Ancient Egypt: History and culture
Ancient Egyptian texts: The Teaching of a Man for his Son
Main menu Main Index and Search Page History List of Dynasties Cultural Chronolgy Mythology Aspects of Life in Ancient Egypt Glossary of ancient Egyptian terms Herodotus on the Pharaohs Ancient Egyptian Reader Apologia and Bibliography
  For best results save the whole webpage (pictures included) onto your hard disk, open the page with Word 97 or higher, edit if necessary and print.
  Printing using the browser's print function is not recommended.

Ostracon with part of the text
Petrie Museum UC 31995 [1]

The Teaching of a Man for his Son

1 Beginning of the teaching made by a man for his son
He says: hear my voice, do not avoid my words,
do not untie your heart from what I tell you.

- Middle Kingdom
Have character, without exaggerating it;
5 for a sensible man idleness does not happen.
Silence is precise, the leveller of the arm.
The heart that does what is told is the effective one;
rejection of words leads to violence;
there is no baggage-man raised to the audience-hall.
10 Whoever enters into words, opens the way for hearing
there is no winnower from whom one takes advice.
Interpret words without humiliating;
a mean phrase slights its sayer.

no winnower ... : agricultural (and other) labourers did not command much respect.
Do not let your heart stray from god.
15 Praise the king, may you love him, as a worker
He makes radiant by the giving of his powers
but whoever neglects him is deprived of a mooring.
He is greater than a million men for the one he has favoured,
he is the shield for the one who makes him content.
20 Whoever has escorted will be great in wealth
It is to the one he has loved that he gives his heart;
guard against speaking out and vexing him.

Can the day of Renenet be varied?
Can you add a day to a lifespan?
25 Can you subtract from it either?
Meskhenet is like the time of creation,
there is none who can destroy what he has ordained.
See then, great is the favour of god,
exceedingly great is his control, mighty his power.
30 I have seen his eminence, none can come into being against (?) him.

  Renenet: Goddess of plenty, good fortune, of suckling
  Meskhenet: Goddess of birth
He can transform the ignorant into the wise,
the hater become the loving,
he enables the least to be like the great,
the one in last place to become first,
35 The man without property to be a lord of riches
the miserable to be a lord of jubilation.
He enables the man without mooring-post to moor,
and the man who was traded to be lord of the docks.
He teaches the love of speaking,
40 he opens the ears of the deaf

  mooring-post: naval similes and metaphors are frequent in Egyptian literature
All this is within a lifetime,
beyond the day of Renenet,
and Meskhenet can guarantee nothing for it,
other than guaranteeing breath for the nose
45 Greatness can be yours by your action,
if you have spent your life within the frame of your god

  Greatness can be yours: Ancient Egypt was deeply conservative, yet there was scope for the individual to improve his fortune, although it was for the king to grant it.
Praise the king, adore the king
that is the post that is before the god.
Spread his powers, rejoicing when he has decreed,
50 and devising plans (?) for what he has desired.
The nameless will become a revered man,
but he reduces whoever gives him the rear.
... [...] body,
he has opened him/it up when he/it was among the ...
55 He has made a slaughterhouse, and overthrown ... (?)

He is the bodily health of the nameless
he exercises his body for him.
He is the right arm of the man whose arms are weak.
A person is buried (only) as one cleansed by him,
60 and is made radiant and secure at his name.
The anxious man finds peace at his pyramid,
but there is no tomb for the one who pronounces his name,
there is no pouring of water for the one who plots against him.

We see every foreign land in terror of him
65 and their leaders bowing down to him.
His powers have crossed the great green water,
the islanders (?) alive in fear of him.
Punt and the shores of the farthest islands,
the god has roped them in for him(self).
70 Whoever does not attack him, has already touched land.
Whoever does not plot against him, rests at his pyramid.

  every foreign land in terror of him: foreign countries were part of the world of chaos, where Maat was not established, and had to be cowed into subservience.
  the great green water: the ocean, the mediterranean
(To begin with the Egyptians did not differentiate linguistically between green and blue)
Do not tell lies in the quest to build a speech -
witnesses to a dispute make that difficult,
A man is tripped by a mean moment,
75 and cannot send a second time.
Effectiveness arises from accuracy of tongue.
Speech of malice cannot fall to the ground,
and there is no building on what it has fostered.
There is no peace of mind in delaying by a moment of evil.
80 Collect a speech, grasp what has effect on the mat,
Truth works for the one who speaks it.

[...] advice (?)
Give what you have preferred, relax your shoulder
Do not raise your arm at your asking,
85 but nurture the heart in love -
it is the silent man one respects,
it is the courteous man who is treated well on the road.
People ask for refreshment in speech,
and react against a 'mouth-master',
90 avoiding one whose voice is too loud.

The difficult character oppresses his master,
and the master brings him to (his) return.
There can be no fruit for the one who [...]
[...] 'what?'
95 There can be no swallowing for the voice of a man who loves his (own) tongue,
it is the heart that creates talent.
A mission should be the cooling of the inflamed.

Assent is (secured) by silence in the hall.
A crowd of mouths collapses (?) at a lone (voice).
100 What is sweet is seized upon rather than what is hateful,
choiceness of forms brings success.
If you become one who [receives] petitioners,
and are judging two men in a dispute,
hear them at the arrival of one, the other to the side (?).
105 If there are two men whose characters are (both) under judgment,
they will leave content.

[...] for the one whom you love,
that kills (?) the judgement
[...] falsehood of (?) leaders, the multitude stands (?)
110 [...] the ignorant to (?) a hearer.
Truth is both water and dam;
the teller of lies is quick to [...] (?).
Let your words fall to earth;
a fool [...]
115 He is a refuge for the one who petitions him (?).

Do not mock [...]
Crime can befall (?) any man.
One should (?) not harm with gladness,
or bring submission (?) [...]
120 It is man who brightens grief (?)
[...] words [...] report,
as he answers [...]
Do not unleash your heart; let your silence be long.
Reply [...]
125 [...] to his need (?).
Do not (?) [...]
[...] ...

[...] he acts as scribe as a colleague,
[...] foreign corpses
130 because he indeed is his [...]
If he knows the hour [...]
he is silent under the words against him,
to report to the god of his city,
because he indeed is a fugitive of the hall.

135 Do not judge a man stronger than you,
in judging two men in dispute.
Separate [...] for the evil moment (?)
like that which comes from the mouth of the answerers
If you judge two men in council,
140 you should sit with your hand on your mouth.
There can be no evil against you; your words and your share can take place.

[...] words from the one who delivers them,
do not hear them - it is evil for you,
do not agree with the words of [...]
145 - the god judges him in his forms.
there can be no refuge for him (?) [...]
Gladden your heart with what you have.

As for the criminal who is lord of wealth by seizure,
[...] in fear
150 Do not join someone who has been put to flight (?),
do not stand [...] either,
like coming from the mouth of the joyful (?) [...]
[...] sleeping to daybreak [...]
Overtalking will fight against you.
155 May you give.. [...]

Speech - it is the echo of fire.
It is the scorching (?) in the answer of the ignorant (?),
it is bright in the mouth of the silent.
It makes the cool man loudmouthed.
160 Harmony works - patience is good.
Answer the wise man - avoid the ignorant.
No hasty speech is free of stench,
or given an open heart.
Be cool in fire, and complete in love.
165 Do not heed words that recruit,
do not agree to everything that is said.
Resist when you have consulted;
'I want I want' is painful.

There is no master of meanness who has managed to touch land.
170 The seeker who is near to the heart is the one who arrives.
No light-hearted man can be free of his enemies;
it is the lord of favour to whom workers accrue.
There is no-one who can plan to have words measured out to him (?)
If you are silent, the end will come to pass for you.
175 Answer with nothing;
a single utterance, that is the desire of most people.
[...] at peace with it/him

People seek the phrase of the patient man (?);
[he who is not?] overextended of tongue is the one who draws in a clan.
180 There are no supporters for the loudmouthed,
he [...] hostility (?).
There is no founding a house for [the one who has excess of?] words;
noone joins in with (a man of) envy,
he is like a snake on its strike.
185 An evil character oppresses its owner;
he cannot escape the apportioning of what is his.

[...] under (?) [...] hostility
[...] respect (?)
Control yourself, do not upset him.
190 Restrain yourself from [...]
[Answer only] when you are addressed yourself.
That is the man who flourishes - his mother praises him.
Do as you are ordered.
Do not [...] (or?) you add to suffering
195 Any man who is praised by everyone,
all [their ?] faces desire [fri]ends (?) in his following.

[...] raging [...]
[...] like [...]
[...] finding (?) everyone
200 He may sleep to daybreak
He [...] others
Both halves (?) flourish for him in his [...]
What happens [...] to a man according to his character,
he finds [...] to him
205 until [...] is cut (?) [...] his talent

Do not lust after fighting.
Your passing can be cut short (?) by the family.
Do not judge two men in their rage;
a dispute can turn against the one judging it.
210 It makes [one (?) ...]-mouthed
and the other acts as enemy
He who remains deaf to it can rest, by not aggravating.
It is man who strengthens his enemy.
He who restrains his mouth is the one who flourishes;
215 complaints turn into declarations of war

'its end, perfect, in peace'

Source: Petrie Museum website


- -Index of Texts
-Index of Topics
-Main Index and Search Page
Offsite links   (Opening in a new window)
These are just suggestions for further reading. I do not assume any responsibility for the content of these sites
-[1] Ostracon Petrie 52, Petrie Museum UC 31995

Feedback: Please report broken links, mistakes - factual or otherwise, etc. to me.Thanks.