an anonymous teaching text, known from about 140 fragments on papyrus, ostraca, a leather manuscript, and a wooden tablet, all of New Kingdom date. A running version is still lacking, and the state of preservation in many parts of the text remains deplorable. An early twelfth dynasty date of composition is fairly certain.

The Instructions can be divided into two distinctive parts of uneven length. The first eight chapters are concerned with the importance of perfect speech (chapter 1); a long treatise on the central figure of the king and the necessity of following and praising him ensues (chapters 2–8). Pharaoh represents the life-dominating power; deities of destiny like Renenet and Mesekhnet are relegated to the very beginning and end of one's life. The king is the guarantor of wealth, a sedentary way of life, social respect, a tomb, and a happy afterlife. This applies to those subordinates loyal to him; opponents run the risk of being annihilated physically and of being deprived of remembrance by future generations. The king's power transcends the borders of Egypt.

The second part of the text (chapters 9–24), which is still marred by many lacunae, deals with the role of proper speech (mdt) in different social situations and constellations. One of its primary fields of application is the fair treatment of petitioners and litigants in court (esp. chapters 9, 12, and 19). Every single pronouncement has to be in accordance with the principle of maat (mʒʿt; “order,” “justice,” chapters 9 and 13). Speech has to be delivered sparingly and must conform to the ideal of the silent man (grw; chapter 12). Practiced in an overindulgent way, it may turn into “fire” (ḫt), especially in a dispute with an ignoramus (ḫm; chapter 19). Proper speech is the first behavioral requisite of any member of the elite who wants to keep his household and office running well. Conforming to this ideal guarantees friendship, social acceptance, and a clientele (chapters 20 and 21).

Thus, the overall theme of the second part of the teaching is a treatise on the principle of “speaking maat” (ḏd-mʒ ʿt) and displaying vertical solidarity with one's subordinates. As is known from countless autobiographies, “speaking maat” is to be complemented by “doing Maat” (iri-mʒʿt), treated extensively in the second part of the contemporary Loyalist Instruction.

The readership and audience for the Instructions must have lain within the highest echelons of society. The title, the Instructions of a Man for His Son, contains a hint of the couche sociale as addressee by using, in reversed order, the elements of the well-attested sociological term “son of a (gentle)man” (sʒ[n] s); a female audience can safely be excluded.

Many of the topics treated in the second part of the text occur elsewhere, but the emphasis on speaking maat, as well as the scope of this main subject, is unique to this text. Contrary to such teachings as those of Ptahhotep, Anii, and Amenemope, the Instructions of a Man is made up of only two main topics (loyalism and speech) in different facets.

There is strong evidence that this instruction was composed as the central text of a triptychon that once consisted of the Instructions of Khety, the Instructions of a Man for his Son, and the Loyalist Teaching.


  • Fischer-Elfert, H.-W. Die Lehre eines Mannes für seinen Sohn: Eine Etappe auf dem “Gottesweg” des loyalen und solidarischen Beamten des Mittleren Reiches. Ägyptologische Abhandlungen, 60. Wiesbaden, 1999. Enlarged text with translation and commentary.
  • Helck, W. Die Lehre des Djedefhor und die Lehre eines Vaters an seinen Sohn. Kleine ägyptische Texte. Wiesbaden, 1984. Text and translation.

Hans-W. Fischer-Elfert