Sunday, February 8, 2009

Love and Sex in Ancient Egypt

Both men and women in Ancient Egypt were expected to conform to their marriage vows, whatever these were as we have no evidence of a formal arrangement, and it was very frowned on for a man to consort with or have an affair with a married woman, though it seems less of a problem if a married man should have a liaison with an unmarried woman. As I mentioned in an earlier post in this series Egyptian men sometimes took on second wives. One must assume a certain inequality from the scant evidence of marital relations in Ancient Egypt. The inference one can draw from it being ok for a married man to have sexual relations with an unmarried woman but not with a married woman is that he is not to cause offense to another man, in other words the husband of the married woman.

It is speculation on my part, but I think it reasonable to assume that since marriage was all about producing children, then the strictures against a wife sleeping with anyone except her husband made sense from the point of view of determining patrimony. Consequently men are warned of even associating with women outside of their household in case they be tempted by dishonorable women. Since most of the remaining texts by which we receive a glimpse of Ancient Egyptian social mores was written by male scribes we are left to wonder what women thought about their men cheating on them with another women. It’s only speculation but I would imagine it ranged from jealousy to acceptance, as it was not exactly a proscribed behavior.

There is no particular evidence of a culture of prostitution in Ancient Egypt, certainly not during the Old, Middle, or New Kingdoms. There is a body of love poetry that exists and it would be nice to speculate that this was the work of women since much of it is presented from the female point of view. It is definitely erotically charged and seems to take place between young unattached adults. Such lyrical examples of ancient love and eroticism are a joy to read, but it would be presumptuous to assume that young adults were without family ties and social mores that stopped them from behaving too too freely. More likely these poems are part fantasy and were used as romantic stimulus to the imagination much like love songs and poetry served as a safe outlet to the Troubadours and their fetish of Courtly Love.