For most Egyptians a get-together
would have been a simple affair: sitting around a fire or lamp,
telling stories, singing songs, eating sweetmeat and drinking
beer. Not so for their betters. They organised banquets on a
lavish scale. The tables were burdened with all kinds of food,
the wine was poured by shapely servants.
excerpt from a picture printed in Ancient Egypt by Lionel
Traditional receptions could be full of rituals, with people
having to observe a strict etiquette, though the very fact that
they had to be reminded of it may be a hint that the rules were
not as strictly observed as some would have liked them to be:
If you are one among guests
At the table of one greater than you,
Take what he gives as it is set before you;
Look at what is before you,
Don't shoot many glances at him,
Molesting him offends the ka.
Don't speak to him until he summons,
One does not know what may displease;
Speak when he has addressed you,
Then your words will please the heart.
The nobleman, when he is behind food,
Behaves as his ka commands him;
He will give to him whom he favours,
It is the custom when night has come.
It is the ka that makes his hands reach out,
The great man gives to the chosen man;
Thus eating is under the counsel of god,
A fool is who complains of it.
The Maxims of Ptahhotep
M. Lichtheim - Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol I
Men and women sat apart, the host on a chair,
the guests on stools, pillows or floormats. During the New
Kingdom they were sometimes depicted as wearing a cone on their
heads. Conventional wisdom has it that these were made of
scented grease, which would melt and flow down the wig releasing
the perfume. Few traces if any of such grease have been found on
wigs, and fastening grease cones to hairpieces without them
falling off, would not have been easy. It may therefore have
been a pictorial convention similar to the lotus flowers
hovering above the heads of revellers. 
These banquets seem to have been staid
affairs, the worst that seemed to have happened to the guests
was to become drunk
(and there are pictures of that having happened) or overeat.
The entertainment consisted of
above all flute, oboe and harp playing duets or trios, at times
accompanying a singer or a reciter. Dancing,
some of it quite acrobatic, with backsomersaults and the like,
was performed by scantily dressed girls. Dwarfs were always
popular, and wrestlers were sometimes hired.
Towards the end of the evening, the mood
might turn more sombre and the guests might be reminded of the
shortness of life by a singer
The bodies return to their source since the days of the
god, and younger generations rise in their stead. As long as
Re rises in the morning, as long as Tum goes to his resting
place at Manu, the males will beget and females get pregnant,
the nostrils will breathe air. But all who enter this world
will return one day to their origin.
or by statues of mummies as described by Herodotus, who - as
inventor of feature story reporting - had an ear for a
(possibly) extraordinary story:
Bring upon us a gloriously beautiful day, oh priest! The most
exquisite perfumes shall be given to us and pleasant scents
shall enter your nose. Your shoulders shall be adorned with
garlands and lilies as shall be the neck of your beloved
sister sitting beside you. In your ears shall resound singing
and harp playing. Do not open your heart to evil! Do not think
just of your hearts desires, until the day arrives when we
will have to pass the land of silence.
Bring upon us a gloriously beautiful day, Neferhotep, whose
mouth utters the word of justice and truth....
From the chant of Neferhotep's harpist
In the entertainments of the rich among them, when they
have finished eating, a man bears round a wooden figure of a
dead body in a coffin, made as like the reality as may be both
by painting and carving, and measuring about a cubit or two
cubits each way; and this he shows to each of those who are
drinking together, saying: "When thou lookest upon this,
drink and be merry, for thou shalt be such as this when thou
art dead." Thus they do at their carousals.
Herodotus, Histories II
 A Harper's
song lamenting a dead person reminds the living to go on
I have wept, I have mourned!
O all people, remember getting drunk on wine,
With wreaths and perfume on your heads!
M. Lichtheim Ancient Egyptian Literature,
Volume 1, p.194
The Ancient Egyptians, like anyone
else, loved a great party. The entire calendar year was filled
with different celebrations for the various Names of Netjer,
throughout the country. Almost any day of the week, a
celebration of some sort could be found to honor the Netjeru and
to be thankful for the gift of life. One inscription from
"....be joyful and make merry."
Egyptian people loved to celebrate and loved to commemorate
births marriages and religious events. Wealthy Egyptians would
routinely invite friends and other important persons to their
homes in order to share in great feasts and parties. The wine
flowed freely alongside the food which was rich and plentiful,
people dressed in their best finery, eating meals seasoned by
herbs, both domestic and imported. Guests would sit on cushions
on the floor or on chairs eating the food with their fingers and
drinking large quantities of wine.
(The peasant classes were more
inclined to drink beer at their own similar celebrations!) At
such parties, the host would perhaps hire entertainers that
could consist of storytellers, acrobats, dancers, singers and
musicians. During religious festivals such as Opet and other
large celebrations, crowds would gather for a "coming
forth" when the statue of the God or Goddess went around
about the streets in processions. After such appearances
feasting consumption of large quantities of wine and beer were
often a part of the celebrations.
Drink, drugs and sex
Drinking alcohol was widespread. Children
indulged as well, even if it was just the somewhat weak Egyptian
beer. Actually beer may have been safer for them than water or
even milk which were often infected by germs. But a scribe
warned his pupil:
I hear that you are neglecting your writing and spending
all your time dancing, going from tavern to tavern, always
reeking of beer...If only you realized that wine is a thing of
the devil...You sit in front of the wench, sprinkled with
perfume; your garland hangs around your neck and you drum on
your paunch; you reel and fall on your belly and are filthied
Religious holidays were often occasions for
joyous public celebrations which included drinking, at times to
excess, which on these occasions was not frowned upon:
Lionel Casson, Daily Life in Ancient Egypt, p.56
Drink till drunk while enjoying the feast day!
There were inns and bordellos where men could
indulge and which were not frequented by respectable women.
These had to pursue their pleasure in their own home.
Inscription from the tomb of Petosiris, 4th
M. Lichtheim Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume III,
.... the soldiers were drunk and anointed with beq
oil every day, as in the festivals in Egypt.
29th year of the reign of Thutmose III
Petrie A History of Egypt Part Two, p.114
Both men and women were known to get
intoxicated. In one tomb picture a woman is seen vomiting, in
Pahery's tomb at el Kab a man is depicted saying
Give me eighteen jugs of wine - I want to get drunk, my
insides are as dry as straw.
Royalty did it too. A drawing on limestone
shows a king with what seems to be a six o'clock shadow, looking
much the worse for wear.
The New Kingdom scribe Any, seemingly a
paragon of middle class rectitude, warns potential drunks of
what will happen to them:
Don't indulge in drinking beer,
One effect of excessive alcohol consumption
is the headache the morning after. The Roman Dio reported that
the Egyptians used boiled cabbage and cabbage seeds against
hang-overs. The addition of a small amount of sea water to the
wine was also practiced in order to improve the taste (according
to Pliny) and prevent headaches (in the opinion of Athenaeus).
Lest you utter evil speech
And don't know what you are saying.
If you fall and hurt your body
None holds out a hand to you;
Your companions in drinking
Stand up saying: "Out with the drunk!"
If one comes to seek you and talk with you,
One finds you lying on the ground,
As if you were a little child.
The Instruction of Any
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Records of Egypt, Volume II,
In many scenes blue lotus flowers (Nymphaea caerulea, a water
lily) are depicted with the revelers ostensibly sniffing them.
This has led some researchers to suspect that they might be
psychoactive. Their investigations were inconclusive.
What drugs apart from alcohol were used is
unclear. Traces of hashish have been found in mummies. The
properties of mandrake and opium were certainly known during the
Late Dynastic Period and psychoactive plants are (or at least
seem to be) depicted since early times .
Dr Svelte Balabanova of the Institute of
Forensic Medicine at Ulm found traces of cocaine and nicotine in
21st dynasty mummies. 
But it is unclear whether these are remains of drug use, stem
from plants of the same families or are modern contaminations.
Nudity was an accepted part of Egyptian life
and had little to do with sex. Children were often naked and
even grown ups removed their clothes when the work they were
doing required it.
of phalli are not infrequently found in temples as part of
fertility scenes rather than sexual activity. The purification
rites priests had to undergo before entering their temple point
to there having been a taboo on sex in sacred grounds. In Egypt,
unlike in some Middle Eastern countries, there was apparently no
'temple prostitution' .
Little is known about the sexual
mores, and the rarity of any mention of sex has been variously
interpreted as being the result of prudish attitudes or,
conversely, of it being an accepted, natural phenomenon .
Depictions of sexual character 
have been described as satires or as symbols of the creation
acts of the gods .
The fact that there was some pornography might be interpreted
that there were at least periods when sexuality was repressed.
How widespread prostitution was cannot be
verified; that there would have been customers of such services
we can be sure of .
As Ankhsheshonq said in his demotic Instruction:
Man is even more eager to copulate than a donkey; his purse
is what restrains him.
To the fictitional Setne Khamwas, son of
Pharaoh Usermare, one hour with Tabubu, the daughter of the
prophet of Bastet, was worth 10 pieces of gold:
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature,
Volume III, p.178
Setne said to the servant: "Go, say to the maid, 'It
is Setne Khamwas, the son of Pharaoh Usermare, who has sent me
to say, "I will give you ten pieces of gold - spend an
hour with me....
In the story Tabubu was less offended by the proposition itself
but rather that she was being treated like a low woman of the
Setne Khamwas and Naneferkaptah
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume
While there was little explicit sex in
literature, erotic love poetry was widespread in Ramesside
times. The terms 'brother' and 'sister' generally referred to
My heart desires to go down to bathe myself before you,
That I may show you my beauty in a tunic of the finest royal
I'll go down to the water with you, and come out to you
carrying a red fish, which is just right in my fingers.
I'll set it before you, while looking upon your beauty.
O my hero, my brother,
Come, look upon me!
Michael Fox, The Song of Songs and Ancient
Egyptian Love Songs
(Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin, 1985), p. 32.
Dancing too could often be titillating
erotic, when scarcely clad young women performed sinuous dances
at banquets .
The preferences of ancient Egyptian men were remarkably similar
to those of modern Westerners. In a story from the Westcar
papyrus Pharaoh Snefru decides on an outing
Indeed, I shall go rowing! Have brought to me twenty ebony
oars worked in gold with handles of skeb wood worked in fine
gold. Have brought to me twenty women with beautiful bodies
and breasts and hair who have not given birth. And have
brought to me twenty nets and give these nets to these women
in place of their clothes.
Generally speaking - and as has been the case
throughout most of history and in most societies - men had much
more social and sexual freedom than women; but, at least in
theory, wives of other men were out of bounds.
Beware of a woman who is a strange,
How much men could and did permit themselves
with their female servants and slaves is not known. They often
did not restrain themselves as this mourner did:
One not known in her town.
Don't stare at her when she goes by,
Don't know her carnally.
A deep water whose course is unknown
Such is a woman away from her husband.
"I am pretty," she tells you daily.
She is ready to ensnare you,
A great deadly crime when it is heard.
The Instruction of Any
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Records of Egypt, Volume II,
Three years have passed since that day (since his wife
died). I do not enter another house, and a man of my rank
does not have to abstain from this... The sisters who dwell in
the house, I did not visit any of them.
From a papyrus at the Leiden Museum
As to homosexual behaviour, of which
there is very little testimony ,
it was, at least in certain quarters, frowned upon. Sexual
misconduct ranked high in the list of misbehavior men were at
pains to distance themselves from when confronted with their
judges in the other world.
Hail, Qerrti, who comest forth from Amentet, I have not
committed adultery, I have not lain with men.
According to the Contending
of Horus and Seth the Egyptian attitude towards
homosexuality may have been similar to that of the Greeks who
considered the man performing the part of submissive to be
inferior but did not attach opprobrium to homosexuality per
Hail, Tutu, who comest forth from Ati, I have not debauched
the wife of any man.
Hail, Uamenti, who comest forth from the Khebt chamber, I have
not debauched the wife of [any] man.
Hail, Maa-antuf, who comest forth from Per-Menu, I have not
The story relates that Seth caused his
phallus to become stiff and inserted it between Horus's thighs.
Then Horus placed his hands between his thighs and received
Seth's semen. Isis, when Horus told her about what Seth had
done let out a loud shriek, seized the copper (knife), cut
off his hand(s) with which he had received Seth's semen.
Seth clearly considered Horus to be unworthy to rule, as did the
Said Seth: "Let me be awarded the office of Ruler,
l.p.h., for as to Horus, the one who is standing (trial), I
have performed the labor of a male against him." The
Ennead let out a load cry. They spewed and spat at Horus's
It was only thanks to the trickery of Isis that the gods came to
believe that Seth and not Horus was the effeminate one, unfit to