I was looking at the A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt and my question was about the statuette of the pharaoh who was described as having both gender traits. Do you know if ancient Egyptian queens also had a similar gender fluidity in life?
Through much of ancient Egyptian history, no, but at the time that the statuette in question was created, kind of. During the reign of a pharaoh who called himself Akhenaten, a time also referred to as the Amarna Period, the pharaoh changed the official religion as well as aspects of the roles of the king and queen. You may have heard of Akhenaten's primary wife, Nefertiti. The most famous depiction of her shows her as very feminine, but there are numerous indications that she participated in traditionally male activities and activities reserved for the king. Beyond the typical roles of a queen. The goal was to portray both the king and queen as all-powerful and all-encompassing beings.
Oh, very cool! I did not know that Nefertiti was a part of this. Thanks for your help!
Did ancient Egyptians handle gender also in a binary way: male/female? Was the language always clear about the categorization of people as either or? I am wondering this because of the Amarna statue in the exhibition which represents both genders.
Yes the Ancient Egyptians did have rigid gender binaries and their language represented this.
During the Amarna period it is true that the Pharaoh and Queen were sometimes depicted as non-binary, but this only applies to them, King Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti. As they were seen as near divine, they could appear both male and female. It helped emphasize their omnipotent power. Normal people were always binary.
Thanks. Even more impressive that they considered gender transformations possible.
Agreed! For the Ancient Egyptians language was very powerful! Saying the word for bread by a tomb effectively created bread for the deceased to eat, much the same that language could transform a woman into a man and back again.
Tell me more.
This statuette of a king is really interesting. You don't often think of androgyny in ancient Egyptian art, but it was popular in depictions of the king and queen for a very brief period. During the "Amarna Period," Akhenaten and Nefertiti were depicted with somewhat fluid gender traits which has been interpreted as making them appear more omniscient and all encompassing, more like representations of gods on Earth.
He is actually my favorite person from ancient Egypt.
We have a number of great works from the Amarna Period on view in the Egyptian galleries!
I'll look for them. Thank you.
How do people determine that his belly is a depiction of male pregnancy rather than just a pot belly?
Those conclusions were probably drawn from multiple depictions of Akhenaten's body portrayed that way with contextualizing information in associated texts, especially in the case of reliefs.
It is also worth mentioning that, though artistic styles changed during Akhenaten's reign, Egyptian art was largely idealizing. It emphasized perpetual youthfulness, strength, and vigor of the king. This may suggest that his large belly has a deeper meaning than simply a representation of reality.
I was wondering about the assertion in the text stating this is an example of gender fluidity in ancient egypt.
The clothing of this individual is that of a male king, in this case, likely Akhenaten. His swollen belly is understood here as representing pregnancy. Both Akhenaten and Nefertiti were depicted with both male and female traits.
This is often understood as a representation of their omnipotence. In the context of “A Woman’s Afterlife” it also illustrates the precedent for gender transformation in another aspect of Egyptian religion.
This is relatively new research, right? I was always taught that depictions like that statue are examples of more realism in the art (this was years ago in college)
That's right! Taking into consideration things like Nefertiti being depicted with red skin, a color typically reserved for men and a concept explored in this exhibition.
Thanks! And thanks for answering my question! This is a really cool service!