The Turin Erotic Papyrus is a collection of sexual illustrations. The artist is unknown. It was created in Deir el-Medina, a village near Thebes in Egypt, about 1150 BC, during the reign of Pharoah Rameses the Great. The area is more familiarly known as the Valley of the Kings and was inhabited by the workers who built the royal tombs there. The papyrus was discovered buried in a vase in 1820 and taken to the Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy. It was kept locked away, visitors having to register to view it. Only in 1975 was it displayed publicly.
The Papyrus is a scroll containing 12 erotic drawings. The first third depicts animals engaged in human activities (playing music, hunting, besieging, etc.) The last two thirds show couples making love. (Humans engaged in animal activities?) Balding, middle-aged men and beautiful, young women have sex in various positions, including in a chariot. Both indoor and outdoor scenes are included. An assortment of items surround the couples (a rattle for the god of love Hathor; musical instruments; jars full of wine and beer; huge phalluses, sometimes supported by women; lotuses, considered symbols of fertility; perfume bottles, often balanced on women’s buttocks, et. al.) Genitals are shown, the men’s penises enormous. Dialogue is scribbled in the margins (“…come behind me with your love….it is agreeable work”). The scroll is 8 ½ feet long by 10 inches high. It is meant to be read from right to left. The illustrations were drawn in black ink and colored in. Over the centuries it has been badly damaged but now has been reconstructed.
The Papyrus’ purpose is unclear. It may have portrayed the gods, priests or the Pharoah making love. Most likely, it represented scenes in a brothel, either as a sort of Kama Sutra or an aid for arousal.
The reconstructed Turin Erotic Papyrus is a gorgeous work of art. The couples look like they are enjoying themselves. It is also humorous. (One man appears to fall out of bed, exhausted). A fascinating piece of sexual art: one of the oldest in the world.