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Kings and Queens and the case of the pink hippo?

By Edmund Connolly, on 15 March 2013

Guest Blogger, Christopher Webb

On Tuesday the 26th February the Petrie Museum played host to a celebration of LGBT history month. The evening, ‘Every good thing’, saw Egyptologist John J Johnston in conversation, as he discussed items chosen from the Petrie’s collection of over 80,000 artefacts from ancient Egypt and Sudan, including figurines, mummy portraits and ceramic. Our special guests from the LGBT community carefully selected their personal choice of object and reflected on what it tells them about life, love and sexuality in the ancient world. The goal of the evening was to further our knowledge and insight into the LGBT experience in the ancient world.


Our first guest, comedian, writer and actor Tom Allen, chose a terracotta head of Alexander the Great, from Memphis. UC49881

The discussioncentred on the paradoxical idea that one may be a world leader and still have a same-sex relationship, in this case with Hephaestion. As the conversation expanded, the example of Achilles and Patrocles from Homer’s Iliad was examined. Our next guest was writer James Goss. James talked about an alabaster statuette of king Pepi II UC16876, linking the night-time manoeuvres of the king with ancient sources of gossip.


The artist and designer Andrew Prior chose the relationship between Hadrian and Antinous, the latter being consecrated through sculpture, art and coinage, after his untimely death. UC39393. Andrew also discussed contemporary artworks, the reception of the ancient world, and portraits of youths. Hadrian and Antinous was a popular subject. Our next guest, concert pianist Mark Viner, also chose their bond to consider. Themes that surfaced were linked to the monumentalising of grief. Ideas of romance were conjured, and the deification of Antinous and subsequent attacks by the church made for stimulating conversation.


Television writer Joseph Lidster chose the Pink limestone hippopotamus, UC15195. Which prompted a conversation far too salacious for this blog! Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, Dr Marek Kukula, who selected a non-phallic sundial, followed him. UC16376. Almost as a post-script to our last event, the importance of time was discussed. The running of civil society, the strata of control, time measurements, agriculture and ancient technology were all appraised. The figure of Hypatia, who fought against gender stereotypes, was commented upon. As head of the Platonist school at Alexandria, she taught philosophy, mathematics and astronomy in the late Roman period, during a time when it was unheard of for a woman to be in such a position.



The Editor of Gay Star News, Tris Reid-Smith, was next and decided to go for images of Osiris, Horus and Seth. The discussion covered topics such as incest, love, mythology, gender and ancient Egyptian chat up lines! The stimulating discussion line-up culminated in specially recorded contributions from the Director of Camden LGBT Forum, Lou Hart, and poet and Professor of Gay and Lesbian Studies at Nottingham Trent University, Gregory Woods.


After a veritable cornucopia of LGBT action and discussion on the ancient world, our absorbing and entertaining evening was rounded off nicely as we were treated to performance piece by the legendary Bette Bourne and his Bloolips partner, Paul Shaw. Audience participation and titter abound, the show saw us off, still giggling into the night.

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