Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The World's Oldest Gay Chat-up Line

Ancient Greece doesn’t have a monopoly on gay myths. Take this one from Ancient Egypt. It involves those strange animal-headed gods and the eternal struggle for power and how gay sex played its part.

In this month’s introduction I mentioned the Petrie Museum and their trail of lgbt items on display. Number 2 on the trail was a tattered ancient papyrus dating from the late Middle Kingdom, that’s about 3,800 years ago. On it is written part of a myth describing the battle for the throne of Egypt between Horus, the falcon-headed god (left), and his uncle Seth, the weird-headed god (right).

This myth is well-known in Egyptology and the Petrie fragment tells just a part of it. More complete versions of the myth are found on later papyri discovered in the 1840s in a village in the Valley of the Kings. These are called the Chester-Beatty papyri.

Horus and Seth had been fighting over the throne of Egypt for over 80 years. They take their cases to the divine court for a decision. But that’s not enough for Seth. He’s bored with waiting so invites Horus back to his place for a meal (we’ve all heard that before!), flattering him with what is the oldest recorded chat-up line.

After the meal the two gods retire to bed and have sex. The Petrie Museum papyrus gives the most lustful version of the encounter than given in the later Chester-Beatty version, including being the only version to contain the full gay chat-up lines, possibly indicating more tolerance of sexual matters in earlier times.

Even though Seth succeeds in getting Horus into bed as part of his plot to win the throne it all backfires on him. Having had sex he could claim to the court his superiority to the claim, as he has engineered the situation to indicate that Horus was the submissive partner and not strong enough to be made king.

But Horus’s mother Isis had suspected a trick (aren’t mothers always like that?) and a trap is set for Seth. It could sound like an early example of supernatural C.S.I. I love those programmes. I love the way they find specks of evidence, quite often involving something found at a crime scene which proves someone has had sex – what they usually refer to as “biological trace”. Sometimes this “biological trace” has revealed the guilty party.

The ancient Egyptians didn’t have any high-tech labs, of course, but being gods the divine court could call upon other unorthodox techniques. So when Seth stood up in court and revealed he had made Horus his sex-servant there was only one way the court could prove it.

What Seth didn’t realise was when that he and Horus had sex the only biological trace he left behind was on Horus’s hand. Isis chopped off Horus’s hand and threw it into the Nile and made a new one for him. So any ancient Crime Scene Investigator would only find Seth’s “biologicals” in the Nile. The trap set by Isis and Horus was for Horus to leave some of his own biological trace on Seth’s favourite food, lettuce. Yes, lettuce. Sounds silly to us, but lettuce was highly regarded by the Ancient Egyptians. Before the final court appearance Seth had a meal of his favourite lettuce unaware that his plans were about to fall apart.

In court Horus denied Seth’s version of events and says the only way to prove it was, like C.S.I., to find the biological trace. Without the use of those torches and glasses that C.S.I. agents use when looking for evidence of sexual activity on bed sheets, the divine judges called for the biological traces of both Horus and Seth to magically reveal themselves instead.

Sure enough, Seth’s biological trace shouted from the Nile where Horus’s hand had been thrown, while Horus’s biological trace emerged from inside Seth’s body in the form of a shining gold disc. To the court this proved that Seth was lying and that Horus had been the dominant sexual partner and better suited to the throne. The golden disc became a crown and it was placed on Horus’s head.

And that’s the outcome of the earliest recorded gay chat-up line in the world as used by Seth. But what was it? Seth may have only used it as a means to obtain power but it’s still one that is being used to this very day by thousands of gay men. Translated from the Petrie papyrus it reads: “How lovely are your buttocks. And how muscular your thighs”. Though today you’re more likely to hear those words spoken as I’ve pictured them below in some imaginary Egyptian graffiti ….

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