1st November 2006
MSNBC has an article about an ancient Egyptian drinking party which they liken to the debaucheries of the “Girls gone wild” video genre (Gee, do you think that tie-in was made to be provocative?). The article, “Sex and booze figured in Egyptian rites,” by Alan Boyle reports on some finds from the ruins of a temple in Luxor by Johns Hopkins University professor Betsy Bryan.
Here are some excerpts:
Johns Hopkins University’s Betsy Bryan, who has been leading an excavation effort at the Temple of Mut since 2001, laid out her team’s findings on the drinking festival here on Saturday during the annual New Horizons in Science briefing, presented by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.
“We are talking about a festival in which people come together in a community to get drunk,” she said. “Not high, not socially fun, but drunk â€” knee-walking, absolutely passed-out drunk.”
The temple excavations turned up what appears to have been a “porch of drunkenness,” associated with Hatshepsut, the wife and half-sister of Thutmose II. After the death of Thutmose II in 1479 B.C., Hatshepsut ruled New Kingdom Egypt for about 20 years as a female pharaoh, and the porch was erected at the height of her reign.
Some of the inscriptions that were uncovered at the temple link the drunkenness festival with “traveling through the marshes,” which Bryan said was an ancient Egyptian euphemism for having sex. The sexual connection is reinforced by graffiti depicting men and women in positions that might draw some tut-tutting today.
The rules for the ritual even called for a select few to stay sober â€” serving as “designated drivers” for the drunkards, she said. On the morning after, musicians walked around, beating their drums to wake up the revelers.
The point of all this wasn’t simply to have a good time, Bryan said. Instead, the festival â€” which was held during the first month of the year, just after the first flooding of the Nile â€” re-enacted the myth of Sekhmet, a lion-headed war goddess.
According to the myth, the bloodthirsty Sekhmet nearly destroyed all humans, but the sun god Re tricked her into drinking mass quantities of ochre-colored beer, thinking it was blood. Once Sekhmet passed out, she was transformed into a kinder, gentler goddess named Hathor, and humanity was saved.
New twists in an old tale
The discoveries at the Temple of Mut parallel historical references to drunken rituals during Egypt’s Greco-Roman period. The writer Herodotus reported in 440 B.C. that such festivals drew as many as 700,000 people â€” with drunken women exposing themselves to onlookers. “More grape wine is consumed at this festival than in all the rest of the year besides,” Herodotus wrote. The festival also turns up in chronicles from around A.D. 200.
The new twist in Bryan’s work is that such rituals were found to have taken place during a much earlier time in Egyptian history, said Aidan Dodson, an Egyptologist at the University of Bristol. “She’s actually found the first definite evidence,” he told MSNBC.com.
I especially like the accompanying sketch of a wall painting which shows one of partiers throwing up (top left):
This festival seems to be akin to the ×ž×¨×–×— marzeach, a drinking festival widely attested to in the ancient Near East.
Some things never change.