December 20, 2005

Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep.

Manicurists to the King. Apparently gay. And respected enough to have a lovely tomb, with artwork that shows them embracing, some 5000 years ago.
Archaeologists were taken aback. It was extremely rare in ancient Egypt for an elite tomb to be shared by two men of apparently equal standing. The usual practice was for such mortuary temples to be the resting place of one prominent man, his wife and children.

And it was most unusual for a couple of the same sex to be depicted locked in an embrace. In other scenes, they are also shown holding hands and nose-kissing, the favored form of kissing in ancient Egypt.
But wait. There's an alternate theory: they were conjoined twins.
"The gay-couple idea is essentially derived from imposing modern preoccupations on ancient materials and not attending to the cultural context."

25 comments:

downtownlad said...

I see. There's no way they can be gay, so therefore they must be incenstuous siamese twins (they were kissing after all).

Strange that some people find the idea of incest more tolerable that homosexuality. ;)

Ann Althouse said...

Yeah, this article made me think way too much about the sex life of conjoined twins.

Goesh said...

I was thinkning more along the lines of a woman disguised as a man - 'ya never know about them ancient Egyptians

Kim Scarborough said...

"Siamese twins"? You just want to slap some of these scientists around.

"Dude. They were manicurists."

downtownlad said...

Are you implying that manicurists are gay????

Jibberish. We all know they're Korean.

Tara said...

Very intersting. One of the parts of the Talmud where it's telling Jews not to follow the abominations of the Egyptians mentions the specific abomination of men marrying men and women marrying women, but I never knew if there was any other evidence for that being the case.

Balfegor said...

by two men of apparently equal standing

Isn't this the really unusual thing here? I mean, "gay" couples are a dime-a-dozen in the ancient world. Hadrian and his catamite, Alexander and his catamite, etc. But for the homosexual relationship to occur between equals (implicitly, to be non-demeaning to either party) would seem quite unusual, at least from the portrait of antiquity that comes down to us today. Recall, e.g. Suetonius description of Nero and his gay marriage to his slave Doryphorus.

Of course, the Egyptians aren't the Greeks or the Romans, so perhaps they really did have a different attitude. I am not familiar at all with Egyptian sources.

Troy said...

Why do y'all have to be so homonormative?

Ann -- I agree -- waaaay too much thought on Siamese twin sex was engineered by this story (meaning even a hint of a thought = too much). Of course this ground has been plowed by the Farrelly brothers already.

Ann Althouse said...

I haven't seen the Farrelly brothers movie with the conjoined twins, but I'd just like to say that conjoined twins should have complete immunity from the usual rules about incest.

downtownlad said...

True. It's not the siamese twins who are peverted. It's their spouses who are.

erp said...

Wasn't this a tomb? If they were co-joined wouldn't their mummy show that to be true? Gays are trying way too hard to find gayness where none may have existed.

Palladian said...

Hard to buy the conjoined twin theory, given this painting in their tomb showing them on opposite sides of a banquet table. Also interesting is that the tomb designers started to draw a wife beside Niankhkhnum (far left side) but then stopped. Were they pulling the same trick as the Oscar ads for Brokeback Mountain, throwing in a woman as a beard? Looks more like a mistake on their part.

Here'a a better picture of the embrace.

Palladian said...

"Gays are trying way too hard to find gayness where none may have existed."

It's all the fault of us gays, scrambling desperately to find gayness in the void!

As an aside, most larger egyptian tombs no longer contain mummies, as most were plundered in ancient times (sometimes by the funeral directors). The mummies were often taken from the tombs so that valuable jewelry and gold could be removed from their wrappings, an arduous task given the sometimes hundreds of layers of resin=soaked linen enfolding the body. After this, the bodies were usually discarded elsewhere. I'm sure the bodies of N and K were removed long ago.

It was also later popular to grind up Egyptian mummies and use them as a cheap brown artist's paint called Mummy brown, but this was generally from lower-class mummies than N and K. They were probably lucky to have been stolen away before this became a popular practice.

reader_iam said...

Conjoined sex. Mummy brown paint.

Can't wait to hear the part of this week's podcast devoted to this particular thread.

Makes me feel almost ... no, I won't be one to bring that word up again, not this time.

mcg said...

"Dude. They were manicurists."

Well, if we're going for that stereotype, then let's take it further: the king had manicurists? :-) And two of them, no less?

tiggeril said...

If I'm remembering my Science Channel correctly, in the late 1800s-early 1900s, mummies were also ground up to use in European medicines.

Yummy.

erp said...

I forgot to mention that gays are trying way too hard to find offense where none may have existed too.

PatCA said...

Meanwhile, I can see the NYT editors cackling with glee as everybody argues about and talks about another made up controversy.

Gee, I'm so excited I think I'll buy Timeselect!

Palladian said...

It also seems like some commenters are trying to create offense where none existed, doesn't it erp?

May the curse of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep descend upon you, which means that for the rest of your life you will break a nail right after you have an expensive manicure.

Don't even ask about the nail fungus to follow.

erp said...

Palladium.

My original comment was in reference to gays looking for normalcy in pictures in an ancient Egyptian tomb. A picture of two men facing each other conjures up, what are to me, far-fetched explanations -- co-joined twins or gay lovers. Chances are neither explanation is any closer to the truth than the Woody Allen film in which archeologists agree that toilets were altars to a god since they were found in a prominent place in every home.

Don't be so touchy and take back your curse or I'll have to sic Boris Karloff on you.

Tom T. said...

Chang and Eng Bunker, the original "Siamese twins," fathered approximately twenty children between them. One has to imagine that their wives (two sisters from North Carolina) were either really dutiful or really kinky.

By the way, when I saw the title of this post, I thought Ann was going to be writing about those little nonsense words that Blogger requires with every comment. My current word, for instance, is "fdeapkta," which could easily pass for an ancient Egyptian name.

PatCA said...

Actually if you read their names together real fast, you get something like Nincompoop.

kalamna said...

The gay thing may be an explanation, but let's not jump to conclusions. After all, in "certain" European countries, men customarily greet one another with a "kiss." To Americans this seems all but an indication of homosexuality.

LuneKeltkar said...

I can see these two guys right now in the Field of Peace atop that great big cow Nut talking about this controversy over barley beer and Alexandrian oranges.

"Hey, Khnum, they're still talking about us after all these millennia. Imagine that!"

"Yep, Nianhkh. I told you that nose thing would get us into hot water. Pass that nail file, will you? No, not that one, the one with the faience handle."

gidgit said...

i love that this tomb had causes sooo much contraversy. just because they are nose kissing they must be gay and if you dont agree then your homophobic. personaly i find both explanations woefully lacking in evidance. i have no doubt that there were gay people in egypt but the fact that there are not more tonbs openly displaying this would seem to indicate that it was not something deemed socialy appropreat. if this is the case why would 1 couple break this and openly splash it all over their tomb. As for conjoind twis where did that come from? twins yes but evedance for conjoined?