Papyrus from the Instruction of Ankhsheshonqy

From Egypt
Late Ptolemaic period, perhaps 100-30 BC

A 'wisdom' or instructional text

The Instruction of Ankhsheshonqy was written in the 'wisdom' tradition. It has a fictional narrative prologue, which gives a context for the main part of the document. The text is damaged in places but the sense is mostly clear.

Ankhsheshonqy is visiting a friend in Memphis called Harsiese who tells him about a plot to kill the king. Ankhsheshonqy tries unsuccessfully to dissuade his friend from carrying out his plans. Their discussion is overheard and reported to the king, who orders both men to be brought to him and interrogated. Harsiese and the other conspirators are burnt to death, while Ankhsheshonqy is cast into prison. On the anniversary of the king's accession, an amnesty is declared for all except Ankhsheshonqy. His heart sinks at this, and he writes down pieces of advice for his son on potsherds.

Ankhsheshonqy's advice comprises a series of one-line proverb-like maxims; this tradition of short wise sayings goes back to the Middle Kingdom (2040-1750 BC). They are self-contained and one does not necessarily relate to the next. The moral tone is straightforward and down-to-earth. For example:

Do not pamper your body, lest you become weak.
May the floodwater never fail to come.
Do not open your heart to your wife; what you tell her goes into the street.
Do not laugh at a cat.
A snake that is eating has no poison.

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More information


M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian literature: a, 3 vols. (University of California Press, 1973-1980)


Length: 38.200 cm (frame)
Width: 27.700 cm

Museum number

EA 10508/6


Acquired by the British Museum in 1896


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