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Books, Articles, TV and/or Rants, Latin Literature, Queen Bees

Latin literature, or the disappearance of women

Dr Laith’s wife, Bushra, had taken up wearing hijab late in life, but she could not explain exactly why-it was something sunk deep out of explanation.  She said it just felt more comfortable.  Um Omar had grown into her thirties following Western fashions and hemlines, but had bowed to the wishes of her husband and the justifications of her belief.  Whenever I asked to see Iraqi family albums, the pictures would illustrate the progression:  mini skirts to seventies feathered fringe and floaty sundresses to a head scarf and full-length coat.  Over two decades women had retracted into the safety of the enveloping hijab.  from Wendell Steavenson’s Weight of a Mustard Seed

As part of Wheelock’s introductory material, he offers a  ‘Brief Survey of Latin Literature’, ranging from the Early Period (down to 80 BC) through the Golden and Silver Ages (80 BC-138 AD) up until the Period from the Renaissance to the Present (from 15thc).   For each period, he mentions the usual stars of literature in Latin.   I have been making my way through this surveyand the first few chapters of grammar at about the same time I have been reading The Weight of a Mustard Seed, and at the same time as the Tunisian, Egyptian, and Libyan uprisings.  The lack of women’s voices in what is considered the literature reflecting democratic foundations, the ‘retraction’ of Iraqi women, and the status of women in the afore-mentioned countries, all of these have been mixed up in my brain, provoking questions.

For example, there has been quite a bit regarding women in the Middle East in the press lately, some questioning the potential for democracy in countries where there appears to be no regard for at the very least the citizenship  rights of women (not to mention minority groups).  But how can we in the West pose this question with any credibility, when in the cradles of our democracies, the Greek and Roman civilizations, women in political and all too frequently social life were largely invisible and have disappeared from history?  We  can say that we have progressed from the narrow definition of citizen of those times, but in relative terms, only very recently.  Historically, women still only figure largely as exceptions (exemplified by the special pause for the consideration of women writers, women scientists, women politiciansetc in any dcoumentary.  In a recent two part series on the role of variety in Britain, one would be forgiven for assuming that it was an all-male occupation and mostly consisting of comedians).

I suppose what concerns me is that if it is still difficult for women to be acknowledged in  historical record,  only appearing in auxiliary or out-of-the ordinary roles, even in these somewhat more enlightened times in the West, what is there to prevent them from disappearing entirely again?  (for an example of this, see  http://frontpagemag.com/2010/02/05/how-the-veil-conquered-cairo-university/).


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