Sex in Ancient Egypt
I was looking around for a good image of the Fascinus to use with Daydreams & Distractions—I’ve always considered the Fascinus to be the perfect symbol for the erotic imagination—and stumbled on the Turin Scroll. It’s been around since the early 19th century, but apparently wasn’t shared with the general public until the 1970’s. Why? According to the current Wikipedia article:
“after Jean-François Champollion saw the papyrus in 1824 in Turin, he described it as ‘an image of monstrous obscenity that gave me a really strange impression about Egyptian wisdom and composure.'”
Which smacks of the usual snobbish opprobrium—alive and well to this day—aimed at sexual enjoyments. The lofty reputation of ancient Egypt (with which they apparently identified) and the frail moral fiber of the general public had to be considered (the public didn’t get to see the scroll until the 1970’s). Even to this day you would almost think that modern scholars can’t, apparently, admit to themselves (or the public) that the Egyptians might have taken a prurient and pornographic pleasure in any sort of erotic vignette:
“According to French egyptologist Pascal Vernus, the papyrus is not intended to produce sexual excitement. Indeed, the apparent continuation between the animal section and the so-called “erotic” section suggests that the papyrus was intended to amuse members of the aristocracy by portraying absurd transgressions of aristocratic standards of behaviour.”
I’ll translate: The scroll was meant to “amuse” rather than arouse (produce sexual excitement), because surely the aristocratic patron was above the venality of sexual excitement. Vernus’s summation strikes me as a modern twenty-first century version of Campillion’s dismissive snobbery. Apparently Pascal Vernus is utterly oblivious to the—what? centuries long?— tradition of satire in pornography? Where do I start? And all of it perfectly content to arouse while it amuses. Even if the scroll was intended as a satirical critique of high society’s sexual proclivities, to say that its intent isn’t to produce “sexual excitement” is nothing short of monumental denial or obliviousness.
So affronted is the prudish sensitivity of the classical scholar that, according to David O’Conner (in his Archaeology Odyssey article of September-October, 2001) “a recent commentator, the Swiss Egyptologist Joseph Omlin, felt compelled to resort to Latin to describe the [graphic] activities involved.” But O’Conner has decided that he knows what the intent of the scroll was:
“The Turin Erotic Papyrus is obviously a satire on human manners and desires, as the animal vignettes on the first third of the papyrus suggest. Another papyrus from the Ramesside period, the so-called Satirical Papyrus, now in the British Museum, shows animals performing activities often represented in the “high” art of Egyptian tombs; a lion, for example, is shown mummifying a corpse. The Satirical Papyrus appears to be a parody of “high” themes in “low” style. The graphic, vulgar Turin papyrus probably also pokes fun at the upper classes. The erotic vignettes, I believe, were appreciated as ironic commentary on the love poetry enjoyed by the Ramesside elite.”
The History Channel, along with all the Egyptologists interviewed in the documentary, apparently missed O’Conner’s memo. The Documentary, narrated with all the subtlety of an asteroid collision with the North American continent, states from the onset that no one knows the scroll’s purpose or intended audience. The announcer initially describes it as portraying twelve different couples. But even here, there doesn’t seem to be agreement. O’Conner will write:
“In each vignette a grotesquely aroused, unkempt man has sexual relations with an attractive young woman.”
I don’t see a compelling argument for either view. The same couple may be in each of the twelve tableau and while the portrayal of the man runs counter to the idealized men of contemporaneous Egyptian art, the young woman nevertheless enjoys herself. Mostly the man is dominant but, as we’ll see, sometimes she is.
Another of the History Channel’s revelations concerns just how much of ancient Egypt’s sexual art continues to be, if not outright hidden from the public, intentionally hard to find. The reason, frankly, escapes me. Ancient Egypt clearly was not as prudish as modern Egyptians. To whit: In 1896 two Oxford graduate students, B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt, discovered a “mother lode” of 2,000 year old paper in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt―a thousand years worth of discarded trash. What do we already know? The most popular literary genre two thousand year ago―when Christ walked the earth—was erotic literature.
I see no reason not to assume that the sexual prurience of human beings was the same 5000 years ago as now. A nice article on Sex in Egypt, including the pornography of the Turin Scroll, can be read here. The following illustrations come from this small essay:
This is a scrap found found in the tomb of Puyemre. What I particularly like about it is the woman’s rolling eyes and, if I’m not being anachronistic, the “X-Ray” view of the man’s penis inside her womb. If you visit hentai-foundry.com you’ll find exactly the same kind of illustrations. I also love the implied narrative. Is that an instrument she’s holding? Whatever it is, she seems to have been interrupted. Then as now, a man is going to fuck her right now, right in the middle. I can’t speak for women, but I’ve felt this same urgency—this same almost violent and overwhelming mix of love, lust and bewitchment that ended with a cock in her womb.
First, how many times have you seen this same knees over the shoulders position in modern pornography?—but here, even in this seemingly simplistic sketch, are the details that I love with an almost breaking heart. Look at the tenderness and devotion between the two lovers. Look at how the man gazes into the eyes of the woman, his hands behind her neck as though
to fix her gaze on his; and, above all, look at how tenderly the woman’s hands, palm up, likewise cradle the fixed devotion of her lover’s attention. And it’s extremely likely, if this young couple had children and if the children survived, that a great many of us are descended from them. We’re looking at our ancient parents.
Here’s another illustration:
- The image above was done by a workman on an Ostracon in the Valley of the Kings. The hieroglyphs translate as the woman saying: “Calm now is the desire of my skin.” If I interpret that correctly, the implication is that she needed to get laid (after her lover’s ten day work week—the length of an Egyptian work week), and having gotten a good fucking from behind, the desire of her skin has been calmed.
If you’re like me, you’re beginning to notice a particular trait in these erotic sketches: the lovers are having fun. I don’t think it’s too much to perceive a faint smile on the girl as she turns her gaze at the man taking her from behind. On this note, the scholar, Lisse Manniche, makes the following observation:
“Intercourse from behind (“dog-fashion”) also seems to have been rather popular in Egypt, to judge from the number of extant representations of this position, the man most frequently standing, with the woman bending over. Whether any of these examples indicate anal intercourse cannot be determined from the representations alone, but it seems rather unlikely in that no practical purpose would have been served (sc. the Egyptians’ beliefs concerning conception). The only literary reference to coitus from behind occurs in a story where Anat is attacked by Seth while bathing in a river: “He (behold Seth as he mounted?) upon her back, leaping (her) even a ram leaps”, etc. In a note on this passage Dawson says that defloration resulted, but this is nowhere explicitly stated. The Velde stresses the fact that the attacked goddess was dressed like a man, and that Seth’s desire was thus of a homosexual nature. The goddess, however, was bathing at the time and would presumably have been only partly dress, if not completely naked. Unless, therefore, Seth was attracted by the idea of her when dressed (as a man), it is more likely that her feminine attributes aroused his desire. ¶ Other examples of intercourse from behind show the woman crouching on the ground or on a bed, or bending with her head touching the ground. An acrobatic performance a tergo is also given by the couple in the Turin papyrus: the woman drives a chariot drawn by two girls, while the man copulates with her.”
First, the observation that doggy style seems to have been rather popular. Has that ever changed? I remember an informal student poll being done at my college ‘dive’. The poll asked women what their favorite position was. The answer? Doggy style. That tid-bit of information was not lost on me (who was also a student at the time). There’s something unfathomably raw, physical, sexual, elemental and even erotically liberating about fucking and being fucked from behind—always was and always will be. I like to think that fucking from behind is the most carnally human celebration of our innate femininity and masculinity. Currently, the popularity of fucking, and being fucked, from behind is attested to by the category listings in any number of on-line pornography sites.
Here is the portion of Turin scroll that Manniche is referring to—the woman driving the chariot:
- O’Connor writes of this tableau: “One vignette goes so far as to place the woman in a chariot with the man standing on the ground behind it (and her), creating an especially improbable scene.” I think to take this tableau literally risks missing its symbolic meaning.
Does it get any better? Notice how the woman is smiling, almost laughing (again assuming the reconstruction is faithful) , and then what’s up with the little guy chasing the girls? My erotic imagination runs wild, and none of it remotely based on any sort of scholarly conjecture. Are they slavegirls? Is he the slave driver? Is he going to fuck them? I doubt it, but there might be an element of truth there. The illustration could easily it in Anne Rice’s Beauty Trilogy. The man looks like he’s in the middle of an orgasm (eyes and toes) and the woman looks as though she’s enjoying, as women do, the burst of semen in her womb. Don’t miss the way he holds her hair. That happens more than once in this scroll.
Also interesting is Manniche’s observations concerning gender. Gender bending/confusion is a recurrent theme throughout erotica. Consider Shakespeare, how boys played the women’s parts, and that a number of his comedies were predicated on the notion of mistaken gender identity. And for a modern example look no further than Victor Victoria.
The graffiti (and that’s literally what it was) is thought to humorously portray Hatshepsut being taken from behind by Senenmut (nothing if not the aristocracy). Hatshepsut was, at the time, the Queen of Egypt. Scholars think its Hetshepsut because of the headress, only worn by the Queen. Below is a picture of the actual graffiti:
And all this brings me to my very belated discovery of the Turin Scroll. Why didn’t anybody tell me? I live for this kind of art:
And this is the best image I could find, though incomplete. (Click on it to see it in all it’s glory.) Next is a reconstruction of the full scroll (sadly at a lower resolution):
And next is what the actual scroll looks like (from Wikipedia):
And let’s take an erotic tour of the scroll. Let’s let our imagination run with it though first, regardless of the scroll’s ultimate purpose, I’m going to assert that the artist or artists who created the scroll enjoyed it immensely, and took great care in capturing the potent eroticism of the satire (if that’s what it was) and story. Going from left to right:
Our erotic story begins with with the girl on her back, one leg over the man’s shoulder, toes of both feet pointed. It looks as though one or the other might have been sitting on the stool(?} at the bottom. The artist has portrayed the stool as falling over. My guess is that the girl was sitting on the chair before the man presumably throws her to the ground and thrusts his cock into her, leaving the stool, in his sudden passion, to fall to the ground next to them. I’m not sure what she’s holding in her right hand. Could it be a pen or brush? If so, could she be the artist? Could this scroll be a self-portrait painted by the woman?—the suggestion being, at this point in the scroll, that she’s writing a kind of “erotic poetry”, a little autobiography, about herself and her lover? Why not? Even if its in the context of a “sacred scroll” (because the Egyptians believed that sex in the afterlife was necessary for rebirth), the imagery is drawn from real-life experience. If read that way, then the story begins with her painting the current scroll. And if so, her drawing of her lover (the small image just above her right hand) is apparently and erotically too much for him. Aroused at seeing the girl’s portrayal of him, he interrupts her painting, throws her off the stool (and the stool to the side) and fucks her. (I may have done that once.) That she welcomes her lover’s penetration is suggested, possibly, by her left hand cupping the back of his head and her feet arched with pleasure. The lotus above her head is thought by some to symbolize her powers of arousal. The History Channel states that the Lotus is a symbol of resurrection (they’re everywhere in the funerary hieroglyphics). It’s possible that they symbolized both or either depending on the context. Also, the Egyptologist Karen Exell tells us that the lotus flowers over the heads of the women indicate they, or she, might be “under the influence of a narcotic extracted from the lotus flower” (along with alcohol). She adds that what we understand from this is that “these women are open to enjoying sexual acts.” Which begs the question: They wouldn’t be if they weren’t high? It might also have been considered an aphrodisiac willingly enjoyed.
Lisse Manniche briefly describes the next scene as follows:
“The Turin erotic papurus illustrates the agitated variant of the face-to-face position: The man stands, pulling the hair of the girl, who seems to hae been caught while performing a dance. Her right hand rests on a lyre, and her left supports the heel of her left leg, raised above he head of the man, while her right leg is bent.”
Again, the girl is portrayed as an artist. If this is a self-portrait (which I think it is, and why not?) then she was wonderfully gifted and skilled. Her self-portrait could be a statement of pride in her beauty—and the allurements and seductiveness of her skills, that she could arouse a sudden and all-consuming passion in her paramour. He ravishes her mid-dance. He yanks her hair to hold her in place, his other opening her thighs for that first, impetuous, unerring, thrust into her belly. Her tits almost seem to bounce with the urgency of his thrusts. His mouth is open. Maybe he cries out with pleasure? Her nipples are hard suggesting that she is or was already aroused and ready for him.
This won’t stop until he’s inseminated her mid-dance and mid-song. When she stands again, and when she continues her dance, both thighs will be running.
The next next scene finds the lovers perhaps less, as Manniche put it, agitated. This looks to me like less of a quickie. My guess is that she’s lying on a cushion. One leg is over his shoulder and the other under his arm. His thrusts, penetration, is deep in this position. Her toes are pointed, perhaps with the pleasure of his depth. Two of their hands meet above them, as if they were about to hold hands or clasp hands at the moment of mutual orgasm. Her right hand, though it’s hard to judge, might be pulling him against her, drawing him further into herself. At the bottom left, I’m guessing, is a wine flask. They’ve been drinking, are buzzed, and are enjoying a deep fucking.
I can’t pick a favorite (I really like the interrupted dance) but the next tableau is one of them. The expression on both their faces, if the reproduction is to be trusted, is beautiful. His balls are heavy and swing. His right hand is raised and, if you ask me, he’s spanking her ass as he fucks her. Look at her nipple, fleshy with fucking, hanging and just visible between her arms. Little details like these persuade me that this is more than just a derisive satire. And if it is that, then it’s pornography too, and joyfully so. Her hair in his fist makes me think he’s turned her head to make her watch. She’s the submissive. Is she being disciplined? Is it all in fun? Is he making her count the spanking? (Don’t think this is anachronistic. The thought that “modernity” invented BDSM is mere prudery.) What is she bent over? Is it a rock or boulder? This too makes me think the tableau is portraying something spontaneous. She’s outside. Perhaps she was by the Nile. Is she always naked, or always dressed so that she can be bent over and fucked at will? Perhaps he’s had enough of her cock-teasing and decides to bend her over, in broad daylight, and discipline her with a hard cock and sound fucking.
The next tableau is crazy stylized. The man’s cock is huge and if it’s symbolic, which I assume it is, then it may symbolize potency, virility, fertility, arousal, pleasure anticipation, etc… And if our artist is the girl being portrayed, then her portrayal of her lover’s cock may symbolize the pleasure she takes in him, his cock, his arousal, his dedication to her. It may also, quite simply, denote its size. That is, he has a huge cock. Maybe not that big, but she’s clearly, in the other tableau, taking pleasure in it (where its length is hidden inside her). In the tableau, he lies on his back waiting for her. She tenderly places one hand on his head (or is reaching to hold his right hand) whil the other is under his chin. (It’s this tenderness, as I interpret it, that convinces me the tableau are more than just satire or “poking fun”.) She seems as if she’s about to step over him, about to straddle his cock and lower herself on it. But for his cock, he’s relaxed. They both anticipate. She, for the feel of him in her womb and he for dark, tugging moisture of the same. They both gaze into each others eyes. His left is either resting on the inside of her right thigh or reaches to draw her onto his impalement. All I can say is that I’m in love with this scroll. Where in all of Pompeii’s erotica art do you see lovers who seem to smile and genuinely love each other? There’s something special about the Turin scroll. Were all erotic Egyptian scrolls like this, or was this one special? Is there a reason it survived the ages?
Our color reconstruction doesn’t include the next several tableau, so I’ll make do with what I can. Here are the next scenes:
I’ve screen-captured, from the History Channel’s documentary, the first tableau:
- What I haven’t mentioned up to now is that fragments of text accompany the tableau. I’ve searched for translations but haven’t found anything comprehensive. Supporting my contention that there’s something more going on than just satire is what’s scribbled in the margins of the scroll: “… come behind me with your love, Oh! Sun, you have found out my heart, it is agreeable work…” As Wikipedia currently puts it: “The text appears to have been hastily written in the margins and would seem to express enjoyment and delight…” Why, if the intent was satire and ridicule, would any contemporary write such an expression of joy and delight? To me, this flatly argues against the interpretations of scholars like O’Connor and Vernus. We have, in a sense, an interpretation of the scroll’s intent written write on the scroll, possibly by its creator.
But getting back to the tableau. Our balding and exhausted post-coital lover is being carried by his lover and two girls. His cock is flaccid. It’s possible to interpret the lotus flower as being over his drugged and exhausted cock, but it’s also possible to interpret the lotus as being over the head of the middle girl. They are all steeped in the aphrodesiac of the lotus (if we interpret it that way) and probably drunk as well. The evening beckons.
The next tableau finds the girl in bed and her lover under it. There’s some writing there and I’m sure it would reveal more of the tableau’s meaning. I have an educated guess though. In a later tableau, the two lovers seem to play at femdom/humiliation. And I’m guessing (unless another reader finds the translation) that the same thing is going on here. The girl has slept on the bed and is still steeped in narcotics, while her balding lover is relegated to the floor, under her bed, with his flasks of wine (or so I’m guessing). Maybe he was just too damned drunk to make it into the bed, and too useless by that point (his cock was flaccid in the previous tableau). This may be some humor at his expense but, if so, she also reaches for him. If this is morning, and the rays above the girl suggest it might be, then his cock has returned in full force, as cocks will do in the morning. I’m guessing that she’s noticed. She wants it inside her and reaches for him.
The resolution of the next tableau is very poor, but I think we can say that he’s wide awake. The girl’s legs are wrapped over his shoulders and he seems to walk with her impaled on and riding his cock. It’s difficult to make out but the man seems to have his right hand on the girl’s breast while she holds tight with her right arm wrapped around his neck. Her left hand reaches behind her, elbow out, to touch or hold onto his left hand which seemingly reaches over her right shoulder. The hands, to me, once again suggest a tenderness and familiarity between the two. I think it’s fair to conjecture that her feet won’t touch the ground until the morning heaviness in his balls and cock (if these tableau can be read sequentially) is blessedly released inside her.
Our tour of sexual positions continue.
Our next tableau is especially interesting because it’s the only one, thanks to the History Channel, that comes with a translation of the accompanying text:
“You give me nothing,” she says”so I’ve got to resort to this [to get my orgasm].”
Here’s what’s going on: Humiliation, or, in modern Internet slang: Humil. She’s sitting on an amphora turned upside down, the pointed tip penetrating her.
She presumably brings herself to orgasm while she preens, paints her lips, and adores herself in the mirror. Meanwhile, her humiliated lover steadies the giant dildo with his right hand and touches (or supports her) with his other hand at her thigh. One might be tempted to think this is at the expense of the man, but his enormous cock, his arousal, tells us
otherwise. Is he touching the moisture between her thighs? Is he smelling her, tasting her, while she pointedly ignores him, his cock dragging in the dirt? The mirror and lipstick were both highly erotic in ancient Egyptian culture. Not only is this a tour of sexual positions, but also fetishes. The first set of
tableau seem to be maledom and the latter femdom. Imagine that, HUMIL in ancient Egypt.
The next tableau appears to continue this theme. The text probably clarifies the drama, but perhaps we can guess. Underneath the chair, on the left, is a Sistrum, a sacred rattle meant to invoke the Goddess Hathor, Goddess of Spiritual and Physical Love—”a symbol of sexual arousal in the temple cult” ~ O’Connor. The instrument is often depicted in rituals involving scantily clad women and probably is meant to initiate their own insemination. The presence of the Sistrum in the scroll may mean, in a sense, that Hathor is present and embodied in the girl.
- Music, drink and dance were strongly associated with sex—utterly unlike modern Rock & Roll. Next to the Sistrum is what may be another musical instrument, or it could be a wine flask. The flask also appears in the next tableau.
But how do we interpret the tableau? Once again, the imagery seems to be that of the dominant female and the submissive male. It’s she who holds his cock and guides it into her, seemingly against his will though he is powerless or unable to stop her. The drama is likely related to the humiliation in the previous tableau. The Sistrum beneath her stool may represents her ceremonial power over him. She reaches to touch him with her left hand. Her feet are straight with the pleasure of penetration. He either raises his hand to stop her or to somehow prevent his orgasm. In other words, there may be an element of roleplay and forced orgasm. The accompanying text would probably clarify what’s happening. She might be saying something to the effect of: Like you have a choice? Alternately, she could be saying: Stop pretending to be so prudish, I know you want it. That is, while his hands may be up and while he may be turned in denial, his three foot long cock, his undeniable arousal, is telling another story. Maybe she’s masturbating him while he’s inside her. While he refuses to acknowledge her erotic power of him, it’s she who controls his cock. She forces it to orgasm and ejaculate inside her while he looks the other way.
And now we’re back to our original reconstruction:
This is probably one of my favorite tableau. O’Conor calls this ‘especially improbable’. But what if it’s partly symbolic. The chariot, in Egyptian iconography, represented power and prestige. If the illustrator, as I like to believe, was a woman or if the illustration was commissioned by a woman, then we begin to see a kind of narrative. The tableau begins with the man as the dominant partner and ends with the girl transformed into the dominant partner. It’s a love affair between equals. As with all the tableau, there’s a kind of give and take. Although she rides the chariot in a position of power and prestige, and though he is forced to walk behind it, walking on his tip-toes so that his cock can reach her cunt, she gamefully offers it to him, thrusting her pussy over the back of the chariot. Could it be that she wants him to follow her, that she’s bewitched him with her pussy? She only needs to lift her cunt behind her and he will race to thrust his cock inside it. In this tableau, the girl has all the power. She has thoroughly seduced him and controls him with her pussy. Her power is denoted by the chariot and her leisurely pursuit of pleasure by the wrist-bound, pubescent girls that pull it.
But notice his hand in her hair. There’s an element of dominance in the way he grips her hair and doggystyle is nothing if not a dominant/submissive position. Perhaps the girl’s position isn’t as dominant as one might think. Perhaps the tableau suggests that while she rides the carriage in a position of power and prestige (which in my opinion argues against the theory that she’s a prostitute in a brothel) her lover steadfastly refuses to let her go. In the midst of her comings and goings, he inseminates her, his expression being one of pleasure and orgasm. She seems to welcome his possession of her womb. If her expression is faithful to the original scroll, then her gaze is playful, welcoming and loving.
And what of the two girls, their wrists bound, and the aroused man, or boy, who follows them. Are they ponygirls? Are they the sexual toys of the woman in the carriage? Is the boy going to fuck them?
The last tableau brings us, perhaps, full circle. The man is once again dominant while the girl is bent over, her forehead touching the earth. She gives him her womb.
However, the figure is also reminiscent of the Goddess Nut.
“The Geb and Nut position. The girl is bent over in a position reminiscent of that of the Goddess Nut, the sky, when during the creation of the world she was separated from the Geb, the earth. The man carries a sack over his shoulder and takes her from behind.” International Journal of Impotence Research
Also notice the ever present lotus over her head. Does it symbolize her fertility, impregnation, or that she’s high? Geb was the Egyptian God of the Earth and Nut the goddess of the sky. Again, this position at the close of the tableau may symbolize her impregnation. What does the sack over his shoulder represent? Possibly his potency? The accompanying text probably spells some of this out. She supports herself on her hands. Her head also, possibly, and symbolically, touches the earth. His left hand either reaches for or rests on her raised ass, steadying his thrusts. Notice how his right foot is lifted as if he were leaping forward—a final semen-heavy thrust.
So, to recap, my completely conjectural interpretation of the scroll is that it was created or commissioned by a woman; that she was very skilled and accomplished, that she moved in the upper echelons of society, and that her lover was an older, balding man she dearly loved. If I’m right, then she was also vain, portraying herself as a nubile and beautiful girl in her sexual prime. And how would that be different from any historically powerful woman?
So, now you have an interpretation of the Turin scroll by an erotic writer. Why not? Think of the last tableau and the words, her cry of penetration, scrawled into the margins of the scroll.
“.. come behind me with your love, Oh! Sun, you have found out my heart, it is agreeable work…”
William Crimson | February 3 2016