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Dining&Death: Interdisciplinary perspectives on the „funerary banquet‟ in ancient art, burial and belief

Paper 4, N. Harrington

The Eighteenth Dynasty Egyptian banquet: ideals and realities
Nicola Harrington
Abstract
This paper analyses the iconography of banquet scenes in Egyptian tombs of the
18th Dynasty (1550-1307 BC), presents a brief overview of evidence for feasting in
the tomb chapel and courtyard, and discusses the content and meaning of the songs
of harpers and other musicians that often accompany the scenes. It also considers
the use of alcohol and narcotics in accessing gods and the dead, and examines
some of the social aspects of feasting, such as community identity, gender issues
and the use of banquets as a forum for elite display.

The 18th Dynasty banquet scene is one of the most well-known decorative
motifs in elite tombs, due to the striking imagery rarely found elsewhere in
Egyptian art. These depictions are generally found on the walls of
broad/transverse halls in Theban T-shaped tombs and the longitudinal halls of
tombs at Elkab.1 The banqueting guests face towards the tomb owner in the
west (away from the tomb entrance), and are seated in rows, on chairs, stools
or reed mats, and given floral collars, drinks and unguent by attendants, who
may also anoint them with oil. Male and female musicians playing lutes,
harps, lyres, pipes and drums are often shown along with the lyrics of their
songs (Fig. 1). While musicians may be depicted in groups of mixed sex,
unmarried male and female guests are rarely shown seated together,
although it is not clear if such gender segregation would have occurred during
feasts or whether it is one of many artistic conventions that characterise these
scenes (such as the uniformly idealised appearance of the eternally youthful
celebrants).

1

E.g. Paheri (no. 3), Renni (no. 7): Porter and Moss 1937, 180, (14)–(15); 183, (5)–(6). There

are exceptions at Thebes, such as Rekhmire (TT 100) and some tombs have more than one
separate banquet scene: placement does not seem to be directly linked to dates or features
within the tomb, such stelai, statues or false doors. There is insufficient space to elaborate on
these issues in this article.

Dining&Death: Interdisciplinary perspectives on the „funerary banquet‟ in ancient art, burial and belief
Paper 4, N. Harrington

Much has been made of oblique sexual references within banquet scenes2
and their relationship with the Festival of the Wadi,3 with less attention given
to the social aspects of feasting with the deceased and whether the images
painted on tomb walls were based on actual festivals where the dead and
living were thought to interact, or were merely symbolic of events in which the
tomb owner hoped to participate after death in a similar manner to the
representations of fishing and fowling in the marshes. Consideration to these
aspects is therefore given below.
Definitions of banqueting
Feasting may be defined as the celebration of significant occasions through
the formal ceremony of communal eating and drinking.4 The term „banqueting‟
carries with it the expectation of food consumption, but in common with Near
Eastern depictions,5 Egyptian celebrants are most frequently shown with a
wine bowl or beer jar, and the emphasis of these scenes seems to be
drinking,6 in some cases to excess (see below). There are two types of
banquet scene depicted in 18th Dynasty tombs: the funerary and the mortuary
feasts.7 While the words „mortuary‟ and „funerary‟ are often used
2

E.g. Manniche 2003; Derchain 1975; Westendorf 1967.

3

Hb (nfr) n int, referred to variously as the „(Beautiful) Feast of the Valley‟, the „Valley

Festival‟ etc. See Jauhiainen 2009, 147-152, with references.
4

Wright 2004, 133; Jennings et al. 2005, 275.

5

E.g. Du Ry 19θ9, η3; Barnett and Wiseman 19θ0, 28 („Standard of Ur‟).

6

This appears to be a common feature of feasting particularly in mortuary contexts: cf. Wright

(2004, 170) for Mycenaean examples; also Campbell-Green and Michelaki 2012, 16 (Bronze
Age Crete); Pollock 2003, 25 (Mesopotamia). Milledge Nelson (2003, 84) concludes from
grave goods of Late Shang Dynasty China that wine was perceived as more important to the
ancestors than meat. For the symbolic and cultural values of meat, see e.g. Wright 2004, 172;
Steel 2004, 282-283. Food is shown before guests in several Egyptian banquet scenes
indicating that these are „feasts‟ in the strict sense: e.g. Rekhmire (TT 100: Davies 1943, pl.
67). For an example of guests holding food and drinking vessels to their mouths, see TT 254
(Mose: Strudwick and Strudwick 1996, pls 28, 31), although this may be an Amarna period
aberration.
7

For an overview of differing interpretations of the types of banquet scenes, see Lichtheim

1945, 185–87. It may be significant in this context that the word for „feast/festival‟ (Hb) is the
same as that for „to mourn‟ (Gardiner 19η7, η80–81). Examples of funerary banquets include

Dining&Death: Interdisciplinary perspectives on the „funerary banquet‟ in ancient art, burial and belief
Paper 4, N. Harrington

interchangeably, for the purposes of this paper „funerary‟ will be employed
only in relation to the meal that broke the fast following the tomb owner‟s
burial,8 and „mortuary‟ will refer to all other feasts held in the presence of the
deceased including those associated with festivals. Post-funeral meals are
characterised by their rigid formality, the complete absence of the sense of
movement found in mortuary feast imagery, and the uniform seating of guests
so that they face the tomb owner and his wife (or mother): the focus is thus on
the dead rather than the living.9 Musicians and servants are rarely depicted.10
The funeral banquet marks a new stage in the relationship between the
individual commemorated and their friends and relatives: it establishes the
tradition of feasting in the presence of the deceased tomb owner, and the
principles of dependence and reciprocity in which the living have the greatest
control. The dead were encouraged to „come at the voice‟ for offerings, invited
to participate in banquets, and expected to listen and respond to requests for
assistance, but their presence was not always welcome. This relationship is
also apparent in modern rural Egypt, where „much effort is normally
undertaken to dissuade the soul of the departed to return to the land of the
living except for specific feast days and for specific feasts.‟11
It is worth noting that „mortuary‟ feasts may have been held in or near the
tomb during the owner‟s lifetime, as suggested by several texts: 12

TT 112 (Menkheperreseneb: Davies 1933, pl. 24, lower register) and TT 82 (Gardiner and
Davies 1915, pl. 7).
8

Frandsen 1999, 135–36; cf. the Prophecy of Neferti: Parkinson 1991, 34–35.

9

This may be similar to the phenomenon of graveside feasting in early Chinese society

(Late Shang period), where enlisting the aid of the dead was considered to be of greater
importance than forming alliances with the living: „In other words, it seems that the
deceased, both the recently departed as well as the more ancient ancestors, were more
powerful and desirable allies than their earthly counterparts‟ (Milledge Nelson 2003, θη).
10

See, for example, the banquet in the tomb of Hery (TT 12): Galán and Menéndez 2011,

fig. 5.
11

Wickett 2010, 130.

12

Amenhotep-si-se (TT 75): Davies 1933, pl. 4; Lichtheim 1945, 182. Cf. Djeserkareseneb

(TT 38): Lichtheim 1945, 183.

Dining&Death: Interdisciplinary perspectives on the „funerary banquet‟ in ancient art, burial and belief
Paper 4, N. Harrington

Sitting down to divert the heart (sxmx ib) according to the practice of
existence on earth, anointed with myrrh (antyw), adorned with
garlands, making [holiday] (irt hrw nfr) in his house of justification (mAa
xrw) which he made for himself on the west of Thebes.

These inscriptions accord with Andrey Bolshakov‟s suggestion that mortuary
cults were established during the lifetime of those possessing tombs and
statues, and that such cults were thereby fully functional by the time of their
owners‟ demise.13 It may thus be the case that the elite feasted in the vicinity
of their tombs prior to death, perhaps in several instances honouring those
who predeceased them (parents, grandparents, or children, for example) and
who were depicted or otherwise commemorated in the building. 14 One of the
problems presented by harpers‟ songs (discussed below) is the fact that they
are addressed to the tomb owner as though he is still alive. The song in the
20th Dynasty tomb of Inherkhau15 is particularly unusual in that it was
evidently not meant to be seen by visitors as it was painted in the tomb
chamber, which would have been sealed following the burial.16 The song
stands out because the hieroglyphs were inscribed onto a white background
rather than onto the yellow that covers most of the walls. Presumably the text
was intended as a focal point for the deceased rather than the living. While
the song may be addressed to Inherkhau during his lifetime, however, he is
introduced as „the Osiris‟, implying that he was already dead when the burial
chamber was decorated. Such apparent contradictions are found throughout
the text, and may be indicative of the nature of the tomb as a meeting place
13

This practice was established in the Old Kingdom: the importance of setting up a

mortuary cult and provisioning funerary priests in advance was noted in the 5th Dynasty
Instruction of Prince Hardjedef, and reiterated in private monuments of the Middle
Kingdom, for example in the stele inscription of Sehetepibre (Lichtheim 1973, 58-9, 127).
14

For example, the tomb of Amenmose (TT 373) contained ancestor busts dedicated to his

parents (Habachi 1976, 84–86).
15

TT 359 (temp. Ramesses III–IV, c. 1163): Lichtheim 1945, 201.

16

A similar situation may be seen in the 18th Dynasty tomb of Sennefer (TT 96: Porter and

Moss 1960, 202), where scenes of the tomb owner receiving offerings from his wife, some
possibly related to the Wadi Festival, were painted on the walls and columns of his burial
chamber along with other mortuary images.

Dining&Death: Interdisciplinary perspectives on the „funerary banquet‟ in ancient art, burial and belief
Paper 4, N. Harrington

for the living and the deceased, as well as being reminiscent of the tomb
owner‟s hope of regeneration.
The iconography of ancient Egyptian banquets
The term „banquet scene‟ usually brings to mind the brightly painted images
on Theban tomb walls, but such scenes in full or abbreviated form are also
found in tombs at Saqqara and Elkab,17 on shrines at Gebel el-Silsila,18 and
on stelai, wooden cosmetic boxes, and the lintels of house and shrine doors.19
Egyptian texts indicate that the banquet had certain essential components,
whether that be as part of a mortuary meal or religious festival, as exemplified
by the „secular‟ feast for King Amenhotep II depicted in the tomb of Kenamun
(TT 93):20
Diverting the heart (sxmx-ib) and seeing good things, song, dance, and
music … perfumed with myrrh (antyw), anointed with oil, making
holiday (iri hrw nfr), decked with garlands from your plantation, water
lily at your nostril, O King Amenhotep.

The main features of mortuary banquet scenes are the presence of musicians,
dancers and attendants, as well as floral collars, water lilies, oil and unguent,
and alcohol (beer and wine). It is unlikely to be coincidental that many of the
features in these scenes are related to the goddess Hathor.21 She was

17

Zivie 1975, pl. 51; Tylor 1895.

18

Caminos 1955, 52.

19

Roth 1988, 140–41, no. 80; Freed 1982, 203, no. 237; Jørgensen 1998, 312. Cf. the small

golden shrine of Tutankhamun: Harrington 2005/2007.
20

After Lichtheim 1945, 182; Davies 1930, pl. 9.

21

Hathor was known as mistress of music, rejoicing, dancing, harpists, garlands and incense

(Schott 1952, 77–78; 1950, 78). She may also be invoked through the cats sometimes shown
beneath the chairs of wives or guests, since it was in this form that she was worshipped at
certain sites (see e.g. the tomb of Nebamun and Ipuky, TT 181: Malek 2006, 61, fig. 35), in
the same way that Amun may be linked with the geese depicted in some tombs (e.g.
Menkheperreseneb, TT 112: Davies 1933, pl. 24). Monkeys under chairs are considered by
some scholars to be representative of love and sexual fulfilment (e.g. Andrews 1994: 66;
Derchain 1976: 9), and may thus also be linked to the goddess Hathor (see n. 22).

Dining&Death: Interdisciplinary perspectives on the „funerary banquet‟ in ancient art, burial and belief
Paper 4, N. Harrington

associated with mortuary banquets, complete with musicians22 (including
harpists) and dancers, from at least the Middle Kingdom (2040–1640 BC),23
and in 18th Dynasty banquets is invoked (if not always explicitly) through the
handing of sistra and menats to the deceased.24
The other major deity associated with banquet scenes is Amun, whose festival
(the Festival of the Wadi) is mentioned in a few cases and whose bouquet is
presented to the tomb owner, usually by his son (Fig. 2).25 The bouquet itself
is distinct from other floral arrangements; it consists of an open water lily
flower (with or without a central mandrake fruit) with buds on either side and
the stalks tightly bound into a long cylindrical shape (Fig. 3).26 A scene in the
tomb of Neferhotep (TT 49) illustrates the main stages in the process of
having the bouquet blessed at Karnak temple, with incense and burnt
offerings presented to Amun in his shrine and a bouquet bestowed by a priest
to Neferhotep who is purified with unguent and oils.27 Neferhotep
22

In 18th Dynasty banquets, some female musicians are depicted as though facing the

viewer instead of in profile, which provides an iconographic link with the goddesses Nut and
Hathor, the principal deities whose faces are shown frontally (Volokhine 2000, 37, 64–65).
Parkinson suggests that the women may be depicted in this manner because they are seated
in a circle (as in BM Nebamun [BM EA 37984]: Parkinson 2008, 79, fig. 88), but this does not
readily explain musicians standing or in procession, unless they are turning while dancing and
playing (e.g. Horemheb, TT 78: Brack and Brack 1980, 84).
23

„Exalted is Hathor (goddess) of love … when she is exalted on the holiday‟: tomb of Senbi

at Meir: Lichtheim 1945, 190; Blackman 1914, 22–23, pls 2–3. See also Wente 1969, 89.
24

E.g. Nebamun and Ipuky (TT 181): Lichtheim 1945, 182; Davies 1925, pls 4, 5, 18.

25

As in the tomb of Nakht (TT 1θ1: Hartwig 2004, cover), where the couple‟s daughter also

presents „bouquets of Amun and Mut‟.
26

In some cases the temple at which the bouquet was blessed is specifically named: in the

tomb of Menkheperreseneb (TT 86: temp. Thutmose III, c. 1479 BC), for example, bouquets
are presented to the deceased from the mortuary temple of Thutmose III, the chapel of Hathor
at Deir el-Bahri, and the temple of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III at Medinet Habu (Schott
1952, 118; Davies 1933, pl. 17).
27

Tomb of Neferhotep (TT 49): temp. Ay, c. 1323 BC: Davies 1933, pl. 61. This second

bouquet (consisting of a central papyrus frond between poppy flowers) is not the same as that
presented by Neferhotep to his wife (water lily flower with mandrake fruit and lily buds),
suggesting that two separate events may have been merged into one.

Dining&Death: Interdisciplinary perspectives on the „funerary banquet‟ in ancient art, burial and belief
Paper 4, N. Harrington

subsequently gives a bouquet of Amun to his wife waiting outside the temple
walls.
Siegfried Schott suggested that most, if not all banquet scenes represented
the feast held in honour of Amun, Mut and Khonsu when statues of these
deities in their barques were transported from the temple of Karnak on the
east bank of the Nile to the sanctuary of Hathor at Deir el-Bahri via the
mortuary temples on the river‟s west bank.28 He stated that during this festival
(the Festival of the Wadi), in parallel with wine being offered to Amun by the
reigning king, and being consumed by celebrants, it was also offered to the
dead.29 Since the Festival is rarely mentioned in Theban tombs, however, this
undermines Schott‟s supposition that all 18th Dynasty banqueting scenes
must relate to this particular event.30 In fact, tomb inscriptions often express
the wish for the deceased to be present at a range of festivals.31 Cynthia May
Sheikholeslami has recently questioned the assumption that all banqueting
was tied to the cult of Amun and the Wadi Festival, suggesting instead that in
many cases the Festival of Drunkenness, sacred to Hathor, was depicted.32
28

In „joining with‟ the goddess, Amun renewed the fertility of the land (Hartwig 2004, 12). By

their presence in the tomb, Hathor and Amun ensured the renewal of the deceased. This is
unlikely to be applicable to tombs beyond Thebes, such as Saqqara and Elkab, however.
29

Schott 1953, 76.

30

Schott 1953, 77. Tombs that mention the Wadi Festival or the bouquet of Amun in

conjunction with a banquet scene include TT 129 (name lost), TT 93 (Kenamun), TT 56
(Userhet), TT 247 (Simut), TT 112 and TT 86 (Menkheperreseneb), TT 84 (Amunedjeh), TT
49 (Neferhotep), TT 147 (name lost): Schott 1952, 122, 121, 123, 118, 109, 101, 99. Porter
and Moss 1960, 244, 190, 111–12, 333, 229–30, 175, 168, 92–93, 258.
31

E.g. Paheri, EK 3 at Elkab: Tylor 1895, pl. 16; Lichtheim 1976, 16. The amalgamation of a

variety of feasts and festivals into a single pictorial scene is also attested in Mesopotamia,
where the consumption of drink rather than food predominates as in Egypt: it has been
suggested that drinking in these banquet scenes may symbolise or „summarize‟ commensal
occasions: Pollock 2003: 24..
32

Sheikholeslami 2011. Hathor is associated with inebriation in the magical text known as

The Destruction of Mankind, incorporated into the Myth of the Heavenly Cow, first attested in
the late 18th Dynasty (Spalinger 2000, 1993). According to this myth, danger and chaos were
averted through the judicious use of alcohol (specifically beer). The myth may be the origin of
the Festival of Drunkenness (Szkapowska 2003, 234). A festival dedicated to Hathor is

Dining&Death: Interdisciplinary perspectives on the „funerary banquet‟ in ancient art, burial and belief
Paper 4, N. Harrington

The discovery of a „porch of drunkenness‟ in a chapel in the Mut complex at
the temple of Karnak, which was dedicated to Hathor by Hatshepsut, seems
to support the notion that such festivals were celebrated in Thebes during the
18th Dynasty.33
Unguent cones are frequently depicted on the hair/wigs of celebrants in
banquet scenes, including the tomb owner, his wife, and musicians (Fig. 4),
and they were also represented in three dimensions on figurines and rock-cut
statuary.34 The nature and function of the cones is still a matter of debate, with
some scholars considering them to be symbolic of (myrrh-based) perfume35 or
abstract concepts,36 and others suggesting that they were physical objects.37
Recent research and excavations have indicated that the cones were at least
in some cases actual mounds of perfumed fat placed on the hair or wig,
though the practicality of such an object on the head of a bald man, a dancer,
or an attendant is questionable.38 Perhaps the importance of creating a
perfumed atmosphere within the restrictions imposed by two-dimensional
representation superseded realism in these cases. In banquet scenes, the
depicted in the tomb of Amenemhet (TT 82: Gardiner and Davies 1915, 95, pl. 19), with
female musicians and dancers. Bianquis Gasser (1992, 101) states that: „Wine is associated
with two seemingly contradictory aspects of human life … blood, fertility and human life, but
also … with death and the divine‟, all of which Hathor encompassed in her varying roles.
33

Bryan 2005; Sheikholeslami 2011.

34

E.g. Markowitz 1999, 206, no. 18; Hofmann 2004, pl. 9 (TTs 178, 196).

35

Cherpion (1994, 81), following Bruyère (1926, 137).

36

Joan Padgham, for example, concludes (2006) that the cones were iconographically linked

to the hieroglyph for a heap of grain (aHaw), and were representative of wealth and „abundant
offerings realised in the next life‟ by the tomb owner, or were symbolic of the „transition of the
deceased between existence in the afterlife and a return to the world of the living [in ba form]
brought about by the possession of cult offerings‟ (2010). See now Padgham, J. 2012: A New
Interpretation of the Cone on the Head in New Kingdom Egyptian Tomb Scenes (Oxford).
37

Simpson 1972, 73; Manniche 1987, 41. Cf. e.g. Papyrus Harris η00, I, 9: „My hair [is] laden

with aromatic ointment (qmi)‟ (Landgráfová and Navrátilová 2009, 19η).
38

McCreesh, Gize and David 2011. I am grateful to Natalie McCreesh for discussing her

research with me and for an advance copy of her co-authored article. Excavations at the
South Tombs cemetery at Amarna have revealed a waxy cone on the wig/hair of a female
corpse (Ind. 150, I54, 13132: Kemp 2010, 3).

Dining&Death: Interdisciplinary perspectives on the „funerary banquet‟ in ancient art, burial and belief
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cones are shown being produced by moulding unguent directly onto the
hair/wigs of seated guests. The celebrants are also anointed with oil (Fig. 5),
which stains their white linen in a manner reminiscent of descriptions in love
poetry.39 Bicoloured clothing40 was introduced around the reign of Thutmose
IV (the same period as unguent cones: Padgham 2010) and continued into
the Ramesside period. Norman de Garis Davies asserted that the
discolouration was caused by unguent (1927, 44–5), and Lise Manniche
(1999, 95) also suggests that scented oil was responsible for the shading,
noting that although linen does not absorb dye easily, „the fibres would absorb
the fatty matter and make them supple and shiny. The yellow colour is a
means for the artist to show that large amounts of scent have been applied. It
is a sign of wealth and opulence‟. While this may be true to an extent, it does
not explain why the tomb owner is shown with bicoloured garments less
frequently than his guests.
The scenes in which coloured clothing is depicted are those of offering (where
it is often worn by the recipients), banquets, scenes of adoration, and fishing
and fowling. Essentially, bicoloured clothing is not a feature of „daily life‟
scenes (such as farming and viticulture), and it is more commonly found on
women than men. The fact that the tomb owner may be shown in identical
garments, one set shaded and one not, suggests that the difference is not
related to the clothing itself – that is, the folds of the cloth (contra Parkinson
2008, 74, 91) – but to the occasion on which it is worn. Offering scenes,
banquet scenes and rock-cut statuary are related insofar as the deceased
anticipated offerings from the living, and these were events or locations at
which such offerings were presented. Unguent, indicated by the shading, may
have represented the association of the deceased with the divine. The
portrayal of scent on those approaching a deity may be symbolic of ritual
39

E.g. O. DM 1266, O CGC 25218 (limbs soaked with camphor oil [tiSps]): Landgráfová and

Navrátilová 2009, 120, 141. Love poetry contains themes and imagery that closely parallel
that of banquet scenes, including intoxication, mandrakes, lilies, Hathor, oils and anointing,
fine linen and spending the day in festivity. It is noteworthy that the poetry dates to the
Ramesside Period when banquet scenes were no longer depicted in tombs.
40

I.e. white linen stained with colours ranging from pale yellow to deep crimson.

Dining&Death: Interdisciplinary perspectives on the „funerary banquet‟ in ancient art, burial and belief
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cleanliness and the pure, elevated state of the justified deceased and his
family. Thus unguent was worn in the presence of the divine (which included
the blessed dead) and by those wishing to be recognised by the gods as one
of them (for example, the deceased before Osiris: P. Ani, Dondelinger 1987,
pl. 7).
Coffin Texts Spell 530 makes a clear link between censing with incense and
purification:41
You are (twice) pure for your ka, your head is censed with sweet-smelling
incense (snTr), you are made strong by means of incense, the fragrance of a
god is on your flesh … it equips you as a god . . .

The concept of incense or unguent as a purifying agent continued into the
19th Dynasty (Thompson 1998, 242),42 and it could be used to protect the
deceased from the ambivalent, potentially malevolent dead, as indicated in
the Coffin Texts Spell 936.43 In summary, the functions of oils, incense and
unguent in funerary contexts were to identify the deceased as a god, to
restore and preserve the corpse,44 to protect the deceased from dangers in
the afterlife, and to endow the tomb owner and banquet guests with ritual
purity (Thompson 1998, 242–3).45 The importance of perfumed substances
lies in their association with ritual purity, protection and divinity, because the

41

De Buck 1956, 121–2, a-i; Faulkner 1977, 153. Cf. Eyre 2002, 173, n. 119.

42

Food could also be purified by censing, as mentioned on the north wall of the Hall of

Barques in the temple of Sety I at Abydos: “… with incense to purify the offerings for [the
gods‟] kas” (David 1973, 2θ4).
43

De Buck 1961, 138; Thompson 1998, 237; Faulkner 1978, 71. For the connection

between unguent, the Eye of Horus and the fiery uraeus, see Thompson 1998, 238.
44

An inscription in the tomb of Mery (TT 9η), for example, states: “Fill yourself with mDt

which comes forth from the Eye of Horus … it will join your bones, it will unite your limbs
…” (Thompson 1998, 232).
45

The protective aspect of unguents may be relevant to the living as well, since the dead

were feared as much as they were revered.

Dining&Death: Interdisciplinary perspectives on the „funerary banquet‟ in ancient art, burial and belief
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gods recognised one another by their scent,46 and purity was essential for
entering any sacred space, including temples and tombs.
Certain omissions are apparent in banquet scenes, particularly depictions of
children and the elderly.47 All participants are shown in the prime of life, in
accordance with the function of the tomb and the banquet scene in particular:
elite women assisted in their husband‟s (or son‟s) regeneration and rebirth in
the afterlife, and so were represented as youthful with the implication of
accompanying fertility.48 The tomb scenes reflect an alternate reality in which
ageing, illness and death are non-existent and everyone is captured in an
eternally perfect state.49 Captions sometimes designate certain guests (and
less commonly, musicians) as „justified‟, but in general there are no
iconographic distinctions made between the living and the dead.50

46

Protection: Thompson 1998, 242–43. Gods‟ scents: for example, in the Book of the Dead

Spell 125b, Anubis announces to his entourage that the deceased possesses the necessary
knowledge of the underworld and states „I smell his odor as (that of) one of you‟ (Allen 1974,
101).
47

Children could participate in celebrations where alcohol was available, such as the Deir el-

Medina festival of the deified Amenhotep I: „Year 7 [of Ramesses IV or VI], third month of
Peret, day 29: the great feast of Amenhotep, the lord of the village. The work crew
worshipped before him for four whole days, drinking together with their children and their
wives.‟ (O. Cairo 2η234: Hagen and Koefoed 200η, 19, following Černý 1927, 183–84;
McDowell 1999, 96; Kitchen 1983, 370). The absence of children (or pregnant women) places
the emphasis in these scenes on fertility and the potential for new life rather than subsequent
progeny.
48

Sweeney 2004, θ7. There are several tombs where the tomb owner‟s mother is depicted in

the place of a wife, e.g. Menkheperreseneb, TT 112 (Davies 1933, pl. 24), see further Whale
1989, 261-263.
49

Primarily because such images could potentially harm the tomb owner. On alternate reality,

see Sweeney 2004, 67.
50

The deceased were often captioned mAa xrw, „justified‟ or literally „true of voice‟, i.e. found

to be innocent of wrongdoing in the divine afterlife tribunal. E.g. Amenemhet, TT 82 (Gardiner
and Davies 1915, pl. 16) – guests; Nebamun, TT 17 (Säve-Söderburgh 1957, pl. 21) –
musicians and guests. In the tomb of User (TT 21), the owner‟s voice is said to be true
against his enemies for ever (Davies 1913, 27, pl. 19, 4), suggesting that maa-kheru may also
have had a more general meaning.

Dining&Death: Interdisciplinary perspectives on the „funerary banquet‟ in ancient art, burial and belief
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Evidence for banqueting in the vicinity of tombs
Elite tombs were divided into three main levels: the superstructure, courtyard
and subterranean burial complex.51 These levels also correspond with the
realms in which the blessed dead travelled – among celestial deities, mortals,
and the deceased and chthonic gods (Fig. 6). The middle sector is the area in
which the tomb owner could interact with friends and family members through
the media of false doors, stelai, and wall decoration. The focal point of
interaction would have been the statues at the end of the longitudinal hall,
which temporarily held the kas when they were summoned to meals, and
retained for posterity the images of the deceased in their blessed states.
However, given the size of Theban tombs it seems unlikely that guests,
servants and musicians could be accommodated in the manner suggested in
banquet scenes. While banqueters undoubtedly did visit tomb chapel statues
and present offerings to them, the narrow confines of the passageway leading
to the niche would have restricted seating and movement in a manner
incompatible with depictions of mortuary feasts. The courtyard with its shaft
leading from the burial chamber provided an open area that would have
facilitated dining, drinking and dancing, as well as providing free access for
the bas of the deceased to interact with the living and to supply corpses with
the nourishment provided by the banqueters.52
Earlier excavators‟ priorities in the clearance of tomb courtyards left major
gaps in the archaeological record, as exemplified by the approach of Norman
de Garis Davies in his report of work at TT 110:53 „Its real doorway … is
deeply buried at present and, as the thicknesses of the entrance do not
appear to be decorated, little or nothing is likely to be gained by its complete
clearance.‟ Davies noted that archaeologists at Amarna in the early 1900s
were equally selective in their treatment of finds:54 „heaps of sherds outside
the chief tombs … were thrown out by the excavators, and were already
51

Kampp-Seyfried 1998, 250.

52

For an overview of the components of a deceased person, including the ka and ba, see e.g.

Taylor 2001; Harrington 2013, 3-7, 13-15.
53

1932, 279.

54

1908, 14, n. 5.

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broken for the most part.‟ It is likely that much of the evidence for rituals
carried out in the vicinity of tombs has thus been irretrievably lost. However,
future excavations and even the careful study of archaeological reports for
remains of feasting in tomb chapels and courtyards (and in the vicinity of
graves/communal commemorative monuments in non-elite cemeteries) may
prove rewarding in terms of revealing patterns of mortuary meals and perhaps
their longevity.55 In the meantime, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that
offering rituals involving the presentation of food and drink, and, at certain
times of the year, communal feasting, as part of cultic activity centred around
deceased individuals (and their families) did take place at the tomb, though
the duration of mortuary rituals in the years following the death of the tomb
owner is unclear.56
Teodozja Rzeuska suggests that areas of scorched pavement in the vicinity of
tomb chapels in the Old Kingdom necropolis at Saqqara, with remains of
charcoal, plants, bones and ceramics, indicate that offerings were burnt for

55

For example, the examination of a spoil heap created by the pre-2002 excavators of the

Middle Kingdom (12th Dynasty) tomb of Djehutyhotep at Deir el-Barsha (and containing
material from the tomb) has revealed a range of pottery types that may be related to
feasting as well as offerings for the dead, including plates, cups, bowls and jars (Op de
Beeck 2006: 127). Some of these cups seem to have been reused for mixing paint, and
the practice of reutilising pottery in antiquity may be a significant factor in the apparent
dearth of material from some cemeteries. As Mary Dabney et al. (2004, 202), state, an
important preliminary question to ask when dealing with pottery is „whether it is reasonable
to expect to find large deposits of ceramics from feasts, since the vessels would retain
their utility after the meal was completed, and might continue in use afterward‟. This may
be true of some Egyptian wares as those depicted with banqueters seem to be of the
standard type used in everyday life.
56

Such remains have been discovered at Tell el-Daba in the Delta, where a fusion of

Egyptian and Hyksos funerary traditions seems to have taken place, with graves being
directly attached to houses and interaction with the dead occurring at the tomb doorway.
Excavators have discovered offering pits, remains of ritual meals, offering stands, and
pottery for libations in the courtyards (Miriam Müller, personal communication January
2013). For a discussion of the pottery, see Müller 2012, 119-182.

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the benefit of the deceased within the funerary complex.57 Such offerings
were collected into pottery vessels and deposited in tombs, a practice that
seems to have continued at this site into the New Kingdom.58 During the
funeral, vases apparently containing wine were deliberately smashed in a
ritual known as „breaking the red pots (sD dSrwt)‟.59 The destruction of the
remains of feasting and the vessels used may have marked the end of the
banquet, being a way of taking the food and bowls out of circulation,
transferring the essence of the victuals to the deceased and simultaneously
restoring the distance between the living and the dead.60 Evidence of the
practice of smashing pottery following funerary meals was found in 17th
Dynasty tombs at Dra Abu el-Naga, where sherds had been gathered and
placed into storage jars before final deposition near the burial chamber, or
ritually „killed‟ by knocking holes into or near the base.61 Evidence of breaking
pots and „cult ceramics‟ in the vicinity of tombs in the 18th Dynasty was
discovered in enclosures K 91.5 and K 91.7 at the same site.62 The early 18th
Dynasty tomb of Djehuty (TT 11) at Dra Abu el-Naga has a pit in the courtyard
containing floral bouquets and apparently deliberately broken vessels, and

57

2006, 295, 297. Similar remains in early Bronze Age Cretan cemeteries have been

interpreted as remains of feasting with the dead (Campbell-Green and Michelaki 2012, 1718).
58

Rzeuska 2006, 297; Quibell 1907, 27, pl. 25.

59

Van Dijk 1986; Willems 1990, 352.

60

For discussions of breaking and burning in mortuary contexts, see e.g. Parker Pearson

1993, 204; 1999, 10; Barley 1997, 178; Pinch 2003, 446 (ancient Egypt); Müller 1998, 798
(Tell el-Dab„a, Egypt); Mbiti 1969, 154 (Abaluyia of Kenya); Naquin 1988, 43, 57 (China),
Rutherford 2007, 226, 227 (Hittites and Mycenaeans); Collard 2012, 25 (Bronze Age Cyprus);
Wright 2004, 169 (Mycenae); Dabney et al. 2004, 202 (Mycenae); Borgna 2004, 262, n. 63,
263-264 (Minoan Crete).
61

Seiler 2005, pl. 4b. A similar practice was carried out in the cemetery at Sparta in the late

Hellenistic period. Vessels were pierced at the base so that they could not be reused, and
were therefore permanent gifts to the dead. Evidence for the ceremonial breakage and burial
of vessels was also found in the cemetery, as well as sherds from drinking cups used by
relatives during the funeral banquet (Tsouli, this volume).
62

Seiler 1995, 187, 191.

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pottery jars used in funerary offerings at the South Tombs cemetery at
Amarna also bear „killing holes‟ on the shoulders and bases.63
Directly in front of the 18th Dynasty tomb of Sennedjem at Akhmim,
excavators found layers of sand, rubble and broken pottery bowls, along with
fragments of a ceramic altar.64 The presence of the altar suggests that the
vessels may be associated with mortuary cult practices taking place in the
courtyard. Such practices evidently occurred in the forecourt of Tjanuni‟s tomb
(TT 74), where fragments of pottery, reed mats and other debris associated
with feasting were recovered.65 Maarten Raven found evidence of an offering
cult in the forecourt of the 18th Dynasty tomb of Maya and Meryt at
Saqqara,66 including a pottery assemblage, offering stands, an offering table,
a basin and a votive tablet. Food preparation was carried out in at least some
Theban tomb forecourts, as is indicated by the presence of ovens;67 several
votive chapels at Deir el-Medina possessed ovens as well, indicating that
preparation of food took place in forecourts, perhaps on feast days. 68
Courtyards, whether of chapels or tombs, therefore, could have

63

Lopez-Grande and Torrado de Gregorio 2008; Kemp 2009, 58–59. Dabney et al. (2004,

202) note that although ceramics might be smashed during a feast or afterwards, at large
gatherings the number of people combined with the consumption of alcohol virtually
guarantees a number of accidentally broken vessels, and those who had travelled a
significant distance to participate would probably discard bowls and cups before returning
home. This may be true of large festivals, such as the Feast of the Wadi, where people are
known to have travelled from across Egypt to observe the pageantry and celebrate at their
families‟ tombs (e.g. Harrington 2013, 138).
64

Ockinga 1997, 5.

65

Brack and Brack 1977, 60; Hartwig 2004, 12–13, 43–45.

66

2001, 8.

67

E.g. TT 63; Kampp 1996, 667, figs. 572, 573.

68

Chapel 561, annexe 450 had an oven and a semi-circular enclosure that was possibly a

niche for a statue of Renenutet, goddess of food and harvests (Bomann 1991, 59). Chapel
535 also had an oven (Bomann 1991, 67). Building 528 was associated with chapels 528,
529, 530, 531, and contained an oven, a series of receptacles and a T-shaped basin, a
combination that led Bomann (1991, 61–62) to conclude that it had been designed as a
mortuary garden (see also Kemp 1986, 21).

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accommodated food preparation, as seems to have been the case in Bronze
Age Crete, for example.69
Although evidence for cultic or communal activity from tomb chapels in the
form of pottery assemblages is often compromised (by tomb reuse, robbery or
inadequate recording), ceramics, depending on type and quantity, can
indicate the size and nature of offerings and meals held in and around the
tomb.70 In the New Kingdom, faience vessels decorated with black painted
designs of water lilies, tilapia fish, birds, marsh scenes, and Hathoric imagery
were produced, deriving mainly from tomb and temple contexts. 71 If they were
drinking bowls, the liquid in them may have been magically imbued with the
essence of the subjects depicted within (most of the motifs are directly related
to regeneration), in the same way that drinking water that had flowed over
texts on a „healing statue‟ were believed to confer their therapeutic properties
to the patient.72 The shallow red drinking bowls most frequently depicted in
banquet scenes were not differentiated in style or decoration from everyday
wares, in accord with the ideology and iconography of banquets that seemed
to emphasize community rather than individuality among guests.73 The tomb
owner, in contrast, is sometimes offered an elaborately decorated, goldcoloured bowl, marking his higher status.74 In Late Shang Dynasty China

69

Campbell-Green and Michelaki 2012, 17.

70

See, for example, Rose 2003 on pottery recording from the excavation of Theban tombs;

Hope 1989, 47 on material from the Ramesside tombs of Deir el-Medina. For comparable
ceramic assemblages from Prepalatial and Protopalatial Minoan cemeteries, see Borgna
2004, 257.
71

Milward 1982, 141. Bowls of this type have been found in coffins near the face of the

deceased (Porter 1988, 138).
72

Ritner 1993, 107.

73

For a physical example from an 18th Dynasty tomb, and a beer jar similar to those depicted

in banquet scenes, see Bourriau 1982, 78–79, nos 51, 52. Cf. Borgna 2004, 262-3 (Middle
Minoan period Kato Syme); Pollock 2003, 27 (Mesopotamia). Community does not
necessarily equate to egalitarianism, however, as suggested by seating arrangements, where
some people sat on the floor while others were provided with chairs or stools.
74

E.g. the tomb of Nebamun and Ipuky (TT 181): Porter and Moss 1960, 278 (3). Compare

the restriction of precious metal drinking vessels in Bronze Age Mycenae and Crete that

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elaborate bronze containers were used for feasting at the graveside: „The
presentation was made important by the costliness of the serving vessels as
well as the food and wine itself‟.75 The act of presenting these bowls in Egypt,
captured for eternity in tomb paintings, served to remind the viewer of the
tomb owner‟s access to expensive commodities, but may also have raised the
status of the daughter presenting the bowl in a display of familial unity and
wealth. Metal vessels might have been more widely used than is apparent
from the archaeological record: gold bowls such as the one found in the tomb
of Djehuty76 are depicted being presented to the tomb owner and his wife (or
mother, as in the tomb of Nebamun and Ipuky) as part of the banquet
activities,77 and metal vessels are found in museum collections along with the
bronze wine strainers also shown in use in tomb scenes.78 The lack of
provenanced examples is probably largely a result of theft and reuse.79
The functions of banqueting
The main purposes of feasting in cemeteries were ostensibly the
commemoration of the dead and communication with them: the role of feasts
in enhancing the status of the tomb owner and his family in this life and the
next along with the commensal aspects of banqueting are discussed below.
suggest convivial habits favouring exclusion rather than cohesion according to Borgna
2004, 263. Wright (2004, 147) notes that the „practice of depositing valuable metal vessels
in tombs from the Late Middle through the Late Bronze Age in the Aegean indicates the
value attached both to the objects and to the activities they symbolize‟. He also comments
that the „presence of drinking vessels in a tomb, especially of silver and gold (but also of
bronze or “tinned” clay), may refer to the status of the deceased as one who shares drinks
with special companions‟ (2004, 147).
75

Milledge Nelson 2003, 86. Alcoholic beverages are in themselves an important element

in social display, with dissemination often strictly controlled by certain sections of society,
as in Late Cypriot society (Steel 2004, 292). Private production of wine is illustrated in
many Theban tombs (e.g. Nakht, TT 52: Shedid and Seidel 1996, 66-67).
76

TT 11: Spalinger 1982, 119–121, no. 107. See also the gold-coloured bowl with a statuette

of Hathor in the centre: Spalinger 1982, 121–22, no. 108.
77

TT 181: Davies 1925, pl. 5.

78

See Poo 1995 for an overview of wine production and consumption in ancient Egypt.

79

E.g. Tomb robbery papyri P. Mayer A and B (Peet 1915a, 177; 1915b, 205–6), which

specifically mention the theft of gold, silver, and bronze objects from elite tombs.

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As Tim Campbell-Green and Flora Michelaki point out, while eating is a
routine activity, eating in a graveyard is not normal, and to dine in a cemetery
emphasizes the specialness of both the place and the occupation, which may
be associated with mnemonics and the concepts of remembering and
forgetting.80 Siegfried Schott suggested that barriers separating the dead from
the living were breached during festivals through the intoxication of the
celebrants.81 Although alcohol is clearly present in banquet scenes, the extent
to which it or its effects may have been strengthened by the addition of
narcotic substances has been the subject of much debate.82 Tomb owners‟
daughters are depicted offering footed bowls with one hand and holding small
vessels in the other. This may be an allusion to the goddess Mut (who was
strongly associated with Hathor), who is said to „mix the drink in the cup of
gold.‟83 If the intention of banquet participants was intoxication (as illustrated
by guests, both male and female, vomiting during the feast), it is plausible that
the contents of these small vials or double vessels when mixed into alcoholic
beverages was intended to increase their potency and thereby expedite the
process. Anthony Seeger notes that where music and dance accompany the
ingestion of stimulants, depressants, or hallucinogens, „the structures of the

80

2012, 19. For the importance of remembering and forgetting in mortuary contexts see

Collard 2012, 30; Harrington 2013, 124-126.
81

Schott 1952, 76–77. Also Daumas 1970, 65. Cf. Ogden 2001, xvii, in relation to Greek and

Roman necromancy; Sherratt 1991 for narcotic consumption in Later Neolithic Europe.
82

Alcohol is described by Jennings et al. (200η, 27θ) as „perhaps the most ancient, the most

widely used, and the most versatile drug in the world‟. The use of narcotics in rituals and
feasts is a cross-cultural phenomenon, and often restricted to the elite, for example the
Aztecs and their use of cacao (Smith et al. 2003, 245–47).
83

Tomb of Horemheb, TT 78: Lichtheim 1945, 184; Brack and Brack 1980, pl. 32a. Alcohol

pacified the goddess in her anger (according to the myth of the Destruction of Mankind:
Szkapowska 2003, 235), which may be linked with the need to appease ( sHtp) the deceased,
who could also become enraged and threaten the lives and livelihoods of the living (see, for
example, the Instruction of Ani, Papyrus Bulaq IV, 22, 1–3: Quack 1994, 114–17, 182–83,
324–25 (plates); McDowell 1999, 104). Wine for heroic drinking was usually explicitly „mixed‟
and served in mixing bowls or craters in Homeric epic, the additive usually being water
(Sherratt 2004, 325), but see note 107 below.

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movements and sounds may define the altered experience, or be created by
it, or both.‟84 An overview of the potential use of narcotics is given below.
Mandrake
The fruit of the mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) is often confused with that
of the persea tree,85 although the mandrake has a distinct calyx covering the
lower part of the fruit.86 Newberry stated that mandrake fruits, sliced in half
and with the calices removed, were incorporated into the floral collarette found
on Tutankhamun‟s third coffin.87 This would accord with texts such as the
harper‟s songs from TT η0 and TT 3η9:88 „Put … garlands of water lilies and
mandrakes on your breast‟. Mandrake root has intoxicating and narcotic
qualities, but as with opium, it is not clear to what extent these properties were
exploited in ancient Egypt. In Assyrian, Canaanite, ancient Greek and
European medieval cultures the mandrake was believed to induce and sustain
passion, and in the Bible it is said to cause sexual excitement.89 The scent of
the mandrake is unique, described by Fleisher and Fleisher as „intoxicating
and addictive‟.90 The smell is only perceptible when the fruit is fully ripe, and
84

Seeger 1994, 686.

85

Mimusops laurifolia: Murray 2000, 625; Manniche 1989, 121; Germer 1985, 170–71. See

e.g. Germer (1989, 52–53) who rejects earlier interpretations of actual fruit (e.g. Newberry in
Carter 1972, 233) and glass models from the tomb of Tutankhamun as mandrake, and
identifies them as persea. The glass fruits (Carter no. 585u; JE 61870 and 61871), one
bearing a cartouche of Thutmose III, were not photographed by Burton. Germer (1985, 148;
1990) mistakes mandrake fruit for persea in the banquet scene in tomb of Nakht (TT 52) and
elsewhere in her discussion of floral garlands.
86

Hepper 2009, 15. Mandrake plants were introduced from Syria and Palestine and

established in Egyptian gardens by the beginning of the New Kingdom (Keimer 1951: 391).
87

In Carter 1972, 233. For faience collars incorporating imitation mandrake fruit, see for

example, Eaton-Krauss 1982, 234–35, no. 308. According to Jakow Galil (in Bosse-Griffiths
1983: 66), the mandrake fruit cannot be dried for use in floral collars because it contains too
much water: perhaps the pulp was removed to aid the drying process.
88

Neferhotep and Inherkhau, 18th and 20th Dynasties: after Lichtheim 1945, 178, 201.

89

Fleisher and Fleisher 1994, 245, 250.

90

Fleisher and Fleisher 1994, 248–49. Its smell is emphasised, for instance, in O. Hermitage

1125, 2–3 (circa temp. Ramesses IV: Mathieu 1996, 108, n. 363): xnm.k xnm.k mi pA (n)

rrm.wt („your smell, your smell (is) like that (of) mandrakes‟).

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because it spoils quickly it would need to be harvested shortly before use.91 In
banquet scenes female guests are shown passing mandrakes or holding them
to the faces of other guests (Fig. 7), actions that are also evoked in love
poetry.92 Such texts show an apparent relationship between breathing the
scent of mandrake and the loss of sexual inhibitions. The connection between
mandrake and lust is also made in Papyrus Harris 500,93 where a woman‟s
mouth is described as a water lily bud and her breasts as mandrakes. 94 Within
the context of banquet scenes, however, the emphasis seems to be more on
sensuality and creating a relaxed atmosphere, since men and women do not
offer mandrake fruit (or water lilies) to one another, but only pass them among
members of their own gender.95 Combining mandrake with wine could induce
sleep,96 which may be significant if communication with the dead was
anticipated through dreams.

91

In April and May: Newberry in Carter 1972, 234. „Ripe mandrakes‟ (nA rrm.wt pr.y) are

listed among other desirable plants and flowers in the love poem O. DM 1266/O. CGC 25218:
I, stanza 5, line 23: Mathieu (1996, 101; 110, n. 378).
92

O. DM 1266/O. CGC 25218: I, 18–19: Mathieu 1996, 100; cf. Fox 1985, 37; Landgráfová

and Navrátilová 2009, 119.
93

Poem 4, lines 1, 11 12: Mathieu 1996, 57. Cf. O. DM 1266/O. CGC 25218: I, 3–5 (Mathieu

1996, 97; cf. Fox 1985, 31; Landgráfová and Navrátilová 2009, 144–45), and O. Gardiner
33913 (Landgráfová and Navrátilová 2009, 146).
94

Landgráfová and Navrátilová 2009, 172. See Derchain (1975, 72) for a discussion of the

erotic connotations of the water lily and the mandrake as an aphrodisiac. Kate Bosse-Griffiths
(1983: θ9) suggested that some foreign women of the royal harem probably „brought with
them the folklore knowledge of the power of the fruit of the mandragora to arouse passion, to
intoxicate, to create sons. To please these women, and perhaps the king himself, the
mandragora plant was fetched from foreign countries and made at home in the gardens of the
rich where its fruits could be gained without danger.‟ She also interpreted the depiction of
mandrakes on the small golden shrine of Tutankhamun as intended to „strengthen the
potency and sexual power that gives life. Yet this power is not restricted to the relation
between the king and queen, but is meant to benefit the whole country‟ (1983: 72).
95

The connection between sexuality/sensuality and the mandrake fruit is also made in the

Song of Songs, 13–14: Fleisher and Fleisher 1994, 250; Fox 1985, 92.
96

P. Leiden I, 383: Harer 1985, 52. Cf. Simoons 1998, 113–16. A First Intermediate Period

letter to the dead (Wente 1990, 215) suggests that people could sleep in tombs in order to
communicate with the deceased.

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Water lilies (‘lotus’)
In the 18th Dynasty the mandrake and blue lily were combined in bunches,
with the yellow fruit visible between the lily petals.97 Two species of lily were
known to and depicted by the ancient Egyptians: Nymphaea cerulea Savigny
(blue) and Nymphaea lotus Linnaeus Willdenow (white).98 The three-day
flowering cycle of the blue lily came to symbolise rebirth and the passage of
the sun.99 Harer concludes that banquets must have taken place in the
morning because the flowers are shown open, and Ossian suggests that they
represented an „iconographic clock‟.100 However, blue lilies are depicted
simultaneously in full bloom and as closed buds, often in the same stylised
bouquets, which gives the scenes in which they appear a timeless quality.
Aside from a pleasant scent, lily blossoms and rhizomes contain narcotic
alkaloids that are soluble in alcohol.101 Both Harer and Emboden have
suggested that lily flowers draped over or around wine jars indicate that the
blossoms had been mixed with the contents, and Papyrus Ebers 209 and 479

97

Merlin 2003, 317. This arrangement, with or without the mandrake, was a common means

of depicting the bouquet of Amun or other bouquets that were presented in temples before
being offered to the dead, e.g. tomb of Pairy, TT 139 (Hartwig 2004, 254, pl. 4,1). According
to Dittmar (1986, 125), the bouquet obtained life-giving properties when it was placed before
the god, being transformed into a „bouquet of life‟ (Lebenstrauß) that could give divine powers
to the recipient. For a discussion of the bouquet of Amun in Theban tombs, see Muhammed
1966, 96–98.
98

Irvine and Trickett 1953, 363–34. The lotus (Nelumbo as opposed to Nymphaea) was not

present in Egypt in the New Kingdom. Nelumbo nucifera, the eastern sacred lotus, was
introduced from India in the Persian period: Germer 1985, 39–40; Hepper 2009, 11.
99

I.e. the flower opened and closed each day for three consecutive days, sinking below the

surface of the water in the evening: Ossian 1999, 50; Emboden 1978, 397; Szkapowska
2003, 226. In contrast to some of the other flowers depicted in banquet scenes, lilies blossom
all year (Ossian 1999, 52).
100

Harer 1985, 52; Ossian 1999, 59.

101

Harer 1985, 52. Counsell (2008, 208, 215) has challenged this research, however, and

suggests instead that the high bioflavonoid content would have provided health benefits.

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describe lilies „spending the night‟ in alcoholic mixtures.102 If this is the case,
then the golden vessels passed to the tomb owner and his wife during
banquet scenes may be significant as they also have stylised blossoms
around the rim, suggesting that lilies were steeping in the liquid. Of the few
surviving examples of this bowl type, the Louvre example contains a figure of
Hathor in bovine form with a projection in the base through which flower stalks
may have been threaded.103 Emboden found lily extract to be a visual and
auditory hallucinogen when he tested it on himself, with possible dosagerelated emetic effects.104 That sickness from narcotics or alcohol poisoning
was anticipated is indicated by the presence of containers apparently provided
for the guests‟ convenience (Fig. 8).105
Opium
Opium poppies (Papaver Somniferum, as opposed to corn poppies, Papaver
rhoeas) are not depicted in Egyptian tombs, but vessels that might originally
have contained milky latex extracted from the plant have been discovered in
mortuary contexts.106 Robert Merrillees‟ belief that the ancient Egyptians used
opium as both a sedative and narcotic has been widely criticised,107 though

102

Harer 1985, 54; 1978, 400, fig. 3; Szpakowska 2003, 227; Counsell 2008, 206. The

suggestions of Harer and Emboden are disputed by Sheikholeslami (personal
communication, 2011).
103

Spalinger 1982, 121–22, no. 108; see Desroches-Noblecourt 1990, 20, or Hayes 1959,

206, fig. 121 for a reconstruction.
104

1981, 44, 55, 80. It is possible that plant chemicals, in addition to alcohol, were responsible

for at least some of the depictions of vomiting at 18th Dynasty banquets (for instance
Djeserkareseneb, TT 38: Davies 1963, pl. 6). Moldenke (1952: 137) notes that the mandrake
„is slightly poisonous … being principally an emetic, purgative and narcotic‟, and the fruit may
therefore also have induced sickness in some guests.
105

Probably pgs or bronze „spittoons‟, from the verb pgs (old psg) „to spit‟: Janssen 1975, 429.

See also Davies (1925, 15), who mentions the use of a spittoon in the banquet scene of
Tetaky (TT 15).
106

Hepper 2009, 16; Germer 1985, 44.

107

Merrillees 1962, 292. The medicinal value of opium was apparently recognised in ancient

Egypt, since it is cited in Papyrus Ebers (782) as a sedative for crying children (Bisset et al.
1994, 109). Critics: for example, Szpakowska 2003, 225; Counsell 2008, 198. In Homer‟s

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his assertion that Cypriot Base Ring I ware juglets imitated scarified poppy
heads and hence probably contained juice from the capsules seems
reasonable: „illiterate or not, one would hardly expect to find anything but
tomato extract in a container shaped like a tomato.‟108 He cites the discovery
of an unscored opium poppy head from Tomb 1389 at Deir el-Medina as
evidence for cultivation of the plant by the reign of Thutmose III (1479–1425
BC),109 although because the grave was disturbed Joseph Hobbs has argued
that the capsule could be a later intrusive deposit.110 Based on the quantities
of Base Ring ware juglets from Cypriot tombs, David Collard (2012, 31)
suggests that: „the apparent popularity of the consumption of alcohol and
opium in Bronze Age Cypriote mortuary ritual may relate to the ability of these
substances to simultaneously reduce an individual‟s grief and erase their
memories of the deceased, allowing the living to focus upon resuming social
life without them.‟ He also comments (2012, 30) that the addition of a liquid
solution of opium to alcoholic beverages would avoid the necessity of drinking
large quantities of wine to achieve the desired state. The effect of alcohol and
opium as sedatives, causing lethargy, loss of motor-control and impairment of
the senses (Collard 2012, 30; Milledge Nelson 2003, 67), may have been
understood as a means of communicating with the dead by imitating their
condition, since the Egyptian dead (and Osiris, the god of the underworld)
were said to be „weary‟ or „weary-hearted‟.
Ernesto Schiaparelli‟s publication of the tomb of Kha includes a report
claiming that morphine, and therefore opium, was present in some of the
excavated vessels.111 The findings were questioned by Norman Bisset and
others, who state that while there is insufficient evidence to suggest that the
vases contained opiates, opium may have formed part of the original contents,

Odyssey, Helen mixes wine with „a sedative with euphoric effect‟ (ν πεν ὲς ἄχολον), thought
to be a liquid preparation of opium, given to her by Polydamna of Egypt (Sherratt 2004, 327).
108

Merrillees 1974, 32.

109

Merrillees 1968, 155.

110

Hobbs 1998, 66.

111

Schiaparelli 1927, 154.

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which has degraded over time.112 The reuse of vessels makes identifying the
substances they initially contained problematic, and although Merrillees‟
argument for the widespread use of opium is persuasive, particularly with
regard to the shape of Base Ring ware juglets, it cannot as yet be conclusively
proven that the Egyptians used the dried exuded latex of P. Somniferum as a
narcotic or hallucinogen.113
Rituals to protect banqueters from malevolent forces
Banquets were potentially dangerous times for both the celebrants and the
deceased, particularly when they continued through the night.114 Various
means were employed to ward off demons and the malevolent dead,115
including the use of unguents and oils (which were also used for ritual
cleansing),116 mandrakes,117 execration rituals (including breaking vessels;
see above) and the creation of loud noises. The domestic dwarf-god Bes,118
protector of the vulnerable, including infants, pregnant women and sleepers,
was invoked through his association with frame drums (as used at banquets
112

Bisset et al.1994, 106. Collard (2012, 26) states that Base Ring ware juglets have been

found to contain opium alkaloid residues in early and late examples, and suggests that
significant quantities of opium were consumed in ceremonies conduced in the vicinity of
Bronze Age Cypriot tombs.
113

Merrillees 1968, 157. Cf. Krikorian 1975, 113.

114

E.g. the Festival of Amenhotep lasted for four days (Hagen and Koefoed 200η, 19; Černý

1927, 183–84) and the Wadi Festival for two (Hartwig 2004, 11), suggesting that they
involved night vigils in the same manner as the Festival of Drunkenness (Szkapowska 2003,
236).
115

For an overview of malevolent entities, see Szkapowska 2009.

116

Thompson 1998, 242–43. It is probably significant in this context that Hathor was „Mistress

of Myrrh‟ (Schott 19η3, 78). Oils were also used to pacify and thus neutralise potentially
antagonistic spirits of the dead in Mesopotamia: see Dalley 1993, 20.
117

Aside from its scent and association with sensuality, the mandrake had another role that

would have been equally significant in the context of rituals and feasts in the tomb: it was
used to „expel the “influence (aAa)” of gods, the dead, adversaries, and other malign beings‟
according to Papyrus Ebers: Dawson 1933, 135; Wreszinski 1913, §182, 225–28, 231, 236.
Cf. Simoons 1998, 117.
118

„Bes‟ is the collective name given to a group of iconographically similar deities: see

Romano 1989.

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and festivals) and musicians.119 The use of drums and other explosive sounds
used in life-crisis ceremonies in modern Afghanistan is thought to be
apotropaic, protecting people in liminal states when they are vulnerable to
attack from evil spirits.120 The rhythm of drums when played to accompany
dancing or in procession unites people in a collective consciousness and can
facilitate arousal and trance-like states,121 and it is likely that the use of frame
drums by musicians simultaneously invoked protective deities while defending
against demons.122
The economic and social implications of banqueting
As Susan Pollock (2003, 19), notes:
Commensality – the social context of sharing the consumption of food
and drink – is a pervasive feature of agrarian societies, and there are
typically strong rules that govern generosity and the sharing of beverages
and food … The ways that food and drink are prepared, presented, and
consumed contribute to the construction and communication of social
relations, ranging from the most intimate and egalitarian to the socially
distant and hierarchical …. How one consumes is related to who one is.

18th Dynasty tomb paintings indicate that men were in charge of wine
production, while beer, a staple part of the Egyptian diet, was probably mainly
produced by women, who were also responsible for bread-making.123 Beer

119

For example the dancing lyre player in the tomb of Nakhtamun (TT 341), depicted with Bes

tattoos on her thighs: Davies and Gardiner 1948, pl. 28.
120

Doubleday 1999, 103, 118.

121

Doubleday 1999, 126.

122

Drums were beaten during the night vigil as part of pre-burial rites (Assmann 2005, 295) to

protect the dead. An inscription in the temple of Medamud in describing the Festival of
Drunkenness states that the inebriated celebrants drum for Hathor „in the cool of the night‟
(Quack 2010, 348; see also Darnell 1995, 49–50, 54). Amun is also associated with loud
noise through the myth of the creation of the world where the silence at the dawn of time was
broken by a cry from the god in the form of a great goose: Szkapowska 2003, 232.
123

This is in accord with general anthropological trends: Sigaut 2005, 295. See also Sanchez-

Romero 2011, 16–17 for a discussion of gendered activities. For an illustration of the division

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typically spoiled within a week and would therefore need to be produced in a
single batch shortly before it was due to be consumed, whereas wine
remained drinkable for up to five years and could be stored, transported, and
used as a tradable commodity.124 The limited shelf-life of beer would have
resulted in an intensive period of production prior to a major event, such as a
large banquet or festival, which along with related activities such as food
processing, unguent and oil manufacture, and the production of floral
garlands, reed mats and linen garments, would have required a large,
organised and skilled workforce and a substantial economic outlay.125
Feasting thus had the potential to enhance the status and profiles of the
officials responsible.
Despite the apparent gendered division of labour, the drinks themselves were
not distributed in a manner indicative of sexual bias:126 men and women at
banquets are equally depicted with wine bowls and beer jars and intoxicated
to the point of sickness.127 Elite women and men are sometimes represented
on separate registers, but they may be served by either female or male
attendants, and couples are frequently shown seated together. According to
David Mandelbaum, changes in drinking customs may provide clues to

of labour (including women grinding corn), see the tomb of Nebamun, TT 17: SäveSöderbergh 1957, pl. 22.
124

Jennings et al. 2005, 286.

125

Jennings et al. 2005, 288; Spielmann 2002, 197.

126

This is in direct contrast to Sanchez-Romero‟s (2011, 18) observation that women are

often expected to drink less than (and in a different place to) men or to abstain from alcohol
altogether. See also Mandelbaum 1965, 282, who notes that drinking is usually considered
more appropriate for men than for women.
127

Alcohol does not merely break down barriers between the living and the dead, but also

lowers inhibitions, allowing, for example, males to behave in ways that might otherwise be
considered inappropriate: „Their talk becomes more sentimental, their bodies more
expressive. They hug one another with greater freedom, laugh, cry, and dance in ways
that are said to express their true sentiments, their true selves‟ (Gefou-Madianou 1992,
13). Thus (sacred) gatherings where alcohol was consumed were important outlets for the
expression of suppressed emotions and actions.

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fundamental social changes.128 It is not clear whether drinking practices
changed after the 18th Dynasty (when the mortuary banquet scene was
withdrawn from tomb decoration), but the Festival of Drunkenness continued
to be celebrated into the Greco-Roman period, so it may be suggested that
while images of alcohol consumption in the presence of the dead were no
longer produced, the practice itself continued.
The communal aspect of drinking is emphasised in texts where daughters129
seem to encourage their deceased parents to overindulge, uttering the phrase
often translated as „make merry‟ (iri hrw nfr),130 while offering a bowl probably
containing wine.131 An inscription above one such scene in the tomb of User
(TT 21) reads:132
For your ka
Drink, be happily drunk (swri tx nfr),
celebrate the holiday!

O dignitary who loves wine
and is the favourite of frankincense (antyw),133
may you never be lacking
concerning satisfying your desire
inside your beautiful house.134

In the tomb of Paheri at Elkab, one of the female guests turns to a servant and
requests 18 vessels of wine, stating that she wishes to become intoxicated
128

1965, 288.

129

The female figures are often uncaptioned, but when an inscription is provided the women

are usually identified as the tomb owner‟s daughters, e.g. Nebamun, TT 90 (Davies 1923, pl.
23); Djeserkareseneb, TT 38 (Davies 1963, pl. 6).
130

Lorton 1975; Wiebach 1986, 277–78.

131

For examples see Schott 1950, 127–30.

132

Schott 1952, 82, no. 123; 1950, 127, no. 80; Davies 1913, 26, pls 25, 26. Similar themes

may be seen in hymns to Hathor, for which see Szkapowska 2003, 233 with references.
133

Davies 1913, 26, n. 7: i.e. who is never without wine and incense.

134

[of eternity] – i.e. tomb.

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and is parched.135 The sharp contrast between enjoying alcohol during life in
the context of banquets and enforced abstinence in the afterlife is suggested
in harpists‟ and lutists‟ songs, where ancestors are described as those whose
„view is unknown concerning celebrating the holiday: their hearts have
forgotten drunkenness‟,136 and funerary laments, such as that in the tomb of
Mose:137 „he who liked to get drunk is now in a land without even water.‟
These laments, inscribed above funeral procession scenes, sometimes in
tombs that also contain depictions of mortuary banquets, are superficially
similar to harpers‟ songs in their apparently „heretical‟ approach to death and
the afterlife.138 They are characterised by a subversive pessimism in which no
comfort counters the overwhelming negativity they express.139
The cyclical and recurrent nature of feasting meant that it was an ideal context
for the renewal of ideological messages, the perception of temporal continuity
and the sanctioning of the social order as the natural order.140 A sense of

135

EK 3, „My insides are (like) straw‟: Schott 19η0, 129, no. 8θ; Tylor and Griffith 1894, pl. 7.

Cf. the scene of apparently drunken guests being carried in the 18th Dynasty tomb of Senna,
TT 169 (Murray 2000, 578, fig. 23.3).
136

Lutist‟s song in TT 1η8, Tjanefer, 20th Dynasty: Wente 19θ2, 12θ–28; Porter and Moss

1960, 270 (16). Distinctions were also drawn between intoxication in secular and religious
contexts: drunkenness outside the bounds of festivals was socially unacceptable in Egypt
(e.g. the Instructions of Any: Lichtheim 1976, 137), as it was in many ancient cultures, (e.g.
Aztec [Smith et al. 2003, 24]; Greek [Sherratt 2004, 325]). Alcohol consumption occurred as
part of collective religious experiences and expressions of community solidarity, and in this
sense may be compared to modern Mediterranean views of drinking and drunkenness: „To
eat and drink are by definition acts which imply commensal relations. They cannot or rather
should not take place alone, individually. They are acts enmeshed within the collectivity‟
(Dimitra Gefou-Madianou 1992, 14). Women in particular are stigmatised for being inebriated
as it indicates a lack of self-control, self-respect, and is „even regarded as dangerous, an
indication of uncontrolled sexuality‟ (Gefou-Madianou 1992, 16).
137

TT 137: Sweeney 2001, 44; Lüddeckens 1943, 134, no. 64.

138

E.g. TT 50, Neferhotep, temp. Horemheb: Porter and Moss 1960: 95-6. Assmann 1977,

76.
139

Sweeney 2001, 44–45; Zandee 1960, 91.

140

Jiménez and Montón-Subías 2011, 131, 146. Campbell-Green and Michelaki (2012, 19)

point out that „activity at the tombs repeated over many generations serves to reinforce the

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community and a link with the past, including the ancestors and recently
deceased, were created. Music and dance are often passed on through oral
traditions, so a sense of belonging probably pervaded banquets, although this
may have been tempered by perceptions of distance, asymmetry and social
exclusion by those outside the tomb owner‟s sphere of influence.141 While
feasting in the courtyard in theory would allow all to participate, including the
ritually impure (for example, menstruating women, people who had had recent
sexual intercourse, those with disabilities), social exclusion may still have
been a factor.142 One New Kingdom didactic text warns against excluding
peers from private feasts, however: „You should not celebrate your festival
without your neighbours (imi.k irt Hb.k nn sAHw.k).; they will surround you,
mourning, on the day of [your] burial‟143 The importance of banquets as a
means of reciprocation and of creating and maintaining relationships is
outlined by Louise Steel:144
„Feasts are a major arena for public display. They are visual
pageants, occasions for music, dancing, recitation of epics and
shared consumption of the fruits of labour. The social and political
functions of feasting are closely intertwined. Hospitality is used to
establish and maintain social relations and to forge alliances, and
feasts are frequently venues for the exchange of gifts.‟145

link between the living and the dead, the past and the present – a link made all the more
powerful if the remains of these past activities lie literally at their feet‟.
141

Belonging: Seeger 1994, 699. Exclusion: Jiménez and Montón-Subías 2011, 146.

142

See for example prohibitions in the 6th Dynasty tombs of Khentika and Hezy: Zandee

1960, 34, 197; Sethe 1906, 260, 12; Silverman 2000, 13, 11.
143

O. UC 39614/ O. Petrie 11: Hagen 2005, 144. See also Jauhiainen 2009, vii.

144

2004, 283 Cf. Smith 2003, 54 (Egypt). Steel also distinguishes between „communal

feasts‟ that emphasise social cohesion and identity, and „patron-sponsored feasts‟,
exclusive events where the patron invites participants to join the group (2004, 283). The
limited number of banqueters represented in tomb scenes seems to suggest the latter
situation for mortuary banquets in New Kingdom Egypt.
145

Drinking parties in Egypt seem to have involved gift-giving (Jauhiainen 2009, 281), and

gifts were exchanged on the anniversaries of an individual‟s death (Toivari-Viitala 2001:
225).

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The songs of harpers and other musicians
Harpers‟ songs are attested from the Old Kingdom (2η7η–2134 BC) onwards,
reaching their full development in the New Kingdom.146 The earliest extant
version of the „new‟ style of song evoking apparently ambivalent attitudes
towards death and the afterlife is that of Antef (below) from the 18th Dynasty
tomb of Paatenemheb at Saqqara:147

Generations pass away,
and others remain
since the time of the ancestors.
The gods who existed before rest in their pyramids
and the glorified blessed dead (saHw Axw) are likewise buried in their
pyramids.
(But) the tomb builders,
their places do not exist;
behold what has become of them!
I have heard the words
of Imhotep and Hardjedef,
as they told them entirely.
Behold their places!
Their walls have crumbled,
their places do not exist,
like those who never came into being.
No-one has come (back) from there
that he might tell (of) their condition,
146

Altenmüller 1978. Not all tombs contain a harper‟s or musician‟s song: Lichtheim 194η,

210 suggests the reason for the variability in the songs is that they were „always an
adornment, never a necessity‟, because the journey to the afterlife did not depend on the
song in the same way as it relied on prayers and spells.
147

Now Leiden K6: fragment with text above four musicians and a blind harpist. Only part of

the text is preserved but a 20th Dynasty copy is included among love poetry in Papyrus Harris
500 (BM EA 10060); for a comparison see Fox 1977. Translations include Lichtheim 1973,
194–97; Fox 1977, 403–12; 1985, 345–47; Lorton 1968, 45–48 (although his rendering is not
widely accepted); Osing 1992, 11–13; Schott 1950, 54–55; Assmann 1977, 55–56. Text: Fox
1985, 378–80; Budge 1923, pls 45–46. The translation presented here is my own, following
Lichtheim and Fox.

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that he might calm our hearts
until we go to the place they have gone …
Follow your heart (as long as) you exist.
Place myrrh on your head,
clothe yourself in fine linen,
anoint yourself with the true wonders of the god‟s property.
Increase your pleasures.
Do not let your heart grow weary:
follow your heart148 and your happiness.149
Do your things on earth according to the commands of your heart.
To you will come that day of mourning.
The weary-hearted150 does not hear their wailing,
and their weeping will not rescue a man‟s heart from the tomb.
Refrain:
Celebrate the holiday,
do not weary of it.
Look, it is not given to any man to make his property go with him.
Look, there is no one who has gone who will come (back) again.

The questioning of orthodox views expressed in this text has been attributed
to the religious upheaval of the Amarna period,151 since traditional afterlife
beliefs seem to have been suppressed under Akhenaten‟s rule, although
parallels may also be drawn with Middle Kingdom didactic texts such as the
Dialogue of a Man and His Ba.152

148

Sms ib. „Heart‟ here may have the sense of „conscience‟ rather than „desire‟. For a

discussion of this expression and its usage see Lorton 1968, 41–54, although Fox disagrees
with his interpretations: Fox 1977, 410–11, n. 25.
149

nfrt, probably in a less restrained sense than Lorton‟s „[moral] goodness‟ (Lorton 1968,

46), rather a physical and emotional enjoyment of the festivities.
150

An epithet of Osiris, the god of the dead, possibly intended here in the sense of the

deceased in general.
151

For example Kákosy and Fábián 1995, 214; Fox 1977, 403.

152

Assmann 1977, 65; Allen 2011.

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The songs are found in association with funerary and mortuary banquets, and
are generally inscribed next to the image of the male harpist, or less
frequently, a female lutist. According to Patricia Bochi, the musician is an icon
„for the wisdom that embodies the essence of the song‟, but this analogy only
works for the image of the mature, seated harper, not for younger men or
women.153 The head of Maat, the goddess of truth, carved onto some harp
finials, including instruments held by women,154 may be another way of
conveying the wisdom contained in musician‟s songs, as might the feather of
Maat in the hair of the female harpist in Paheri‟s tomb.155 The blindness of
many shaven-headed harpists may be genuine or an artistic convention,156
perhaps depicted to enhance their status as skilful musicians. It is possible
that an image was included with the song to act as an „enlarged
determinative‟,157 to draw visitors‟ attention to the text or to indicate the
presence of the song for the illiterate who may have known of the content
through oral versions sung or recited during feasts. It may be the case that in
tombs with the image of a harpist but no related song, the figure acted as a
mnemonic device to remind viewers of the sentiments expressed in the poetry
found elsewhere (Fig. 9).158
Many harpers‟ songs have a basic tripartite structure: an introductory passage
naming and praising the tomb owner, a central part concerned with the state
of tombs, the abandonment of mortuary cults and the apparent futility of
funerary preparations,159 and a concluding section in which the tomb owner
(while alive) and visitors are encouraged to enjoy themselves and accept the
inevitability of death. It is therefore significant that with the exception of P.
153

1998, 93.

154

For example Rekhmire, TT 100: Davies 1943, pl. 66.

155

EK 3 at Elkab: Tylor 1895, pls 11, 12.

156

Bochi 1998, 95.

157

Bochi 1998, 94.

158

E.g. Nakht, TT 52: Shedid and Seidel 1996, 46.

159

Cooney 2007, 297–98 states that these texts only question functional materialism as it

relates to death, focusing on ritual activity in the context of life (dressing in linen, using myrrh)
rather than death (building tombs and coffins), and casting doubt on the effectiveness of the
extent of material production in preparation for the afterlife.

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Harris η00, all harpers‟ and orchestral songs derive from tombs.160 Sentiments
similar to those expressed in harpers‟ songs are found elsewhere in the New
Kingdom and later. For example, the biographical inscription on the temple
statue of Nebnetjeru dating to the 22nd Dynasty states:161
I spent my lifetime in contentment
without worry and without illness.
I made my days festive
With wine and myrrh …
(because) I knew the darkness of the valley.

Since the harpers‟ songs often accompany figures of harpists, lutists and
groups of musicians in the vicinity of banqueters, it is possible that they were
intended to remind funeral, festival and banquet attendees of the brevity of
life162 and the need to celebrate in the company of their family and friends
both living and deceased before they too faced the „day of landing‟, as in the
tomb of Neferhotep:163
Celebrate the holiday, o god‟s father!
Put incense and fine oil
together to your nostrils
And garlands of water lilies and
mandrakes on your breast,
While your sister whom you love
sits at your side.
160

Bochi 1998, 89.

161

After Frood, in press. Lorton 1968, 43; Assmann 1977, 80.

162

Neferhotep II (TT η0): „As for the span of earthly affairs, it is the manner of a dream‟:

Lichtheim 1945, 197. Cf. Ostracon Glasgow D.1925.69: McDowell 1993, 7. Herodotus
recorded a similar practice from his observations of Egyptian feasts (Histories, Book II): „In
social meetings among the rich, when the banquet is ended, a servant carries round to the
several guests a coffin, in which there is a wooden image of a corpse, carved and painted to
resemble nature as nearly as possible, about a cubit or two cubits in length. As he shows it to
each guest in turn, the servant says, “Gaze here, and drink and be merry; for when you die,
such will you be.”‟ http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/herodotus/h4/book2.html.
163

TT 50, song I: Hari 1985, pl. 4.

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Put song and music before you.
Ignore all evil, recall for yourself joy,
until that day of landing comes
at the land that loves silence.

Jan Assmann highlights the contrast between the themes presented in the
songs and their context: the tomb with its promise of endurance and
contentment after death, versus the reality of the vulnerability of mortuary
monuments, uncertainties regarding the afterlife and the „inconsolable pain‟ of
the widow.164 In this light, the songs may be seen as an outlet for cynicism
caused by the evident incompatibility between ideals and realities regarding
death and the hereafter.165
Conclusions
The 18th Dynasty elite tomb played an important role in the commemoration
of the owner (and to a lesser extent his family: Fig. 10), provided a link to the
past and assisted in the maintenance of social order through the feasts
celebrated within or adjacent to it. Equally, a grave is, by its nature, a liminal
space, occupying an ambiguous and unstable position between the worlds of
the living and the dead, because it is located simultaneously in the realm of
the living and the underworld.166 This liminality combined with the latent power
of the dead meant that the tomb complex acted as a space in which the living
and the dead could come together. Here, through the creation of the
appropriate environment through ritual, music, dance and intoxication, the
borders between worlds became permeable and allowed the living to interact
directly with the dead.167 In these scenes, the depiction of alcohol is given
precedence over food, because it was through wine and beer (with or without
164

Assmann 1977, 59, 84.

165

John Baines 2003, 7 states (in relation to Middle Kingdom literature) that the oral sphere

(from which harpers‟ songs are believed to originate) was the context in which the untoward
and critical would have been thematised and where concerns could be mobilised and positive
elements in them uncovered.
166

Anderson 2002, 232 (in relation to Athenian tombs).

167

For a discussion of tombs as places of family burial and commemoration, see Dorman

2003.

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the addition of narcotic substances) that the celebrants gained access to the
realms of the gods and the dead.
Banquets were ritualised communal events that served to reinforce social
bonds through shared experience, though how inclusive these events were is
not clear: for example, they are likely to have been restricted on the basis of
kinship or class affiliation. A hierarchical pattern, embodying the social order,
is distinguishable in the manner in which the guests are seated in Egyptian
banquet scenes, some near the tomb owner on high-backed chairs, others at
a distance kneeling on reed mats.168 The significance of tomb decoration, of
which banquet scenes were a part, lies to a certain extent in its function as a
forum for elite display, an exhibition of wealth and the accompanying access
to skilled craftsmen. In commissioning the creation of an aesthetically pleasing
composition, the tomb owner also increased the prospective number of
visitors and thereby the chances of receiving a physical or voice offering. This
in turn would prolong his afterlife existence, even after the abandonment of
the tomb. The visual impact of decorative schemes on visitors is recorded in
graffiti,169 some of which refer to the reinstatement of ritual activities following
a period of neglect.170 If banquets were held in or around the tomb prior to its
owner‟s death, it would have potentially benefitted him, his family and the
wider community, as well as setting a precedent for future feasts in his
168

Smith 2003, 47. Cf. Borgna (2004, 267, 270) on feasting as a means of social exclusion

and the attainment of power in Bronze Age Crete. As Thomas Palaima (2004, 220)
comments: „Commensal ceremonies are meant to unite communities and reinforce power
hierarchies by a reciprocal process that combines both generous provisioning by figures
close to the centre of power or authority and participation in the activities of privileged
groups by other individuals. Levels of participation mark status, but the fact of general
collective participation symbolizes unity‟ – even if that unity is only of an elite group. Yet
Susan Pollock (2003, 2η) notes that feasts both differentiated elites from „others‟, and
distinguished among elites by gender, relative social position and age, implying a series of
sub-hierarchies within this privileged matrix.
169

Hartwig 2004, 43. For example „very beautiful‟ was written beside a scene of female

musicians in the tomb of Kenamun (TT 93: Hartwig 2004, 45).
170

Quirke 1986, 83, 85.

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honour. In the words of James Wright (2004, 171): „… the sponsor of a feast
demonstrates the ability to bring together large groups (through coalitions and
alliances), to mobilize labor, and to command surplus and distribute it. The
sponsor gains in prestige through these activities and advances his family,
lineage, and allies both within and beyond the community.‟171
It could be said that the mortuary banquet scene represents the culmination of
ideologies and social values, some of them conflicting. For instance, statusrelated display based on traditional iconography, peer-pressure, and religious
conformity was at variance with concerns regarding the afterlife expressed in
harpers‟ songs and observation-based realistic expectation of the
abandonment of mortuary cults and the tombs themselves when the burden of
ancestral duties conflicted with or were outweighed by the needs of the living.
Are 18th Dynasty banquet scenes merely aspirational images or are they
idealised versions of communal gatherings that did actually take place in
cemeteries? Archaeological remains from tomb courtyards indicate that meals
were consumed around, if not within, tombs, but the longevity of such feasts
with the dead following the tomb owners‟ interment is much more difficult to
discern. In theory at least, the depiction of banqueting enabled the tomb
owner and his family to receive sustenance and entertainment when offering
cults and other activities involving interaction between the living and the dead
ceased.
Acknowledgements
I would like to thank the organisers of the Dining and Death conference,
Catherine Draycott and Maria Stamatopoulou, for their invitation to participate.
I am particularly grateful to Cathie for her constructive criticism and for her
patience. Thank you to the anonymous referees for their comments and
suggestions, to Natalie McCreesh and Cynthia May Sheikholeslami for
sharing their thoughts on unguent cones and festivals with me, and to Miriam
Müller for discussing feasting at Tell el-Daba and for kindly supplying a copy
of her thesis.
171

See also Hendon 2003, 206-207, 227, on the social aspects of feasting with particular
reference to Maya culture.

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Paper 4, N. Harrington

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