Table Manners And First Code Of Correct Behavior Were Introduced In Egypt 2,500 B.C. By Ptahhotep

Table Manners And First Code Of Correct Behavior Were Introduced In Egypt 2,500 B.C. By Ptahhotep

Ellen Lloyd – – Louis XIV, known as Louis the Great or the Sun King (1638 – 1715) couldn’t stand bad table manners. The Sun King is today remembered as a royal who preferred art over politics. He was also a king who introduced very complicated rules of how to do basically anything, including dining.

Around 1669, King Louis the Great became the “first person in Europe to offer his guests a place setting with knives, forks, and spoons; he ordered the knives should have rounded ends to prevent injury should things turn ugly.” 1

Table Manners And First Code Of Correct Behavior Were Introduced In Egypt 2,500 B.C. By Ptahhotep

Ancient Egyptians were familiar with table manners in 2,500 B.C. Credit: BasPhoto – Adobe Stock

The use of forks was still a new trend, and many were reluctant to use forks. “When the first forks appeared, they caused a sensation, but getting people to use them for eating was not easy. Not only were forks very expensive, but they were also disapproved by the Church and people did not know how to use them.” 2

The Church argued God had created humans with fingers so they could touch and eat God’s food. People may have listened to the Church, but obviously, they didn’t pay much attention to these warnings. The Church’s disapproval did not stop people from producing gold and silver forks that wealthy families in Tuscany wanted to have at the dining table.

Slowly the etiquette of eating evolved in Europe. People washed their hands before dinner and stopped blowing their noses into their palms during the meal.

One would think table manners were introduced in Europe, but that’s wrong. Europeans suddenly felt they had “discovered” what should be considered proper manners at the table. However, these table manners and dining etiquette were introduced in Egypt about 2,500 B.C.

“During the Fifth Dynasty (2,500 B.C. – 2,350 B.C), Egyptian Vizier Ptahhotep, occasionally known as Ptahhotep I, Ptahhotpe or Ptah-Hotep wrote several instructions based on his wisdom and experiences.

His precious text contains advice on how to live your life and much of what he wrote is still highly relevant today.” 3

The first historical evidence of correct behavior can be traced to Ptahhotep’s book The Instructions of Ptahhotep.

Knowledge of our ancestors’ views of correct manners, became evident with the discovery of the ancient Egyptian Prisse Papyrus. The text datable to the Middle Kingdom was found inside the coffin of Pharaoh Sekhemre-Wepmaat Intef of the 17th Dynasty at Thebes.

The papyrus document contains the last two pages of the Instructions of Kagemni, which are followed by the only complete surviving copy of the Instructions of Ptahhotep.

The precious papyrus that predates the Bible by about 2,000 years now resides in the Paris antiquities collection.

Secrets Of Maxims of Ptahhotep – Ancient Egyptian Wisdom Is Still Relevant Today

Left: Ptahhotep on a palanquin, relief from his tomb. Werner-Forman Archive/Heritage-Images – Right: The Maxims of Ptahhotep, Public Domain

One has to admit that even from our modern perspective it’s a fascinating ancient text that gives so much advice on how to behave in ordinary situations.

“In the company of one’s superior, the book advises, “Laugh when he laughs.” It suggests overlooking one’s quiddities with a superior’s philosophy, “so thou shalt be very agreeable to his heart.” And there are numerous references to the priceless wisdom of holding one’s tongue, first with a boss: “Let thy mind be deep and thy speech scanty,” then with a wife: “Be silent, for it is a better gift than flowers.” 4

Maat - Ancient Egypt’s Most Important Religious Concept

Maat – Ancient Egypt’s Most Important Religious Concept – Read more

Vizier Ptahhotep was in many ways a man ahead of his time. When the Bible was written, his 2,500-year-old advice had been well circulated throughout the Nile delta of Egypt and the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia. Scholars how have studied the Bible, have discovered strong echoes of The Instructions Ptahhotep in the Holy Book. The Bible frequently mentions food in various contexts, and we find the vizier’s guidelines in especially in Proverbs, and contain instructions on how to eat and prepare food.

To embrace the central concept of Egyptian wisdom one must first understand the importance of the goddess Maat that symbolizes cosmic order and social harmony.

Students of the Old Testament will find many themes reflect Egyptian instructions written by Ptahhotep who covered all kind of topics, including table manners.

Written by Ellen Lloyd –

Copyright © All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or part without the express written permission of

Expand for references

  1. Nicholas Clayton – A Butler’s Guide to Table Manners
  2. Sutherland – Troublesome Ancient History Of Forks Started In Tuscany, Italy In 11th Century,
  3. Ellen Lloyd – Secrets Of Maxims Of Ptahhotep – Ancient Egyptian Wisdom Is Still Relevant Today.
  4. Panati, Charles – Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things
  5. Fontaine, Carole R. “A Modern Look at Ancient Wisdom: The Instruction of Ptahhotep Revisited.” The Biblical Archaeologist44, no. 3 (1981): 155-60. Accessed October 26, 2020. doi:10.2307/3209606.

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