Hymn to listening

A small tribute to one of the most beautiful passages of middle Egyptian literature

published on 25th July 2018, 10:14 am

One of the most beautiful passages of middle Egyptian literature is Ptahhotep's "hymn to listening" (pPrisse 16.3-17.8).
Listening is the most important duty of the son in family and of the adult in society.

It is described both as a skill and as a divine gift (mrrw nTr pw sDmw, "who listens is loved by God".

It is both an action which can be performed or not, but also, more interestingly, a factor which a person can have or not: who is not good at listening is described both as tmw sDm, "who does not listen", and as jwty sDm=f, "who does not have the listening".
This skill, or factor, or gift, is put as the basis of the civilization itself: "to listen is the best thing ever" because, thanks to it, a son can learn from his father and teach his children.

Ptahhotep was the vizier of king Djedkara Isesi (XXIV c. BCE), V Dynasty. Teachings under his name have been collected in a book whose best preserved copy is the papyrus Prisse (Dyn. 12, XX-XVIII c. BCE). The literary genre of this book is that of the sbAwt (probably pron. */sub'3a:wVt/, Osing 1976, 90, whence Copt. /sbo:/), "teaching". For this reason, the genre is also called "didactic literature" (Lichtheim, Loprieno).

When listening enters him who listens,
he who listens becomes he who is listened to.
Who is perfect at listening, is perfect at speaking.
Who listens is useful and listening is useful to him who listens.
To listen is the best thing ever: goodwill arises from it.
How beautiful it is, when a son receives his father's words and preserves them till his old age.
Who listens is loved by God. Who is hated by God cannot listen.
It is the heart who makes of his owner one who does listen or one who does not.
Heart is life, strength, and wealth for a man.
It is who listens who is listened to.
The son who loves to listen does what he has been told.
How beautiful it is, when a son listens to his father's words.
How joyful is the one about whom that is said.
A son is pleasant when he is a listener.
The listener, the one about whom that is said, is firm in his body.
He is his father's beloved one.
His memory is on the mouth of the living, of those who are on earth and of those who will be.
If a son receives his father's words, none of his projects will fail.
If your teaching is in your son who listens,
he will be esteemed by the noble ones.
His mouth will be led by what he will be told.
If he will be seen as one who listens,
he will excel in his position: he will be distinguished.
Error insinuates itself into him who does not listen the teaching of the wise man, which would have made him stronger.
The foolish must limit himself to obey.
The foolish who does not listen cannot do anything.
He sees knowledge where there is ignorance, advantage where there is trouble.
He always performs every kind of hateful or ridiculous acts.
He lives on what brings death. Crime is his bread.
His character is well known to the noble ones,
who always say of him: "He is a living dead".

Stefano Vittori

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