Sunday, April 22, 2018

Whence Fantasy Female Warriors? You can't imagine who was the first one of modern times

The death of Camilla, the Italic warrioress described by Virgil in his "Aeneid". This image shows the interest in female warriors that started in mid 20th century and also a typical feature of theirs: they had to be punished for daring to take a role traditionally reserved to males. But who exactly started the trend of inerest in female warriors during the 20th century? You probably can't imagine it.  Read on!

Those of us who are interested in long-term trends find endless delight in perusing Google "Ngrams" viewer. This time, I propose to you the evolution of the concept of "woman fighter" or "female soldier". There are several variations on the theme, but the result is always the same: a great rise of interest started during the past 50 years or so. The interest in warrioresses is a modern phenomenon, but what do we know about this matter?

The recent discovery of the tomb of a female Viking warrior generated a lot of interest, But, apart from this and other Viking warrioress, the archeological evidence of female fighters is practically non-existent in the West. How about fictional warrioresses? In the Western Epic tradition we have the Amazons, often mentioned but never described in detail. They are supposed to have fought at the siege of Troy, but they are never mentioned in Homer's Iliad, where we read only of male warrriors. The Romans may have fantasized about female warriors, since it is reported that female gladiators would fight in the arenas. Virgil gave to us the figure of Camilla, the Latin warrioress who fought against Aeneas and the Trojans. As it often happens, her destiny was to die - just like the Amazons, overwhelmed by more powerful male warriors and punished for having dared to challenge them.

Modern fictional female warriors are clearly different. Usually, they are strong, they are confident, they are brave. Xena, the warrior princess, is possibly the most typical example. Xena is often shown slaying male warriors. Often she wears full body armor, but sometimes she indulges in the habit of wearing the typical armor of fantasy warrioresses which leaves the belly naked for the enemies' lances or swords to hit. Silly, but that doesn't prevent Xena and her sisters from being good fighters.

So, where do we find the origin of this modern phenomenon? Well, I can't say for sure, but perhaps the earliest example of a fantasy female warrior goes back to 1905 and - guess who she was? None less than Mata Hari, the stripper, the dancer, the pretended priestess, the spy who wasn't.

She was aggressive besides being transgressive and the pictures we have of her early dances show her yielding a spear. Here she is, a young Mata Hari in a "Danse Guerrière".

Also in the pictures we have of her very first performance at the Musée Guimet, in Paris in 1905, she was yielding something that looks like a spear.

In later times, Mata Hari mellowed quite a bit and we don't see anymore lances or spears in her hands - she seems to have preferred to engage in languid strip-teases. Still, she was perhaps the first fantasy female warrior in Western culture. Another facet of her always surprising personality.

Like Camilla, the Italic princess, Mata Hari was eventually punished for her assertive role. But she left a long lasting imprint and, as a good warrior should do, she faced her death without fear

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wonderful Mata Hari

A splendid interpretation of Mata Hari's story in a series of comic books published by Berger Books. An absolutely stunning visual feast which captures the trasgressive and aggressive character of Mata Hari. A characteristic for which she had to pay dearly later on but, until she could, she burned her candle with a beautiful flame.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Mata Hari's execution scene. Never accurate, but always dramatic

A recent dramatic image by Thierry Marchand, probably inspired by a much older (1931) image, see below. Neither image is historically accurate, but Mata Hari's memes move in the human mindspace with a life of their own.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Mata Hari's Milk Bath: The Multiplication of Evil.

Months of jail in Paris, in 1917, had reduced Mata Hari to the condition you see in the picture, above. As a further insult, she was accused to have requested a "Milk Bath" for herself. An exquisitely evil form of propaganda.

Sometimes we talk about "the problem of evil" - What's exactly evil? Why does it exist? Philosophers have discussed the subject at length, but I think there is an exquisite property of evil that makes it even more evil (if you allow me the recursive definition).  Its capability of multiplying itself, to turn everything it touches into more evil.

In a post on my blog "Cassandra's Legacy," I was discussing the issue of "False Flag" operation. They are an especially nefarious kind of evil: the idea is that, in a conflict, the stronger side manages to justify an aggression by attacking itself and blaming the victims.

And here is an example of this great power that the strong have on the weak. It comes from the book by Emile Massard "Female Spies in Paris"(1922). Massard was the commander of the Paris garrison during the Great War and in his book he tells the story of the detention and of the execution of Mata Hari. As you may imagine, it is a tale full of insults and lies, signifying nothing. But, in some case, Massard manages to go beyond lies, marching straight into the territory of pure evil. At p. 63, he says that Mata Hari  "had the pretense of asking for a milk bath! . . . in a moment when there was no milk for our little children! . . . "

I don't think it needs to be said that it is a lie. But, just in case you might think there could be something true in it, it was explicitly denied by the medical officer of the St. Lazare's prison, Leon Bizard, who wrote a report on Mata Hari in 1923 on the journal "Chronique Medicale". (30e année, n° 12. 1er décembre 1923 p. 355-372 - download here). It is another report full of insults and lies against Mata Hari, but it contains some grains of probable truth as they come from someone who surely knew well the prison and its characteristics. One is that the prisoners in St. Lazare lacked running water. Another that Mata Hari had asked for a bath - which seems to be a pretty reasonable request given the situation, and also a reasonable request to make to the medical officer of the place.

Then, Bizard comments: "She never had the stupid pretense - as it has been said and even written -  of asking for a milk bath." Bizard also says that, "she never had the right of an everyday bath" and it is unclear if that means she could have occasional baths. In any case, when Bizard says that the false story of the milk bath was even reported in writing, he clearly refers to Emile Massard, the probable originator of the legend.

So, we have a pretty reasonable request for a bath from a woman who was locked inside a cell with no running water. And I can hardly find a more typical example of how propaganda works when this reasonable request is transformed into the evil one of asking for a milk bath "when there was no milk for our little children."

Transform the victim into aggressor: so easy and so effective. It is the great power of evil: that of multiplying itself. This is a power that goodness can't possibly match. Only saints can turn evil into good. But to turn good into evil, an idiot is more than sufficient.

The image below is from the cover a 1931 pamphlet, simply titled "Mata Hari"


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Mata Hari: The Banality of Evil

The illustration above is from a book that appeared in France in 1931, the title being simply "Mata Hari." There is no author explicitly mentioned, the book is part of a collection titled "Crimes et Chatiments" (Crimes and punishments) which had as director Mr. Arthur Bernede (1871-1937), presumably the author of this text.

As a book, Bernède's "Mata Hari" (1931) is an unremarkable pamphlet full of lies and insults. But, at least, it shows the banality of evil: look at the image above. So simple: a jeweled Mata Hari ready to stab in the back a brave French soldier defending the country - note the German helmets in the back of the evil woman!

Propaganda can be - and usually is - very simple. It is one of its characteristics: it aims low, at the base instincts of the human mind.

 But at least one image of the book can be seen as a homage to Mata Hari, the dancer. There is a certain beauty about her that not even the worst propaganda can take away.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Novel of the Waitress

There is a certain literary genre that sees waitresses as protagonists. It is not so common, I can say that a search on "Goodreads" finds 393 novels (possibly not all are novels) which seems to have the term "waitress" in the title. To put things in prespective, think that there are 21,339 books listed with the title mentioning the term "Prince" and 122,369 mentioning "God". But note also that these are only titles, it is impossible to say how many works of fiction mention waitresses as characters of some importance in the plot.

In any case, waitresses don't seem to form a very large literary genre. Yet it may be worth mentioned that one of the first named female characters in literature is Siduri, a character in Gilgamesh's epic. She may be a Goddess, but we may also see her as a wise waitress, serving beer to the distressed hero and providing him with wise advice.

 Waitresses may not be Goddesses in the real world and their job may be rather boring. But they exhert a certain fascination in writers. Still, the only literary assessment about waitresses I know is something I heard from Poul Anderson, the science fiction writer, in a talk he gave in Berkeley several years ago.

Lacking a systematic history of waitresses in fiction, I am just mentioning here that I am writing a novel myself where a waitress plays an important role: a story that takes place in Paris during the "crazy years," the 1920s. (It is a novel about Mata Hari, but I'll tell you about it another time)

Curiously, I found another novel where one of the protagonists is the waitress of a Parisian café in the 1920s. "The Waitress of Café Valence" by P.E. Whitehead. I couldn't avoid buying it and reading it.

What to say about this book? Well, for one thing, it is so different from my book about another Parisian waitress that I find it difficult to imagine that two specimens of the same species could write these two stories. About mine, if I ever manage to publish it, you'll have a chance to judge it. About this one, I can say it moves onward with an almost geologically slow pace. Still, it has a certain fascination that led me to read it all the way to the end. Nothing happens: we only have the thoughts of the protagonist (Isobel) and, occasionally, those of other characters who appear and disappear. We see some of the artists of the Crazy Years showing up at the Café Valence, and some sketches of the Paris of the 1920s.

Isobel herself is hard to define as a consistent character. She is supposed to be a girl from the French countryside (a place called Pontorson) but she is nothing like a French girl. She is thoroughly a British character and not just because she speaks in English, writes in English, and thinks in English. She is just not French. That's not necessarily a defect - literature has this characteristic that it can explore alternate realities. So, if the novel tells us of a waitress of a French café of the 1920s in Paris writes poems in English, well, it is part of the game. She may be an alien female from planet Tralfamadore who has devoured a real French waitress and taken her shape, why not?

Surely, this book by Mr. Whitehead is well researched and detailed to the extreme. It shows how difficult it is to write a historical novel: no matter how careful and meticulous one can be, it is impossible not to make mistakes. One that I may mention in this case is that the novel says that there were no horses allowed in Paris after 1913. I don't think it is true or, at least, I found no evidence that it is. It is true only that 1913 was the year when the horse pulled Parisian Omnibuses were removed forever from service and replaced by motor buses. But that doesn't mean that horse pulled vehicles had been prohibited from entering the city.

There is also another historical inconsistency in this novel, a much more glaring one: the very existence of a waitress in a Parisian café in the 1920s, at least in the sense we understand waitresses today. Waiters in Paris in those times were all male - they were (and they still are) called with the ubiquitous term "garçon" ("boy") but there was not (and still there isn't) an equivalent term for women. You couldn't call them with the equivalent female term ("fille") but with the more generic (and a little debasing) term "serveuse" (female server).

Places where girls served drinks existed in Paris in the 1920s, they were called, "brasseries à serveuses" but these girls normally had the double function of waitresses and hookers. In my novel, incidentally, the waitress is one of these girls of dubious reputation, even though she is a positive character. So, Isobel of the Café Valence is a perfectly modern waitress who could never have existed in the Paris of the 1920s. Truly a girl from another planet, but such is the way literature works.

In the end, who is a waitress? Why the fascination? I think we may go back to Siduri, the Goddess/waitress of Sumerian times. You remember the way Sumerians saw their Gods and their relationship with them? The idea was that humans had been created in order to serve the Gods - they were stewards of the Great Ones. But a Goddess who is also a waitress? She who serves beer to Gilgamesh (a hero, but still human)? It is a complete reversal of the role. The Goddess helps humans. Siduri is a prototype of a relation of humans and Gods which was to become common only in much later times.

And so, maybe a humble waitress of a suburban café (one who doesn't even exists, being wholly fictional) is still a reflection of the divine spirit which pervades everything anyway,


As a final note, I found the curious novel description that I report below I have no idea of what Ms. Enrinle wants to say with this story, but it sounds so much like the story of Siduri and Gilgamesh that I had to buy this book. Not arrived, yet, but I am curious - my search for weird novels never ends. 

Holy Spirit Diaries (Diligent Waitress - Hadassah's Story)

The story
This novel is the first in a series of novels titled Holy Spirit (H.S.) Diaries. Dami, an aspiring Christian author, is on her way to her publisher but has to stop at a breakfast shop, where she meets a waitress with an interesting story to tell. All Dami wanted that morning, was something to eat but somehow, God still manages to surprise her at the breakfast shop!
In this story, we see how the Holy Spirit takes Hadassah (the waitress) through her life's journeys; childhood, teenage years and adulthood (including marriage). The novel details specific teachings the Holy Spirit gave Hadassah during her trials and it shows the intimacy between her and the Holy Spirit. It gives us an insight into the love the Holy Spirit has for us all.

This novel will create the desire to walk more closely with the Holy Spirit in anyone who reads it. It is Highly recommended for teenagers and women of all ages.

The author

Yewande Erinle is a Pharmacovigilance project manager, with a BSc in Pharmacology from the University of Portsmouth, UK and an MSc in Immunology from Imperial College London, UK. She is married to Lanre Erinle and they have three children. Yewande works in the youth ministry in her church and runs a bible club in her childrens' school.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Mata Hari: The Snake Goddess of Ubaid

Image from on the front cover of the book by Charles S. Heymans "La Vraie Mata Hari," Paris, 1930

Mata Hari: the image above is her. Absolutely, totally her. I don't know who made it - there is no trace of an attribution in Heymans' book. But whoever drew that image caught the very soul of Mata Hari: the snake goddess.

I already wrote something about the strange story of women looking like snakes in art. From the remote times of Ubaid, even before the Sumerian lowered their black haired heads to work the fertile soil of the valleys beyond the two rivers, the snake-eyed goddess was there.

And, yes, whoever draw her for the front cover of that awful book caught this aspect of her: in France her dances were said to be "souple and serpentesque" - soft and snake-like. The Goddesses of Ubaid had reincarnated in a Dutch girl, thousands of years after Ubaid and Sumer had turned to dust,

Note how the drawing  is teeming with significance and symbols. Look at her expression -- at those giant, almond-shaped eyes. Pensive, sad, deep, hypnotic, magnetic, bewitching. It is her - it is the eye of Horus, the eye of Wadjet, the Egyptian Cobra Goddess.

Note also the composition, with the execution on the left. In this scene, there is everything you can find in the Sumerian myth of Inanna and in many more ancient myths. Inanna dies in the underworld, then she is resurrected and sent back to the world of the living. The moon goddess is sacrificed and is reborn. She turns herself into the sun goddess and back. Which is the meaning of Mata Hari's snake-like dance.