The Teaching of Ptahhatp, composed two millennia before the birth of Plato, is the oldest surviving statement of philosophy in the ancient world and the earliest witness to the power of the written word. It ought to begin the list of the world’s philosophy classics, yet it has been largely forgotten since it was rediscovered in the nineteenth century. Egyptologist Bill Manley’s new translation corrects this oversight, rendering into approachable modern English for the first time Ptahhatp’s profound yet practical account of ‘the meaning of life’, written many centuries before the supposed dawn of western philosophy.
Manley introduces Ptahhatp, who served as Vizier to the Old Kingdom pharaoh Izezi (c. 2410–2375 BC), and the world of dynamic ideas and new technologies – writing among them – within which he worked, illuminating the nuances of his language and philosophy. In addition, Manley’s new translation of Why Things Happen, the oldest surviving account of creation from anywhere in the world, reveals how Ptahhatp’s account of the human condition is founded in distinctive ancient Egyptian beliefs about the nature of truth and reality. Taken together, Manley’s new translations and expert commentary provide a new perspective on the Pyramid Age and overturn traditional prejudices about the origins of writing and philosophy. The ‘oldest book in the world’ is a testament to a common thread that connects humanity across time; Ptahhatp grapples with the pitfalls of greed, ambition, celebrity, success, confrontation, friendship, sex and even the office environment, and his teachings remain remarkably relevant in the modern day.
'A superb book, in its own way as exciting as any excavation of a tomb. More exciting, perhaps, because it breathes life rather than death'
'Bill Manley brings to vivid life the oldest Egyptian books of wisdom, committed to writing some four thousand years before our own time ... Both scholarly and witty, The Oldest Book in the World addresses major issues that philosophers are still tackling, and major concerns for us all today'
John Tait, Emeritus Professor of Egyptology at University College London
'Bill Manley brings his skills to bear on Ptahhatp’s remarkable work for a modern readership, revealing this sensitive and compassionate exploration of truth, values, and the meaning of existence to be as valid and relevant today as it was 4,500 years ago'
Guy de la Bédoyère, author of 'Pharaohs of the Sun'
'In these matters there is, it seems, even after four millennia, a lot to learn, and perhaps to unlearn … Warmly recommended to adventurous readers who delight in new insights'
The Irish Catholic
'Manley’s clear translation and historical and philosophical context successfully illustrate that Egyptian philosophy is “not the banal, proscriptive mouthpiece of a despotic regime, but rather the reasoned voice of experience ... engaged in an open discussion about the meaning of life.” An important addition to the bookshelves of armchair Egyptologists'
'A captivating exploration of Ancient Egyptian ideas, language, and history. In a clear and engaging writing style, Manley has taken a text that has long been overlooked and brought it to fresh attention'
All About History
'In Mr. Manley’s adroit and pioneering translation, the 'Teaching' is philosophy ages before the Greeks had it'
The Wall Street Journal