Egyptian Proverbs and ancient wisdom

Egyptian Proverbs and ancient wisdom

Four Key Points About Egyptian Proverbs

  • Egyptian proverbs often use vivid imagery and metaphors to convey wisdom
  • Many proverbs reflect Egyptian cultural values like family, hard work, and humility
  • Some proverbs have origins dating back to ancient Egypt, while others are more modern
  • Egyptian proverbs frequently employ humor and sarcasm to deliver their message

Egyptian proverbs are rich in wisdom and cultural significance, often reflecting the values and experiences of the Egyptian people. Here are some notable Egyptian proverbs along with their sources :

Ancient Egyptian Proverbs from the Teachings of Ptah-Hotep

  1. "Be industrious, let thine eyes be open, lest you become a beggar, for the man that is idle cometh not to honor."
    • This proverb emphasizes the importance of hard work and vigilance to avoid poverty and dishonor.

  2. "If you are mighty and powerful, then gain respect through knowledge and through your gentleness of speech. Don’t order things except as it is fitting. The one who provokes others gets into trouble. Don’t be haughty lest you be humbled. But also, don’t be mute lest you be chided."
    • This teaching advises those in power to wield their authority wisely and humbly.

  3. "Do not assess a man who has nothing, and thus falsify your pen."
    • This suggests fairness and integrity in judgment, regardless of a person's status.

Common ancient egyptian proverbs

"The monkey is a gazelle in his mother's eyes."
- Meaning: A mother sees beauty in her child even if others don't. Love makes us overlook flaws.

"A dog's tail will never straighten."
- Meaning: People's fundamental nature doesn't change. Similar to "A leopard can't change its spots."

"He who has been scalded by soup blows on yogurt."
- Meaning: Someone who has been hurt becomes overly cautious, even in safe situations. Similar to "Once bitten, twice shy."

man blowing soup on yogurt

"The eye sees but the hand can't reach."
- Meaning: We may desire things that are beyond our means or abilities.

"Entering the bathroom is not like leaving it."
- Meaning: It's easier to get into a difficult situation than to get out of it.

"The wise man knows he knows nothing, the fool thinks he knows all."
- Meaning: True wisdom comes from recognizing how much we don't know, while ignorance often breeds overconfidence.

"An intelligent enemy is better than a stupid friend."
- Meaning: A smart adversary can challenge and improve you, while an unwise ally may lead you astray.

"The best and shortest road towards knowledge of truth is Nature."
- Meaning: Observing and learning from the natural world is the surest path to understanding reality and wisdom.

The best and shortest road towards knowledge of truth is Nature.

"If you search for the laws of harmony, you will find knowledge."
- Meaning: Seeking to understand how things work together harmoniously leads to greater insight and knowledge.

"If his heart rules him, his conscience will soon take the place of the rod."
- Meaning: When a person is guided by their heart/conscience, external punishments become unnecessary.

"To know means to record in one's memory; but to understand means to blend with the thing and to assimilate it oneself."
- Meaning: True understanding goes beyond just memorizing facts to deeply internalizing and embodying knowledge.

"The kingdom of heaven is already within you; if you understand yourself you will find it."
- Meaning: Enlightenment and spiritual fulfillment come from self-knowledge, not external sources.

"The body is the house of god. That is why it is said, 'Man know thyself.'"
- Meaning: Understanding oneself deeply is a path to understanding the divine.

"Judge by cause, not by effect."
- Meaning: Look to the root causes of things rather than just their surface manifestations.

From the Insinger Papyrus and instructions of Ankhsheshonq

  1. "Do not do to a man what you dislike, so as to cause another to do it to you."
    • This is an early expression of the Golden Rule, advocating for empathy and ethical behavior.

  2. "A great temple is ruined because its leaders are in discord."
    • This proverb highlights the destructive power of internal conflict and the importance of unity among leaders.

Modern Egyptian Proverbs

Colloquial Proverbs

  1. "التكرار يعلّم الحمار" (it-tikraar yi3allim il-Humaar)
    • Repetition teaches (even) a donkey.(Practice makes perfect).
  2. "في الامتحان يكرم المرء أو يحان" (fil-imteHaan yokram il-mar' aw yohaan)
    • At the time of a test, a person rises or falls.(People's real worth is known only through trial).
  3. "القرد في عين أمه غزال" (il-'ird fi 3ein ummu ġazaal)
    • In his mother’s eye, the monkey is (as beautiful as) a gazelle.(Comment about mothers' bias or partiality to their children).
  4. "امشي في جنازة ولا تمشي في جوازة" (imši fi ganaaza walla timši fi gawaaza)
    • Being involved in a funeral is better than trying to arrange marriages.(Warning about matchmaking).

Proverbs with Stories

gazelle and monkey ancient egyptian proverb image
  1. "El erd fe ‘ein ommo ghazal"
    • A monkey in his mother’s eyes is a gazelle.This proverb means that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, especially a mother's.
  2. "Elli ekhtasho mato"
    • Those who feared (shame) died.This proverb is used to comment on shameless behavior, implying that all honorable people have perished.
  3. "Heya kolaha kusa"
    • It’s all zucchini.This phrase means that favoritism and luck often play a role in success, originating from the preferential treatment of zucchini merchants in ancient Cairo.
  4. "Dukhul el hammam mesh zayy khurugu"
    • Entering the bathhouse is not like leaving it.This proverb warns that some situations may seem easy to enter but are difficult to exit, similar to biting off more than one can chew.

These proverbs, whether ancient or modern, provide a glimpse into the values, humor, and wisdom of Egyptian culture.

They have been passed down through generations, often accompanied by vivid imagery and memorable stories.



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