By John McCoy
Staff Writer of
The Dallas Morning News
Used by Permission of The Dallas Morning
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.
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
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.
" "Gay' is too loaded. "Homosexual' is too modern;
so you have to speak in terms of their relationship to one another," he
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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