The Oldest Book in the World: Philosophy in the Age of the Pyramids
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.
Bill Manley is an Egyptologist, university lecturer, museum curator and bestselling author. He teaches Egyptology and Coptic at the University of Glasgow, and is Honorary President of Egyptology Scotland. He was formerly Senior Curator for Ancient Egypt at National Museums Scotland, and continues to work with archaeological projects in Egypt. He has published books, catalogues and articles covering such diverse subjects as ancient texts, the history of Egyptology, the archaeology of Palestine and ancient Egyptian art. Thames & Hudson has published several of his books, including Egyptian Hieroglyphs for Complete Beginners and Egyptian Art.