Satirical papyrus depicting a rat being served by cats

Artefact Details

Gallery number: Room 29 – Upper Floor

Period: New Kingdom (c. 1550–1069 BC)

Place of discovery: Middle Egypt, Tuna el-Gebel, Necropolis

Size: W. 13 cm, L. 55 cm

Material: Papyrus

Only three examples of satirical papyri have survived from ancient Egypt. These examples represent animals imitating human behaviour with humorous or satirical purposes. The Egyptian artists used these animal symbols to express the state of Egypt in the periods of weakness by representing the cats (as Egyptians) waiting on and serving mice (the foreigners), who have become in the centre of power. It also parodies the political climate through scenes of cats and wolves taking care of geese, and the lion who plays the Senet with gazelles and musical groups of animals. Some cartoons also satirise funerary and religious customs, while in religious life, animal symbols with human actions are expressed in mythical events and religious rituals.

This papyrus contains two satirical scenes; a female rat (foreigner) is depicted sitting on a high chair to the left, with her foot resting on a footstool, a cat (Egyptian) helps her put on a wig, while another cat stands in front of her offering her a beverage. Behind her, a third cat is holding her son, and the fourth is holding a fan. The other scene to the right depicts a cat holding two pitchers, before which another cat offers libation in front of a statue of a cow (ritual of purification).