“Instructions of Ptahhotep”

(ca. 2200 BCE)


Whatever their actual date of composition, the “Instructions of Ptahhotep” were undoubtedly among the most influential documents written in ancient Egypt, evidenced by the fact that numerous partial copies of the text exist. Some are written on papyrus—obviously the work of qualified scribes and intended as good copies—but others are written on plaster-covered boards or even on scraps of pottery. The latter are excerpts from the longer document and were probably the work of students.

Another proof of the ancient impact of the “Instructions of Ptahhotep” is that at least two editions exist. Papyrus versions of the text in the British Museum contain some quite significant differences, in the form of additional lines, from the version that is translated here. Finally, some of the excerpts and school-text copies of the maxims that survive were written about two thousand years after the original document would have been composed. The latest versions are excerpts found on...

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Pyramid tombs of Giza (Library of Congress)

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