The hills of the ancient site of Amarna (Pharaoh Akhenaten’s hastily built city, over 3000 years old) are dotted with tombs embedded into the rock face. In the next tomb along the short row were yet more wrestling scenes.
After my little faux pas in the tomb before, I was determined not to make any silly statements like that again.
On closer inspection, some of the reliefs and paintings were splattered with graffiti!
The graffiti had been painted on by Coptic monks; they had the privileged access but, more importantly, they were among the few in the community who were literate.
These monks used the sites long after it had been abandoned by Akhenaten's descendants, either as dwelling or worship spaces.
I continued to examine the new wrestling scenes, consoling myself that they definitely had the makings of an epic, energetic shag-a-thon.
And then, I saw it.
Before me, splendidly, was a wrestler, legs parted, and apparently stationary. There was a long red vertical line, starting at his waist. Flanking the red line at his waist were 2 red splodges.
The Coptic monks, those cheeky bastard scamps, had endowed the fellow with a magnificent member - the tip of which passed his knees.*
It is excellent and revealing moments like this that I craved throughout my academic career as a Classicist. These pious, literate monks had a very real and silly sense of humour, drawing a cock and balls over artwork that was, even at their time, a thousand years old.
As much as all the grand statues and stately decorations that have survived and are displayed for us in glass cases in museums, this is the stuff that proves to me that these people, 2200 years ago, had really lived.**
However, I think it’s more telling my Philistine ways that I met this overlay of ancient craftsmanship with a delighted, tittering giggle.
*Alas, photography within the ancient site was strictly forbidden; it is an Egypt-wide policy that you must possess a sacred ‘Buyer’s License’ to take photos. Therefore, I cannot give you a visual.
**Another example of ancient & modern life meeting is back in Greece, in the silver mines of Laurion (south of Athens). Outside the entrance to one of the mines, some ancient worker has pressed his hands into the drying cement of a horizontal slab, and you can put your hands in the moulded hand shapes.