Christine de Pizan (or Pisan) was a Venetian born late medieval woman poet. She was highly regarded in her own day and during her thirty year career as Europe’s first professional woman writer completing forty-one works. She tirelessly challenged misogyny and the stereotypes of the late medieval period. She was widowed by age twenty-four and much of her motivation for her writing came from her need to earn a living for not only herself but her children. Her early poetry was of the courtly genre and marked by her knowledge of aristocratic custom and fashion of the day involving women and the practice of chivalry. In recent decades her works have once again returned to prominence through the scholarly efforts of those such as Simone de Beauvoir among others. There is some argument among scholars as whether to see her as an early feminist or that her beliefs were not progressive enough.
In 1390 with the death of her husband she was faced with the prospect of being left to support her mother, a niece and her two children. She began writing love ballads which garnered the attention of several patrons within the court who commissioned her to compose texts of their romantic exploits as they were intrigued by the novelty of having a woman writer. It is estimated that between 1393 and 1412 she was quite prolific having composed over three-hundred ballads and shorter poems. In 1401-1402 she engaged in a debate over Jean de Meun’s portrayal of women as nothing much more than seducers in his work “Romance of the Rose.” The result of the debate was more profound for her than the actual conclusions as it established her reputation as a female intellectual in a male dominated realm.
By 1405 she had completed her most successful literary works, “The Book of the City of Ladies,” and “The Treasure of the City of Ladies.” In these two works she argued and showed the importance of women’s past contributions to society and then attempted to illustrate and teach women how to cultivate qualities to counteract the growth of misogyny. She argues that women must recognize and promote their ability to make peace between their husband and his subjects. She believed that slanderous speech destroys the sisterly bond among women, “skill in discourse should be a part of every woman’s moral repertoire.” The works give a fascinating portrait of women in the 1400’s offering advice for women’s lives from the lady in the castle to the servant, peasant and even the prostitute. Through all of this she asserts than woman’s influence is realized when her speech unifies value to chastity, virtue and restraint.
Simone de Beauvoir in 1949 described her as, “the first time we see a woman take up her pen in defense of her sex.” Perhaps this makes her the western world’s first feminist.
A few quotes :
“Just as women’s bodies are softer than men’s, so their understanding is sharper.”
“I say it to thee again, and doubt never the contrary, that if it were the custom to put the little maidens to the school, and they were made to learn the sciences as they do to the men-children, that they should learn as perfectly, and they should be”
“Ah, child and youth, if you knew the bliss which resides in the taste of knowledge, and the evil and ugliness that lies in ignorance, how well you are advised to not complain of the pain and labor of learning.”
“Not all men (and especially the wisest) share the opinion that it is bad for women to be educated. But it is very true that many foolish men have claimed this because it displeased them that women knew more than they did.”
Very little is actually known of Marie de France as both her given name and where she lived is only known through her manuscripts. She was a medieval poet who probably was born in France and lived in England in the late 12th century. She lived and wrote at an unknown or undisclosed court, but was at least known of in the royal court of King Henry II of England. Some have suggested that she was perhaps a half-sister of Henry II.
She wrote a form of Anglo-Norman French and was proficient in Latin and English as well. She translated “Aesop’s Fables” into Anglo-Norman French from Middle English, and the “Legend of the Purgatory of St. Patrick” from Latin. She is best known as the writer of “The Lais Of Marie de France” which are still quite widely read and were a great influence on the romance genre (heroic literature) such as Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.”
“The Lais of Marie de France” are a series of twelve short (a few hundred lines each) Breton Lais. They are rhymed stanzas of 6-16 lines with 4-8 syllables per line which focus on glorifying the concept of courtly love through the adventure of the main character. The series of lais presents a contrast of the positive and negative actions that can result from love through magical situations, themes and imagery. Romantic themes include lovers in a hostile world, oppressive marriages and dichotomy social conventions, conflicts between love, chivalry and marriage, freedom of desire, love as an escape, and the psychological issues of love manifested in treachery and selfishness. They are also considered to have an ambiguous moral message especially for the time.
“Love is an invisible wound within the body, and, since it has its source in nature, it is a long-lasting ill.”
“Anyone who intends to present a new story must approach the problem in a new way and speak so persuasively that the tale brings pleasure to people.”
“It would be less dangerous for a man to court every lady in an entire land than for a lady to remove a single besotted lover from her skirts, for he will immediately attempt to strike back.”
The ancient Greek xiphos (/ˈksiːfoʊs/ KSEE-fohss; Greek: ξίφος) was a pointed and double edged short sword, typically with a two foot long leaf-shaped blade, that was used for both cutting and thrusting. Designed for single-handed use, the xiphos was favored by the Greeks and was carried by them as standard equipment. The design has most likely been in existence since the appearance of the first swords. Blades in bronze and iron are suitable for a leaf shape due to the softness of the metals in comparison to steel. Bronze swords are cast and are thus more easily formed into a leaf shape than iron swords, which need to be forged. Xiphoi were initially made of bronze. Thus, getting the leaf shape for a bronze sword was simply a matter of pouring molten bronze into a leaf shaped mold. By the 7th and 6th centuries BC, iron supplanted bronze in making xiphoi.
It was a secondary battlefield weapon for the Greek armies after the dory or javelin. The classic blade was generally about 50–60 cm long, although the Spartans used a much shorter blade sometimes as short as one foot. The xiphos was generally used only when the spear was discarded for close combat. Xiphoi were usually carried in a baldric (a belt for a sword or other piece of equipment, worn over one shoulder and reaching down to the opposite hip) and hung under the user’s left arm. As ancient Greek warfare revolved around the phalanx, which was a spear-based formation, the xiphos was a secondary weapon, employed in close combat for situations in which the spear was ineffective or not ideal.
Viking Age Scandinavian women enjoyed a tremendous degree of freedom when compared to the Viking women settlers of Iceland and Greenland. Unlike the Viking settlers who depended on gender roles (dividing keeping the land vs keeping family), Scandinavian women were able to own property, request a divorce and reclaim their dowries if their marriages started to take a turn for the worse.
And if their husbands died, women were expected to permanently take over their husband’s roles as the providers of their households. As such, they were able to obtain economic opportunities that was rarely offered to contemporary women in other parts of Europe. Some women were even traders, warriors, and farmers.
There is evidence of women taking on the role of the warrior. Though rare, Byzantine-era historian Johannes Skylitzes recorded on History.com that women fought alongside a group of Vikings in a battle against the Bulgarians in 971 AD. A 12th-century Danish historian described female Vikings as “communities of warrior women as shieldmaidens who dressed like men and devoted themselves to learning swordplay and other warlike skills.”
Most of the information we know about the Viking warriors comes from the literature or various and nearby communities. There are several accounts of female warriors rolling around on the Viking raids, who are known as Valkyries. In myth, Valkyries are fierce warriors who raise the souls of fallen warriors to Valhalla.
The most common natural hair colors a Viking man or woman were brunette, red, or black. Blondes were actually pretty rare. Those born with blonde hair were considered attractive and more desirable. Both men and women used a soap with high quantities of lye to strip pigments from their hair to appear more blonde. It has even been documented that lightening their hair helped manage head lice, a nice bonus of this cosmetic trend.
Various items found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb including his funerary bed and sarcophagus:
Tutankhamun (also known as Tutankhamen ruled c. 1332–1323 BC) is the most famous and instantly recognizable Pharaoh in the modern world. His golden sarcophagus is now a symbol almost synonymous with Egypt. His name means `living image of the god Amun’. He was born in the year 11 of the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (better known as Akhenaten) c. 1345 BCE and died, some claim mysteriously, in 1327 BCE at the age of 17 or 18. He became the celebrity pharaoh he is today in 1922 CE when the archaeologist Howard Carter discovered his almost-intact tomb in the Valley of the Kings. While it was initially thought that Tutankhamun was a minor ruler, whose reign was of little consequence, opinion has changed as further evidence has come to light. Today Tutankhamun is recognized as an important pharaoh who returned order to a land left in chaos by his father’s political-religious reforms and who would no doubt have made further impressive contributions to Egypt’s history if not for his early death.
“It is truly vast, built from 2.3 million blocks of stone, each weighing on average more than a ton, and covering an area of thirteen acres. A simple calculation reveals that the builders would have had to set one block of stone in place every two minutes during a ten-hour day, working without a pause throughout the year for the two decades of Khufu’s reign (2345 – 2525). Once completed, 481 feet high, the Great Pyramid remained unsurpassed in scale until modern times. For forty-four centuries, until the completion of the Eiffel Tower in A.D. 1889, it was the tallest building in the world.”
~ Toby Wilkinson, from “The Rise and Fall Of Ancient Egypt”
“The main purpose of writing was not decorative, and it was not originally intended for literary or commercial use. Its most important function was to provide a means by which certain concepts or events could be brought into existence. The Egyptians believed that if something were committed to writing it could be repeatedly “made to happen” by means of magic.”
~ Egyptologist Ann Rosalie David (1946 – present)
The best known Ancient Egyptian writing is known as hieroglyphics “sacred carvings” and developed at some point prior to the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150 -2613 BCE). The designation “hieroglyphics” is a Greek word; the Egyptians referred to their writing as medu-netjer, “the god’s words,” as they believed writing had been given to them by the great god Thoth. Thoth has been depicted in many ways depending on the era and on the aspect the artist wished to convey. Usually, he is depicted in his human form with the head of an ibis. Thoth was born with an immense knowledge and most importantly the knowledge of the power of words. He was also considered to have been the scribe of the underworld. Thoth was universally worshipped by ancient Egyptian scribes. Many scribes had a painting or a picture of Thoth in their “office”. Likewise, one of the symbols for scribes was that of the ibis. Thoth has played a prominent role in many of the Egyptian myths. Displaying his role as arbitrator, he had overseen the three epic battles between good and evil making sure neither had a decisive victory over the other.
The ancient Egyptians regarded Thoth as One, self-begotten, and self-produced. He was the master of both physical and moral (i.e. divine) law. He is said to direct the motions of the heavenly bodies. Without his words, the Egyptians believed, the gods would not exist. His power was unlimited in the Underworld and rivaled that of Ra and Osiris. The Egyptians credited him as the author of all works of science, religion, philosophy, and magic. The Greeks further declared him the inventor of astronomy, astrology, the science of numbers, mathematics, geometry, surveying, medicine, botany, theology, civilized government, the alphabet, reading, writing, and oratory. They further claimed he was the true author of every work of every branch of knowledge, human and divine.
Thoth gave human beings this knowledge freely, but it was a responsibility he expected them to take seriously. Words could hurt, heal, elevate, destroy, condemn, and even raise someone from death to life. Sometime in the Predynastic Period in Egypt (c. 6000 – c. 3150 BCE), they began to use symbols to represent basic concepts. Egyptologist Miriam Lichtheim writes, “[the script] was limited to the briefest notations designed to identify a person or a place, an event or a possession.” The earliest writings purpose was most likely in trade, to convey information about goods, prices, and purchases. However the first actual extant evidence of Egyptian writing comes from tombs in the form of offering lists in the Early Dynastic Period.
Death was not the end of life for the ancient Egyptians; it was only a transition from one state to another. An Offering List was an inventory of the gifts due to a particular person and inscribed on the wall of their tomb. Someone who had performed great deeds, held a high position of authority, or led troops to victory in battle were due greater offerings than another who had done relatively little with their lives. The autobiography and the prayer became the first forms of literature in Egypt and were created using the hieroglyphic script.
“The Offering List grew to enormous length till the day on which an inventive mind realized that a short Prayer for Offerings would be an effective substitute for the unwieldy list. Once the prayer, which may already have existed in spoken form, was put into writing, it became the basic element around which tomb-texts and representations were organized. Similarly, the ever lengthening lists of an official’s ranks and titles were infused with life when the imagination began to flesh them out with narration, and the Autobiography was born.”
~ Egyptologist Miriam Lichtheim (1914 – 2004)
Hieroglyphics developed out of the early pictographs. People used symbols, pictures to represent concepts such as a person or event.
“A modern-day example of how hieroglyphics were written would be a text message in which an emoji of an angry face is placed after an image of a school. Without having to use any words one could convey the concept of “I hate school” or “I am angry about school.” If one wanted to make one’s problem clearer, one could place an image of a teacher or fellow student before the angry-face-ideogram or a series of pictures telling a story of a problem one had with a teacher. Determinatives were important in the script, especially because hieroglyphics could be written left-to-right or right-to-left or down-to-up or up-to-down. Inscriptions over temple doors, palace gates, and tombs go in whatever direction was best served for that message. The beauty of the final work was the only consideration in which direction the script was to be read.”
~ Joshua J. Mark, Professor of Philosophy at Marist College
“The placement of hieroglyphs in relation to one another was governed by aesthetic rules. The Egyptians always tried to group signs in balanced rectangles. For example, the word for “health” was written with the three consonants s-n-b. These would not be written [in a linear fashion] by an Egyptian because the group would look ugly, it would be considered “incorrect”. The “correct” writing would be the grouping of the signs into a rectangle…The labor of construction was lightened somewhat by the fact that individual hieroglyphs could be enlarged or shrunk as the grouping required and that some signs could be placed either horizontally or vertically. Scribes would even reverse the order of signs if it seemed that a more balanced rectangle could be obtained by writing them in the wrong order.”
~ Egyptologist Karl-Theodor Zauzich
Hieroglyphics were comprised of an ‘alphabet’ of 24 basic consonants which would convey meaning but over 800 different symbols to express that meaning precisely which all had to be memorized and used correctly.
“It may well be asked why the Egyptians developed a complicated writing system that used several hundred signs when they could have used their alphabet of some thirty signs and made their language much easier to read and write. This puzzling fact probably has a historical explanation: the one-consonant signs were not “discovered” until after the other signs were in use. Since by that time the entire writing system was established, it could not be discarded, for specific religious reasons. Hieroglyphics were regarded as a precious gift of Thoth, the god of wisdom. To stop using many of these signs and to change the entire system of writing would have been considered both a sacrilege and an immense loss, not to mention the fact that such a change would make all the older texts meaningless at a single blow.”
~ Egyptologist Karl-Theodor Zauzich
Hieroglyphics were obviously quite labor-intensive for a scribe and so another faster script was developed shortly after known as hieratic (‘sacred writing’). Hieratic script used characters which were simplified versions of hieroglyphic symbols. Hieratic appeared in the Early Dynastic Period in Egypt after hieroglyphic writing was already firmly developed.