Let’s play a little game. We will describe a scene and you will guess what topic our final blog post is going to be about! Game on!
It is the year 1964. Ahmed Moussa, an Egyptologist, has just discovered the tomb of Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum who had been ancient royal servants in an ancient cemetery. In the Palace of King Niuserre during the 5th Dynasty of Egyptian pharaohs, both Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum had shared the title of Overseer of the Manicurists and as a result, had been buried in their joint tomb. However, was that the only reason? A close inspection of all the tombs in the ancient cemetery showed that this was the only tomb that had images of men embracing and holding hands!
Another interesting tidbit would be the names of Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum. Khnumhotep means “joined to the blessed state of the dead” while Niankhkhnum means “joined to life”. A combination of their names therefore, bring about the meaning of “joined in life and joined in death”. They had worked together in life and had been united in death as well. How romantic! Within the tomb, these two men are also depicted in an embracing posture while their noses are touching (which is basically a kiss in ancient Egypt). This is actually the most intimate pose that one can find on Egyptian art!
So, have you guessed what we are going to be talking about?
It is about homosexuality in ancient civilisations! As years have gone by, homosexuality has been an increasingly controversial topic that has been debated on a global level. Although the term “homosexuality” had only been invented in the 19th century, homosexual behavior exists in all cultures and has existed in all periods in history. Even in one of our UGC111 classes in the first half of the semester about Greece, homosexuality had been briefly mentioned as something that was the norm amongst men who sought after each other for companionship. Therefore, we decided that we shall expand on that topic and shed more knowledge about homosexuality in Greece.
Fun fact: Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum are seen as the first homosexual couple known to mankind!
In Ancient civilisations, homosexual sex had been seen as innocent and safe if it was consensual. Similar to sex between heterosexuals, it was viewed as a symbol of love.
As we had learned in class, men in Greece had seeked companionship with other men which could have been either a friendship or a romantic relationship. However, did you know that there was another term given to homosexuality? “Paiderastia” which meant “boy love” when it had been directly translated was the most common form of homosexual relationship between humans seen in Greece. This was a relationship between two males - one is normally an adult, while another is an adolescent. Slightly disturbing, isn’t it?
You may now begin to wonder, ''What was the reason behind this pederasty?'' To give you some context about when this had started, it was actually before the rise of poleis in ancient Greece. The Greeks had been organised according to age groups into different tribal communities and as each male progressed from one age group to the next, he was accompanied by an older man for some time in order to smoothen the transition between age groups which was seen as a rite of passage. The older man would educate his youth about the ways of the Greek life and the responsibilities of adulthood which over time, evolved into pederasty.
The rise of poleis further elevated pederasty as instead of leaving the confines of their community, boys began to pair up with older men within their polis who played the usual educational and instructional role that they used to in the tribal communities while sharing a sexual relationship with these boys. You will be relieved to know that this had an age limit; boys had to be above 12. However, no evidence of legal punishments for engaging with boys younger than 12 can be found either. These relationships normally lasted from when a boy was 12 to when he was 17 as males were considered adult men when there is widespread growth of body hair. In Ancient Greece, men who adopted the passive role within a homosexual relationship were often stigmatised and feminised within society and even shamed! Examples of such relationships would be Pausanias of Athens and the tragic poet Agathon as well as Alexander of Macedon and his childhood friend, Hephaestion.
Art in ancient Greece also reflected homosexuality. A female poet, Sappho, from the Island of Lesbos had written almost 12,000 lines of love poetry to women and girls and in some cases, her love had not been requited. Sappho and her island have, therefore, become the emblem of love between women, hence, the term ''lesbians''.
Some of you curious readers may like to find out more about homosexuality in other ancient civilisations as well! Other ancient civilisations include Ancient Rome, Ancient Persia, Medieval Europe and Ancient China.
Kiki, Shankari, Siti Hafizah