While exploring the ancient world there are many moments when I realize just how foreign the territory is, when I’m all to aware of my alien status, that I’m an outsider, unable to identify with the humans that lived oh so long ago. Like when I read these divination texts used for interpreting misformed births in sheep and goats:
If it has no spleen… the king will not obtain offspring…
And if it has no right ear, the enemy will devastate the land and will consume it.
And if it has no left ear, the king will devastate the land of his enemy and consume it.
And if its rear legs are short, our lord will confront the huradu-troops and Rasap will finish off the posterity.
And if its nose is like the ‘nose’ of a bird, the gods will destroy the land.
Or, likewise, when I read the Ugaritic liturgy against venomous reptiles it’s easy to shake my head in amazement. The ancients did what!? Early civilizations thought that!?
But every once in a while I come across ancient words that sink into my soul, words that suggest these early humans are not so different from modern mankind, words of wisdom that apply today as much as they did five thousand years ago. Philo of Alexandria‘s ancient words are one example, as is this instruction given by Vizier Ptah-hotep:
Ma’at [Justice] is great, and its appropriateness is lasting… If you are one to whom petition is made, be calm as you listen to the petitioner’s speech. Do not rebuff him before he has swept out his body or before he has said that for which he came. A petitioner likes attention to his words better than the fulfilling of that for which he came.
It’s great to feel heard. To know that attention has been given to your words–even if the listener is unable to grant the request. Ptah-hotep understood as much. His instruction on the importance of listening well survives the centuries and reaches to my ears. I will hear and I will listen. Ancient words!