The Ancient Egyptian Maxims of Ani

by Esteban

The Maxims of Ani

A very interesting collection of such Precepts is found in a papyrus preserved in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. They are generally known as the “Maxims of Ani,” and the following examples will illustrate their scope and character:

“Celebrate thou the festival of thy God, and repeat the celebration thereof in its appointed season. God is wroth with the transgressor of this law. Bear testimony [to Him] after thy offering….

“The opportunity having passed, one seeketh [in vain] to seize another.

“God will magnify the name of the man who exalteth His Souls, who singeth His praises, and boweth before Him, who offereth incense, and doeth homage [to Him] in his work.

“Enter not into the presence of the drunkard, even if his acquaintance be an honour to thee.

“Beware of the woman in the street who is not known in her native town. Follow her not, nor any woman who is like her. Do not make her acquaintance. She is like a deep stream the windings of which are unknown.

“Go not with common men, lest thy name be made to stink.”

“When an inquiry is held, and thou art present, multiply not speech; thou wilt do better if thou holdest thy peace. Act not the part of the chatterer.

“The sanctuary of God abhorreth noisy demonstrations. Pray thou with a loving heart, and let thy words be hidden (or secret). Do this, and He will do thy business for thee. He will hearken unto thy words, and He will receive thy offering.

“Place water before thy father and thy mother who rest in their tombs…. Forget not to do this when thou art outside thy house, and as thou doest for them so shall thy son do for thee.”

“Frequent not the house where men drink beer, for the words that fall from thy mouth will be repeated, and it is a bad thing for thee not to know what thou didst really say. Thou wilt fall down, thy bones may be broken, and there will be no one to give thee a hand [to help thee]. Thy boon companions who are drinking with thee will say, ‘Throw this drunken man out of the door.’ When thy friends come to look for thee, they will find thee lying on the ground as helpless as a babe.

“When the messenger of [death] cometh to carry thee away, let him find thee prepared. Alas, thou wilt have no opportunity for speech, for verily his terror will be before thee. Say not, ‘Thou art carrying me off in my youth.’ Thou knowest not when thy death will take place. Death cometh, and he seizeth the babe at the breast of his mother, as well as the man who hath arrived at a ripe old age.

Observe this, for I speak unto thee good advice which thou shalt meditate upon in thy heart. Do these things, and thou wilt be a good man, and evils of all kinds shall remove themselves from thee.”

“Remain not seated whilst another is standing, especially if he be an old man, even though thy social position (or rank) be higher than his.

“The man who uttereth ill-natured words must not expect to receive good-natured deeds.

“If thou journeyest on a road [made by] thy hands each day, thou wilt arrive at the place where thou wouldst be.

“What ought people to talk about every day? Administrators of high rank should discuss the laws, women should talk about their husbands, and every man should speak about his own affairs.

“Never speak an ill-natured word to any visitor; a word dropped some day when thou art gossiping may overturn thy house.

“If thou art well-versed in books, and hast gone into them, set them in thy heart; whatsoever thou then utterest will be good. If the scribe be appointed to any position, he will converse about his documents. The director of the treasury hath no son, and the overseer of the seal hath no heir. High officials esteem the scribe, whose hand is his position of honour, which they do not give to children….

“The ruin of a man resteth on his tongue; take heed that thou harmest not thyself.

“The heart of a man is [like] the store-chamber of a granary that is full of answers of every kind; choose thou those that are good, and utter them, and keep those that are bad closely confined within thee. To answer roughly is like the brandishing of weapons, but if thou wilt speak kindly and quietly thou wilt always [be loved].

“When thou offerest up offerings to thy God, beware lest thou offer the things that are an abomination [to Him]. Chatter not [during] his journeyings (or processions), seek not to prolong (?) his appearance, disturb not those who carry him, chant not his offices too loudly, and beware lest thou…. Let thine eye observe his dispensations. Devote thyself to the adoration of his name. It is he who giveth souls to millions of forms, and he magnifieth the man who magnifieth him….

“I gave thee thy mother who bore thee, and in bearing thee she took upon herself a great burden, which she bore without help from me. When after some months thou wast born, she placed herself under a yoke, for three years she suckled thee…. When thou wast sent to school to be educated, she brought bread and beer for thee from her house to thy master regularly each day. Thou art now grown up, and thou hast a wife and a house of thy own. Keep thine eye on thy child, and bring him up as thy mother brought thee up. Do nothing whatsoever that will cause her (i.e. thy mother) to suffer, lest she lift up her hands to God, and He hear her complaint, [and punish thee].

“Eat not bread, whilst another standeth by, without pointing out to him the bread with thy hand….

“Devote thyself to God, take heed to thyself daily for the sake of God, and let to-morrow be as to-day. Work thou [for him]. God seeth him that worketh for Him, and He esteemeth lightly the man who esteemeth Him lightly.

“Follow not after a woman, and let her not take possession of thy heart.

“Answer not a man when he is wroth, but remove thyself from him. Speak gently to him that hath spoken in anger, for soft words are the medicine for his heart.

“Seek silence for thyself.”

–E.A. Wallis Budge, The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, pp. 103-5.