Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Manicure for All Eternity...

In the ancient world, death was often as important as life. The two worlds were intertwined and coexisted in the minds of many people. Egyptians held ceremonies for their dead and celebrated the afterlife, making sure that tombs were stocked full of food and wares for their journey into the next life (we could say they obviously disagreed with the old adage "you can't take it with you"). They also believed in ghosts, or khu. Although we can't be sure that apparitions wander the Valley of the Kings, there might be a few restless spirits lingering near the Nile River. And all of them may not be straight.

A tomb was unearthed in 1964 near Memphis which surprised many archaeologists. It was the final resting place (or way station, in their views) of Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum, two royal servants from the Fifth Dynasty (2498-2345 BC, a.k.a. Old Kingdom). When combined, their names can be translated as "joined in life and joined in death", which is fitting given their life together and joint burial near the pyramid of King Unas. Though what is not very common is the fact that Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum were both men.

This pair of royal confidants were "Overseers of the Manicurists in the Palace of King Niuserre", according to inscriptions at the site (fascinating how some 4500 years later, we sometimes perpetuate the stereotype by having such professions). In artwork adorning the tomb, the two men are shown holding hands and touching noses (the Egyptian version of a kiss). At the time, the accepted hypothesis was that they were twin brothers and that explained the "exaggerated affection" shown. But the evidence from history could not be ignored, leading some historians to name the pair the oldest documented gay couple in history.

While some people insist that homosexuality was not accepted in ancient Egypt, the lack of mentions of gays and lesbians may, in fact, mean that sexuality was a non-issue. Mundane, every-day things were not often recorded in history, after all. For these two royal manicurists to be given a tomb together says a lot about the world before Christianity took root. it's nice just to know that thousands of years ago, the love between men could be deemed worthy enough for the afterlife... and two male lovers could share an eternity together.

1 comment:

Jeanne said...

hi, Ken
I can view your blog again!
And this post is so timely.
Over at the Speak Its Name review site they're doing an advent calendar and today's poster asked for gay couples before 1900.
Now, how spooky is it that I visited today and saw this post?
BTW, great story idea here!
Email me.
Lots to talk about