While the lives of the ancient Egyptians may seem removed from our own by centuries, their leisurely pursuits were not so different from our own. Music played an essential role in the lives of ancient Egyptians. To pass the time, Egyptians and especially nobles threw lavish parties. Sensual activity and eroticism were a central aspect of these parties. Consumption of wine, beer and narcotics was not uncommon.
Music was a critical aspect of both Egyptian religion and its culture. It was believed that music pleased the gods and mortals alike and nearly any festival or banquet included musicians. The three female musicians wall relief found at the Tomb of Nakht dated Dynasty XVIII 1450 B.C. is a single example among dozens of artifacts depicting how integral music was to ancient Egyptian society. Archaeologists have also unearthed a number of musical instruments. Unfortunately, Egyptians did not annotate their music so we are unclear on how it may have sounded.
Paintings and Egyptian sculptures found in tombs suggest that the majority of the musicians were female. These female groups would frequently perform at banquets and festivities often accompanied by dancers. The instruments of the time included flutes, drums, lyres, harps and lutes. Egyptian statues depict Hathor, the goddess of music, holding a rattle-like instrument called the sistrum. Those who worshipped Hathor were frequently treated to performances by female musicians at the temple.
Those who enjoyed music in ancient Egypt usually did so at a festival or banquet. Along with the music wine was plentiful. Beer was another popular party beverage, often seasoned and combined with fruit. These banquets emphasized the exotic and erotic with special emphasis on pleasing the senses of taste and smell. Egyptian banquets were often the place were narcotic flowers were combined with wine to increase the euphoric experience.
To add to the enjoyment of the banquets, attendees were usually given a flower bud or blossom to smell during the entertainment. Sweet smelling fragrant ointments were placed in the wigs of banquet attendees to please the sense of smell.
The center of attraction at an Egyptian banquet was sure to be the performance of the dancers. In ancient Egyptian culture men generally danced with men and women with women. The dance of the ancient Egyptians varied greatly. Some performances focused on simple movement while others bordered on the gymnastic.