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Iti - FIRST KNOWN PROFESSIONAL SINGER., SOURCES

tomb name egypt family

Iti is the earliest known professional singer whose name is preserved from ancient Egypt. Her name appears along with her accompanist, Hekenu, a harpist, represented in a relief sculpture on the false door of the tomb of the judge and priest, Nikawre, and his wife, Ihat, at Saqqara. In the relief, Iti sits on the ground facing Hekenu. Her right hand makes a gesture toward the harpist. Her left hand is raised to her ear, a common way for Egyptian artists to represent singers. In fact this hand-to-ear gesture is often used by many Egyptian singers today. Iti wears the typical Old Kingdom sheath dress that was worn by all classes of women in this period. Her hair is cropped short and she is not wearing a wig as would the tomb owner’s wife. A hieroglyphic caption gives her name and no other information. Egyptians considered including a person’s name in a tomb to be an honor, especially if the person was not a family member. If Iti had been a family member, her relationship would have been included. Thus Egyptologists believe that she was a professional singer who was honored with a portrait in the tomb, rather than a member of Nikawre’s family. In spite of her prominence, almost nothing else is known about her.

SOURCES

Lisa Manniche, Music and Musicians in Ancient Egypt (London: British Museum Press, 1991).

Emily Teeter, “Female Musicians in Pharaonic Egypt,” in Rediscovering the Muses in Women’s Musical Traditions. Ed. Kimberly Marshall (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1993).

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