Who do you think was the earliest person to write about good manners? Emily Post?  You’d be wrong!!  The earliest recorded manners manual came from an Egyptian vizier (First Minister) during the 5th Dynasty of the reign of Pharaoh Djedkare Isesi.  His name is Ptah-Hotep and he wrote these important maxims around 2880 B.C.  Today the oldest surviving copy of the manuscript known as the Prisse Papyrus is on display at the Louvre in Paris.

Some of his writings have a very modern sound to them:

  • Follow your heart as long as you live. Do more than is required of you. Don’t waste time on daily cares over and beyond providing for your household. When wealth finally comes, then follow your heart. Wealth does no good if you are glum.
  • Do not be greedy in the division of things. Do not covet more than your share. Don’t be greedy towards your relatives. A mild person has a greater claim than the harsh one. Poor is the person who forgets his relatives. He is deprived of their company. Even a little bit of what is wanted will turn a quarreler into a friendly person.
  • If you are angered by a misdeed, then lean toward a man on account of his rightness. Pass over the misdeed and don’t remember it, since God was silent to you on the first day on your misdeed.
  • Be generous as long as you live. What leaves the storehouse does not return. It is the food in the storehouse that one must share that is coveted. One whose belly is empty becomes an opponent. Therefore, do not have an accuser or an opponent as a neighbor. Your kindness to your neighbors will be a memorial to you for years, after you satisfy their needs.
  • If you are a person who judges, listen carefully to the speech of one who pleads. Don’t stop the person from telling you everything that they had planned to tell you. A person in distress wants to pour out his or her heart, even more than they want their case to be won. If you are one who stops a person who is pleading, that person will say “why does he reject my plea?” Of course not all that one pleads for can be granted, but a good hearing soothes the heart. The means for getting a true and clear explanation is to listen with kindness.
  • Help your friends with things that you have, for you have these things by the grace of God. If you fail to help your friends, one will say you have a selfish Ka (your soul). One plans for tomorrow, but you do not know what tomorrow will bring. The right soul is the soul by which one is sustained. If you do praiseworthy deeds your friends will say, “Welcome” in your time of need.

This brings to mind the adage “there really is nothing new under the sun”!!  Humans have been grappling with this question of how to get along for literally centuries!!  While the semantics may be different, the underlying goals are definitely the same.  Do you think we’ve gotten better as a result or not?  Please add your comments below.

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