I was pleasantly surprised when visiting the mastaba tomb of Kagemni, vizier to King Teti of the Sixth Dynasty, at South Saqqara. I noticed an unusual carving, seeming to show a man kissing a pig! I’m certainly not the first to notice it – but I needed to know more. In ancient Egypt, the pig could be seen as an avatar of the god Set. Could it have been that Kagemni was a secret acolyte of this ‘devil’ god? Or is there another explanation? The mystery of Kagemni’s ‘pig’ has a long (modern) history, but no analysis has been published, therefore I thought I would set out the facts and see what follows.
Is it even a pig? The animals were present in Egypt from Predynastic times. The problem we face, as with all ancient Egyptian art, is two-fold: what were the artists actually ‘representing’, and would the viewer (in this case, presumably Kagemni’s ka and selected offering donors) know if the pictures were accurate – and, if they did, would it matter?
Although the depiction in Kagemni’s tomb is not totally convincing as a pig, what other animal might it be? Looking at the wider scene (probably the most detailed account is Harpur and Scremin, 2006) what do we see? The scenes depict agricultural life, especially the herding of cattle, and although we tend to associate dogs with herding sheep, they were, and are, used to herd cattle. A dog appears near the ‘kissing’ pig, and other dogs are seen on the same wall and elsewhere in the tomb. I am convinced that the creature is a dog.
And finally: the kiss. One suggestion is that the dog is being weaned with milk, passed from mouth to mouth – a method still known in Egypt. This possibility is reinforced by the scenes of force-fed hyenas in the same tomb.
David R Evans
It is certainly very difficult to identify the animal, but I think it is shown with a very small tail, maybe even the curly one typical of a piglet. The presence of the other figure holding a pot, perhaps containing milk, lends support to the idea that the animal is being weaned or force-fed to fatten it for food.
What do our other readers think about David’s theory? We are always interested to hear your comments on articles in the magazine, and other Egyptological topics.