Per Mesut: For Younger Readers: Women And Marriage
Ancient Egypt|March / April 2021
Wisdom Literature provided advice on how to live life well, beginning with the foundation of a household.
Hilary Wilson

Hardjedef advised that the best sort of wife was “mistress of her heart”, someone who knew her own mind. Ptahhotep wrote: “Love your wife dearly, feed and clothe her, provide perfumes for her body, and gladden her heart as long as you live.” Ani recommended that a man should marry and have children while he was young and should not interfere in his wife’s efficient running of the household. Ankh-sheshonq said for even the poorest of men, “his wife is his family”.

A wife was the most important family member as vividly demonstrated in husband-and-wife statue groups (see this page and opposite). Though the wife was often depicted on a smaller scale, kneeling or standing by her husband’s side, the unity of the couple is emphasised by their closeness, with arms around waists or shoulders, or holding hands. Whatever the style chosen for these memorials for eternity, they were expensive funerary pieces which showed how much a man thought of his wife. In the centre of a false door stela, the tomb-owner may be shown facing his wife across an offering table, and the couple, sometimes with their children, appear on the door panels (see above and right). Middle Kingdom stelae commonly showed husband and wife seated side by side receiving funerary offerings from their son and surrounded by other family members. Similar scenes were painted in New Kingdom tombs.

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