Love and Sex in Ancient Egypt: Racy Poems From the Amarna Era

One of the most unusual presentations on Egyptology that Ive seen in awhile took place at the Egypt symposium in Toronto recently. Professor Emeritus Vincent Tobin, of St. Marys University, has been translating and analyzing Late Egyptian love poems, and finds that they reveal a rather risqu side to Egyptian life.

The Egyptians were well aware of the more salacious aspects of love, said Tobin. For the Egyptians sexuality is part of human nature.

He read a number of examples to the audience, which offer a unique insight into the sex lives of the ancient Egyptians:

I shall lie down in my house and pretend illness. Then my neighbours will come by to visit me and my beloved will come with them. She will send the physicians away. For she alone understands my illness.

Just a little suggestive!

My desire is still not quenched by your love my wantent little jackelcup… They tried to beat me and drag me away I will not heed their warnings to avoid the women whom I desire.

The professor added that he doesn`t think it was the lady who ordered the beating.

One interesting aspect of this poetry is that Egyptian women got in on the act as well and they were as risqu as the men:

If I am not beside you, where will set your desire? If you do not embrace me and seize the moment then whom will you embrace for your pleasure? But if you woo me to touch my breasts and my thighs….

“As for what my beloved has done to me. Can I keep silent still? To leave me standing at the door of her house while she went inside!”

Heres another:

I saw my lover in his bed and my heart was more than happy, we said to each other I should never part from you, with my hand in yours I shall wander with you through all the choice places.

But, there are cases where the lady tells the man where to go:

As for what my beloved has done to me. Can I keep silent still? To leave me standing at the door of her house while she went inside!

Poor guy, Tobin said.

Another interesting point is that crocodiles seem to be a part of Egyptian chivalry just read this piece:

The love of my beloved is on yonder shore. But the Nile would engulf my whims, for the waters are mighty at the time of the flood and a crocodile lurks in the lake. But I shall go down into the water and plunge into the waves, my heart is fearless on the flood and I find the crocodile as tentive as a mouse.

And some Egyptians, well read this piece:

It will be for me a spell against the water for I see my heart, my beloved standing right before my face… My arms open wide to embrace her and my heart is joyful in my breast… Youll be to me like eternity… her lips open wide as I kiss her and I am joyful even without beer.

That last comment I dont know, Tobin said. I wouldnt advise anyone to compare his sweetheart to a glass of beer.

Tobin did emphasize that physical sexuality wasnt the only focus of these poems:

It is seven days yesterday and I have not seen my beloved. Affliction has spread throughout me, my limbs have become heavy. Ive forgotten my own body. Only the name of my beloved can refresh me. The coming and going of messengers is the one thing that can revive my heart. Let her open her eyes and my body will be vigorous… I will embrace her, she vanishes all guilt from me.

These arecertainly not the writings of a prudish culture, and add to what we already know about the Egyptians’ sex lives from their love of naked belly dancing and the evidence of erotic papyri, which was examined in an enjoyable History Channel programme earlier this year. What’s really remarkable about these poems though is that they offer a particularly intimate insight into the lives and loves of the ancient Egyptians on a purely personal level.