Ancient Egypt and Egyptology
Ancient Egyptians Were Jokesters
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Author Topic: Ancient Egyptians Were Jokesters
Registered: Feb 2003
posted 03 June 2004 03:53 PM
Ancient Egyptians Were Jokesters
By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News http://dsc.discovery.com/news/briefs/20 ... print.html
June 2, 2004 ?A recent series of lectures on ancient Egyptian humor
given by a leading historian reveals that people thousands of years
ago enjoyed bawdy jokes, political satire, parodies and cartoon-like
Related evidence found in texts, sketches, paintings, and even in
temples and tombs, suggests that humor provided a social outlet and
comic relief for the ancient Egyptians, particularly commoners who
labored in the working classes.
The evidence was presented by Carol Andrews, a lecturer in Egyptology
at Birbeck College, University of London, and former assistant keeper
and senior research assistant in the Department of Egyptian
Antiquities at the British Museum.
Andrews was unavailable for comment. Scott Noegel, who helped to
arrange one of the lectures and is president of the American Research
Center in Egypt's (ARCE) Northwest Chapter and is an associate
professor in the Department of New Eastern Languages and
Civilizations at the University of Washington, told Discovery News
that ancient Egyptian humor consisted of at least five basic
They included political satire, scatological and vomiting humor,
jokes concerning sex, slapstick, and animal-based parodies.
For satire, Noegel explained that commoners would make fun of leaders
by showing pharaohs in an unflattering manner. For example, some
leaders were depicted unshaven or "especially effeminate."
Drawings of defecating hyenas and drunken, vomiting party guests are
among the existing examples of scatological humor, while the sex-
based jokes consisted of "innuendoes and outright erotica," he said.
Slapstick comedy included drawings that showed people suffering
unfortunate accidents, such as hammers falling on heads, or
passengers tipping out of boats.
The ancient Egyptians had a special fondness for animal humor, given
the many examples of sketches on papyrus, paintings, and other
drawings, according to Noegel.
He said, "(The images show) ducks pecking at someone's buttocks,
baboons and cats out of control, animals riding on top of other
unlikely animals, baboons playing instruments, and animals drinking
One papyrus shows a mouse pharaoh, gallantly posed in his chariot
pulled by two dogs, speeding towards a group of feline warriors. Yet
another papyrus depicts a lion and an antelope playing a board game.
The lion lifts a game piece as though in victory, while the antelope
falls back in his chair.
"From everything that I've seen and heard, I believe that their sense
of humor was very similar to our own," said Vincent Jones, who
organized one of Andrews' lectures this week, and is president of the
ARCE Georgia Chapter.
Jones told Discovery News that he attended another recent lecture by
Guillemette Andreu, curator of the Louvre's Egyptian collection. He
said Andreu presented a list of Egyptian excuses as to why people did
not come into work. The top three were illness, getting married, and
sorry, but I am building a house now.
"It was funny to learn that people have been creative at getting out
of work for thousands of years," Jones said.
Humor was not limited to the mundane. A drawing on the wall of the
temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri shows an obese "queen of Punt"
in front of a tiny donkey. The inscription for the sketch reads, "The
donkey that had to carry the queen." The drawing gained popularity
and was copied, cartoon-style, many times from the original.
The land of Punt, which historians believe might have been the area
that is now Libya or Ethiopia, held near-mythical status for
Egyptians in the ancient world. Animal skins and other exotic goods
came from Punt via trade routes. Historians also think that Bes, the
ancient Egyptian god of humor, infants, home life, song, and dance,
originated in Punt.
While the Egyptians built no temples to honor Bes, shrines for the
chubby, bearded dwarf with uncombed hair were placed in many homes.
The ancient Egyptians believed that anytime a baby smiled or laughed
for no reason, Bes was in the room making faces.