Showing posts with label writers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writers. Show all posts

Friday, February 22, 2019

Damn, Girl-Phillis Wheatley

Taken from her home and family, thrust into a strange land, surrounded by strangers, Phillis Wheatley had an inauspicious start to life, yet became one of the most august women of her time. She was the first poet of African descent, and the second woman to be published in the United States. She was a genius, speaking three languages, and well versed in classical studies, science, and literature. Yet, she spent most of her life a slave, and died poor and alone at the young age of 31.

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This is the only contemporary portrait of Phillis
Phillis' exact date of birth is unknown, but it is generally accepted that she was seven years old when she was taken to America in 1761. She was captured by slavers somewhere on the west coast of Africa, likely in Senegal, Gambia, or Ghana, and boarded onto a schooner named The Phillis. The Phillis was captained by Peter Gwinn, who had been charged with bringing back a large human cargo of African males to be sold in the new world. Gwinn wasn't as successful as the ship's owner, Timothy Finch, had hoped, instead bringing back a small cargo of women and children, many of whom were very ill.

Phillis was one of those who were very ill. She was a refuse slave--or a slave who wouldn't fetch a very good price. She has been described as being 'slender, frail, having shed her two front teeth', and the slave seller wasn't confident that she was going to live long, let alone that he was going to get much money for her. When Mrs. Susanna Wheatley¹ offered ten pounds, the slave seller gratefully let Phillis go, happy to have gotten some return on his investment.

Susanna took Phillis home, and named her after the ship that had stolen her from her homeland. Despite the fact that the Wheatley's had several other slaves, Phillis was not placed among them. Out of some maternal whim, or twist of sympathy, Susanna gave Phillis her own room. When Phillis showed signs of perhaps being able to read and write, Susanna set her daughter Mary to tutoring the young Phillis, and within sixteen months Phillis was completely fluent and literate in English, able to 'read any, most difficult Parts of Sacred Writing to the great Astonishment of all who heard her'.²

Teaching a slave to read was completely unheard of at the time, and a master who gave their slaves education was something of a loose cannon, as educating slaves endangered the whole practice of slavery. Not content to be volatile rebels, the Wheatley's also had Phillis tutored in Greek, Latin, history, literature, astronomy, classics, and, of course, religion.

America at the time was in the middle of what is called the First Great Awakening. Religious revival was in the air, and being pious and well versed in the bible was in vogue. The Wheatley's, much like the rest of the people in the colonies, were swept up in the excitement. They were avid church goers, and they took Phillis to church with them. Because of this, Phillis grew up, and remained, a devout Protestant her entire life.

The Wheatley's treated Phillis like one of the family. She was, essentially, a second daughter. She wasn't expected to do housework or manual labor like the other slaves, she was taken to church with her masters, and allowed to eat and spend time with the family. When the Wheatley's went on social calls, they often took Phillis with them, including her in the conversation. She was treated with respect not only by the Wheatley's, but by their associates as well, and she impressed many of the most eminent men and women of Boston with her learning and precociousness.

However, don't be fooled. The Wheatley's still sucked butt. Despite treating Phillis as one of the family, they still owned her. She was still a slave, even if she wasn't forced to do menial labor. She wasn't free, but she didn't fit with the other slaves either. The Wheatley's forbade Phillis from socializing with the other slaves, isolating her, and stranding her in between worlds.

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Phillis' book.
In 1767, when Phillis was thirteen, her first poem was published. Phillis had shown a great talent for writing, a talent the Wheatley's encouraged. When Phillis wrote a poem "On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin" in honor of two men drowned at sea, Susanna saw that it was published in the newspaper, The Newport Mercury. Several other poems followed, and Phillis' work began to gain recognition in the colonies and across the Atlantic.

Phillis' first really successful poem, “An Elegiac Poem, on the Death of the Celebrated Divine George Whitefield” was published in 1770, and it was about this time that Phillis, with Susanna's help, started putting together a collection of poetry for publication. It was titled Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, and contained 28 poems. It would be published in 1773 when Phillis was eighteen.

Getting a book published in the late eighteenth century was no small feat. Publishers required a guarantee that people would buy the book, and some required that authors assume some of the costs of printing themselves. In Phillis' case, a list of 300 people who would buy the book was required by the publisher. Susanna lobbied heavily, and while she was able to collect some signatures, some of them being of the most eminent and learned men in Boston, she was not able to collect the required 300. This was because there were not 300 people in Boston who believed that poetry could be written by a slave. Discouraged by the American market, Phillis and Susanna decided to take Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, across the pond, where the public had already been proven to be more receptive to African authors.

Publishing the book in England required jumping through several hoops. Firstly, the publisher, Archibald Bell, was skeptical of the books authorship, and wanted proof that the book was, in fact, written by a slave. To provide evidence, Susanna assembled a group of eighteen men willing to sign affidavits certifying Phillis' authorship. These were some of the most educated and important men in Boston³, many of whom were prominent political and religious figures. The quizzed Phillis on her work, and all signed a paper saying that Phillis was the author of the book.

Once the publisher had the affidavits, he required that Phillis have someone to dedicate her work to. The dedication, and dedicatee was very important. A book had to be dedicated to a public figure, who was, essentially, vouching to the public that the book was quality work. For Poems on Various Subjects, Phillis and the Wheatley's chose Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon.

The countess was chosen because Phillis had a tenuous connection to her. One of Phillis' first important poems, 'An Elegiac Poem, on the Death of that Celebrated Divine, and Eminent Servant of Jesus Christ, the Reverend and Learned George Whitefield' had been about George Whitefield, who had been the personal chaplain to the countess. The Wheatley's used this connection to forward Phillis' book to the countess, going as far as to have one of their ship captains read the entire work to the countess.

The countess was charmed, and she write to the publisher, allowing the work to be dedicated to her. With the dedication and affidavits in order, Phillis' book was cleared for publication, and came out in the summer of 1773.

Phillis Wheatley Statue (http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2012/02/p (Progressive Eruptions))
Statue of Phillis done by Edmonia Lewis
Phillis' book was well received, circulating among the upper class, attracting astonishment that a slave could write so well. England, at the time, had a much more lax approach to racism, and while slavery wasn't yet illegal in the British isles, society was sympathetic to the plight of the enslaved. Phillis was received as an equal everywhere, and became a social star.

Unfortunately, Susanna Wheatley fell ill, and Phillis had to quickly leave London in September of 1773, depriving her of the chance to meet both the King and the Countess of Huntingdon. She returned to Boston, and was freed in October of that year. On March 3, 1774, Susanna Wheatley died.

With the death of Susanna, the Wheatley family disintegrated. The eldest son, Nathaniel, was living across the Atlantic with his English wife, and John Wheatley had fled Boston because of the British troops occupying the city after the events of the Boston Tea Party. Phillis, while she did have some money of her own, was in no position to live independently, so she moved in with Mary Lathrop nee Wheatley, the daughter who had taught her to read, and the pair relocated to Newport, Rhode Island along with Mary's husband.

Phillis lived fairly uneventfully in Providence, continuing to write and participate in religious activities. The most notable thing to happen in this period was her correspondence with George Washington in early 1776.

Though the Wheatley family at large were loyal to the British crown, Phillis seemed to have some enthusiasm for independence. She hoped that with independence from Britain would come independence for all the enslaved Africans. On October 26, 1775 she sent a poem to General George Washington which enthusiastically proclaimed that the Americans would defeat the British, and that it would usher in a new era of freedom and prosperity. In this poem she created the goddess Columbia--the goddess who would come to represent America, and would be memorialized in the Statue of Liberty.⁴

George Washington was very impressed with her poem, and responded to her in a letter praising her talents. He invited her to come visit him at his headquarters in Cambridge, however it is highly unlikely that they ever met, given that Phillis would have had to cross British lines to reach him.

Phillis and the Lathrops returned to Boston in 1776, and Phillis married John Peters, a freed African, on November 26, 1778. Peters was a shopkeeper with a bad reputation. Contemporary accounts paint him as a villain who abused Phillis, and squandered their money. They stopped living together about a year after their marriage. Nevertheless, they had two children, neither of whom lived more than a day.

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Phillis' most famous poem
In 1779 Phillis started lobbying to publish a second book of poetry. Due to the Revolutionary War she was unable to get in touch with her contacts back in England, and there wasn't much of a market for poetry in America at the time. Phillis had to take a series of janitorial jobs in boarding houses, and died in childbirth on December 5, 1784. No one attended her funeral.

Phillis faded into relative obscurity for about 50 years after her death. Her second book of poetry was finally released in 1834, and another was printed in 1864. She was often held up as an example of the humanity and capability of enslaved Africans by abolitionists of her age, and her work has strong, but subtle abolitionist themes. She is remembered today as being one of the best writers of early America, and as being the first published African American writer.



¹Or possibly Susanna's husband, John. Sources disagree.
²From a letter by her master John Wheatley. (sic) throughout.
³For those, said men were:
  1. Thomas Hutchinson, Governor of Virginia
  2. Andrew Oliver, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia
  3. Reverend Mather Byles
  4. Joseph Green, a poet and satirist
  5. Reverend Samuel Cooper, known as 'the silver tongued preacher'
  6. James Bowdoin, scientist and poet
  7. John Hancock
  8. Reverend Samuel Mather
  9. Thomas Hubbard
  10. Reverend Charles Chauncy
  11. John Moorhead
  12. John Erving
  13. James Pitts
  14. Harrison Gray
  15. Richard Carey
  16. Reverend Edward Pemberton
  17. Reverend Andrew Elliot
  18. John Wheatley, Phillis' master
⁴ She also compared George Washington to a god, and equated him with the concept of freedom.

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Sources
The Trials of Phillis Wheatley by Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Phillis Wheatley: Biography of Genius in Bondage by Vincent Carretta
Complete Writings of Phillis Wheatley published by Penguin classics
"A Slave's Subtle War: Phillis Wheatley's Use of Biblical Myth and Symbol" by Sondra O'Neale
Phillis Wheatley-Poetry Foundation
Phillis Wheatley-The History Chicks
Phillis Wheatley-National Women's History Museum
Phillis Wheatley-Encyclopedia Britannica
Phillis Wheatley-Biography
Phillis Wheatley-National Portrait Gallery


Friday, February 15, 2019

Damn, Girl-Murasaki Shikibu, World's First Novelist

An extremely popular writer both in her lifetime and in the millenia since, Murasaki Shikibu is credited as writing the world's first novel, The Tale of Genji. A mysterious figure, Murasaki used her illicit knowledge of classical Chinese and Japanese literature not only redefine the genre she wrote in, but to create an artform that survives to this day.

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Murasaki
Like so many of the women we cover, it's unknown if Murasaki Shikibu is even this woman's real name. Probably born in 973 CE, Murasaki not only grew up in a time where the early lives of women weren't deemed worth recording, but in a society where it was considered impolite to use a person's real name. The name we know her by is taken from her father's profession, and the name of the central female character from her novel.

Murasaki was the daughter of Fujiwara no Tametoki, a scholar, and lowranking member of the dominant Fujiwara clan. Murasaki's grandfather and great grandfather had both been important poets, and education was highly valued in her family. Consequently, her brothers were both given brilliant educations in both Chinese and Japanese literature. It was uncommon for ladies to be educated this way, as the Chinese language was considered to be unladylike. However, Murasaki showed an eagerness and aptitude for learning, with some stories even saying that she would eavesdrop on her brothers lessons through a door. Recognizing her aptitude, or perhaps tired of her antics, Murasaki's father allowed her to be taught in Chinese language and literature, grousing that such a mind was wasted on a girl.

In 998 Murasaki married family friend (and literal family) Fujiwara no Nobutaka. He was about twenty years her senior, and already had a basketball team's worth of wives, and an American football team's worth of children. As was traditional, Murasaki continued to live with her father after her marriage. Nobutaka must have visited at least once, however, because in 999 Murasaki gave birth to a girl she named Kenshi. Nobutaka died a few years later in 1001 when a plague swept Kyoto.

Whether or not Murasaki's marriage was a happy one is an interesting question. Japanese tradition paints her as a loving wife and loyal widow, but her writing brings all of this into question. There are certain resemblances between the idyllic Genji and an exiled nobleman of Murasaki's acquaintance whom Murasaki was rumored to have a relationship with. It is questioned if some of the love poems written by Murasaki might be inspired by this nobleman, and if the image of her as a loyal widow might be the moralistic construct of a later era.

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Paintings capturing the moment Murasaki
conceived Genji on Lake Biwa were very
popular.
After her husband's death Murasaki joined the court of Empress Shoshi as a lady-in-waiting. At the time the worth of a Japanese noblewoman was measured not by her looks, but by her artistic abilities. Being able to write sensitive poems, having beautiful calligraphy, and skillfully matching colors for the elegant draping sleeves of a kimono, was how a lady attracted a man. The sign of a successful Empress was the ability to surround herself with the greatest creative minds, much like the salon of Europe. By the time of her arrival at court Murasaki was already an accomplished poet. She had, however, made no forays into prose.

It is, of course, likely, that Murasaki simply woke up one day and decided to write a series of stories about the amorous adventures of a handsome nobleman, but the popular legend is much more exciting. In an episode similar to the gathering of Romantics at Lake Geneva, the Empress Shoshi lamented that there were no good stories, that she was tired of the old romances, and would Murasaki please write a new one. Murasaki agreed, and retreated to a Buddhist temple on Lake Biwa. One night while looking at the moon and lamenting the death of her late husband Murasaki was struck by inspiration, and wrote two whole chapters of her work on the back of sacred Buddhist texts.¹

Genji was an instant hit. It was read by the Empress, and subsequently devoured by all the ladies of the court. This was unsurprising, as monogatari novels were as popular in Heian Japan as romance novels are today. Works like this were written in the fledgling kana, or written Japanese, and were thus accessible to women who were rarely taught Chinese kanji. What is surprising, is that men read Genji too. Empress Shoshi's father, Fujiwara no Michinaga, was an important court influencer, the real power behind the throne, and an avid Tale of Genji fanboy. From him the story circulated through the men of the court until noted male poets were congratulating Murasaki on her creation.

Murasaki, unfortunately, wasn't much for life at court. Conservative and introverted, Murasaki detested the inane frivolity and illicit love affairs that made up the daily schedule in the Heian court. She was often viewed as cold and aloof by her contemporaries, and had open rivalries with several other important female poets of the day. When Empress Shoshi left court after the death and abdication of her husband in 1011, Murasaki left with her.

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Also Murasaki
The end of Murasaki's life was quiet. She died some time between 1014 and 1031, either staying with Shoshi to the end, or retiring to a Buddhist convent. She left behind a daughter, and an enormously popular work twice the length of War and Peace.

The Tale of Genji is perhaps the most important piece of Japanese literature. Its glimpses into the life of aristocratic Heian Japan are not only precious from a historical perspective, but the slice of life narrative and overarcing character development make it a literary gem as well. Additionally, Genji was a major factor in the standardization of kana, and became required study for anyone hoping to become a scribe.

The novel was copied out hundreds of times, and when woodblock printing came around it was distributed even further beyond aristocratic circles. It experienced a huge resurgence in popularity during the Edo period of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and owning a piece of Genji 'fanart' was considered the height of sophistication. This popularity continues to this day, with The Tale of Genji being translated over and over again, and being treated to reimaginings in a variety of mediums in and out of Japan.


¹This writing on the back of sacred texts wasn't seen as sacrilege like it would have been if written on a Bible, Torah, or Koran. Instead, this was used to justify reading The Tale of Genji to later audiences who had religious scruples about the content.

More on Similar Topics




Sources
A History of Japanese Literature by William George Aston
Beyond The Tale of Genji: Murasaki Shikibu as Icon and Exemplum in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Popular Japanese Texts for Women by Satoko Naito
Murasaki Shikibu: Japanese Courtier and Author
Murasaki Shikibu: the Brief Life of a Legendary Novelist
Murasaki Shikibu-Tales of Genji
Murasaki Shikibu-New World Encyclopedia
Murasaki Shikibu-Famous Inventors
World Changing Women-Murasaki Shikibu
Summary of The Tale of Genji
Tale of Genji
The Tale of Genji: Work by Murasaki
The Tale of Genji
Historical Background
Background of The Tale of Genji
The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari)
In Celebration of The Tale of Genji, the World's First Novel





Friday, February 9, 2018

Damn, Girl-Hildegard of Bingen

Though armed with only a scant education, Hildegard of Bingen would go on to be the world's first known composer, a prestigious scientist, and a legendary prophetess. A true renaissance woman, it's difficult to know which of her achievements is most influential today. She revolutionized music, wrote medical textbooks used well into the renaissance, and proposed the idea that people, like plants, could inherit traits from their parents--some 700 years before Gregor Mendel did his experiments with pea plants.

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Hildegard von Bingen
Hildegard was the tenth child of Hiltebert and Mechthild, most likely members of the local nobility. The custom at the time was to give up the tenth child as a nun or monk to the Catholic Church, and as such Hildegard was sent to a Benedictine cloister at Disibodenberg, where she was put into the care of Jutta von Spanheim, a distant relative, and abbess of the cloister.

Hildegard suffered from illness as a child, and living in the austere Benedictine cloisters didn't help her. The damp, poor sleep, and lack of food and sunshine saw that Hildegard was bedridden for much of her childhood. In addition to her illness, Hildegard also had visions that she believed were sent from God. She was cautioned by Jutta to keep her visions quiet, and Hildegard did so for most of her life.

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Page from the Liber Scivias
When Jutta died in 1136, Hildegard succeeded her as prioress. Under Hildegard's leadership, the atmosphere at the cloisters became more relaxed. The sisters were allowed to wear their hair uncovered, and encouraged to step out into the sunshine. Hildegard was still having visions, and five years after being installed as prioress she had a vision so intense that she was prompted to confide it to her mentor, Volmar the Monk. Volmar encouraged Hildegard to record her visions, and with Volmar's help Hildegard began working on her first book, the Liber Scivias.

As a visionary, Hildegard had a fine line to walk. She had the challenge of recording what she saw, while not verging into heretical territory. Proposing new religious ideas, while easier for a nun than a common person, was still a risky venture, and could cost Hildegard everything should she be denounced as a heretic. Luckily for Hildegard, her visions were accepted by the pope of the time, and she was encouraged to keep writing.
Hildegard began to build up a reputation as a mystic. Her study of local medicinal methods saw her praised as a great healer, and she composed music for her nuns to sing. In 1150 Hildegard founded the convent of Mount St. Rupert in an effort to get away from the hoards of people who made pilgrimages to see her. Taking Volmar as well as a few sisters and novitiates with her, Hildegard started writing in earnest.

Because her education had been scant and interrupted, Hildegard relied on Volmar to help her with the actual physical writing. Her exact process is unknown, but it is speculated that Hildegard either wrote everything out on a wax tablet, and then Volmar put it to parchment, or that Hildegard simply dictated to Volmar. After the initial putting of words to paper, Volmar had his monks make copies of Hildegard's words. Though it took ten years, the Liber Scivias was finished in 1158.

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Hildegard and Volmar
The Liber Scivias was disseminated throughout the Catholic countries, and Hildegard began working on her next book of visions, the Liber Vitae Meritorum. The visions contained in her books pertained to the workings of the universe, and how the earth, air, sun, moon, and stars were all connected. In addition to her books of visions, Hildegard also began working on medical textbook, which put forth the idea that boiling drinking water was a good move.

In addition to her writing, Hildegard also traveled Europe preaching pacifism, and promoting orthodox religious ideals. She founded another convent, and corresponded with hundreds of people from all across Europe, including kings and popes. She was so well loved that when she died at age 81 she was immediately dubbed 'St. Hildegard', though she was not formerly canonized until 2012.

Hildegard is best known today for her music, but her religious and medical writings have seen an increase in popularity in recent years too. Several biographies and novels have been written about her, and her song cycles have been recorded hundreds of times by classical vocalists. She is much beloved in the Catholic church, and the convent that she established still stands today.

More on Similar Topics




Sources
Saint Hildegard, German Mystic
Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard of Bingen: Life and Music of the Great Female Composer

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Damn, Girl-Olympe de Gouges

Olympe de Gouges was essentially the French Mary Wollstonecraft, if Mary Wollstonecraft had been a pacifist who published inflammatory material during one of the most violent times in history. Abolitionist, feminist, and children's rights activist, Olympe de Gouges fought for the rights of the disenfranchised during the height of the Reign of Terror through her pamphlets and plays. Though she remained a semi-loyal monarchist until her death, her writing was a big part of the French Revolution, and her writings on gender and racial equality continue to influence civil rights thinkers to this day.

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Olympe de Gouges
Olympe was born Marie Gouze in the French town of Montauban. The daughter of a butcher and a lady's maid, Olympe was given a cursory education, and was raised speaking the regional language of Occitan. Not much is known about her early life, but it is known that at age 17 she married Louis Aubrey, an officer in the French Army who was much older than her. Their marriage was short lived, with Aubrey dying only a few years later. While Marie and Louis did have a son, it was evidently an unhappy marriage, because after Louis died Marie moved to Paris, changed her name, and vowed never to marry again.¹

 Now named Olympe de Gouges--a mash up of her mother's first name and father's last name-- Marie set about trying to become a writer. Though she wasn't well read, and didn't have the most thorough of educations, Olympe was hardworking and determined By 1778 she had had her first play published.

One of Olympe's favorite mediums was the theater. She wrote around 40 plays, twelve of which survive, ten of which were published, and only 4 of which were ever produced. Writing exclusively for the Comédie Française, Olympe had to deal with the sexism of Comédie Française producers and actors, which severely hindered the publication and production of her plays during her lifetime.

Olympe's plays adhere to the proud tradition of theater as activism. Her plays covered the controversial subjects of the time--slavery, divorce, the immorality of debt imprisonment, political extremism, and inequality of the sexes. One of her plays, L'Esclavage de Nègres, ou l'Heureux naufrage [Black Slavery or the Happy Shipwreck] was sabotaged by both performers and outside protesters because of its controversial advocation for the freedom of African slaves.

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Dedication page of The Declaration of
the Rights of Women
Around the time of her arrival in Paris, rumors started flying that Olympe was the illegitimate daughter of the Marquis de Pompignan, or King Louis XV. While most likely untrue, these rumors gave Olympe access to the higher echelons of pre-Revolution French society. It was here where Olympe found patronage, and made friendships among the nobility that would influence her moderate, soft-monarchist views.

Olympe believed that a monarchy was essential to a country's survival, but she didn't believe in the French monarchy of the time. She repeatedly warned and entreated the House of Bourbon to treat its citizens, especially the women better. Her seminal work The Declaration of the Rights of Woman was even dedicated to Queen Marie-Antoinette, in hopes that the Queen would identify with Olympe's writing as a woman, and move for political change.

The Declaration of the Rights of Women was a direct, rage filled response to the glaring omission of women and women's rights in The Declaration of the Rights of Man. In it, Olympe revised the declaration, and gave specific rights to women that echoed the same rights assigned to men. In it, she also advocated for a revision of the marriage contract, and wrote her own marriage contracted which brought two people together in an equal union where property and children were shared.

Loyalty to the monarchy aside, Olympe's real loyalty lay with France. She abhorred violence, and believed that war was a violation of the social contract between nation and citizen. She repeatedly advocated for peaceful methods of resistance, and her thinking influenced the great activists of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Olympe was considered a political moderate for her time, though being a moderate during the French Revolution isn't really saying much by today's standards. She often satirized political extremism in her writing, and condemned the political violence happening during the revolution. However, moderate or no, Olympe did eventually end up on the side of the revolution.

It was after the revolution that Olympe's writing switched from plays to pamphlet's, and her work became dangerously political. Her assertions that injustice against women was the root of societies ills, and criticisms of The Declaration of the Rights of Man brought her to the attention of the revolution. Her advocacy for equality of the sexes, and criticisms of Revolution leaders led to her imprisonment, trial, and eventual execution.

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The execution of Olympe de Gouges
Though she was executed for crimes against the revolution, Olympe was, in no way, unsuccessful. Not only has she had a lasting legacy, but she was successful in her own time. She heavily petitioned for the right to divorce through plays and pamphlets, and in 1792 France was the first country to legalize divorce. Civil rights were also given to illegitimate children, and a voluntary tax system proposed and outlined by Olympe was also adopted.

But not only successful in her own time, Olympe's legacy has impacted the world for generations. Along with Mary Wollstonecraft, Olympe was one of the founding mothers of feminism. She encouraged women to band together, and identify as women, something that has influenced the modern idea of citizenship. Her work is studied among philosophers and feminists theorists today.



¹I have been unable to find any information on Olympe's son--Pierre Aubry de Gouges-- during this time. Whether or not he went to Paris with her is unknown, however he did end up serving as a General with the French Army in South America. If you have any further information about him, please share in the comments!

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Sources
Olympe de Gouges Biography
Marie Olympe de Gouges Facts
Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793)
Welcome to Olympe de Gouges
Olympe de Gouges--French Writer

Friday, October 13, 2017

Damn, Girl-Enheduanna, High Priestess of Ur and the World's First Author Known by Name

Living more than 2000 years before the common era, Enheduanna was, without a doubt, one of the most important religious and political figures of ancient Mesopotamia. Not only was she one of the first women to serve as high priestess to the moon god Nanna, but she successfully integrated the Sumerian and Akkadian pantheons, uniting the Sumerians and Akkadians into one people under the rule of her father, Sargon the Great.

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Alabaster disk depicting Enheduanna and three unknown
males. She is the second from the left, and the largest
figure, showing her importance. 
To really explain why Enheduanna is such a remarkable woman, I need to explain the political situation of her era. Enheduanna was born into ancient Mesopotamia--arguably one of the most bloody and turbulent civilizations to exist. Located in modern Iraq, the ancient state of Sumer was in the process of being unified (read as 'conquered') by an upstart, fatherless Akkadian named Sargon. Sargon was eventually successful, but he didn't just want to conquer unify all of Sumer. No, Sargon dreamed big, Sargon wanted the impossible; he wanted peace.

The Mesopotamians had a whole pantheon of violent and angry goods whom they relied on very much. Being located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers might have given them lush farmland, but the rivers were wildly unpredictable, and violent floods could happen at any moment. To try and keep the rivers, as well as more bloodshed, at bay, the Sumerians were devout worshipers. Their lives depended on it.

The Akkadians worshiped a different set of gods. Sargon came to the conclusion that to unite his people, he should unite them under one religion. That's when he asked his daughter, Enheduanna, to step in.

Now, before I go further, I must note that Enheduanna may not have been Sargon's literal daughter. Sargon may have designated her his 'daughter' as a symbolic gesture to link his kingship with the gods. However, if Enheduanna was Sargon's literal, biological daughter, it would certainly explain the Sumerian tradition of appointing princesses as high priestesses.
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Clay tablet of Enheduanna's poetry

Sargon appointed Enheduanna as high priestess to the moon and creator god Duanna. It is presumed that Enheduanna changed her name to Enheduanna to reflect her position. Enheduanna's job was to unite the Akkadian and Sumerian gods into one pantheon; a job Enheduanna set to with relish. To do this, she picked up her scribe, and proceeded to dictate several hundreds of hymns and religious texts.

Though Enheduanna was priestess to Duanna, she was much more interested in Inanna, goddess of fertility, love and beauty. She seemed to have considered Inanna her goddess, and most of her surviving works are devoted mainly to Inanna, not Nanna.

Enheduanna was also quite interested in the Akkadian goddess Ishtar. Ishtar was similar to Inanna--goddess of love, fertility, etc.--but she was also the goddess of war. In her hymns to Inanna, Enheduanna started to slowly combine the aspects of Inanna with the aspects of Ishtar--depicting Inanna on the battlefield, sword of judgement in her hand.

Enheduanna was briefly exiled from Ur during a coup d'etat orchestrated by political enemy Lugal-Ane. Lugal-Ane overthrew Enheduanna's father Sargon, and forced Enheduanna out of the city. Enheduanna had proclaimed Lugal-Ane unworthy and ungodly because of his treatment of the priestesses. It was in response to this exile that Enheduanna wrote her seminal work.

Inanna with a lion.
The Temple Hymn, Enheduanna's most famous work, was preserved in stone on pillars in her temple. It is a poem starting in the third person, then gradually moving to the first, praising Inanna, calling Inanna to rid Enheduanna of her enemies, telling the story of Enheduanna's exile from Ur, then telling the story of Enheduanna's triumphant return. In reading of the poem, Enheduanna seems to take on the place of Inanna as a goddess herself. Unsurprisingly, there is evidence saying that Enheduanna may have been worshiped as a deity after her death.

Despite having lived more than 4,000 years ago Enheduanna is well known because of the many copies of her works that exist today. Hundreds of clay tablets have been excavated that contains copies of her poetry. Additionally, in 1929 an alabaster disk containing Enheduanna's image was found. This disk portrays Enheduanna as the central character, and confirms that she held a great position of importance in Sumerian society.

In addition to the many great things she did politically, Enheduanna has quite a few literary firsts to her name. She is the first (known) author in the world. While there are certainly texts written before Enheduanna's hymns and poetry, all are written anonymously; Enheduanna was the first to claim credit for her work. In addition, Enheduanna is the first (known) author to have written in the first person.

Enheduanna was an exceptional woman for many reasons. She effected tremendous change in the politics, religion, and literature of her time, and those changes made history. Sumer wouldn't have been who it was without her contributions to their religion. Though she isn't well known, Enheduanna life's work is still taught in schools today.

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Sources
Enheduana-Ancient History Encyclopedia
Enheduana-Dr. Roberta Binkley
Enheduana-New World Encyclopedia
Enheduanna, Daughter of King Sargon. Princess, Poet, Priestess. 2300 BC