The Dallas Morning News 7.20.98

Evidence of gay relationships exists as early as 2400 B.C.

By John McCoy
Staff Writer of
The Dallas Morning News
Used by Permission of The Dallas Morning News    
    Gay people can be found throughout recorded history, and the stereotypes about them may have been around just as long, Egyptologist Greg Reeder said in a speech in Dallas this weekend.
    His proof: the tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep. The two men were royal court manicurists who lived about 2400 B.C. in the ancient Egyptian city of Saqqara and were buried together much like a married couple.
    "People laugh when you say manicurists," Mr. Reeder, contributing editor to the Egyptology journal KMT , said Saturday night after a speech to local members of the American Research Center in Egypt.      Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep's tomb was discovered by archaeologists in 1964 and initially presented a puzzle to scholars.
    Were the men - depicted nose to nose in a close embrace - relatives or close friends? The scholarly literature often refers to them as twins or brothers, and the site has become known as the Tomb of the Brothers.
    But Mr. Reeder thinks there was more going on. He noted that images of the two men are strikingly similar to those of

Tomb depicts closeness of 2 men, group told

male-female married couples on other tombs of the era.
     Niankhkhnum had a wife, who is depicted sitting behind him in a banquet scene in the tomb, but her image was almost totally erased during ancient times for unknown reasons, he said. In other scenes, Khnumhotep occupies the place normally associated with wives. And in some hieroglyphs, Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep's names are strung together in a word play that could mean "joined in life and joined in death."
    Mr. Reeder's conclusion: "Same-sex desire existed just behind the ideal facade constructed by the ancients."
     The Research Center is a nonprofit group that sponsors expeditions to Egypt. Its North Texas chapter holds monthly talks at Southern Methodist University, but Saturday's talk was sexier than the average academic discussion, members said.
     "We try to get as wide a spectrum of new and unusual topics as possible," said the chapter's president, Dr. Clair Ossian. Mr. Reeder also recited an ancient tale - probably intended at this time to be humorous-of a homosexual liaison between the gods Horus and Seth, producing a male pregnancy

that shocked the other gods.     It's often difficult to find the right words to talk about sexuality in ancient times, Mr. Reeder noted.
     " "Gay' is too loaded. "Homosexual' is too modern; so you have to speak in terms of their relationship to one another," he said.
     Taking a page from the late Yale University historian John Boswell, Mr. Reeder uses the phrase "same-sex desire." Dr. Boswell studied medieval brotherhood rituals and argued that some were akin to same- sex unions or marriages.
     Not much else is known about the two Egyptian manicurists, whose profession is represented by a hieroglyph of an animal paw with claws outstretched, Mr. Reeder said.     He figures Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep - listed in the hieroglyphics as "royal confidants" - occupied a privileged position, one of the few people who could actually touch the pharaoh.
     Very few people of that era got tombs built in their honor, and it usually took a favor from the pharaoh or a religious leader to get one, Dr. Ossian noted.
     "Tombs were horrifically expensive," he said.

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