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Ancient Egypt


The Egyptian priest Manetho grouped the pharaohs into 31 dynasties. Modern Egyptologists tend to count the early, Macedonian, and Ptolemaic pharaohs as three additional dynasties, for a total of 34 dynasties. The dynasties are grouped into the following periods (all dates are BCE and approximate):

  1. Predynastic (5000–3000), Dynasty 0
  2. Early Dynastic (3000–2625), Dynasties 1–3
  3. Old Kingdom (2625–2130), Dynasties 4–8
  4. First Intermediate Period (2130–1980), Dynasties 9–11
  5. Middle Kingdom (1980–1630), Dynasties 12–14
  6. Second Intermediate Period (1630–1539), Dynasties 15–17
  7. New Kingdom (1539–1075), Dynasties 18–20
  8. Third Intermediate Period (1075–656), Dynasties 21–25
  9. Late Period (664–332), Dynasties 26–31
  10. Hellenistic Period (332–30), Dynasties 32–33

Wisdom Literature

Here are a few excerpts from the Toby Wilkinson translation of the Teaching of Ptahhotep, generally believed to have been composed in the first half of the Twelth Dynasty (c. 1850):

If you come across a disputatious man in the heat of the moment,

who has authority over you as a superior,

bend your arms in respect and bow.

For if you vex him, he will not be friendly to you.

Diminish his bad speech

by not opposing him while he is in the heat of the moment.

He will be called an ignoramus

while your self-control will equal his wealth.

If you come across a disputatious man

who is your equal, your match,

you will make your esteem greater than his by keeping silent.

While he is saying bad things,

there will be much discussion by the judges

and your name will be good in the opinion of the elders.

If you come across a disputatious man

who is a poor man, not your equal,

do not be aggressive to him simply because he is weak.

Leave him alone and he will confute himself.

Do not answer him back merely to lighten your heart

Do not vent your anger against your opponent,

for wretched is he who injures a poor man.

What you wish will be done anyway:

you will beat him through the elders’ disapproval.

If you are a man in a position of trust,

sent by one elder to another,

stick to the matter for which he sent you;

give him the message exactly as he told you.

Beware of slanderous speech

which embroils one elder with another.

Do not shun the truth, do not go beyond it;

but an outburst should not be repeated.

Do not speak against anyone

great or small: it is bad for the spirit.

If you are a leader

whose authority is unhindered,

you should achieve many things.

Be mindful of tomorrow:

a dispute does not come in the midst of praises

but when the crocodile charges in, hatred arises.

If you are a leader,

listen quietly to the plea of a petitioner.

Do not rebuff him from what he planned to say:

a victim loves to vent his anger

more than to achieve what he came for.

As for someone who rebuffs a petition,

it is said, ‘Why does he reject it?’

Not all that is petitioned for comes about,

but a good hearing soothes the heart.

If you are a man of virtue

who sits in his master’s hall,

turn your mind to virtuous things.

Your silence will be more effective than idle chatter.

Speak only when you have thought of a solution,

for it is only the skilled who should speak in the council.

Speaking is more difficult than all other tasks

he who does it fluently makes it his servant.

If you are powerful, gain respect

through knowledge and pleasant speech.

Do not command unless it befits:

hostility gets you into trouble.

Do not be arrogant lest you be humiliated,

do not be silent lest you be rebuked.

When you reply to the speech of a hothead,

avert your face and control yourself.

The ire of the hothead sweeps by:

he who treads carefully, his path is clear.

He who is troubled all day long

has no happy time,

while he who is frivolous all day long

cannot establish a household;

but he who aims to complete a task

is like someone who steers a matter safely to land,

and another matter is held fast.

He who listens to his heart will regret.

Punish with authority, teach thoroughly,

then suppression of wrongdoing remains a good deed.

Punishment that is not deserved

turns a complainant into an opponent.