Male-to-male kissing as old as the pyramids

As the gay-cowboy film Brokeback Mountain causes indignant protests among old Wyoming ranch-hands, it emerges that such controversies are almost as old as art itself.

What may be the first depiction of a gay-male kiss was discovered in a 4000-year-old Egyptian tomb.

Their arms entwined, their torsos and noses touching, Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep were painted together for eternity in an embrace usually associated with heterosexual couples of the 5th dynasty.

Just as there have been protestations that "there ain't no queer in cowboy" in Marlboro country over director Ang Lee's portrayal of two gay ranch-hands, this intimate pair have long been a puzzle to Egyptologists.

One of the largest and most beautiful of all the tombs in the necropolis at Saqqara, south of Cairo, the two men's final resting place was discovered in 1964.

The archaeologist Ahmed Moussa made the rare find of two men of equal status buried together in a tomb decorated with images of them holding hands or locked nose to nose.

In a talk at the University of Wales on sex and gender in Ancient Egypt, academic Greg Reeder explained that the affectionate embrace might suggest the pair were lovers.

Describing an image of the two men clasping each other, Reeder said: "Here, in the innermost part of their joint tomb, the two men stand in an embrace meant to last for eternity."

The official view by one of the world's most eminent Egyptologists, Zahi Hawass, is that they were brothers, perhaps conjoined twins.

Other academics have also suggested the similarities in the names would suggest this to be the case, and there is a danger that modern European eyes fail to resist the temptation of seeing the images as homoerotic.

Nevertheless, the tomb has become a favourite for gay couples. The Tomb of the Hairdressers, or Tomb of Two Brothers, was the burial place of King Niuserre's manicurists.

While the paintings do show wives and children, the two men are obliterated or omitted from a scene of a final banquet.

"Same-sex desire must be considered as a probable explanation," Reeder said.

"The carvings show a profound intimacy between the two men, and the people who built the tomb were possibly unsure how to portray this."

Such depictions of the "love that dare not speak its name" have been setting audiences a-flutter for years.

The 1971 film Sunday, Bloody Sunday was the first mainstream movie to show two gay characters kissing, and there was a tabloid furore when British soap Brookside aired a lesbian kiss more than a decade ago.

Since then countless soaps have followed suit, and the series Queer as Folk broke all barriers with explicit sex scenes.

- INDEPENDENT

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 30 May 2017 04:26:10 Processing Time: 910ms