The Turin Erotic Papyrus
When you hear the term Turin Papyrus, it usually refers to the Turin Erotic Papyrus, as it is the more controversial and so more famous of the manuscripts that carry the name of Turin.
But actually there are several scrolls that are of historical and Egyptological importance that fall under the name of Turin and are housed in the Museo Egizio in Turin, Italy, such as the Turin King List, the Judicial Turin Papyrus, and the Turin Papyrus Map.
Still, I think it’s time we talk about what has been humorously dubbed as “the world’s first men’s magazine”!
The Turin Erotic Papyrus is over two and a half meters long and is made up of two parts:
- Animals doing human tasks (which does not have erotic content except for one scene)
- Scenes of love-making between a man and a woman
It is read from right to left and is composed in the above scenes in the form of vignettes with some commentary and dialogue.
It was discovered in Deir El Medina and was painted during the Ramesside period of the New Kingdom. Although the content is quite different from the usually grand and somewhat distant style of ancient Egyptian art – its quality points to the idea that it was enjoyed by ancient Egyptian elite and was not just some raunchy one-off.
This sole piece of ancient Egyptian erotica has shocked and confused Egyptologists for years. So much so that it was not revealed to the general public until the 1970’s even though it was discovered in the 1820’s.
Is it purely satirical as the animal part suggests, or could the erotic part have been some form of fertility rites or religious sexuality? So far, the consensus is on the former.
So, let’s take a look at each part of the Turin Erotic Papyrus and see for ourselves which we agree with more… get ready for some giggles 🙂
Animals Behaving Like Humans
This is the first third of the papyrus and contains vignettes of animals doing impossible things. Some examples:
- A donkey playing the harp
- A cat holding a crook and flail like a king
- Animal soldiers and charioteers
- Animals playing games with each other
Most of them wearing human clothes, as you can see.
This is not the only ancient Egyptian papyrus where animals have been depicted doing human things in a satirical way.
There is also the succinctly named “Satirical Papyrus” that is housed in the British Museum. It shows things like a lion and an antelope playing a game.
Check out the lion’s barely concealed glee as he’s about to make a move… talk about a terrible poker face!
Other scenes on this papyrus include such preposterous things as a mouse being pampered by cats.
The ancient Egyptians loved to parody their own lives…
The Turin Erotic Papyrus Vignettes
Back to the Turin Papyrus – this is where it gets a little more controversial.
First of all, the ancient Egyptians were not shy by any standards to talk about sex and sexuality. In fact, in the more popular creation myth – the creator god himself made his first offspring by consuming and then spitting out his own seed. The battle between Horus and Seti included sodomy as a form of undermining the rule of the other.
A lot of the mythology contained very explicit sexual content.
As for human relations, they were also depicted and expressed, but perhaps in a more suggestive rather than obvious way. Words and pictures would elude to sexual meaning rather than state things directly. And so that may be why this particular papyrus had a lot of shock value.
Some Egyptologists were quite unnerved and disappointed in ancient Egyptian culture as a whole after having dealt with its grandeur and then seeing the overt vulgarity of the scenes.
But again, if seen for its satirical value, one can’t help but be amused – which seems to have been the original purpose of the papyrus anyway.
The men (which many say is just one man in different scenes) are disheveled and balding, with very exaggerated members. The women (or woman) are young and pretty by ancient Egyptian standards.
The positions themselves are sometimes of such impossibility as to raise the most seasoned eyebrow.
Could this be a parody of a man’s never-to-be-realized fantasy? Or perhaps showing his completely unrealistic view of his own abilities? Can you picture ancient Egyptian viewers of this papyrus feeling excited or just laughing hysterically at its preposterousness?
The idea that it may have been of religious significance seems more far-fetched – although some fertility gods were depicted with such large members, everything else is in opposition to the usual fertility rites depicted in ancient Egyptian art.
Truly, the Turin Erotic Papyrus has to be one of the most controversial ancient Egyptian artifact. Unfortunately, it is extremely damaged and only fragments survive intact, so one cannot get the full experience of it anyway.
Still, if you’re ever in Turin, I’d say it’s worth a look.
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