Very little is known about the nature of homosexuality in Ancient Egypt. Most of what historians believe is based on speculation.
The identical twins Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum, manicurists in the Palace of King Niuserre during the Fifth Dynasty of Egyptian pharaohs, circa 2400 B.C are speculated to have been homosexual based on a representation of them embracing nose-to-nose in their shared tomb.
Homosexuality in Ancient Egyptian Art
Ostraca dating from the Ramesside Period have been found which depict hastily drawn images of homosexual as well as heterosexual sex.
Homosexuality in Ancient Egyptian Literature
The Tale of King Neferkare and General Sanset
This Middle Kingdom story has an intriguing plot revolving around a king’s clandestine homosexual affair with one of his generals. It may reference the actual Pharaoh Pepi II.
he ancient Egyptian story of King Neferkare and General Sasenet survives only in fragments. With its atmosphere of nocturnal mystery and intrigue it is an early example of the literary cloak and dagger tradition. It is often cited by people interested in homosexuality and its history as being proof that a homosexual relationship existed between a pharaoh and one of his officers, even though there are no historical sources supporting the view of Neferkare having been a homosexual. On the other hand literature often reflects social mores: the tale is censorious of the king’s conduct which may well reflect the attitude of the people towards homosexuality.
The story is dated to the late New Kingdom though it was composed earlier and purports to describe the nightly exploits of Pepi II Neferkare; some like R. S. Bianchi think that it is a work of archaizing literature and dates to the 25th dynasty referring to Shabaka Neferkare, a Kushite pharaoh.
It contains a reference to the ancient myth of the sun god Rê and the god of the realm of the dead Osiris. These two gods existed in a relationship of interdependence: Osiris needing the light of the sun while Re, who had to cross the underworld during the night to reach the eastern horizon in the morning, needed the resurrective powers of Osiris. Their union took place during the four hours of deepest darkness – the same hours Neferkare is said to spend with his general.
The contendings of Horus and Seth
This Middle Kingdom satire of the rivalry between the Egyptian Gods Horus and Seth relates a story in which Seth attempts to seduce his rival Horus. Horus, warned by his mother Isis, does not accept Seth’s sexual offer, thus avoiding humiliation from the other gods and disgracing Seth. Seth displays homosexual characteristics in other fragmentary texts as well, commenting “how lovely your backside is!” to his arch-rival Horus.
A New Kingdom version of the satire is more complete. In it, Seth invites Horus to a feast at his home, and when evening arrived both of them made a bed and laid down together. That night they engage in intercrurial sex. Horus, having caught a sample of Seth’s semen brought it to his mother Isis. Isis, shocked and appalled, chopped off the her sons’ semen-covered hand and threw it in the Nile. (She later makes him a new one.) Somewhat later Isis aroused Horus and collected his semen, to sprinkle it on Seth’s favorite food, Romaine (cos) lettuce. The trick works and Seth eats the tainted cos lettuce, causing him to become pregnant with his nephew Horus’ child. Seth remains unaware of his pregnancy until Thoth commanded that Horus’ semen come out of Seth, to unknown consequence. Thus the plan to seduce Horus backfired on Seth.
According to ancient Egyptian mythology Amun was the first god and the creator of life and the universe. In pictures he is represented as a well-built male with the head of a goat, symbolic of a rampant sexual drive. It was through masturbating himself that he created the universe since after finishing he drank his own semen and spat it out – giving birth to Geb, the earth god and Nuts, the sky-goddess.
In almost every temple dedicated to Amun a statue could be found depicting his muscular body with erect penis in hand. These temples were also places of both female and male prostitution.
During the pharoanic period Set was god of male homosexuality as well as of individuality. He was depitcted in different forms – sometimes as a gender-variant male and sometimes as a red or white-skinned man with the head of a dog, the body of a greyhound and a long forked tail. His birthday was celebrated on 16 July.
Originally he was, according to legend, given Upper Egypt to rule while his handsome brother [ or sometimes it’s said his nephew ] Horus ruled over Lower Egypt. After the reunification the two gods were frequently depicted as a couple with the symbol of unity between them. There is also a clear implication of a homosexual relationship and in one myth Set gives birth to Horus’ child.
According to one myth Set attempts to disgrace Horus by being the active partner in sex with him but on his mother’s advice Horus catches Set’s semen in his hand and takes it to his mother who puts it on Set’s favourite food – lettuce which Set then unknowlingly eats. Set, thinking his semen is inside Horus calls the judges and askes them to determine who it is who has been impregnated. Much to his surprise when the judges call forth the semen it responds from his own stomach disgracing himself and exonerating Horus.
Another legend has it that Set tried to rape Horus, and that for several days that two battled, transformed into hippopotami in the Nile. Set tore out Horus’ eye but Horus ripped off Set’s penis. Eventually, however, after the intervention of Thoth, the monkey-like god of wisdom, the two god’s were reconciled.
The legendary sexual struggle and eventual reconciliation between the two gods are viewed by historians as allegories for the fighting between upper and lower Egypt which finally led to the country unifying around 3000BC.
Pharoah Smenkhare (reigned c 1360 BC) was appointed king by Akhenaton (King Amenhotep IV) . It was not unusual during Egypt’s XVIII dynasty for an aging pharaoh to appoint a co-regent who would gradually assume the powers and responsibility of the monarchy but what is of greater interest is that several portraits have been found depicting the two in affectionate poses which has lead some to claim Smenkhare was Akhenaton’s lover.
In Thebes Akhenaton was portrayed in statues nude without genitalia. Also his body is usually depicted with wide hips and thighs and a thin waist and sometimes breasts. In fact given that these statues can only have been made with his permission if not encouragement, some believe that he wanted to be depicted as the embodiment of the bisexual sun god, mother and father of all life, who impregnated himself to create mankind.
When the youthful and by all accounts extremely handsome Smenkhare was made co-regent the now alienated queen cut herself off and withdrew to the isolated North Palace with the young prince – Tutankhamun. Smenkhare reigned only briefly and little is known about the circumstances of his death. His reign was followed by the equally brief but more famous reign of the boy king Tutankhamun. When Tutankhamun died aged just 20 it seems the furnishings from Smenkhare’s tomb were taken to enhance his own.
In 1070BC construction workers in the Valley of the Kings demanded a substantial eye make-up, perfume and moisturiser allowance. They downed tools and refused to continue working. Finally, their employees relented and they were given a two-month allowance. We are not sure how much eye make-up, perfume and moisturiser this involved.
In ancient Egypt both men and women wore make-up. In the desert heat eye make-up worked in a similar way to modern day sun glasses to reduce the glare of the sun.