Since the beginning of creation, Egyptians have been bright and witty and are usually the first to crack a joke, even if this joke is about themselves, as Egyptians are prepared to laugh at themselves before they laugh at others.
Ancient Egyptian antiquities have preserved images and illustrations for us that reflect the humour of the ancient Egyptians and their tendency of caricaturing their circumstances, whether they represent their political, economic, or social circumstances. Ancient Egyptian artists utilized the walls of tombs to carve silent caricatures and convey highly expressive scenes to the viewer. Examples of this can be seen in the image of an extremely skinny shepherd whose ribs can be seen under his skin herding a group of fat cows, or an image of a guard sleeping outside of the warehouse that he is supposed to be protecting. There is also the image of a monkey attacking a young boy who stole fruit from the market.
In addition to these images and scenes etched on to the walls of tombs, the laborers and artists also carved images and exchanged drawings and caricatures. The best example of this can be seen in the carving of an image depicting an old, fat, and wealthy mouse dressed in affluent clothes and sitting on a comfortable seat while a cat serves him a drink! Another caricature depicts a wolf herding a flock of geese. This reflects the well-known Egyptian proverb “they gave the cat the key to the chicken-house.”
Another caricature depicts a mouse – perhaps the same affluent mouse depicted in the earlier cartoon – as a judge, deliberating the case of two rivals. Another highly expressive caricature shows a monkey standing under a tree holding a basket while a servant is climbing the tree and throwing fruit to the monkey. In fact this illustration is deeply expressive of how the situation in society had turned upside down, and how the delicate social balance had been upset. Of course most humorous and mocking caricatures appeared in ancient Egyptian art and literature during times of trouble. Jokes were influential, and this can be seen in a message in which a civil servant says that he lost his job after his boss caught him in the act of telling a joke that went beyond the borders of propriety.
As we mentioned before, this spirit of fun and sense of humour is inherent in the Egyptians and has been passed down from one generation to the next, this is something that has brought us the humor and caricatures of geniuses such as Egyptian writer Ahmed Rajab, and Egyptian artists such as Mustafa Hussein and Saleh Jahin.
When I was leaving a press conference that I conducted at the Egyptian Museum in order to announce the identification of Tutankhamen’s parentage and the cause of his death, I received the following [humorous] text message on my mobile phone:
News Agencies: In a recent development, Dr. Zahi Hawass has announced that the DNA tests on King Tutankhamen have confirmed that he was the son King Akhenaton, and that Nefertiti was not his mother. Fareed al-Dib, the lawyer for the 18th dynasty family sent an official charge to the General Prosecutor accusing Nefertiti of being behind the death of Tutankhamen and demanding that she be issued a travel ban and placed on the travel watch list. For his part, Nefertiti’s lawyer stated that his client is currently in the Berlin Museum undergoing [medical] treatment, and that he is in possession of evidence that will shock the court. Meanwhile an official source disclosed that nine members of the outlawed “Priests of Aten” movement were arrested during a secret meeting in the city of Amarna. Investigations are ongoing…