Ancient Egyptian civilization is renowned for its architectural marvels, elaborate rituals, and profound cultural influence. But like any society, it also had a lighter side, a sense of humor that broke the monotony of daily life. While the specific jokes they told are mostly lost to time, some accounts provide glimpses into the humorous aspects of ancient Egyptian culture.
Satire in Hieroglyphics
A unique aspect of ancient Egyptian humor is its appearance in hieroglyphics. Some archaeological findings, like the Satirical Papyrus from the Middle Kingdom, contain scenes that appear to parody the pompousness of the upper class, or to humorously depict “an upside-down world” where cats chase lions and mice hunt cats. These illustrations indicate a keen sense of satire and social commentary.
A few examples of ancient Egyptian humor have survived in written form. One well-known joke recorded by scholars, thought to be from the period of the pharaohs, goes as follows: “How do you entertain a bored pharaoh? You sail a boatload of young women dressed only in fishing nets down the Nile and urge the pharaoh to go catch a fish.” It suggests that humor, including bawdy or risqué humor, had a place in ancient Egyptian society.
Joking on the Job
Even in the rigorous job of tomb-building, humor found a way. The workers who built the tombs in the Valley of the Kings were known to have shared jokes and puns. They would inscribe playful hieroglyphics on the tomb walls, hidden from view once the tombs were sealed. These inscriptions, discovered thousands of years later, give archaeologists insights into the camaraderie and levity shared among these workers.
Humor in Magic and Religion
Humor also found a place in the religious and magical practices of ancient Egyptians. Some spells and charms contained playful puns or amusing wordplay, possibly to lighten the mood or make the rituals more enjoyable for participants. While the intended humor might be lost in translation, the presence of these elements speaks to a universal human affinity for laughter and fun.
Despite the passing of millennia, the humor of ancient Egypt offers a timeless reminder of the universal human capacity for laughter and levity. While the specifics of Egyptian jokes may remain shrouded in mystery, the fragments that do survive offer a fascinating glimpse into how this ancient civilization sought to entertain, satirize, and enjoy the lighter side of life. As we continue to unravel Egypt’s ancient past, we might yet find more reasons to share a laugh with our long-gone predecessors.
Wikipedia: Ancient Egypt
History Channel: Ancient Egypt
Live Science: Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt for Kids
British Museum: Ancient Egypt