The value of undervalued things.


When Becky asked me last week, in reply to Legendary Ladies of Literature, whether I had known any of those women prior to working on that post I vaguely commented that I had heard of Sappho when I was younger. But the vague comment hid the flood of memories that came cascading into my mind as I thought about the first time I heard Sappho’s name. Now this might come as a shock to you but it was not in a book or in a documentary or even in school. I was introduced to her via a…kids’ cartoon.

Now granted there are many animated shows aimed at children which incorporate elements of classical history and ancient folklore which I suppose could be deemed educational in a sense but this cartoon was different. I will go so far as to say that it was probably my favourite show as a teen although nowadays I’m never eager to admit it. Why? Well because the show was not as famous as it should have been.

Years ago, at university, during the first tutorial of a semester, for orientation we were asked to introduce ourselves and state what our favourite show was (amongst other things) in an attempt to get to know one another. I mentioned this cartoon as being one of my favourites only to receive reactions of weird looks and furrowed brows. Nothing is worse than speaking about something you love only for it to be unappreciated because nobody knows what the hell you’re talking about. Just because something is not well-known, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not good.

For the record this cartoon I’m harping on about was called Histeria (yes, that is the correct spelling). It was a Warner Bros production, ran for only two years but was cancelled due to issues with the budget. Not surprisingly, it was created for the purposes of edutainment, quite similar to Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories series, but it didn’t seem to catch on in the viewership rankings.
In History and English I attribute a lot of what I know now to Histeria, rather than my lessons at school. And that is no exaggeration. When knowledge stays with you years after the lesson has ended – THAT’s real education.

Yes, the humour was juvenile but famous names and places stuck with me. In one memorable episode I found out who Emily Dickinson, Moliére , Basho and Sappho were. In the very same episode I learnt what a haiku was and got to know a bit more about the life of Mark Twain.
Aaaaaaand…guess what? You gotta love Youtube. I actually managed to find a clip from that very episode for you! Quality’s not very good but better than nothing. For the life of me I cannot understand why this show was not as popular as it should have been. Of course I’m known for being terribly bias…

What about you? Was there a not-so-famous show or movie that made an impact on you or your life? Or perhaps you read a really inspirational book but it never quite made it to Eat, Pray Love-status? Tell me, always love to hear from you…

NM   🙂

Legendary Ladies of Literature


August is Women’s Month here in SA. We celebrated National Woman’s Day on the 9th so in honour of it (a bit late, I know, oops), I decided to pay tribute to a few special ladies who have left their mark in the history of literature.

Of course, considering how many brilliant female writers there are, there is a special twist here. The following were not just ordinary authors and poets, they were pioneers of their craft. Yes, I’m going waaaaay back in time, back to ancient history. Some of these names you might know, most of them you might not. They might not be as well-known as the Austens and Brontes but they set a precedence in their communities, influencing not only their own culture but future generations of writers as well. Our histories are marked by patriarchal dominance, yet these women broke new ground and made a name for themselves. So I present to you now, legendary ladies of literature…

ENHEDUANNA (circa 2280 BCE)

Enheduanna is considered by some literary scholars to be the earliest known author/poet in history, pre-dating Homer. She was an Akkadian princess, daughter to the famous Sargon of Akkad, who lived in the ancient city of UR in Sumer.
Enheduanna was most noted for her title and role of High Priestess (‘Enheduanna’ actually means ‘high priestess, adornment of the God of the Sky’) to the Moon God Nanna. Her literary works(written on cuneiform tablets) consisted of numerous poems dedicated to the Goddess Innanna as well as a religious collection known as the Sumerian Temple Hymns.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Enheduanna was well celebrated during her time. Inscriptive seals and an Alabaster disc bearing her name were found during excavations at the Royal Cemetery at Ur.

SAPPHO

Probably the most famous woman in ancient literature, Sappho was a Greek lyric poet who lived most of her life in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos. The exact dates of her life are uncertain but she was said to have lived during the late 7th century BCE.

Engraving of Sappho – Author unknown.

Sappho was a lyrist- writing and performing her poems with the help of a lyre. She composed her own music as well. She has also been credited with being one of the first poets to write from the first-person perspective. Her poetry centred around love and heartbreak, with its target being women. As a result, Sappho’s name has become synonymous with female homosexuality, resulting in the words ‘lesbian’ and ‘sapphic’.

Only fragments of her works have survived and therefore difficult for scholars to analyze completely. But she’s been highly praised by many esteemed figures such as Plato and Horace.

BAN ZHAO (45 – 116 CE)

Ban Zhao has the distinction of being the first female Chinese historian. Her brother Ban Gu wrote a history of the Western Han Dynasty but died in 92 CE, before he was able to finish it. His sister completed the work for him and then went on to write a very influential guide, Nu JieLessons For Women. Ban Zhao also wrote poems and essays but she is most famous for her instructions on female etiquette as can be read in Nu Jie.

Most of her other works have not survived but she was said to have been knowledgeable in History, Confucian and Chinese Classics, astronomy and mathematics.
Revered for her knowledge and intelligence, she was made Lady-In-Waiting to Empress Deng Sui. At Court, Ban Zhao was instructed to educate and train the staff, the other ladies-in-waiting as well as the Emperor’s many concubines. The Empress placed her in charge of the royal library and even sought her council on political matters. On hearing of Ban Zhao’s death in 116 CE, Her Highness was said to have taken the news very badly, mourning the loss of her favourite Lady by wearing all white.

HYPATIA of Alexandria (370 – 415 CE)

Hypatia is considered as the first female mathematician and philosopher in history. A teacher of Neo-Platonist philosophy she was an intellectually brilliant woman who had many devoted students and followers.

Hypatia by artist Raffaello Sanzio(1509 – 1510)

Unfortunately when Arab conquerors invaded Egypt in the 6th century and burned the Library of Alexandria, all of Hypatia’s written works were destroyed.
Many ancient writers have discussed and quoted her work however and this is where most of our knowledge of her writing comes from.
The topic of her tragic death at the hands of Christian monks for her pagan beliefs seems to be just as popular with modern scholars as her celebrated life. The events leading up to Hypatia’s death were immortalized in the movie Agora (2009) with Rachel Weisz.

AL-KHANSA (575 – 645 CE)

Al-Khansa is one of the most famous poets in Arabic Literature. She won admiration for the elegies she had written for her father and brothers upon their deaths. Their deaths caused Al-Khansa tremendous grief and this anguish is vividly expressed in her poetry.
Her meeting with the Prophet Muhammad in 629 CE was well documented and it’s said that He himself was a great admirer of her work.

MURASAKI SHIKIBU (circa 973 CE)

Murasaki was a writer from Kyoto who served as Lady-in-Waiting to Empress Akiko(during Ichijo’s reign 986 -1011 CE).

Murasaki Shikibu by artist Hiroshige

She wrote The Tale Of Genji which is considered one of the greatest works in Japanese literature. Many scholars refer to her as one of the first novelists in modern literature.
Murasaki was known for her intelligence and writing skill from a very young age. It was this reputation that caught the attention of the Royal Imperial family and led to her appointment at Court.
Where the Tale of Genji was a work of romantic fiction, her experiences at Court led her to write The Diary of Lady Murasaki. In it she exposed the daily goings-on of Royal life but also blatantly hit out at the debauchery and misbehaviour of the affluent males whom she came into contact with.
The Tale of Genji has been translated into many languages and Murasaki herself has been the source of inspiration for many painters/artists over the centuries due to her reputation as a virtuous woman and illustrious writer.

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Did I miss anyone out? Who’s your favourite lady of literature?

Side note: To all my lovely ladies who follow my blog, Happy Woman’s Month from me, no matter where you are in the world. Stay beautiful and positive. Oceans of love…

NM  🙂

REFERENCES/LINKS

http://www.gatewaystobabylon.com/gods/ladies/ladyenheduanna.html

http://www.angelfire.com/mi/enheduanna/index.html

http://www.sappho.com/poetry/sappho.html

http://womenshistory.about.com/od/hypati1/a/hypatia.htm

JSTOR, The Crayon, Vol. 1, No. 7. Page 106 – Hypatia

http://worldhistoryconnected.press.illinois.edu/9.1/lee.html – Ban Zhao

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/316311/al-Khansa

http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/heroine9.html -Murasaki Shikibu

IMAGES

All images taken from Wikipedia Commons (in Public Domain).

DAY 19 – Book that turned you on


My biggest fear here is that I may come across as a prude. I have never read any Mills and Boon (a fact that I’m proud to admit), Danielle Steel or any other famous romance novel for that matter.

I once attempted to read one of those ‘penny-dreadful’ (my own term) erotic novels only to descend, 5 minutes later, into fits of laughter. Hardly a turn-on.
I’m of the firm belief that when it comes to sex in any art-form, less is more. The less graphic it is, the more exciting it tends to be. The power of suggestion and the power of the imagination are completely underrated, which is why gratuitous scenes in books, debase themselves to farcical proportions with its aim lost to the reader. Unless the reader has no brains or imagination off course.

Written in 1872, Carmilla predates Dracula by 25+ years and is described as the first lesbian vampire story.

Getting back to the topic…

My choice here is based on a memory going back more than 10 years. When I picked up Carmilla, I was very young and this choice is influenced by my initial reaction to reading this novella. I don’t remember the exact details of the story but I do know the gist of it and recollect these two very important facts:
1) I recall admiring Le Fanu’s style of writing and 2) I remember giggling like a virginal school girl who has yet to be given the ‘Birds and Bees’ talk.

As a juvenile-minded young teenager I found certain passages to be highly suggestive. Suggestively lesbian that is. Yes, Carmilla is a vampire whose only victims are young pretty girls. I’m sure Sappho would have loved this book.
Because I read this book so long ago, I wondered if my reaction now as an adult would be the same as back then. Would it still be so hot? Or would it be as erotic as a picture of a puppy?
Unfortunately because I had borrowed this book from the library, I don’t have a copy of my own. Thankfully we have the internet. Searching the net I found this passage:

Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardour of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet over-powering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses…

I can hear a few men screaming “More! More!” Sorry boys that was it.

Okay, so not exactly PG18 material, but it’s still hot in its own way. Or is it? What do you think? Was I being young and naïve back then? Or is this enough to make a straight gal question her sexuality?
Hmmm I wonder……

NM 😀