The Admonitions of Ipuwer

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Joshua J. Mark
published on 21 November 2016

The Admonitions of Ipuwer (also known as The Papyrus Ipuwer and The Admonitions of an Egyptian Sage) is a literary text dated to the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (2040-1782 BCE). The only extant copy of the work, preserved on the Papyrus Leiden 344, dates to the New Kingdom (c. 1570-1069 BCE).

The manuscript is considered the last extant example of the 'national disaster' genre so popular in the Middle Kingdom in which chaos reigns and order has been forgotten, traditional roles and respect for that order are discarded, and death and destruction are imminent. Among the various works designated as Didactic Literature, The Admonitions of Ipuwer stands as the most rigorous piece contrasting order and chaos and advocating for the importance of a strong central government to maintain order and preserve peace.

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Ipuwer Papyrus
Ipuwer Papyrus
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden (CC BY)


Didactic literature, by definition, teaches a reader an important lesson. The didactic writings of the Middle Kingdom routinely stressed the theme of order vs. chaos because they were playing off the memory of the First Intermediate Period of Egypt (2181-2040 BCE) which preceded it when there was no central government and regional governors maintained their own rules and values. Although the scribes of the Middle Kingdom routinely characterized this period as disastrous, it was actually no such thing.

These writings of the Middle Kingdom were often classified by the Egyptians as Wisdom Literature in that they instructed an audience in important cultural values based on the structure of the Old Kingdom of Egypt (c. 2613 - c. 2181 BCE). These works were often given the title of Instructions or Admonitions in that they feature a father's advice to a son, a king's advice to his successor (also son), or a sage's advice/warning to his king. Egyptologist Miriam Lichtheim writes:

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[These works] formulate and ponder problems of life and death and seek solutions. Egypt and Mesopotamia were the earliest practitioners of this class of writings, to which the name "Wisdom Literature" has been given. Their example contributed significantly to the subsequent flowering of the genre among the Hebrews. (134)

The influence of Egyptian wisdom literature on the scribes who wrote the books which would later comprise the Bible is evident. The Admonitions of Ipuwer and other texts resonate with the same kinds of concepts one finds in the biblical books of Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Psalms, and the Song of Songs, as well as works not classified as 'wisdom literature' such as Lamentations, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Job, among others. In many of these biblical narratives, one finds passages lamenting a time of order and peace contrasted with a present period of disorder, chaos, and misery phrased in similar forms.

Although this theme of a 'golden age' in which one was perfectly happy contrasted with a present dark age is common in the literature of many cultures throughout time, in this case, it is entirely possible that these Egyptian texts directly influenced the Hebrew works. The Book of Exodus, in fact, with its emphasis on Egyptian cruelty toward the Hebrew slaves, could be seen as a literary 'divorce' from the culture which inspired some of the greatest works which eventually found a place in the Bible.

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The theme of instruction in wisdom found expression through a number of works. Among these, besides The Admonitions of Ipuwer, are the Prophecies of Neferti, The Complaints of Khakheperre-sonb, The Dispute Between a Man and his Ba, The Eloquent Peasant, The Instruction of King Amenemhat for his Son Senruset I, and The Satire of the Trades. The Admonitions is most similar to the Prophecies of Neferti and The Complaints of Khakheperre-sonb in evoking a past time of greatness which is now lost. The Complaints sums up the problem in one line: "Changes take place, it is not like last year" (Lichtheim, 147). The past is glorified and the present condemned in most of these works as the authors claim the old ways have been forgotten and this has led to chaos on a national scale.

The Admonitions neatly fits with the 'national distress' genre of the Middle Kingdom but amplifies the miseries this genre regularly made a point of.

The Admonition of Ipuwer text is difficult to date precisely because the only copy comes from the New Kingdom of Egypt, but it is believed to have been composed somewhat later in the Middle Kingdom than these others. The author seems to have believed that far more examples of depravity and mayhem were necessary to make the point than earlier, more concise works and repeats them urgently throughout the 17 pages of the manuscript.

The Admonitions neatly fits with the 'national distress' genre of the Middle Kingdom but amplifies the miseries this genre regularly made a point of. This urgent tone to the text, combined with when it was first translated, led a number of scholars in the 20th century CE to conclude that it was historical reportage, not literature; this theory, however, has been discarded.

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The text received its first interpretation and publication by Egyptologist A.H. Gardiner in 1909 CE. This was a very interesting time for archaeology in that, beginning in the mid-19th century CE, more and more European archaeologists were working in the Near East at the behest of institutions looking for historical, physical evidence to corroborate the stories of the Bible.

What these scholars found instead was the complete opposite of what they had expected. Prior to this time, the Bible was considered the oldest book in the world comprised of wholly original literature. The work done by scholars c. 1840 - c. 1900 CE brought to light the literature of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt and changed the way the Bible and world history were understood.

The narratives of the Bible, so long thought to have been penned by God or God-inspired scribes, were now understood to have precedent in earlier works of other cultures. The story of the Fall of Man, the Great Flood, the existential observations of Ecclesiastes, the concept of a dying and reviving god whose resurrection brings life to the world, all of these were recorded before the Hebrew scribes began writing the books which would eventually become the Bible. Even so, Egyptology and Near East studies still had a long way to go before it matured and many texts were misinterpreted by these early scholars.

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Book of Exodus
Book of Exodus
Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts (Public Domain)

C. 1900 CE, when Gardiner was working with Admonitions, the literature of the Middle Kingdom, describing the time of the preceding the First Intermediate Period of Egypt was interpreted as historically accurate. The First Intermediate Period was commonly understood as a time of lawless chaos following the collapse of the Old Kingdom. Actually, the First Intermediate Period was a time of great cultural progress and individual growth of the various regions of Egypt; it simply was lacking a strong central government.

To the scribes of the Middle Kingdom, however, this was a serious problem which they needed to warn their countrymen against. According to traditional belief, the king was the mediator between the gods and the people and a country without a strong king was a land cut off from the deities which nourished and gave it life. The Prophecies of Neferti explicitly bases its entire premise on this belief while the Complaints only suggests it and the Admonitions shouts it loudly.

Scholars working on these texts in the 19th and 20th centuries CE were operating from the old paradigm of the Bible-as-history, and so, except in cases of texts concerning obvious mythological themes and characters, literary works were taken as historical. According to Lichtheim, it was not until 1929 CE that The Admonitions of Ipuwer was first recognized as literature by the scholar S. Luria who "pointed out the fictional, mythologic-messianic nature of these works and fixed cliches through which the theme of 'social chaos' was expressed" (150). Although, again according to Lichtheim, Luria's work did not receive a great deal of attention at the time, other scholars later came to the same conclusion that the Admonitions is Middle Kingdom literature, not history.

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This understanding of the text as genre literature was not widely known by those outside the field of Egyptology; Gardiner's early work, however, had received considerable attention from academics and non-academics alike. The Admonitions of Ipuwer was again, wrongly, interpreted as history most notably by the independent scholar Velikovsky in the 1950's/1960's CE, who used the text as support for his claim of planetary influence causing catastrophic events in world history. Velikovsky's theories have been repeatedly debunked and refuted by scholars in a number of different fields, but this has done little to correct the misunderstanding in the popular imagination.

As recently as 2014 CE, the documentary Patterns of Evidence: Exodus claimed The Admonitions of Ipuwer was historical reportage, an Egyptian view of the events given in the biblical Book of Exodus, proving that work historically accurate. The companion book of the same name reasserts these claims as does the work by David Rohl, whose theories infuse and support the film and book, Exodus: Myth or History? which perpetuates the misunderstanding. However well-meaning these works may - or may not - be, they are intellectually and historically dishonest in how they represent the evidence they claim to be presenting impartially. Those who represent opposing views are dismissed as either atheists or blinded by 'mainstream' scholarship while literary and physical evidence is manipulated to prove the claims of the producers/writers.

Through the popularity of Rohl's works, this misunderstanding of the nature of the Egyptian text is presently perpetuated, even though there is no sound basis for it in the work itself. One can only accept The Admonitions of Ipuwer as history if one has little or no knowledge of Egyptian history and literature. As Rohl is an Egyptologist, one might wonder why he would advocate for an understanding of the work so completely at odds with accepted scholarship. The answer becomes fairly obvious if one is aware of Rohl's repeated calls for a revision of Egyptian chronology, his 'fringe' status among accepted scholars, and his insistence on the historical truth of biblical narratives such as the Book of Exodus; his perpetuation of a misinterpretation of the text supports the claims he makes in books which have sold well and have conferred on him a degree of celebrity.


If one is acquainted with Middle Kingdom 'national distress' literature, it is abundantly clear that The Admonitions of Ipuwer rests comfortably within the genre. The translation which follows is by the scholar Andre Dollinger following the standard translation by R. O. Faulkner of 1965 CE. Brackets and ellipses indicate missing or unclear text which is sometimes suggested. Those familiar with Rohl's work will recognize that what is usually presented is 'prooftexted' snippets of the piece which exclude portions which might contradict certain claims:

[. . .] The door [keepers] say: "Let us go and plunder."
The confectioners [. . .].
The washerman refuses to carry his load [. . .]
The bird [catchers] have drawn up in line of battle [. . . the inhabitants] of the Delta carry shields.
The brewers [. . .] sad.
A man regards his son as his enemy. Confusion [. . .] another. Come and conquer; judge [. . .] what was ordained for you in the time of Horus, in the age [of the Ennead . . .]. The virtuous man goes in mourning because of what has happened in the land [. . .] goes [. . .] the tribes of the desert have become Egyptians everywhere.
Indeed, the face is pale; [. . .] what the ancestors foretold has arrived at [fruition . . .] the land is full of confederates, and a man goes to plough with his shield.
Indeed, the meek say: ["He who is . . . of] face is as a well-born man."
Indeed, [the face] is pale; the bowman is ready, wrongdoing is everywhere, and there is no man of yesterday.
Indeed, the plunderer [. . .] everywhere, and the servant takes what he finds.
Indeed, the Nile overflows, yet none plough for it. Everyone says: "We do not know what will happen throughout the land."
Indeed, the women are barren and none conceive. Khnum fashions (men) no more because of the condition of the land.

Indeed, poor men have become owners of wealth, and he who could not make sandals for himself is now a possessor of riches.
Indeed, men's slaves, their hearts are sad, and magistrates do not fraternize with their people when they shout.
Indeed, [hearts] are violent, pestilence is throughout the land, blood is everywhere, death is not lacking, and the mummy-cloth speaks even before one comes near it.

Indeed, many dead are buried in the river; the stream is a sepulcher and the place of embalmment has become a stream.
Indeed, noblemen are in distress, while the poor man is full of joy. Every town says: "Let us suppress the powerful among us."
Indeed, men are like ibises. Squalor is throughout the land, and there are none indeed whose clothes are white in these times.
Indeed, the land turns around as does a potter's wheel; the robber is a possessor of riches and [the rich man is become] a plunderer.
Indeed, trusty servants are [. . .]; the poor man [complains]: "How terrible! What am I to do?"

Indeed, the river is blood, yet men drink of it. Men shrink from human beings and thirst after water.
Indeed, gates, columns and walls are burnt up, while the hall of the palace stands firm and endures.
Indeed, the ship of [the southerners] has broken up; towns are destroyed and Upper Egypt has become an empty waste.
Indeed, crocodiles [are glutted] with the fish they have taken, for men go to them of their own accord; it is the destruction of the land. Men say: "Do not walk here; behold, it is a net." Behold, men tread [the water] like fishes, and the frightened man cannot distinguish it because of terror.
Indeed, men are few, and he who places his brother in the ground is everywhere. When the wise man speaks, [he flees without delay].
Indeed, the well-born man [. . .] through lack of recognition, and the child of his lady has become the son of his maidservant.

Indeed, the desert is throughout the land, the nomes are laid waste, and barbarians from abroad have come to Egypt.
Indeed, men arrive [. . .] and indeed, there are no Egyptians anywhere.
Indeed, gold and lapis lazuli, silver and turquoise, carnelian and amethyst, Ibhet-stone and [. . .] are strung on the necks of maidservants. Good things are throughout the land, (yet) housewives say: "Oh that we had something to eat!"
Indeed, [. . .] noblewomen. Their bodies are in sad plight by reason of their rags, and their hearts sink when greeting [one another]. Indeed, chests of ebony are broken up, and precious ssnDm-wood is cleft asunder in beds [. . .].

Indeed, the builders [of pyramids have become] cultivators, and those who were in the sacred bark are now yoked [to it]. None shall indeed sail northward to Byblos today; what shall we do for cedar trees for our mummies, and with the produce of which priests are buried and with the oil of which [chiefs] are embalmed as far as Keftiu? They come no more; gold is lacking [. . .] and materials for every kind of craft have come to an end. The [. . .] of the palace is despoiled. How often do people of the oases come with their festival spices, mats, and skins, with fresh rdmt-plants, grease of birds . . . ?

Indeed, Elephantine and Thinis [. . .] of Upper Egypt, (but) without paying taxes owing to civil strife. Lacking are grain, charcoal, irtyw-fruit, m'w-wood, nwt-wood, and brushwood. The work of craftsmen and [. . .] are the profit of the palace. To what purpose is a treasury without its revenues? Happy indeed is the heart of the king when truth comes to him! And every foreign land [comes]! That is our fate and that is our happiness! What can we do about it? All is ruin!
Indeed, laughter is perished and is [no longer] made; it is groaning that is throughout the land, mingled with complaints.

Indeed, every dead person is as a well-born man. Those who were Egyptians [have become] foreigners and are thrust aside.
Indeed, hair [has fallen out] for everybody, and the man of rank can no longer be distinguished from him who is nobody.
Indeed, [. . .] because of noise; noise is not [. . .] in years of noise, and there is no end [of] noise.
Indeed, great and small [say]: "I wish I might die." Little children say: "He should not have caused [me] to live."
Indeed, the children of princes are dashed against walls, and the children of the neck are laid out on the high ground.
Indeed, those who were in the place of embalmment are laid out on the high ground, and the secrets of the embalmers are thrown down because of it.
Indeed, that has perished which yesterday was seen, and the land is left over to its weakness like the cutting of flax.
Indeed, the Delta in its entirety will not be hidden, and Lower Egypt puts trust in trodden roads. What can one do? No [. . .] exist anywhere, and men say: "Perdition to the secret place!" Behold, it is in the hands of those who do not know it like those who know it. The desert dwellers are skilled in the crafts of the Delta.

Indeed, citizens are put to the corn-rubbers, and those who used to don fine linen are beaten with . . . Those who used never to see the day have gone out unhindered; those who were on their husbands' beds, let them lie on rafts. I say: "It is too heavy for me," concerning rafts bearing myrrh. Load them with vessels filled with [. . . Let] them know the palanquin. As for the butler, he is ruined. There are no remedies for it; noblewomen suffer like maidservants, minstrels are at the looms within the weaving-rooms, and what they sing to the Songstress-goddess is mourning. Talkers [. . .] corn-rubbers.
Indeed, all female slaves are free with their tongues, and when their mistress speaks, it is irksome to the maidservants.
Indeed, trees are felled and branches are stripped off.

I have separated him and his household slaves, and men will say when they hear it: "Cakes are lacking for most children; there is no food [. . .]. What is the taste of it like today?"
Indeed, magnates are hungry and perishing, followers are followed [. . .] because of complaints.
Indeed, the hot-tempered man says: "If I knew where God is, then I would serve Him."
Indeed, [Right] pervades the land in name, but what men do in trusting to it is Wrong.
Indeed, runners are fighting over the spoil [of] the robber, and all his property is carried off.
Indeed, all animals, their hearts weep; cattle moan because of the state of the land.
Indeed, the children of princes are dashed against walls, and the children of the neck are laid out on the high ground. Khnum groans because of his weariness.
Indeed, terror kills; the frightened man opposes what is done against your enemies. Moreover, the few are pleased, while the rest are [. . .]. Is it by following the crocodile and cleaving it asunder? Is it by slaying the lion roasted on the fire? [Is it] by sprinkling for Ptah and taking [. . .]? Why do you give to him? There is no reaching him. It is misery which you give to him.
Indeed, slaves [. . .] throughout the land, and the strong man sends to everyone; a man strikes his maternal brother. What is it that has been done? I speak to a ruined man.
Indeed, the ways are [. . .], the roads are watched; men sit in the bushes until the benighted traveler comes in order to plunder his burden, and what is upon him is taken away. He is belabored with blows of a stick and murdered.
Indeed, that has perished which yesterday was seen, and the land is left over to its weakness like the cutting of flax, commoners coming and going in dissolution [. . .]

Would that there were an end of men, without conception, without birth! Then would the land be quiet from noise and tumult be no more.
Indeed, [men eat] herbage and wash [it] down with water; neither fruit nor herbage can be found [for] the birds, and [. . .] is taken away from the mouth of the pig. No face is bright which you have [. . .] for me through hunger.
Indeed, everywhere barley has perished and men are stripped of clothes, spice, and oil; everyone says: "There is none." The storehouse is empty and its keeper is stretched on the ground; a happy state of affairs!
Would that I had raised my voice at that moment, that it might have saved me from the pain in which I am.
Indeed, the private council-chamber, its writings are taken away and the mysteries which were [in it] are laid bare.
Indeed, magic spells are divulged; smw- and shnw-spells are frustrated because they are remembered by men.
Indeed, public offices are opened and their inventories are taken away; the serf has become an owner of serfs.
Indeed, [scribes] are killed and their writings are taken away. Woe is me because of the misery of this time!
Indeed, the writings of the scribes of the cadaster are destroyed, and the corn of Egypt is common property.
Indeed, the laws of the council chamber are thrown out; indeed, men walk on them in public places, and poor men break them up in the streets.
Indeed, the poor man has attained to the state of the Nine Gods, and the erstwhile procedure of the House of the Thirtyis divulged.
Indeed, the great council-chamber is a popular resort, and poor men come and go to the Great Mansions.
Indeed, the children of magnates are ejected into the streets; the wise man agrees and the fool says "no," and it is pleasing in the sight of him who knows nothing about it.
Indeed, those who were in the place of embalmment are laid out on the high ground, and the secrets of the embalmers are thrown down because of it.

Behold, the fire has gone up on high, and its burning goes forth against the enemies of the land.
Behold, things have been done which have not happened for a long time past; the king has been deposed by the rabble.
Behold, he who was buried as a falcon [is devoid] of biers, and what the pyramid concealed has become empty.
Behold, it has befallen that the land has been deprived of the kingship by a few lawless men.
Behold, men have fallen into rebellion against the Uraeus, the [. . .] of Re, even she who makes the Two Lands content.
Behold, the secret of the land whose limits were unknown is divulged, and the Residence is thrown down in a moment.
Behold, Egypt is fallen to pouring of water, and he who poured water on the ground has carried off the strong man in misery.
Behold, the Serpent is taken from its hole, and the secrets of the Kings of Upper and Lower Egypt are divulged.
Behold, the Residence is afraid because of want, and [men go about] unopposed to stir up strife.
Behold, the land has knotted itself up with confederacies, and the coward takes the brave man's property.
Behold, the Serpent [. . .] the dead: he who could not make a sarcophagus for himself is now the possessor of a tomb.
Behold, the possessors of tombs are ejected on to the high ground, while he who could not make a coffin for himself is now [the possessor] of a treasury.
Behold, this has happened [to] men; he who could not build a room for himself is now a possessor of walls.
Behold, the magistrates of the land are driven out throughout the land: [. . .] are driven out from the palaces

Behold, noble ladies are now on rafts, and magnates are in the labor establishment, while he who could not sleep even on walls is now the possessor of a bed.
Behold, the possessor of wealth now spends the night thirsty, while he who once begged his dregs for himself is now the possessor of overflowing bowls.
Behold, the possessors of robes are now in rags, while he who could not weave for himself is now a possessor of fine linen.
Behold, he who could not build a boat for himself is now the possessor of a fleet; their erstwhile owner looks at them, but they are not his.
Behold, he who had no shade is now the possessor of shade, while the erstwhile possessors of shade are now in the full blast of the storm.
Behold, he who was ignorant of the lyre is now the possessor of a harp, while he who never sang for himself now vaunts the Songstress-goddess.
Behold, those who possessed vessel-stands of copper [. . .] not one of the jars thereof has been adorned

Behold, he who slept wifeless through want [finds] riches, while he whom he never saw stands making dole.
Behold, he who had no property is now a possessor of wealth, and the magnate praises him.
Behold, the poor of the land have become rich, and the [erstwhile owner] of property is one who has nothing.
Behold, serving-men have become masters of butlers, and he who was once a messenger now sends someone else.
Behold, he who had no loaf is now the owner of a barn, and his storehouse is provided with the goods of another.
Behold, he whose hair is fallen out and who had no oil has now become the possessors of jars of sweet myrrh.
Behold, she who had no box is now the owner of a coffer, and she who had to look at her face in the water is now the owner of a mirror.
Behold, [. . .].

Behold, a man is happy eating his food. Consume your goods in gladness and unhindered, for it is good for a man to eat his food; God commands it for him whom He has favored [. . .].
[Behold, he who did not know] his god now offers to him with incense of another [who is] not known [to him].
[Behold,] great ladies, once possessors of riches, now give their children for beds.
Behold, a man [to whom is given] a noble lady as wife, her father protects him, and he who has not [. . .] killing him.
Behold, the children of magistrates are [ . . . the calves] of cattle [are given over] to the plunderers.

Behold, priests transgress with the cattle of the poor [. . .].
Behold, he who could not slaughter for himself now slaughters bulls, and he who did not know how to carve now sees [. . .].
Behold, priests transgress with geese, which are given [to] the gods instead of oxen.
Behold, maidservants [. . .] offer ducks; noblewomen [. . .].
Behold, noblewomen flee; the overseers of [. . .] and their [children] are cast down through fear of death.
[Behold,] the chiefs of the land flee; there is no purpose for them because of want. The lord of [. . .].

[Behold,] those who once owned beds are now on the ground, while he who once slept in squalor now lays out a skin-mat for himself.

Behold, noblewomen go hungry, while the priests are sated with what has been prepared for them.
Behold, no offices are in their right place, like a herd running at random without a herdsman.
Behold, cattle stray and there is none to collect them, but everyone fetches for himself those that are branded with his name.
Behold, a man is slain beside his brother, who runs away and abandons him to save his own skin.
Behold, he who had no yoke of oxen is now the owner of a herd, and he who could find for himself no ploughman is now the owner of cattle.
Behold, he who had no grain is now the owner of granaries, and he who had to fetch loan-corn for himself is now one who issues it.
Behold, he who had no dependents is now an owner of serfs, and he who was [a magnate] now performs his own errands.
Behold, the strong men of the land, the condition of the people is not reported [to them]. All is ruin!
Behold, no craftsmen work, for the enemies of the land have impoverished its craftsmen.
[Behold, he who once recorded] the harvest now knows nothing about it, while he who never ploughed [for himself is now the owner of corn; the reaping] takes place but is not reported. The scribe [sits in his office], but his hands [are idle] in it.
Destroyed is [. . .] in that time, and a man looks [on his friend as] an adversary. The infirm man brings coolness [to what is hot . . .] fear [. . .. . .]. Poor men [. . . the land] is not bright because of it.

Destroyed is [. . .] their food is taken from them [. . . through] fear of his terror. The commoner begs [. . .] messenger, but not [. . .] time. He is captured laden with goods and [all his property] is taken away. [. . .] men pass by his door [. . .] the outside of the wall, a shed, and rooms containing falcons. It is the common man who will be vigilant, the day having dawned on him without his dreading it. Men run because of [. . . for] the temple of the head, strained through a woven cloth within the house. What they make are tents, just like the desert folk.
Destroyed is the doing of that for which men are sent by retainers in the service of their masters; they have no readiness.
Behold, they are five men, and they say: "Go on the road you know, for we have arrived."
Lower Egypt weeps; the king's storehouse is the common property of everyone, and the entire palace is without its revenues. To it belong emmer and barley, fowl and fish; to it belong white cloth and fine linen, copper and oil; to it belong carpet and mat, [. . .] flowers and wheat-sheaf and all good revenues . . . If the . . . it in the palace were delayed, men would be devoid [of . . .].
Destroy the enemies of the august Residence, splendid of magistrates [. . .] in it like [. . .]; indeed, the Governor of the City goes unescorted.
Destroy [the enemies of the august Residence,] splendid [. . .]. [Destroy the enemies of] that erstwhile august Residence, manifold of laws [. . .]. [Destroy the enemies of] that erstwhile august [Residence . . .].
Destroy the enemies of that erstwhile august Residence [. . .] none can stand [. . .].
Destroy the enemies of that erstwhile august Residence, manifold of offices; indeed [. . .].
Remember to immerse [. . .] him who is in pain when he is sick in his body; show respect [. . .] because of his god that he may guard the utterance [. . .] his children who are witnesses of the surging of the flood.

Remember to [. . .. . .]. . . shrine, to fumigate with incense and to offer water in a jar in the early morning.
Remember [to bring] fat r-geese, trp-geese, and ducks and to offer god's offerings to the gods.
Remember to chew natron and to prepare white bread; a man [should do it] on the day of wetting the head.
Remember to erect flagstaffs and to carve offering stones, the priest cleansing the chapels and the temple being plastered (white) like milk; to make pleasant the odor of the horizon and to provide bread-offerings.
Remember to observe regulations, to fix dates correctly, and to remove him who enters on the priestly office in impurity of body, for that is doing it wrongfully, it is destruction of the heart [. . .] the day which precedes eternity, the months [. . .] years are known.
Remember to slaughter oxen [. . .].
Remember to go forth purged [. . .] who calls to you; to put r-geese on the fire [. . .] to open the jar [. . .] the shore of the waters [. . .] of women [. . .] clothing [. . .. . .] to give praise . . . in order to appease you.
[. . .] lack of people; come [. . .] Re who commands [. . .] worshipping him [. . .] West until [. . .] are diminished [. . .].
Behold, why does he seek to fashion [men . . .]? The frightened man is not distinguished from the violent one.

He brings coolness upon heat; men say: "He is the herdsman of mankind, and there is no evil in his heart." Though his herds are few, yet he spends a day to collect them, their hearts being on fire.
Would that he had perceived their nature in the first generation; then he would have imposed obstacles, he would have stretched out his arm against them, he would have destroyed their herds and their heritage. Men desire the giving of birth, but sadness supervenes, with needy people on all sides. So it is, and it will not pass away while the gods who are in the midst of it exist. Seed goes forth into mortal women, but none are found on the road.
Combat has gone forth, and he who should be a redresser of evils is one who commits them; neither do men act as pilot in their hour of duty. Where is he today? Is he asleep? Behold, his power is not seen.
If we had been fed, I would not have found you, I would not have been summoned in vain; "Aggression against it means pain of heart" is a saying on the lips of everyone. Today he who is afraid . . . a myriad of people; [. . .] did not see [. . .] against the enemies of [. . .] at his outer chamber; who enter the temple [. . .] weeping for him [. . .] that one who confounds what he has said . . . The land has not fallen [. . .] the statues are burned and their tombs destroyed [. . .] he sees the day of [. . .]. He who could not make for himself [. . .] between sky and ground is afraid of everybody.
. . . if he does it . . . what you dislike taking.
Authority, knowledge, and truth are with you, yet confusion is what you set throughout the land, also the noise of tumult. Behold, one deals harm to another, for men conform to what you have commanded. If three men travel on the road, they are found to be only two, for the many kill the few.

Does a herdsman desire death? Then may you command reply to be made, because it means that one loves, another detests; it means that their existences are few everywhere; it means that you have acted so as to bring those things to pass. You have told lies, and the land is a weed which destroys men, and none can count on life. All these years are strife, and a man is murdered on his housetop even though he was vigilant in his gate lodge. Is he brave and saves himself? It means he will live.

When men send a servant for humble folk, he goes on the road until he sees the flood; the road is washed out and he stands worried. What is on him is taken away, he is belabored with blows of a stick and wrongfully slain. Oh that you could taste a little of the misery of it! Then you would say [. . .] from someone else as a wall, over and above [. . .] hot . . . years . . . [. . .].
[It is indeed good] when ships fare upstream [. . .. . .] robbing them.
It is indeed good [. . .]. [It is indeed] good when the net is drawn in and birds are tied up [. . .].
It is [indeed] good [. . .] dignities for them, and the roads are passable.
It is indeed good when the hands of men build pyramids, when ponds are dug and plantations of the trees of the gods are made.
It is indeed good when men are drunk; they drink myt and their hearts are happy.

It is indeed good when shouting is in men's mouths, when the magnates of districts stand looking on at the shouting in their houses, clad in a cloak, cleansed in front and well-provided within.
It is indeed good when beds are prepared and the headrests of magistrates are safely secured. Every man's need is satisfied with a couch in the shade, and a door is now shut on him who once slept in the bushes.
It is indeed good when fine linen is spread out on New Year's Day [. . .] on the bank; when fine linen is spread out and cloaks are on the ground. The overseer of [. . .] the trees, the poor [. . .. . .] in their midst like Asiatics [. . .]. Men [. . .] the state thereof; they have come to an end of themselves; none can be found to stand up and protect themselves [. . .].
Everyone fights for his sister and saves his own skin. Is it Nubians? Then will we guard ourselves; warriors are made many in order to ward off foreigners. Is it Libyans? Then we will turn away. The Medjay are pleased with Egypt.

How comes it that every man kills his brother? The troops whom we marshaled for ourselves have turned into foreigners and have taken to ravaging. What has come to pass through it is informing the Asiatics of the state of the land; all the desert folk are possessed with the fear of it. What the plebs have tasted [. . .] without giving Egypt over [to] the sand. It is strong [. . .] speak about you after years [. . .] devastate itself, it is the threshing floor which nourishes their houses [. . .] to nourish his children [. . .] said by the troops [. . .. . .] fish [. . .] gum, lotus leaves [. . .] excess of food.

What Ipuwer said when he addressed the Majesty of the Lord of All: [. . .] all herds. It means that ignorance of it is what is pleasing to the heart. You have done what was good in their hearts and you have nourished the people with it. They cover their faces through fear of the morrow.
That is how a man grows old before he dies, while his son is a lad of understanding; he does not open [his] mouth to speak to you, but you seize him in the doom of death [. . .] weep [. . .] go [. . .] after you, that the land may be [. . .] on every side.

If men call to [. . .] weep [. . .] them, who break into the tombs and burn the statues [. . .] the corpses of the nobles [. . .. . .] of directing work.


The Admonitions of Ipuwer stands as a complex and incomplete work of Egyptian literature. The beauty of the piece comes from the recognition of the reader who understands that one's present misfortunes are nothing new. People throughout time have experienced the same doubts, frustrations, and fears that one knows in the present day. This concept may not seem to offer very much comfort but there is consolation in knowing that what an individual was able to survive over two thousand years ago is equally survivable in the present. Times may have changed, but human beings have remained remarkably the same, for better and worse, throughout thousands of years.

To claim that literature, or scripture, must be 'true' to be relevant diminishes the worth of such work collectively. Moby Dick or The Divine Comedy or the Mahabharata are not factual works, but they are no less resonant for that. Further, it would be a disservice to any of these works, to any piece of literature, to use it in furthering one's personal agenda while disregarding its original purpose. The Admonitions of Ipuwer is a poignant expression of one writer's experience of life at a given time. Understood in this way, as literature, the work continues to speak through the centuries; misinterpreted and propagandized as history, the piece is meaningless because the 'history' it represents never happened.

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About the Author

Joshua J. Mark
Joshua J. Mark is World History Encyclopedia's co-founder and Content Director. He was previously a professor at Marist College (NY) where he taught history, philosophy, literature, and writing. He has traveled extensively and lived in Greece and Germany.


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APA Style

Mark, J. J. (2016, November 21). The Admonitions of Ipuwer. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

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Mark, Joshua J.. "The Admonitions of Ipuwer." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified November 21, 2016.

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Mark, Joshua J.. "The Admonitions of Ipuwer." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 21 Nov 2016. Web. 24 Jul 2024.