Feature: Ancient Erotic Love Poetry

The Most Ancient Erotic Love Poetry Will Change Your Views On Ancient Egyptians

love in ancient egypt

Because there is more to ancient Egyptians than pyramids and mummies.

When I picture Ancient Egypt, I can’t help but imagine majestic pyramids and magical sunsets across the Nile. It looks idyllic but then I am reminded of some of their traditions, like the gory mummification rituals and the belief that once you died, your heart would be weighed upon a scale and the fate of your soul would be decided: paradise or eternal damnation. A pretty dire picture that makes you think twice before choosing Ancient Egypt as a time-travelling destination.

love in ancient egypt 1

This ancient culture has been captured in our collective conscious in countless ways, as warriors, enslavers, scientists, and artists, but we never see them on a more humane level. How did ancient Egyptians express and see love? Leaving aside the romantic triangle of Cleopatra with Marc Anthony and Caesar, I want to see how this culture, beyond the mysticism we have woven around it, manifested love and sexual desire.

If we want to dip into the world of eroticism in Ancient Egypt, the best place to start is by looking at their poetry, which has been etched in their complex hieroglyphics. Their pictorial representations not only captured great battles and triumphs but also deeply intimate and erotic moments. Sex played an important role and it didn’t stop once you died, archaeologists have found prosthetic genitals attached to mummies, as they believed that in the afterlife these could be re-animated. A great example of how sex was important to the living and dead can be found in Harper’s Songs. These texts were found in tomb inscriptions of the Middle Kingdom.

…Revel in pleasure while your life endures

And deck your head with myrrh. Be richly clad

In white and perfumed linen; like the gods

Anointed be, and never weary grow

In eager quest of what your heart desires –

Do as it prompts you…

love in ancient egypt 2

Women are at the centre of these erotic poems and careful attention was paid to how they lived and experienced their own sexuality. For the Egyptians, sex wasn’t taboo, on the contrary, it was explored across various artistic disciplines, the perfect example being the oldest depictions of sex in the world, the Turin Papyrus.

I wish I were her Nubian slave

who guards her steps.

Then I would be able to see the colour

of all her limbs!

I wish I were her laundryman,

just for a single month.

Then I would flourish by donning [her garment]

and be close to her body.

I would wash away the unguent from her clothes

and wipe my body in her dress . . .

I wish I were the signet ring

which guards her finger,

then I would see her desire every day.

love in ancient egypt 3

I wish I were your mirror

so that you always looked at me.

I wish I were your garment

so that you would always wear me.

I wish I were the water that washes your body.

I wish I were the unguent, Oh Woman,

that I could anoint you.

And the band around your breasts,

and the beads around your neck.

I wish I were your sandal

that you would step on me!

(Papyrus Anakreon)

Very often, Egyptians depending on the age difference referred to other women as sisters or mothers and addressed men as brothers or fathers. Proof of this tradition can be found in the Chester Beatty Papyrus, where once again, the female figure was praised and sexuality was at the epicentre.

love in ancient egypt 4

My sister is unique – no one can rival her,

for she is the most beautiful woman alive.

Look, she is like Sirius,

which marks the beginning of a good year.

She radiates perfection and glows with health.

The glance of her eye is gorgeous.

Her lips speak sweetly, and not one word too many.

Long-necked and milky breasted she is,

her hair the colour of pure lapis.

Gold is nothing compared to her arms

and her fingers are like lotus flowers.

Her buttocks are full but her waist is narrow.

As for her thighs – they only add to her beauty.

In ancient Egypt, sexuality was also interconnected with creation; they commonly represented this with the lotus flower. Since it was thought to be a token of fertility, women were often portrayed with flowers, expressing their sexual desire and fertility. In fact, recent findings at the Egyptian section of the Manchester Museum revealed that this flower contains phosphodiesters, an active ingredient of Viagra.

My one, the sister without peer,                                                                             

The most handsome of all!

She looks like the rising morning star

At the start of a happy year.

Shining bright, fair of skin,

Lovely the look of her eyes,

Sweet the speech of her lips,

She has not a word too much.

Hair true lapis lazuli;

Arms surpassing gold,

Fingers like lotus buds.

Heavy thighs, narrow waist,

Her legs parade her beauty;

With a graceful step, she treads the ground,

Captures my heart through her movements.

She causes all men’s necks

To turn about to see her;

Joy has he whom she embraces,

He is like the first of men!

When she steps outside she seems

Like that the Sun!

love in ancient egypt 5

O my god, my lotus flower! . . .

It is lovely to go out and . . .

I love to go and bathe before you.

I allow you to see my beauty

in a dress of the finest linen,

drenched with fragrant unguent.

I go down into the water to be with you

and come up to you again with a redfish,

looking splendid on my fingers.

I place it before you . . .

Come! Look at me!

Honey was also an important element for their sexuality. The boron contained in this sweet nectar was used by both men and women as an aphrodisiac. Honey was also consumed during important ceremonies, for instance, it was eaten with figs to celebrate the Goddess of Truth, Ma’at, for they believed the truth was sweet.

Your love has penetrated all within me

Like honey plunged into the water,

Like an odour which penetrates spices.

When her little sycamore begins to speak

The murmur of its leaves

Drips honey in the ear

Its fragrant words taste sweet

Her own hand, as soft and delicate as lotus.

from Love Songs of the New Kingdom

My beloved met me,

Took his pleasure of me, rejoiced as one with me.

The brother brought me into his house,

Laid me down on a fragrant honey-bed.

My precious sweet, lying by my heart,

One by one “tongue making”, one by one,

My brother of fairest face did so fifty times, . . .

love in ancient egypt 6

Man of my heart, my beloved man,

your allure is a sweet thing, as sweet as honey.

Man of my heart, my beloved man,

your allure is a sweet thing, as sweet as honey.

You have captivated me,

of my own free will, I will come to you.

Man, let me flee with you—into the bedroom.

You have captivated me;

of my own free will, I shall come to you.

Lad, let me flee with you—into the bedroom.

Man, let me do the sweetest things to you.

My precious sweet, let me bring you, honey.

In the bedchamber dripping with honey

let us enjoy over and over your allure, the sweet thing.

Lad, let me do the sweetest things to you.

My precious sweet, let me bring you, honey.

Sexuality was woven with the mystical and the earthly, it was something to be celebrated, explored, and revered. It is once we start to peel away the conceptions we have of ancient cultures that we see the familiarities we share. These poems may have been penned thousands of years ago but they continue to resonate to this day.


Copyright © 2018 Mark Darcy All rights reserved

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