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Teachings

The Teachings are perhaps the best preserved genre, thanks largely to the numerous copies made by New Kingdom apprentice scribes (see p. 4). Nevertheless, many are incomplete, including The Teaching for Kagemni, which is known from a single copy at the start of the principal manuscript of The Teaching of the Vizier Ptahhotep. Kagemni is also set in the Old Kingdom and is addressed to a famous historical vizier of the Sixth Dynasty (although the Teaching ascribes him to the Fourth Dynasty). It reveals the same concerns with etiquette and eternal principles as Ptahhotep:

1.1 ‘The meek man prospers, and the honest man is favoured;11 The first surviving stanza urges quietness, moderation, and deliberation. the tent is open for the quiet man, and wide is the access for the calm man. Do not talk! Knives are sharp for someone who errs from the path. There is no hastening except at its due time.

If you sit with many people, scorn the bread you love!12 A section on table manners, which expands from these specific examples into reflections on restraint in general. Restraining the heart is a little moment. 1.5 Gluttony is wrongdoing. It is pointed at. A cup of water quenches thirst.13 These verses recommend moderation in eating, but also explicitly formulate the theme that virtue in this world is relative; thus to limit evil may be as near as one can get to absolute virtue. The following verses describe the man who ignores restraint, and then acclaim the quiet man. A mouthful of herbs makes the heart firm. One good thing serves for goodness. A few little things serve for greatness. Vile is the man who has a greedy appetite when the fit time is past, and who has forgotten that the appetite has free range only at home. If you sit with a glutton, you should eat when his fever has passed. If you drink with a drunkard, you should take when his heart is contented. Do not attack meat beside a voracious man; 1.10 take only what he gives you, do not reject it! That is the way to soothe. A man who is free from reproach about food— no words can prevail against him. He who is mild-mannered to the point of being indulgent— the harsh are kinder to him than his mother is. Everybody is his supporter. Cause your renown to spread thus: 2.1 you are quiet with your mouth even when you are summoned.

Do not be proud because there is strength among your Youth!14 The Teaching concludes with a warning against trusting in (paramilitary) might, as the future cannot be known. Beware lest you are opposed! What will happen, what God does when He punishes, is unknowable!’

And the Vizier had his children summoned, after he had understood the nature of mankind, and its character had come upon him. And at last he said to them, 2.5 ‘All that is written down on this roll— listen to it as I have said it! Do not go beyond what is ordained!’ And now they prostrated themselves. And now they read it out exactly as it was written down. And it seemed more perfect to their hearts than anything in this entire land. And they behaved accordingly.15 Literally, ‘stood and sat’. Then the Majesty of the Dual King Huni passed away.16 Huni was the last king of the Third Dynasty (c.2599–2575 BC) and predecessor of Sneferu (for whom, see The Words of Neferti and The Tale of King Cheops’ Court). Kagemni seems to be the old Vizier's son, who now succeeds his retiring father. The name of the teacher is lost, but he may have been one Kaires, who is mentioned as a sage in a later list of ancient writers. Then the Majesty of the Dual King Sneferu ascended as the worthy king in this entire land. Then Kagemni was appointed as Lord Vizier. So it ends.17 A short version of the standard colophon.

Partial copies are also extant of The Teaching of Prince Hordedef, a prince who features in The Tale of King Cheops’ Court. In the second stanza, the prince urges his audience to prepare themselves for death, and tells how death and life are inseparable:

‘You should build your house for your son; then you will have made a place in which you will always exist. Make worthy your house of the necropolis!18 This building is the tomb, as opposed to the house for one's living descendants. The two spheres of existence—death and life—are united in the final verse through the tomb which will ensure eternal life. Make excellent your place of the West! Accept a humiliation for us—death! Accept an exaltation for us—life! The house of death belongs to life!’

Another fragmentary teaching is The Teaching of a Man for his Son, which is very similar to TheLoyalist’ Teaching.19 The text is being reconstructed by H.-W. Fischer-Elfert (see Select Bibliography). The Teaching begins as follows:

Beginning of the Teaching20 The title alludes to the phrase ‘son of a man’, which means a ‘gentleman’. This suggests that the teacher is no common man, even though he is a sort of generalized ‘everyman’. made by a man for his son. He says, ‘Hear my voice! Do not pass over my speech! Do not neglect what I tell you! Enact good character, with no transgression! A man of understanding cannot be negligent. Be exact, silent, and respectful! Be excellent of heart! Do what is said!

Deploy words before strength! …’

The first half is loyalistic, praising the king, and urging the son to ‘Turn not your heart from god! | Praise the king!’ The final stanzas are more concerned with speech in a social context. The end extols calmness:

‘He who is unresponsive and does not quarrel is relaxed. A man himself can cause his enemies to succeed; but he who masters his mouth succeeds. Accusations are words to provoke fighting.’

A literary letter called the Compendium (Kemit) is quoted in The Teaching of Khety (2d–e, p. 275). The Compendium was used in scribal training later in the New Kingdom and possibly also in the Middle Kingdom. It is highly formulaic, and reads like a model letter. It tells a tale of an errant and amorous son, and the letter-writer draws a didactic moral. It was perhaps a paradigm for learning both literacy and literature.21 A recent translation with references to publications is by E. F. Wente, in his Letters from Ancient Egypt (Atlanta, Ga.; 1990), 15–16.

Notes:

11. The first surviving stanza urges quietness, moderation, and deliberation.

12. A section on table manners, which expands from these specific examples into reflections on restraint in general.

13. These verses recommend moderation in eating, but also explicitly formulate the theme that virtue in this world is relative; thus to limit evil may be as near as one can get to absolute virtue. The following verses describe the man who ignores restraint, and then acclaim the quiet man.

14. The Teaching concludes with a warning against trusting in (paramilitary) might, as the future cannot be known.

15. Literally, ‘stood and sat’.

16. Huni was the last king of the Third Dynasty (c.2599–2575 BC) and predecessor of Sneferu (for whom, see The Words of Neferti and The Tale of King Cheops’ Court). Kagemni seems to be the old Vizier's son, who now succeeds his retiring father. The name of the teacher is lost, but he may have been one Kaires, who is mentioned as a sage in a later list of ancient writers.

17. A short version of the standard colophon.

18. This building is the tomb, as opposed to the house for one's living descendants. The two spheres of existence—death and life—are united in the final verse through the tomb which will ensure eternal life.

19. The text is being reconstructed by H.-W. Fischer-Elfert (see Select Bibliography).

20. The title alludes to the phrase ‘son of a man’, which means a ‘gentleman’. This suggests that the teacher is no common man, even though he is a sort of generalized ‘everyman’.

21. A recent translation with references to publications is by E. F. Wente, in his Letters from Ancient Egypt (Atlanta, Ga.; 1990), 15–16.

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