verses of the epilogue returns the audience to the courtly setting (1–41). At the start of the poem the king stated that ‘no one is born already knowledgeable’ (41), but here the son is born with wisdom derived from his father. “How good is his father's teaching, 630 (P 19.4) with which he came out of his flesh, which he told to him even when he was in the womb! What he has done is greater than what he was told.” Look, a good son is a gift of God— one who increases what he was told before his lord! He will do Truth, his heart having acted according to his duties; even thus you will reach me, with your limbs healthy, the king content with all that has happened. You will achieve years of life! 640 (P 19.7) What I have done upon earth will be no small thing.59 The sage's own reputation will endure as proof of his personal virtue and wisdom. Wisdom is presented as ultimately guaranteeing happiness, without any qualification. A hundred and ten was the ideal age to reach; it is a gift from the gods and the king in return for virtue. Blessedness is the state of the deceased élite, whose burials were in the gift of the king; it is a resonant term in wisdom literature and funerary inscriptions. I have achieved a hundred and ten years of life, as a gift to me from the king, with favours beyond the ancestors’, by doing Truth for the king, until the state of blessedness.’

So it ends, from start to finish, as found in writing.

Notes:

1. The initial title sets the scene that is developed in the prologue. Lord Vizier is literally ‘The Overseer of the (capital) city, and Vizier’. Isesi was the penultimate king of the Fifth Dynasty (c.2388–2356 BC). Two viziers Ptahhotep are known from this period; the first (Ptahhotep I) is probably the historical basis for the character here. Both of their tombs may show signs of later reverence, suggesting that they were regarded as culture heroes by the start of the Middle Kingdom.

2. The prologue opens with a comprehensive description of old age and its evils; this contrasts with what the audience might expect—a description of a happy old age as a reward for virtue. The failure of the sage's heart—the organ of wisdom—is striking; its inability to remember the past (yesterday) is a bitter irony, since the past is when wisdom originated (cf. 31–2) and for the original audience it is the time to which Ptahhotep belongs. The passage ends with the absence of the most basic necessity of life, breath, which was often referred to as being in the king's giving; this allusion to the sage's death-in-life prepares for the subsequent request to the king (28–32).

3. The Staff of Old Age is an office held by the son as his father's helper, agent, and named successor, who will support Ptahhotep in his infirmity; the role of the sage's speech in training his son is underlined by wordplay: Staff and words are homophonous. This humble servant is the vizier himself (see The Tale of Sinuhe, B 175 and n. 44). The continuity between the primordial past of the Gods and his heir offers a chance of immutability, and affirms the value of ancient things in contrast with the decline of old age. The sage then turns to the future with a reciprocal wish for the king. The Two Banks are the totality of Egypt.

4. The king is divine like the gods, who are the origin of wisdom; later in the Teaching ‘God’ refers to the undifferentiated divine, rather than a specific god or the king, and is often resumed with ‘They’. The king's speech affirms that teaching is needed to supplement the imperfection of mankind.

5. A full title now introduces the Teaching proper; for the sage's titles, see TheLoyalist’ Teaching, n. 1). Perfect speech refers to ethical as well as rhetorical perfection: it is the spoken embodiment of the ideal of wisdom. The title establishes the ostensibly pragmatic tone of the subsequent maxims, in which the effects of virtue are manifest in material prosperity and success, and raises the question of ethical choice and obedience.

6. In the first maxim the limitations of wisdom are stated: absolute wisdom and virtue are impossible unattainable ideals. Wisdom and wise perfect speech are likened to art; this (like mastery) is a term also applied to the efficacy of magic. Malachite (literally ‘greenstone’) is a semi-precious mineral. Complementary to this is the idea that social success and wisdom are not necessarily correlated: wisdom can belong to lowly maidservants, who cannot hope to benefit from their virtue, unlike the privileged audience of the Teaching.

7. The second maxim begins a sequence of three on how to deal with disputants in a law court. These return to the specifically official setting after the general opening maxim, but reveal the Teaching's concern with all levels of society: they are ordered hierarchically from social superior to inferior. In his moment refers to the moment of confrontation, the climax of a person's case. The sage advocates deference to a social superior. Wordplay with riches (homonymous with ‘lifetime’) gives the maxim a wider perspective, but also helps establish a tension between the material status quo and ethical qualities (such as selfrestraint), although the sage relies on society's judgement.

8. The third maxim concerns an equal in a court case, who is to be silently opposed. The sage again trusts in the state's official judgement of the case to uphold virtue, and advocates passive inaction. (Judges and officials are synonymous here.)

9. The fourth maxim advises that one should not take action against social inferiors who are in the wrong: they will defeat themselves in the eyes of society if one is patient.

10. The fifth maxim asserts the absolute and eternal value of Truth, in contrast with the relative values advocated in the second and third maxims; it moves from social concerns to eternal and abstract ones. Truth is order—both social and ethical—and right, on which the world, the state, and its laws are based. Enacting Truth with worthy deeds is the responsibility of any official. Osiris is a god who ruled the earth in primeval times, whose death and resurrection are archetypes for the vindication of Truth (there is also wordplay between his name and the homophonous divine epithet ‘He who created it (Truth)’). He is the judge of the dead, and the theme of otherwordly judgement is taken up in the following verses.

11. The sage now uses allegorical personifications to affirm the impermanence of illgotten riches (homonymous with ‘lifetime’); to bring to land is both to reach a successful conclusion and to reach eternity after the voyage of life. The following speeches affirm that no man can prey on others while justifying himself by his official position, and that Truth belongs to a virtuous man like an inherited estate.

12. The sixth maxim warns against predatory scheming. As in the stylistically similar preceding maxim, ignoble actions have their consequences, as is shown by a series of hapless schemers. The antithetical statements give a sense of human futility, which must be calmly borne, in the face of the gods’ laws of reciprocity which alone can avail. Prosperity comes of itself as the reward to virtue from the gods (They), and cannot be forced by man. Human life is governed by absolute forces.

13. The seventh maxim urges patient respect towards one's social superiors as well as towards the gods; both will give to the virtuous man. Those who sit are privileged people of high rank. The principles of the preceding maxim are presented in the more pragmatic terms of human society. (A person's spirit and food are homonyms).

14. The concluding couplet affirms the relationship between social order and abstract ideals. Etiquette and night-time behaviour embody eternal principles of reciprocity—the counsel of God: if you behave properly, then you will be rewarded (behaviour and counsel are the same Egyptian word). These principles are inevitable, and protest is useless.

15. The eighth maxim is about discretion when acting for a superior. The mention of a great man and the horror to the spirit recall the preceding maxim (120, 125). Truth as an abstract principle involves moderation, and excess is alien to it; the sage advises against repeating truth indiscreetly and maliciously.

16. The ninth maxim is also about temperance, but in a context of power rather than subservience. The ploughing of the first verse is metaphorical for the growth of an official's prosperity and progeny. The crocodile is a positive image of ferocious capacity and retribution, but its darker undertones are developed in the warnings against preying on the lonely in the second half of the maxim. A man without children was considered socially unfortunate, as he lacked an heir to ensure his continuity in this world and the next, but he is not to be despised for that reason, as god may still make him more fortunate than a man with a family and vindicate him. The final verse means that the man who has a faithful family can, despite this, come second to the virtuous solitary man.

17. The tenth maxim concerns attitudes towards power in others. The sage warns that the parvenu and those who have risen by merit should not be despised, as their success is a reward that has been earned. The sage implies that social position may not be stable and that wealth may prove transitory—which is taken up later in the thirtieth maxim (428–40). They are the gods, who here give prosperity, as well as caring for the socially alienated (as in 173). This and the preceding maxim are linked by follow (174), and by the general reference to vileness: these maxims also imply that the dispossessed may be more excellent than the wealthy.

18. In the eleventh maxim, the pupil is urged to follow not his superior, but his own heart, or desire. This is an injunction to hedonism, but as the heart is a moral force and the seat of wisdom—the conscience—free-thinking and self-reliant morality is also encouraged. After two maxims on the value of material goods, this maxim puts the question of wealth into a broader perspective; all three, however, advocate a lack of immoderate concern for property and wealth.

19. The twelfth maxim deals with how to react to a good son—who is not to be spurned—and a bad son—who is to be cast off. The structurally central verse warns that a son (like property) can cause trouble (progeny—literally ‘seed’—wordplays with the homonym ‘poison’). Once again, ethical qualities are here more important than social links: excellence is taken up from the last maxim but one (175, 184), and is a concern parallel to ‘following the heart’ in the preceding maxim (186, 188). Virtue is foreordained, and the maxim, like others, ends by affirming man's dependence on the gods (Them).

20. The thirteenth maxim asserts the value of the social status quo. Stand and sit is an expression for ‘behave’. Social order is presented as part of divinely ordained creation (for the First Day as the moment of creation, see 425 and n. 38), and the maxim warns against social ambition, as this disrupts the justice established in society. Once again, the maxim concludes with a reference to the divine, and to man's helplessness.

21. The fourteenth maxim concerns social responsibility; it describes the effects both of trust and of self-willed indiscretion (the latter description echoes that of old age in the prologue (8–27 and n. 2) ). At the centre is a description of the rewards of discretion and of society's recognition of unassuming virtue. The maxim concludes with a couplet summarizing the contrast between the selfless and the selfish with reference to the divine. To belong to the enemy means ‘to fall prey to’ as well as ‘to be one of’.

22. The fifteenth maxim advocates honesty. In the first part, the sage affirms that no harm will come to a messenger who repeats all his report, and in the second, that no punishment will befall a messenger who repeats all he can, even when his knowledge is incomplete. Quietness is a positive ethical quality in other contexts.

23. The sixteenth maxim describes the leader's position (cf. the fifth maxim (84–98)) and the effect of his actions on his fate. It warns against complacency: a leader should act virtuously even when he has no apparent need to. The final verse asserts that everything can go sour for a man when adversity suddenly strikes; the crocodile is often an agent of retribution (cf. n. 16). Implicit in this is the belief that a man's distinguished things will be remembered by society and will ensure goodwill towards him even in adversity.

24. The seventeenth maxim presents virtuous leadership more specifically and very pragmatically, in terms of an official's responsibility for the happiness of those who petition him.

25. The eighteenth maxim is a warning against interfering with another man's women. In Egyptian literature, sexual desire can be irregular and undermine the social structure, of which the possession of women, as wives or as servant girls, is an integral part. Two triplets state the fatal consequences of sexual pleasure in broad terms (as affecting a thousand men) and describe the transience of the pleasure itself (as opposed to the lasting harm it can cause). Knowing and conceive can have a sexual meaning.

26. The nineteenth maxim is numerically the central maxim, and concerns the sin of selfishness (literally ‘graspingness of heart’). Like the preceding maxim, it concerns social ties (the phrasing reinforces this: 298 echoes 277), but with an even wider perspective and with as absolute a condemnation. The sin is presented as a fatal disease; compound and sum are medical terms, but continue the metaphor ironically, since they are terms for remedies. The imagery of wisdom as health runs throughout the Teaching.

27. Truth and unselfishness, by contrast, bring eternal well-being, both in this life—with the continuity of property (legacy)—and in the next (the tomb-chamber, which is a desirable possession). The disease of the selfish reaches its fatal conclusion here.

28. The twentieth maxim continues the subject of selfishness with the specific example of distributing provisions; this was a duty of administrative officials and landowners. After three warnings, a triplet affirms that a claim by a goodnatured official will be heard, and that ignoring the needs of others can lessen a man's well-being; he is deprived of the benefits of communication (speech). The final couplet offers the pragmatic advice that a little generosity will calm opposition.

29. The twenty-first maxim continues the sequence of domestic references, contrasting in subject matter with the eighteenth (277–97; cf. also the twelfth and twenty-fourth maxims (197–219, 362–9) ). The restricted role of women in Egyptian society is reflected here. The first half of the maxim asserts the benefits of a wife to her husband, while the second asserts the need to keep a woman under control. Being judged alludes to divorce proceedings. Both halves of the maxim mobilize agricultural imagery, but the prosperity of a well-irrigated field (an image with sexual overtones) becomes storm-wind and inadequate rainwater, which damage crops.

30. The twenty-second maxim about generosity reformulates the twentieth maxim (316–24) in positive terms. It draws a contrast between the gains of temporary wealth (mocked by ironic comment) and contentment, and the more enduring benefits of friends. The equivalence of generosity and virtue is expressed with wordplay: spirit is homonymous with ‘sustenance’.

31. The twenty-third maxim warns against gossip and slander (cf. the eighth maxim (145–60) ). The sage's advice to repeat only what one has experienced directly leads to a reference to his own acknowledged wisdom (the man before you). The final verses present two analogies for the effects of gossip—an act of plunder that rebounds on the plunderer, and a terrifying nightmare (this latter recalls the dangerous dream of 287).

32. The twenty-fourth maxim develops the preceding maxim's reference to the sage's excellence (355). Wisdom and intellectual excellence requires skill and humility before it can be put into effective speech by a man advising his superior in his council. The potent herb is the unidentified teftef-plant, which may have had medicinal properties.

33. The twenty-fifth maxim urges modesty and restraint in the mighty. The sage warns against passionate behaviour and speech; passion is, like a flame, shortlived and ineffective, and it can create opposition against even a pleasant man.

34. The sage now affirms that either of two extremes of character (sullenness and light-heartedness) cannot bring success; the success of the moderate man is expressed with the metaphor of voyaging: he lands achievement after achievement. Steering is often a metaphor for social responsibility. The heart and its passions are here a source of evil, and of regret.

35. The twenty-sixth maxim urges respect towards one's superiors, and warns against reacting intemperately to a superior's troubled behaviour. It is linked to the preceding maxim by mentions of opposition and wrath, and is similar in sentiment to other maxims that concern great men's favour and support (e.g. the seventh (119–44) ). The central couplet affirms that social and divine order are complementary. For the enemy, see 248 and n. 21; sustenance and spirit are homonyms, expressing the dependence of favours on goodwill.

36. The twenty-seventh maxim is also about relations with one's superiors, but is more positive than the twenty-sixth (388–98; the mention of love and spirit echoes 397–8). It advises helping and supporting a superior, since this will lead him to reciprocate. Teaching is appropriate for the didactic context of the poem. The love that this fosters spans society from the superior's master, through the superior, the audience, to the audience's household, and is reciprocal. The concluding verse means that the man who follows this advice will be provisioned and blessed by his superior (hearer, i.e. judge).

37. Two maxims, the twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth, concerning judgement and behaviour in court cases and disputes follow. In the twenty-eighth the sage advises that negligence or distortion will rebound on the unjust and discredit them.

38. The twenty-ninth maxim admits that one case where partiality is acceptable is when showing leniency to a fundamentally righteous man, but it urges that leniency should not be granted only in order to exert pressure later. The First Day is an allusion to the moment of creation (cf. 222): unconditional leniency without recriminations can provide a return to primordial calm.

39. The thirtieth maxim begins a sequence of maxims dealing with social relations with various types of people that continues until the last maxim; it recalls the tenth maxim about how to treat a superior with a lowly past (175–85), and the twentieth maxim (316–24). It warns against trusting in good fortune and asserts that a prudent attitude towards gain will ensure respect from society.

40. The thirty-first maxim once again urges respect towards social superiors (cf. the seventh maxim (119–44), and the twenty-sixth (388–98) ), which will ensure their reciprocal support for the pupil and his property. Baring the arm is a gesture of reverence that costs nothing. The second half of the maxim urges respect towards the property of others, in similar terms. Stubborn disrespect for others will create a hostile environment.

41. The thirty-second maxim warns against venting sexual desire on a woman-boy—apparently a boy prostitute who takes the female role in sexual intercourse. The act does not reflect on the character of the active partner, and has no social consequences for him (unlike the socially unacceptable sexual intercourse with women in the eighteenth maxim (277–97) ). The boy's desire is perverse, and socially unacceptable, and must not be encouraged. His physical desire (what is in his belly) cannot find relief except by being renounced (the image of sexual gratification as being sprinkled with cool water wordplays with ‘semen’).

42. The thirty-third maxim is the first of three on social relationships with dependents and associates, that are concerned with increasingly wider social spheres. This maxim, which is dominated by imperatives, recommends trust when dealing with a friend. In the second half, the sage advocates a restrained response to a friend who has been indiscreet or infuriating. A generalizing couplet concludes the maxim, asserting that a friend who does wrong will be found out eventually; the phrasing suggests that this might take place only after death and not in this life.

43. The thirty-fourth maxim urges generosity. The sage advises that, once goods are issued from the storeroom, they may as well be distributed freely, as they cannot return. Memory of a man's generosity will sustain him in old age and in death, after leaving his office. As the maxims reach their conclusion, there are several references to future memory. Lack of generous treatment will stir up social unrest and create enemies.

44. The thirty-fifth maxim affirms, like the preceding one, that generosity brings its rewards. A distinction is drawn between material goods and the true prosperity of friends and virtue; success is not defined in simple terms of property or the like. The paradox of the first verse—that generosity to one's former associates will bring wealth—is explicated with imagery that recalls that of the twenty-first maxim (330). The sentiment is similar to that of the twenty-second maxim (339–49), and the final verse recalls the preceding maxim (487–8).

45. The thirty-sixth maxim advises immediate punishment to correct faults, but it is also a final warning about unwarranted correction. The sage asserts that undeserved punishment will make a minor fault into a major one, and cause social unrest (opposition).

46. The thirty-seventh maxim returns to the subject of marriage. The series of maxims ends with an affirmation of the importance of light-heartedness, which was earlier condemned (in the twenty-fifth maxim (382) ). Plumpness in women was not usually considered admirable. Fresh water is an image of prosperity (wellwatered ground and drinking water), and pleasure (the relief of cool water).

47. An epilogue of more reflective stanzas follows, in which the specific wisdom of the Teaching is presented in more generalized terms, and its eternal values are articulated more explicitly. The epilogue begins with a conditional clause, like many of the maxims, and the opening verses proclaim the effective virtue of the maxims: they affirm Truth and their wisdom is true. The perfection of the verses, both rhetorical and ethical, results in their transmission, which is a transmission of cultural values—which will be acknowledged by society—through succeeding generations of sons to the future and to eternity.

48. A triplet affirms that hearing the Teaching induces a man to speak it again to future generations. Hearing is a sign of understanding, obedience, and wisdom, and hearers is a term for the officials’ role in society as judges. These verses develop the opening statements of the epilogue; a second triplet then affirms the eternal value of the wise deeds which result from this listening.

49. The sage states that wisdom is the only means of enduring, and is its own reward. First a triplet describes the wise man. Then the official who enacts Truth is presented in an image of physical well-being. Virtue's reward is not presented merely as material advancement, but as something inherent—personal fulfilment (to satisfy is homophonous with ‘to be knowledgeable’). The old age suffered by the sage in the prologue (8–27 and n. 2) is here regenerated by the speaking of wisdom; the description ends with a reference to hearing as ensuring continuity through the hearer's son. The epithets in the final verse resemble those found in praise songs and funerary inscriptions, and describe the wise man in broad abstract terms.

50. The second stanza of the epilogue describes the benefits of hearing a father's wisdom, developing the theme of the preceding stanza (507–33). A virtuosic and repetitive passage plays on the word hear (and on how hearing enables speech and creates love), in the manner of a toccata, teasing out the possibilities of the thematic material. The passage returns to the specific context of the Teaching—a father speaking to his son (1–41)—and extols hearing for how it provides a good old age and favour from God, such as the sage has gained.

51. After a verse suggesting that a man's ability to hear is predetermined by god, comes a triplet which forms the centre of the stanza. This triplet states that an individual is himself responsible for whether he is virtuous or not: the human heart has potential for good and evil. Life, prosperity, and health (i.e. well-being) is a grand phrase, originally used as a wish for the well-being of royalty: the heart can elevate a man. The two contrasting views of responsibility for ethical choice—predetermined by the gods or taken by man—are juxtaposed to suggest the uncertainty of how a man's nature is determined.

52. In the rest of the stanza, the sage returns to the motif of the son, symmetrically echoing the first section. Hearing and speaking are increasingly interwoven in the epilogue, as the sage extols the consequences of wisdom; hearing is not just a passive virtue. A concluding couplet extols how a virtuous man will be remembered; in this the sage uses a phrase that was earlier used of the Teaching itself (510 and n. 47), to imply that the pupil's reputation is, in a sense, the essence of the Teaching.

53. The third stanza explicates the preceding stanza's affirmations, presenting those claims in a more practical, worldly manner. A conditional clause, reminiscent of the start of many of the preceding maxims, marks a return to specific instances. The sage again addresses the pupil directly, and extends the Teaching into the next-but-one generation. The stanza ends with a generalizing verse on the benefits of seeking after excellence, and thus avoiding the hardships of the fool (fool is homophonous with ‘night’, pointing the contrast with the wise man who rises early at dawn).

54. A fourth stanza has the fool as subject; the description balances the preceding stanza's presentation of the virtuous man (564–74), and develops the antithesis of that stanza's final verse (573–4). The sage now warns against folly rather than affirming the benefits of virtue. He ironically echoes the title of the Teaching (47–50): while the sage teaches how to live truly, the fool makes life like death. He is transient, a parody of the true way of life, and as such is despised, with his deeds being ignored by the officials.

55. The fifth stanza resumes the description of the son's increasing wisdom, and elevates him to a courtly and almost semi-divine level: the Followers of Horus are both the king's courtiers (Horus is the kingly god), and the semi-divine associates of the god himself. This stanza places wisdom more explicitly than before in a grand chronological frame, moving from the teacher—who will achieve blessedness in death—to his descendants in a spiral of regeneration and continuity. Society will recognize this continuity, and people who witness how a wise man's children behave will favour them for being like him, even in misfortune (involved with injustice). Obedient children are the essence of success through the generations.

56. The second section of the stanza turns from the value of children to the value of carefully transmitting the wisdom enshrined in the Teaching. The continuity of textual transmission complements the continuity of children, and is merged with speaking the wisdom with art. Speaking Truth is the archetypal active virtue, the enactment of the passive virtue of listening to wisdom.

57. The sixth stanza continues the movement from hearing to speaking. Advice to be restrained in speech is interwoven with the motif of wisdom passing from father to son to their mutual renown. The son is urged to behave in a manner worthy of his father. This stanza returns to a more consistently didactic mode, and turns from considering the pupil's children to the pupil's role as the teacher's child, citing speeches by officials who witness his deeds of wisdom (as in the preceding stanza (600–3) ).

58. The final stanza takes up the didactic themes and interweaves generalizing descriptions and injunctions in a final rhetorical flourish about hearing and wisdom. There are reprises of motifs such as speaking before one's lord, the complementarity of Truth and social position, and well-being as a result of virtue. These are described with reference to an ideal son who will surpass his ancestors and develop and increase the sage's wisdom and teaching. The sage then returns to the actual setting, referring to his own good fortune in making the Teaching before the king. The prominence of the king in the final verses of the epilogue returns the audience to the courtly setting (1–41). At the start of the poem the king stated that ‘no one is born already knowledgeable’ (41), but here the son is born with wisdom derived from his father.

59. The sage's own reputation will endure as proof of his personal virtue and wisdom. Wisdom is presented as ultimately guaranteeing happiness, without any qualification. A hundred and ten was the ideal age to reach; it is a gift from the gods and the king in return for virtue. Blessedness is the state of the deceased élite, whose burials were in the gift of the king; it is a resonant term in wisdom literature and funerary inscriptions.

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