Sexual life in ancient Egypt III. Unnatural intercourse

Oct 25, 2010

Sexual life in ancient Egypt III. Unnatural intercourse

Ostracon no. 50714 in the British Museum  
Herodotus tells an anecdote about intercourse with an animal in Egypt r" "In my lifetime a monstrous thing happened in this province (Mendes), a woman having open intercourse with a he¬goat".
Herodotus calls it a "monstrous thing" (rieC{~), but it should be borne in mind that the he-goat was a sacred animal (as he himself says), and that the performance would therefore have had a religious significance.
As the generative power of the new Apis bull was strengthened by women exposing themselves in front of it (Diodorus, 1,85) the sacred goat might thus prove his virility.

Intercourse with animals existed in the imagination of the Egyptians, if not in reality. A dream book, probably from the reign of Hamesses III, envisages the combination of man/jcrboa, man/kite, and man/pig.
Another dream book, written 1500 years later, deals with the dreams of a woman. The species of animal with which she might have intercourse in a dream arc numerous: mouse, horse, donkey, goat, ram, wolf, lion, crocodile, snake, baboon, ibis, and falcon. In most cases it is taken to mean that something bad will happen to her.
The idea of intercourse with an animal, specifically with a donkey, also occurs in another context, namely as a curse: "May a donkey copulate with his wife and his children".
This apparently inspired the maker of a faience figurine now in Berlin that represents a donkey mounting a woman from behind."
The donkey was associated with Seth and thus symbolized evil, as well as being an animal of aggressive sexuality.
Another form of unnatural intercourse attributed to the Egyptians is necrophilia. 'When speaking of mummification, Herodotus says: "Wives of notable men, and women of great beauty and reputation, are not at once given over to the embalmers, but only after they have been dead three or four days; this is done that the embalmers may not have carnal intercourse with them. For it is said that one was found having intercourse with a woman newly dead, and was denounced by this fellow-workmen."
At a different level, the novelist Xenophon of Ephesus relates how a man kept the mummified body of his wife in his bedrooms though why he did so is open to interpretation.

In the first case it is implied that intercourse took place before mummification, and several extant mummies actually show signs of advanced decomposition, the bodies having been left for some time before being treated.
The second reference may suggest the practice of necrophilia with a mummified body.
That a man might keep his sexual power after his death is well attested in Egyptian funerary belief, and above all in the Osiris legend.
The ba of the deceased was conceived as his agent in sexual activities, and was thus a danger to the living.


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