Affiliation: Barnard College
Ellen Morris is Assistant Professor with the Department of Classics and Ancient Studies at Barnard College, Columbia University. She holds her degrees from the University of Pennsylvania (Ph.D.) and Barbard College, and her research interests include imperialism and state formation, performances of power and sexuality, political fragmentation, landscape theory, and the interplay of Egyptian data and anthropological theory. Professor Morris’s recent publications include Ancient Egyptian Imperialism (Wiley-Blackwell Press, 2018).
As Joe Manning’s work has recently demonstrated with respect to Ptolemaic Egypt, extended periods of low Niles often sparked social crises that affected the country’s economy and the stability of its government. This paper examines the interrelationship between famine and social change through the lens of a Ramesside papyrus known as the Admonitions of Ipuwer. The narrator’s extravagant litany of radical social inversions that he asserts occurred during a period of societal chaos has caused scholars to dismiss the text as histrionic and ahistorical. Drawing on multiple lines of evidence—including long-term cultural patterning, trauma studies, and the comparative sociology of famine—it is argued that this papyrus, in fact, sheds light both on societal dynamics during and in the aftermath of famine and also on the surprisingly ludic process of encoding memories of potentially recurrent trauma into social practices, many of which endured well into the Greco-Roman Period.