Blog

From Ashes to Impossible, From Impossible to Success: Christine de Pizan

Bottoming out for Christine de Pizan meant losing her husband. In Medieval France, she not only lost her partner but the financial means he provided. Female professionalization was quite limited at the time and in order to provide for herself and her children, she either need to professionalize or remarry.

Pizan could have been practical. She could have found a new husband, perhaps someone with influence and wealth. But she did not decide to be practical, not at all. In fact, she decided to do something even more unpractical—become a professional writer as her sole source of income. She had virtually no examples of professional female writers. Sure, there were some letter writers and other great thinkers of the time, but not a woman who was sponsored by patronage and paid for her writing. Further paid enough to support a family.

Pizan would be the first.

But before that, she had to hit bottom.

I can only imagine there was a moment of soul searching, a time of self-doubt, mired in sorrow over her loss. She was quite aware that her womanhood was an obstacle. She mocks society’s low esteem of women in The Book of the City of Ladies, saying, “I was astounded that such a fine craftsmen (God) could have wished to make such an appalling object (women)…”[1] That is to say, if God is exalted for his creations, wouldn’t women also be among those things?

Yet her work indicates that she was impacted by the lack of professional women. “But I would then ask you whether you know of any women who, through the strength of emotion and subtlety of mind and comprehension, have themselves discovered any new arts and sciences which are necessary, good, and profitable…”[2]

6a00d8341c464853ef019103d990ca970c-500wiBut in hindsight also speaks through the incarnation of reason in order to calm these fears. “Rest assured, dear friend, that many noteworthy and great sciences and arts have been discovered through the understanding and subtlety of women, both in cognitive speculation, demonstrated in writing, and in the arts, manifested inmanual works of labor…”[3]

It was through her poems, seemingly written as an outlet for her sorrow that gained her the initial attention. She was well-placed already as both a daughter and wife of a royal official. Through these connections, she found patronage. Eventually, her popularity led to solid and comfortable earning that allowed Pizan to not only remain unmarried but gain economic independence. But she did play to the industry which supported her, instead she used her unique position as an opportunity to oppose misogyny. Her most well-known work, The Book of the City of Ladies, turns depictions of women in medieval literature on its head. Instead, she builds up historical and mythological women, seeking to recognize their strength, abilities and contributions. She directly challenges the idea that women are mere objects of desire and scorn.

These are big challenges for this time period. No one advocated for women in the public sphere, Pizan took the opportunity her position afforded to address misogynistic sentiments, particularly in literature. Certainly, she took a certain risk in order to do so.

Pizan found economic success, but more importantly she gained the freedom to choose her own path and give women a voice.

 

Endnotes

[1] Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies, (London: Penguin, 2000), 6.

[2] Christine de Pizan, “The Book of the City of Ladies,” Millersville University, accessed 23 June 2017, http://web.archive.org/web/20001205161800/http://www.millersv.edu:80/~english/homepage/duncan/medfem/pizan.html.

[3] Ibid.

Venus Rises

By: Kaitlin Bevis

“You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting “Vanity,” thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for you own pleasure.” ― John BergerWays of Seeing

When people think of the Goddess Aphrodite, they think of sex. Of lust. Of cheating and scandal. They think vanity. Every version of Aphrodite I saw or read growing up went the extra mile to also portray her as a dumb blonde. Part of that is because of myths that did not portray her in a positive light. She did cheat on her husband, she was promiscuous, and her vanity did kind of start an epic war in Troy.

But then again, why is Aphrodite, a goddess who was forced into marriage to Hephaestus despite her long-term, established relationship with Ares, judged more harshly than Zeus for cheating on Hera? Why is her promiscuity viewed more harshly than the fact that Zeus was a serial rapist? The Trojan War was bad, but remember that time Zeus unleashed Pandora’s Box on human kind?

The way we interpret and reinterpret stories is a window into our values. The fact that Zeus is often a multi-dimensional character with some flaws whose worst crimes never seem to come up in most retellings and reimaginings, and Aphrodite is a stereotypical vain, mean-girl slut, says a lot about our current values.

Double standards are nothing new, but there’s a particular insidiousness to the double standards surrounding women who are confident in their beauty. Don’t believe me, check out what happens when a group of women start responding with “I know,” to compliments.

“Oh my gods.” Adonis threw up his hands in frustration. “Could you be more conceited?”

Why is that a bad thing?” I demanded.I honestly don’t get how anyone manages to function in a society with such a contradictory social code. You claim to value hon­esty, yet you thrive on lies. Calling a plain person plain is somehow an insult instead of a statement of fact, meanwhile the only acceptable form of validation is from other people giving you compliments and then you have to deny them?”

 — Aphrodite

It’s no wonder so many women are plagued with self-doubt. Women are socialized to constantly belittle themselves “What, this old thing,” and downplay their achievements, “Oh, thank you, it was nothing, really.”

That’s why rewriting Aphrodite into a complex, actual character was so important to me. Here was a woman who was confident in her sexuality and her appearance and played by the exact same rules as the men in the Pantheon. Historically speaking, that’s huge. That our modern-day society took a character from an ancient society that was totally cool with things like rape and owning people and reduced her to a more offensive, one dimensional, cardboard cut-out of every stereotype negatively portraying women you can think of, is frankly terrifying.

 

The final book in the Aphrodite Trilogy, Venus Rising was released June 9th. Please enjoy this spoiler-free excerpt. Venus Rising Banner

Prologue

Aphrodite

I’M NOT PERFECT. But I was designed to be. Once upon a time, Zeus sculpted me from foam and death. He made me into a puppet. A box. A symbol. A thing designed to be perfectly obedient to him.

I bent and twisted beneath his onslaught of lightning and thunder, but when the storm cleared, I remained. Fragile and broken, but still alive. His death released me from his vision of perfection, leaving me free to find my own. That’s when I discovered how far from perfect I truly was.

I’ve been called promiscuous, shallow, arrogant, self-centered, annoying, and worse by beings who physically can’t lie. They’re not wrong. I’m riddled with flaws. I am neither strong nor brave. I cling too tightly, love too freely, and fear that without my beauty, there’s nothing left of me. Nothing real.

But life goes on, regardless of my uncertainty. As time passed, I had no choice but to learn to stand on my own two legs, shaky as they might be.

Here’s what I’ve learned. I’m nobody’s statue or posable doll. I am neither a box nor a symbol. Yes, I’ve been loved by war, struck by lightning, hugged by spring, and mauled by the sea, but I’m more than a victim. I am greater than my story.

I’m real, flaws and all, and that’s terrifying. Every day, I become someone else. Someone stronger. Wiser. Better. I’m becoming myself.

But that process isn’t always pretty.

If you want to learn more about Kaitlin Bevis, visit her website www.kaitlinbevis.com for bonus content.

 

 

The Write Awakening

From a young age, writing followed Kate Chopin in many ways. She read often and kept

Screen Shot 2017-06-11 at 1.00.35 PM
Kate Chopin

journal entries and some private poetry, but her fiction didn’t really surface until after a series of tragedies impacted her future. Throughout Chopin’s life, she lost her father, husband, mother and other relatives all before she even turned 34. Left with six children, her husband’s debt, and a great struggle with depression, her obstetrician and a family friend both advised her to use writing as a way to heal and focus, and as a method to provide income. [1]

Writing as a form of escapism is a familiar concept to anyone who practices the craft. Before misfortune stole Chopin’s loved ones away, she was someone we sometimes think of (perhaps without meaning to) as being a person “immune” to depression. Her background was that of belonging to a wealthy, established family. She was a Southern beauty, well liked and considered a great conversationalist. But even then, Chopin was in search for a personal freedom that remained elusive. Like many of us who deal with inner struggles, Chopin hid her vulnerability from others, but she used writing to convey and perhaps to make sense of the complexities within her thoughts. As a teenager making her social debut she wrote in her journal, “I dance with people I despise [. . .] I am diametrically opposed to parties and balls; and yet when I broach the subject-they either laugh at me-imagining that I wish to perpetrate a joke; or look very serious, shake their heads and tell me not to encourage such silly notions.” [2]

Chopin’s determination not to sacrifice her personal freedom is a theme that comes up many times in her writing. The stability, or instability, of mental soundness is haunting. What Chopin dealt with was not easily escapable, but the vulnerability she exposes in

Screen Shot 2017-06-11 at 1.03.00 PM
Chopin with her 4 sons.

her writing, even at the sake of her reputation is something still currently admirable and needed. Even after marrying Oscar, Chopin upheld her freedom and developed a reputation for herself as not conforming entirely to societal expectations. Chopin is someone I come back to and read again and again because her struggle of not wanting to sacrifice her spirit is so relatable.

I remember being a voracious reader since elementary school. At that young age I was always reading Harry Potter or the Goosebumps or Fear Street books. However, I don’t remember actually writing much until after the unexpected loss of my father when I was in 7th grade. The concept of escapism was deeply embraced because well, middle school sucks for just about everyone, but dealing with depression at that tender age and missing someone you were close with so terribly makes for the grayest and thickest of fogs to wade through. But like Chopin, I wrote through the dark times. I wrote horrible, angsty poetry, sad song lyrics, ideas for grand novels I insisted to myself I’d write someday (newsflash to younger me—it’ll take you the 2.5 years you spend in graduate school to write that damned novel, but be proud of this because 1. The book doesn’t entirely suck 2. Your poetry gets so much better, and 3. You’ll be a published poet and that kind of rocks because your love affair with poetry will continue to breathe life into you when the gray clouds threaten to suffocate).

Another reason I often return to Chopin is because her struggle of obligation toward what was expected versus what she wanted to do for herself is a familiar battle for writers, too. Those questions of what do I change for the audience or what do I write for myself often linger and combat each other. As someone who writes horror and happens to be in possession of female body parts, comments such as “you’re a nice girl, why do you want to write this stuff for?” often arise…and that’s probably the nicest/cleanest version of that comment I’ve gotten. I love writing horror, especially with a feminist bent, because it allows me to explore my own discomforts, push boundaries, and write without apologies. I look to Chopin’s utter bravery for continuing to write after she Screen Shot 2017-06-11 at 1.00.53 PMreceived such harsh reviews for The Awakening. Such negativity would have been enough to permanently discourage someone from trying to publish anything again, especially since that novel conveys such pure openness at the expense of risking reputation. But now the novel that was considered obscene and received scathing criticism is considered one of the most important works in literature, especially feminist literature.

Chopin wrote on. She persisted. Her search for freedom of the female spirit would not be silenced. Her fearless attitude, her ability to embrace the soft, perhaps more vulnerable sides of being human, of being a woman, with the tough, gritty, strong and often unseen sides will forever serve as inspiration for me and hopefully countless others. When I scrapped my original plan in undergrad and decided to take on creative writing, I was terrified to share my work with peers in such open settings, but I found I could take constructive criticism from others. I could handle rejections from publishers. After that, my fears faded into something completely manageable. I love feedback. I hunger for conversations on what can be improved and how to write better, and that’s why I love writing. This is the craft of constant challenges, of endless outlets and genres to try. The call to write is like a needy, hidden organ in your body — full of blood, waiting for you to decide how much you’ll squeeze out onto the page today.

Some things will hurt, whether they’re comments from others, a rejection you thought surely wouldn’t happen, learning someone you respected in the industry isn’t all that great…there’s a lot of things that happen in this field. But if we can learn anything from Chopin, I believe it is that the power to persevere lives inside all of us. Women are tough as hell. Like Chopin, we know, inherently, how to swallow the crap down and turn it into fire, to forge rage into determination, to use determination to embrace our talent and satisfy ourselves with our work before worrying about what others think. Chopin was ahead of her time. There was something mystical about her, and her calling to write is something I am deeply grateful for because her influence, her awakening, helped lead me to mine. She showed me how to confront my own truths, the ones hidden away in the shadows of the soul.

“But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult!” –The Awakening [3]

So here’s to souls not perishing in tumult, but rather learning to embrace the entangled chaos of a writer’s life. Here’s to the middle-school me who learned to write about more

Screen Shot 2017-06-11 at 1.08.43 PM
Photo by MaxPixel.  “The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander…” The Awakening

than ghosts and sadness and silly boys. Here’s to women who dare to be both vulnerable and tough, who know how to live with both the sunny days and the storms within them. You are summer days and you are thunderclouds with lightning always poised, waiting to strike anyone who may try and steal your sun or your storms. Remember, the successes of others do not take away from your own — they never have and never will. Your daily courage and your own survival, these are your successes. You are awakened, and you will not be contained.

 

 

Works Cited:

  1. American Literature. “Kate Chopin.” https://americanliterature.com/author/kate-chopin/bio-books-stories.
  2. Deter, Floramaria. “Kate Chopin: In Search of Freedom.” ThoughtCo, 2017. https://www.thoughtco.com/kate-chopin-in-search-of-freedom-735149.
  3. Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. Norton, 1996.

My Doubts are Chains of Shadows – In the Light, I am Free

Dear Reader, I ask that you bear with me as this post gets very personal. However, I promise I tie back to the point of this blog, and re-focus on a woman in history.

I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I knew such an occupation existed. I remember in the 2nd grade, a teacher stayed inside during recess with me one day to teach me about haikus. I decided to write a poem a day, and found an old legal pad in my dad’s office on which I scribbled out some semblance of poetry every day for a good few months. Some were haikus, and some were my own brand of free verse, given my limited seven-year-old vocabulary. (They all rhymed)

EPSON MFP image
The Two Brothers The Two Brothers by Elenore Abbott2

I started a writing group in the 3rd grade. At recess, two of my friends and I would sit under the tree with our notebooks and write stories together. They were fairy tales, mostly. Princesses and dragons and that sort of thing. Because those were the stories we knew and loved, and the ones we wanted to write.

 

But I soon learned that sharing your soul on paper is a dangerous activity. We were teased mercilessly about our writing group, and my two friends caved. One day, they simply didn’t want to write anymore, and I was left to go at it alone.

I kept a diary in a 3-ring binder. During a chilly fall day, a girl jerked it from my hands, popped open the rings and threw the whole thing in the air. I chased my loose pages, picking them up from the damp fallen leaves. It was poetic, really, the leaves of paper among the colored tree leaves. But it was the last time I wrote at recess.

I remember in fifth grade being given a writing assignment in class. We were to write a story–any story–but we had to follow the five steps of the writing process, and each of those steps would be graded. When we were given time to work in class, our teacher would circulate the room, making sure we were on task. I hated this. I didn’t want her to see what I was writing. I didn’t want to share. I hovered over my paper so closely so that she couldn’t see what I wrote. Thus I did most of my work at home, but one day carelessly left my notes lying on the coffee table, where my mother found it. She told me how wonderful it was, and asked why I didn’t show it to her sooner.

I threw it in the trash.

It wasn’t good enough. It was never good enough.

What happened to the girl who wrote poetry every day? And fairy tales at recess? Who narrated her own life as if she were a character in a novel?

Somewhere between 1st grade and 5th grade, she had discovered that writing made one vulnerable; and she did not wish to be, as they say, “an open book.”

WIN_20161029_20_59_06_Pro
The cover of one of my many, many journals

I did not stop writing. I filled notebooks of story ideas and stories and drawings of maps for my make-believe worlds. And then I took all of these things and shoved them under my mattress (I know, I know — incredibly original hiding spot for a teenage girl).

 

In college, I tried to write “literary” stories and poems for my creative writing classes, but never showed a soul the fairy tales hiding on my computer. Even if I wasn’t sharing my stories, I still felt impelled to write, to create. But never, never, not ever would I tell someone I wrote “fantasy.” Fairy tales were for children. Unless you were Tolkien. Which I was not.

After undergrad, I decided not to even apply for an MFA program because there was no way I could possibly get in. I would save myself the pain of rejection, and apply to MA English lit programs because those were much safer. I went to George Mason University, where I took a course in 12th Century literature (because it’s amazing), and one week, we studied the writings of Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th century German nun, and I came across a passage where Hildegard describes hearing a “voice from Heaven” urging her to write “what you see and hear.” Here was Hildegard’s response to the vision:

“But although I heard and saw these things, because of doubt and a low opinion of myself and because of what people might say, I refused for a long time the call to write.”1

I stopped. I read that passage, then read it again. Here was a woman, in the 12th century, expressing in words what I had long felt, but refused to acknowledge. Even with a vision from Heaven telling her, “Hey, write this,” she refused — not because she doubted the vision. Not even because she doubted the message she was meant to convey. But because she doubted herself.

Hildegard_mapHildegard wrote what is commonly known as the oldest morality play, Ordo Virtutum. She was a pioneer of the study of natural sciences. She was a theologian. A scholar. A poet. A healer. A songwriter. My professor even described her as “an early sort of marriage counselor.” She was a Renaissance woman before the Renaissance was cool. And to think what the world would have missed out on, if we didn’t have her writings! If she had continuously refused to offer them.

 

What would have happened if Hildegard continued in her refusal because of her self-doubt and fear of “what people might say”?

And am I, in refusing to share my own writing, depriving the world?

I don’t think I’ve had any specific visions from Heaven I can point to and say, “ah ha! There’s my calling!” However, I do know that when I am writing, I feel in that moment that there is no other purpose for my being. I do not doubt that purpose. Nor do I doubt the message in the words I type. It is myself I doubt, and the rejection I fear.

Yet fear is a lie, determined to keep us in chains. It deceives us into thinking that it keeps us safe, far from the rejection and pain. But the shackles with which it holds us is darkness conjured by our own minds — shackles made of shadows. Once we test them, once the light of truth is cast upon them, they dissipate. We are freed.

Hildegard says that she overcame her doubt with “the witness of a certain noble girl of high morality and of the man whom I had found[…]” then “I set my hand to writing. When I did so[…]I rose from my sickness with renewed strength.”1 When she didn’t write, it made her physically ill, and it wasn’t until she sought the council of trusted friends that she realized what she must do — she must cast off her illusory chains, pick up the pen, and write. It was her only source of freedom.

We may none of us be the next Hildegard of Bingen, pioneering sciences, writing plays, and studying theology, all while healing people and offering counseling services (without Netflix, the 12th century was really productive). However, we do all have something to offer the world. If Hildegard or Jane Austen or Agatha Christie all had said, “oh, but what might people think about me, if I take up the pen? I can’t possibly,” imagine how the worlds of drama, romance, and mystery would be so altered. Imagine what the world might have lost.

Hildegard_von_BingenJane_Austen_coloured_versionChristie1925

I cannot say I am completely over this fear. However, I have resolved myself to write and share my work, even in the face of rejection. I will surround myself with support of people who remind me, “yes, this is your calling. Pursue it.” I will face my fears head on, throwing the leaves in the air myself, to see who might wish to pick them up. And even if no one does, I will keep writing.

Don’t deprive the world of your light simply because someone has shackled you with shadows. Shine, and watch them dissolve.

1 Hildegard von Bingen. Secrets of God. Selected and translated by Sabina Flanagan, 1996, pp. 11.

2 Scanned from Grimms’ Fairy Tales (1920 Charles Scribner’s Sons edition), Public Domain

3 Sean Butcher & Carmen Butcher. Map used in Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader by Carmen Butcher, published by Paraclete Press. Map of Hildegard’s preaching tours.

Pictures of Hildegard, Jane Austen, and Agatha Christie {{PD-1923}}

Royal People: Isabella of France, “She-Wolf of England”

This week we are featuring an article from Just History Posts, a fellow history blog. Highly recommend. Check it out!

just history posts

As my last blog post on medieval English royals was about a woman from my masters dissertation, I thought I would continue the trend and go back to my undergraduate dissertation for the next in the series. For this we go back to the previous century, the early fourteenth century, and look at the wife of King Edward II of England, Isabella of France.

Isabella of France is a fantastically interesting historic figure, even more so because of how little-known she is; even I had never heard of her before I started research for my dissertation. To have not heard of a medieval Queen, especially amongst the public, may not seem like such a big deal, until you consider the fact that Queen Isabella deposed her husband, Edward II, and seized the throne of England, ruling as regent on behalf of her son for several years before he in turn…

View original post 2,033 more words

Beautiful or Nothing at all

By: Kourtnea Zinov’yevna Hogan

Countess Elizabeth Bathory de Ecsed became fully invested in her search for beauty in 1585. Over 400 years ago. You’ve probably heard of the brutal murders she committed, considering that she’s been labelled as the most prolific female serial killer. Though her kill-count isn’t set in stone, it is estimated to be close to 650.

The Son of Sam was driven to murder by the Devil. Carl Panzram was driven by a deep hatred for humanity. But Elizabeth was driven by something quite different. The desire to be young and beautiful and to stay that way. And, of course, there is no better way to reduce crow’s feet than by bathing in the blood of virgins.

Considering that the modern cosmetic industry wasn’t invented until the 20th century (about the 1920’s), Bathory was ahead of the curve. I think we tend to view the past victim-2through rose colored lenses. It’s hard to picture such a heavy focus on beauty before the makeup industry came along (an industry I’ve known and felt forced to be subservient to for my entire life). People often hold up the art of the renaissance as a time where women were not shamed for their bodies. The women in the paintings look real, are modeled after real women, are unaltered by photoshop or airbrush. But the renaissance was running its course at the same time of Bathory’s vicious murders. Maybe being held up to the impossible standards of goddesses and angels wore women down long before film, magazines, models, and porn ever worked their way into the main thread of society.

To think that someone, many someones, could be driven to hate the natural folds and lines of their bodies is unsettling to say the least. Women are held to strict standards that blur from person to person (or man to man). Too much makeup is for whores and sluts. Louis_Bataille,_'Deux_cas_d'anorexie_hysterique'_Wellcome_L0020548_(backcropped)Who are you trying to look good for? She’s asking for it. Too little makeup is off putting, because the natural face is not what “natural” looks like in magazines and film. You look tired. Are you feeling well?

Thankfully, positive movements have sprung up from the depths of the internet. Countless women have come forward to tell their stories about the struggle of learning to love their body. Women are clearly broadcasting that the way they look is not for men, and are supporting one another for their outfits, their choice to wear makeup or not, for expressing their sexual desires in whatever way they see fit.

But positivity is slow moving. The backlash against women has had its own revival. How can boys grow up to be men who support women when the President is man who once told a woman that it must be a pretty sight to see her on her knees? Or who is quoted as saying that it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you have a young and beautiful downloadwoman attached to you? “But she’s got to be young and beautiful.” And how can girls grow into women who love themselves when they grow up hearing their mothers call themselves fat and ugly? When nearly every representation of a beautiful woman is one that is photoshopped?

We live in a world where you are nothing if you are not beautiful. No matter how smart, talented, or good-hearted you may be, if you are not physically appealing it will be brought up. And if you are beautiful that will be all that will be brought up about you too. Beauty is an inescapable vice with very strict criteria. No wonder someone would be driven to kill for it.

Monolithic: Kandakes of Kush, Queens of Stone

By the early portion of the 1st century, it seemed that all the world knew of Rome and its might. Further, it knew of the great Caesar Augustus that reigned at the helm of the Roman state. But in the land of Kush[1], at the edges of Western interest, this was not the case. The feeling was mutual, or more accurately, mutual disinterest and ignorance, neither Rome, roman culture or the man that ruled it meant very much to the Kushites or their great queens, the Kandake.[2]

It is uncertain when the Kush royal heredity moved from male to female, but we do understand that a series of women headed the state as independent sovereigns. These women were rulers by their own right, not by widowhood, regency nor marriage. Additionally, Kandakes did not lose or diminish their power when they married or bore Meroe_1sons. Instead, it was the husband who took up the position as consort. It is from the period of Kandake rule that we have a significant collection of art and inscriptions that depict the nature of their authority. In these the queen often towers, sometimes in the throes of smiting her enemy. In others, her hands are lifted in religious devotion. In all of them, she is the central or only theme of the work. If husbands appeared at all, they were small in stature compared to their queens, if a male appeared of any significance is was most often the Kandake’s son. Frequently, consorts went completely nameless in the record.[3]

She often towers, sometimes in the throes of smiting her enemy, in others, her hands are lifted in religious devotion.

Kush already practiced a form of matriarchal succession common among the cultures of East Africa (and beyond) where royal males inherited rule through their mothers. These mothers were female relatives of the king, often a sister. It is thought that the title of

amanirenas-5Kandake meant “queen mother,” revealing the preexisting importance of the position and offering an easily identifiable reason for the transition to singular female rule. The importance of women goes beyond the royal world, but includes a special regard for the role of wives and mothers in society. Many societies recognize motherhood as a crucial position yet it occupies a support role to male authority. In Kushite culture women were esteemed as vital monolithic entities that were active in both domestic and public worlds. Further, roles were fluid particularly when it came to power. Female roles within society embodied strength, an attribute needed for ruling a kingdom.

It appears that in Kushite culture, women were esteemed as vital monolithic entities that were active in both domestic and public worlds.

When the Romans and Kushites finally crossed paths at Premnis, a fort located near the Nile in Upper Egypt, it was the Kandake Amantitere who led her forces and brazenly brought them down the Nile and into Egyptian territory. Kushite Amanirenas-4women were known to arm themselves in everyday life, so the appearance of a queen a the helm of a military effort is not surprising. According to Roman accounts, “the Candace[4] attacked the garrison with an army of many thousand men.”[5] Dio Cassius recorded the Kush army “with Candace as their leader, ravaging everything they encountered.”[6] Kandakes were not gilded rulers, decked in lace, delicate and breakable. Formidable in spirit as well as appearance, Strabo paints a picture of Amantitere that captures the imagination: masculine and in possession of one eye, having lost it is some unknown circumstance. [7]

Perhaps from gender egalitarianism, depictions of Kandakes belie beauty standards of the inheritors of the Hellenistic world as well as Egyptian ideals. Instead we are shown Sibyl Abraham Paintingimages of strong capable bodies. UNESCO describes a relief of Shanakdakhete, the first known true queen, as a women with, “a wide and powerful body adorned with many jewels…these traits which combine the promise of fertility and the exterior signs of wealth, symbolize prosperity and power.”[8] Kandakes harnessed feminine vitality and strength, there doesn’t appear to be a need for symbols of male authority nor titles to legitimatize their rule. The adherence to a separate standard is interesting as it is clear from artwork that Kushite culture had strong Egyptian influences, this included the adoption of several Egyptian deities.

Perhaps from gender egalitarianism, depictions of Kandakes belie beauty standards of the inheritors of the Hellenistic world as well as Egyptian ideals.

What stories and images left to us about these remarkable women only serve to inspire and leave us curious. What can Kush society teach us about the role of women in modern society? What things can it teach us about beauty standards? Just to know these stories and even to discover their faults would be a pursuit of new and worthy perspectives. While we can only continue to wonder, we can learn from what we do know: that women’s social roles were places of authority and that strength carried Kandakes to power.

We can be further inspired by the discovery of the stone head of Caesar Augustus buried at the entrance of Kandake Amantitere’s palace, where she tread over it with the confident legs of a monolithic and uncompromising queen.

Endnotes

[1] Also called Nubia. This region is part of modern day Sudan and Ethiopia as well as the location of a series of significant historical kingdoms (such as Axum).

[2] There is some uncertainty concerning the true title of the Kush queens. Some sources argue that the title “Kandake” specifically means Queen Mother and that women who held both the title of kandake and king were true independent rulers. Understanding the actualized extent of the title may not be possible until Kush hieroglyphics are fully deciphered.

[3] Women in Anquitity: Real Women Across the Ancient World, ed. Stephanie Lynn Budin, Jean Macintosh Turta. (New York: Routledge, 2016).

[4] Kandake is romanized as “Candace” in some sources

[5] Strabo, “Geography,” Fordham University Sourcebook, 03 May 2017, https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/ancient/nubia1.asp.

[6] Cassius Dio, “History of Rome,” Fordham University Sourcebook, 03 May 2017, https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/ancient/nubia1.asp

[7] Strabo, “Geography,” Fordham University Sourcebook, 03 May 2017, https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/ancient/nubia1.asp.

[8] “Statue of queen and prince of Meroe,” United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 08 May 2017, http://www.unesco.org/culture/museum-for-dialogue/item/en/84/statue-of-queen-and-prince-of-meroe.