Ancient Egyptian Character
Very frequently noble sentiments occur
If we try to visualize the Ancient Egyptian character we find it difficult to distinguish between the ethics of the literature and the actual practices of life.
Very frequently noble sentiments occur; a poet, for example, counsels his countrymen:
"Give bread to him who has no field,
And create for thyself a good name for ever more;"
and some of the elders give very laudable advice to their children;
A papyrus in the British Museum, known to scholars as "The Wisdom of Amenemope" (ca. 950 B.C.), prepares a student for public office with admonitions that probably influenced the author or authors of the "Proverbs of Solomon."
Ancient Egyptian character
"Be not greedy for a cubit of land,
And trespass not on the boundary of the widow. . . .
Plough the fields that thou mayest find thy needs,
And receive thy bread from thine own threshing floor.
Better is a bushel which God giveth to thee
Than five thousand gained by transgression. . . .
Better is poverty in the hand of God
Than riches in the storehouse;
And better are loaves when the heart is joyous
Than riches in unhappiness. . . ."
Such pious literature on character did not prevent the normal operation of human greed.
Plato described the Athenians as loving knowledge, the Egyptians as loving wealth; perhaps he was too patriotic.
In general the Egyptians were the Americans of antiquity:
enamored of size, given to gigantic engineering and majestic building, industrious and accumulative, practical even in the midst of many ultramundane superstitions.
They were the arch-conservatives of history; the more they changed, the more they remained the same; through forty centuries their artists copied the old conventions religiously.
They appear to us, from their monuments, to have been a matter-of-fact people, not given to non-theological nonsense.
They had no sentimental regard for human life, and killed with the clear conscience of nature;
Egyptian soldiers cut off the right hand, or the phallus, of a slain enemy, and brought it to the proper scribe that it might be put into the record to their credit.
In the later dynasties the people, long accustomed to internal peace and to none but distant wars, lost all military habits and qualities, until at last a few Roman soldiers sufficed to master all Egypt.
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From Character Return to Life in Ancient Egypt