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It was transcribed as an antique classic by some scholars prior to the Eighteenth Dynasty. For no limit can be set to skill, neitheris there any craftsman that possesseth full advantages.
The Vizier begins: "O Prince my Lord, the end of life is at hand; old age descended! Fair speech is more rare than the emerald that is found by slave-maidens among the pebbles.
Brothers are evil, Friends of today are not of love. Hearts are thievish, Every man seizes his neighbor's goods. The gentle man perishes, The bold-faced goes everywhere. Death is before me today Like the course of a freshet, Like the return of a man from the war-galley to his house. Increase yet more thy delights, And let not thy heart languish.
Behold, his might is not seen." This already is the voice of the prophets; the lines are cast into strophic form, like the prophetic writings of the Jews; and Breasted properly acclaims these "Admonitions" as "the earliest emergence of a social idealism which among the Hebrews we call 'Messianism.' Another scroll from the Middle Kingdom denounces the corruption of the age in words that almost every generation hears: "To whom do I speak today? Death is before me today Like the odor of lotus-flowers, Like sitting on the shore of drunkenness. Put myrrh upon thy head, And garments upon thee of fine linen, Imbued with marvelous luxuries, The genuine things of the gods.
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Silence is more profitable to thee than abundance of speech. If thou be powerful make thyself to be honored for knowledge and for gentleness.
My words shall instruct a man how he shall speak; . Another sage, Ipuwer, bemoans the disorder, violence, famine and decay that attended the passing of the Old Kingdom; he tells of sceptics who "would make offerings if" they "knew where the god is"; he comments upon increasing suicide, and adds, like another Schopenhauer: "He brings cooling to the flame (of the social conflagration? We need not suppose that such poems expressed the views of any large number of Egyptians; behind and around the small but vital minority that pondered the problems of life and death in secular and naturalistic terms were millions of simple men and women who remained faithful to the gods, and never doubted that right would triumph, that every earthly pain and grief would be atoned for bountifully in a haven of happiness and peace.
Wheresover thou goest, beware of consorting with women.
Historians of philosophy have been wont to begin their story with the Greeks. If he make straight his course after thine example, if he ar¬range thine affairs in due order, do all unto him that is good. If he be heedless and trespass thy rules of conduct, and is vio¬lent; if every speech that cometh from his mouth is a vile word; then beat thou him, that his talk may be fitting.
The Hindus, who believe that they invented philosophy, and the Chinese, who believe that they perfected it, smile at our provincialism. Overstep not the truth, neither repeat that which any man, be he prince or peasant, saith in opening the heart; it is abhorrent to the soul.
Beware of interruption, and of answering words with heat; put it from thee; control thyself.""Nor shall any word that hath here been set down cease out of this land forever, but shall be made a pattern whereby princes shall speak well. yea, he shall become as one skilful in obeying, excellent in speaking. he shall be gracious until the end of his life; he shall be contented always." This note of good cheer does not persist in Egyptian thought; age comes upon it quickly, and sours it. Would that he had discerned their char¬acter in the first generation. Such periods do not endure; hope soon wins the victory over thought; the intellect is put down to its customary menial place, and religion is born again, giving to men the imaginative stimulus apparently indispensable to life and work.
When his herds are few he passes the day to gather them together, their hearts being fevered. He would have smitten the seed thereof and their inheritance. In part such literature represents one of those interludes, like our own moral interregnum, in which thought has for a time overcome belief, and men no longer know how or why they should live. Lo, no man taketh his goods with him; Yea, none returneth again that is gone thither." This pessimism and scepticism were the result, it may be, of the broken spirit of a nation humiliated and subjected by the Hyksos invaders; they bear the same relation to Egypt that Stoicism and Epicureanism bear to a defeated and enslaved Greece.