Ancient Egyptian philosophy

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Today, there is some debate regarding ancient Egyptian philosophy and its true scope and nature. [1] Several of the ancient Greek philosophers regarded Egypt as a place of wisdom and philosophy. Isocrates (b. 436 BCE) states in Busiris that "all men agree the Egyptians are the healthiest and most long of life among men; and then for the soul they introduced philosophy’s training…" [2] He declares that Greek writers traveled to Egypt to seek knowledge. One of them was Pythagoras of Samos who "was first to bring to the Greeks all philosophy," according to Isocrates.

Ancient Greek philosophy

Ancient Greek philosophy arose in the 6th century BC and continued throughout the Hellenistic period and the period in which Greece and most Greek-inhabited lands were part of the Roman Empire. Philosophy was used to make sense out of the world in a non-religious way. It dealt with a wide variety of subjects, including astronomy, mathematics, political philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, logic, biology, rhetoric and aesthetics.

Isocrates ancient Athenian rhetorician

Isocrates, an ancient Greek rhetorician, was one of the ten Attic orators. Among the most influential Greek rhetoricians of his time, Isocrates made many contributions to rhetoric and education through his teaching and written works.

Pythagoras ancient Greek philosopher and mystic

Pythagoras of Samos was an ancient Ionian Greek philosopher and the eponymous founder of Pythagoreanism. His political and religious teachings were well known in Magna Graecia and influenced the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and, through them, Western philosophy. Knowledge of his life is clouded by legend, but he appears to have been the son of Mnesarchus, a seal engraver on the island of Samos. Modern scholars disagree regarding Pythagoras's education and influences, but they do agree that, around 530 BC, he travelled to Croton, where he founded a school in which initiates were sworn to secrecy and lived a communal, ascetic lifestyle. This lifestyle entailed a number of dietary prohibitions, traditionally said to have included vegetarianism, although modern scholars doubt that he ever advocated for complete vegetarianism.

Plato states in Phaedrus that the Egyptian Thoth "invented numbers and arithmetic… and, most important of all, letters.” [3] In Plato’s Timaeus, Socrates quotes the ancient Egyptian wise men when the law-giver Solon travels to Egypt to learn: "O Solon, Solon, you Greeks are always children." [4] Aristotle attests to Egypt being the original land of wisdom, as when he states in Politics that "Egyptians are reputed to be the oldest of nations, but they have always had laws and a political system." [5]

Plato Classical Greek philosopher

Plato was an Athenian philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, founder of the Platonist school of thought, and the Academy, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world.

The Phaedrus, written by Plato, is a dialogue between Plato's protagonist, Socrates, and Phaedrus, an interlocutor in several dialogues. The Phaedrus was presumably composed around 370 BC, about the same time as Plato's Republic and Symposium. Although ostensibly about the topic of love, the discussion in the dialogue revolves around the art of rhetoric and how it should be practiced, and dwells on subjects as diverse as metempsychosis and erotic love.

Thoth egyptian deity

Thoth is one of the ancient Egyptian deities. In art, he was often depicted as a man with the head of an ibis or a baboon, animals sacred to him. His feminine counterpart was Seshat, and his wife was Ma'at.

One of the Egyptian figures who often is being considered an early philosopher was Ptahhotep. [6] He served as vizier to the pharaoh in the late 25th, early 24th century BC. Ptahhotep is known for his comprehensive work on ethical behavior and moral philosophy, called The Maxims of Ptahhotep. The work, which is believed to have been compiled by his grandson Ptahhotep Tshefi, is a series of 37 letters or maxims addressed to his son, Akhethotep, speaking on such topics as daily behavior and ethical practices. [7] [8]

Ptahhotep, sometimes known as Ptahhotep I or Ptahhotpe, was an ancient Egyptian vizier during the late 25th century BC and early 24th century BC Fifth Dynasty of Egypt.

The Maxims of Ptahhotep or Instruction of Ptahhotep is an ancient Egyptian literary composition based on the Vizier Ptahhotep's wisdom and experiences. The Instructions were composed by the Vizier Ptahhotep around 2375-2350 BC, during the rule of King Djedkare Isesi of the Fifth Dynasty. The text was discovered in Thebes in 1847 by Egyptologist M. Prisse d'Avennes. The Instructions of Ptahhotep are called wisdom literature, specifically under the genre of Instructions that teach something. There are four copies of the Instructions, and the only complete version, Papyrus Prisse, is located in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. According to William Kelly Simpson, some scholars debate that the Instructions of Ptahhotep were written during the twelfth dynasty, Middle Kingdom. The earlier copies of the text were altered to make them understandable for the Egyptians of the New Kingdom. The text presents a very good picture of the general attitudes of that period. The Instructions of Ptahhotep addresses various virtues that are necessary to live a good life and how to live accordingly to Maat, which was an important part of the Egyptian culture.

Akhethetep (son of Ptahhotep) Ancient Egyptian vizier

Akhethetep was a high dignitary of Ancient Egypt who lived during the Fifth Dynasty around 2400 BC. Akhethotep and his son Ptahhotep Tjefi were senior court officials during the rule of Djedkare and of Unas (Wenis), towards the end of the 5th dynasty. Akhethetep's titles included that of a vizier, making him to the highest official at the royal court, only second to the king. He was also overseer of the treasuries, overseer of the scribes of the king's documents and overseer of the granaries. Akhethetep was the son of Ptahhotep. His father was vizier too.

At the blog of the American Philosophical Association, the historian of ideas Dag Herbjørnsrud has written that the 3200-year-old text "The Immortality of Writers", or "Be a Writer" (c. 1200 BCE), is a "remarkable example of classical Egyptian philosophy." [9] The text, which Herbjørnsrud attributes to the writer Irsesh, states:

The American Philosophical Association (APA) is the main professional organization for philosophers in the United States. Founded in 1900, its mission is to promote the exchange of ideas among philosophers, to encourage creative and scholarly activity in philosophy, to facilitate the professional work and teaching of philosophers, and to represent philosophy as a discipline.

Dag Herbjørnsrud Global historian of ideas

Dag Herbjørnsrud is a historian of ideas, author, Aeon writer, and founder of Center for Global and Comparative History of Ideas in Oslo. In the Norwegian book "Global Knowledge" and in an essay on the blog of the Journal of the History of Ideas (JHI) he argues for the need of a "global history of ideas". In May 2019, he published "Beyond decolonizing: global intellectual history and reconstruction of a comparative method" in the journal Global Intellectual History. In the article, he proposes a global comparative method based on the three concepts of "context, connection, and comparison."

The Immortality of Writers is an Ancient Egyptian wisdom text likely to have been used as an instructional work in schools. It is recorded on the verso side of the Chester Beatty IV papyrus held in the British Museum. It is notable for its rationalist skeptical outlook, even more emphatic than in the Harper's Songs, regarding an afterlife. The scribe advises that writings of authors provide a more sure immortality than fine tombs. The text is dated to the transition period between the 19th dynasty and the 20th dynasty.

...Those writers known from the old days, the times just after the gods. Those who foretold what would happen, whose names will endure for eternity. They disappeared when they finished their lives, and all their kindred forgotten. They did not build pyramids in bronze with gravestones of iron from heaven. They did not think to leave a patrimony made of children who would give their names distinction, rather they formed a progeny by means of writing and in the books of wisdom they left...

They gave themselves [the scroll as lector]-priest, the writing board as loving son. Instruction are their tombs, the reed pen their child, the stone surface their wife.....Man decays, his corpse is dust. All his kin have perished; But a book makes him remembered through the mouth of its reciter. Better is a book than a well built house...

Man perishes; his corpse turns to dust; all his relatives return to the earth. But writings make him remembered in the mouth of the reader. A book is more effective than a well-built house or a tomb-chapel, better than an established villa or a stela in the temple! [...] They gave themselves a book as their lector-priest, a writing-board as their dutiful son. Teachings are their mausolea, the reed-pen their child, the burnishing-stone their wife. Both great and small are given them as their children, for the writer is chief." [10]

Herbjørnsrud writes: "In 2018, projects are under way to translate several ancient Egyptian texts for the first time. Yet we already have a wide variety of genres to choose from in order to study the manuscripts from a philosophical perspective: The many maxims in “The Teaching of Ptahhotep”, the earliest preserved manuscript of this vizier of the fifth dynasty is from the 19thcentury BCE, in which he also argues that you should “follow your heart”; “The Teaching of Ani”, written by a humble middle-class scribe in the 13th century BCE, which gives advice to the ordinary man; “The Satire of the Trades” by Khety, who tries to convince his son Pepy to “love books more than your mother” as there is nothing “on earth” like being a scribe; the masterpiece “The Dispute Between a Man and His Ba” of the 19th century BCE – in which a man laments “the misery of life,” while his ba (personality/soul) replies that life is good, that he should rather “ponder life” as it is a burial that is miserable – recently discussed by Peter Adamson and Chike Jeffers in their “Africana Philosophy” podcast series. Or we can read Amennakht (active in 1170–1140 BCE), the leading intellectual of the scribal town Deir El-Medina, whose teaching states that “it is good to finish school, better than the smell of lotus blossoms in summer.” [11]

<i>The Satire of the Trades</i> didactic ancient Egyptian literary work in the form of an Instruction, composed by a scribe named Dua-Kheti for his son Pepi; describes a number of trades in an exaggeratedly negative light, extolling the advantages of the profession of scribe

The Satire of the Trades, also called The Instruction of Dua-Kheti, is a work of didactic ancient Egyptian literature. It takes the form of an Instruction, composed by a scribe from Sile named Dua-Kheti for his son Pepi. The author is thought by some to have composed the Instructions of Amenemhat as well.

The Dispute between a man and his Ba or The Debate Between a Man and his Soul is an ancient Egyptian text dating to the Middle Kingdom about a man deeply unhappy with his life. It is part of the so-called Wisdom literature and takes the form of a dialogue between a man and his ba. The beginning of the text is missing, there are a number of lacunae, and translation of the remainder is difficult. The only copy to survive, consisting of 155 columns of hieratic writing, is on the recto of Papyrus Berlin 3024. Further fragments were published in 2017

Peter Scott Adamson is an American academic who is professor of late ancient and Arabic philosophy at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. He has written articles, monographs and edited books, mostly on philosophy in the Islamic world and ancient philosophy. He is the host of the weekly podcast "History of Philosophy without any gaps", which by 2014 had more than four million downloads and led to the publication of a book series. He received the Philip Leverhulme Prize in 2003, for "outstanding research achievements of young scholars of distinction and promise based in UK institutions" and received a grant from the same institution in 2010.


See also

Notes and references

  1. Juan José Castillos, Ancient Egyptian Philosophy, RSUE 31, 2014, 29-37.
  2. "Isocrates, Busiris, section 22". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  3. "Plato, Phaedrus, section 274d". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  4. "Plato, Timaeus, section 21e". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  5. "Aristotle, Politics, Book 7, section 1329b". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  6. Fontaine, Carole R. "A Modern Look at Ancient Wisdom: The Instruction of Ptahhotep Revisited." The Biblical Archaeologist 44, no. 3 (1981): 155-60. doi:10.2307/3209606.
  7. Browder, Anthony (1988). Nile Valley Contributions to Civilization. Karmaic Institute.
  8. Simpson, W. K., ed. The Maxims of Ptahhotep. Las Vegas, Nevada: Evan Blythin, 1986.
  9. Contributor, Blog (2018-12-17). "The Radical Philosophy of Egypt: Forget God and Family, Write!". Blog of the APA. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  10. "Writings from Ancient Egypt: Be a Writer". www.penguin.co.uk. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  11. Contributor, Blog (2018-12-17). "The Radical Philosophy of Egypt: Forget God and Family, Write!". Blog of the APA. Retrieved 2019-06-19.

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