Ptah-hotep


Ptah-hotep
Vizier reign of Isesi, 2414-2375 BC.
    Ptah-hotep, a vizier in the Fifth Dynasty, is famous on account of his tomb at Saqqara; this, and the tomb of *Ti, provide some of the finest wall-reliefs of the Old Kingdom, illustrating activities of everyday life which the deceased owner hoped to experience and enjoy again in the afterlife. Ptah-hotep's tomb also incorporated a funerary chapel for his son, Akhet-hotep. The Instructions in Wisdom attributed to Ptah-hotep are amongst the earliest examples of this type of literature, although this text may in fact have been composed later, in the Sixth Dynasty.
    The Instructions are couched in terms of maxims which Ptah-hotep, the elderly, wise vizier, hands on to his son; they provide advice on personal conduct and on the ethics and behaviour of one who will hold a high public office. The maxims— a total of thirty-seven—emphasise the importance of obedience to one's father or superior and extol the virtues of self-control, modesty, humility, truthfulness, tact and good manners. The recipient of this advice would one day hold an important position in society, and therefore the Instructions provide guidance on how he should deal fairly and generously with his superiors, peers and inferiors, and show justice and kindness even to the poor.
    Egyptian society was hierarchical, but the Instructions indicate there was a considerable emphasis on individual justice and equality and that standards set for civil servants were obviously of the highest level.
    Four copies of this text have survived: the only complete version is on Papyrus Prisse (now in Paris) which dates to the Middle Kingdom, while two other papyri (both in the British Museum) date to the Middle and New Kingdoms. The other source is an inscribed wooden tablet (Carnarvon Tablet 1 in the Cairo Museum) which also dates to the New Kingdom.
    The later versions are copies made by schoolboys; the Wisdom Instructions were favourite school exercises, because they not only provided advice on good behaviour and acceptable conduct, but, particularly with Ptah-hotep's maxims, they were also regarded as models of fine language and literary expression which would influence and improve the schoolboys' own writing style.
BIBL. AEL i. pp 61-80; Zaba, Z. Les Maximes de Ptah-hotep. Prague: 1956; Gunn, B. The Instruction of Ptah-hotep and the Instruction of Ke'gemni. London: 1918; Paget, R. and Pirie, A. The Tomb of Ptah-hotep. Vol. 2. London: 1898; Davies, N. de G. The mastaba of Ptah-hetep and Akhethetep at Saqqara. (two vols) London: 1900-1.
Biographical Dictionary of Ancient Egypt by Rosalie and Antony E. David

Ancient Egypt. A Reference Guide. . 2011.

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