Three Herstorical Divas to Die For by Mary Sharratt


The Urban Dictionary defines a diva as a woman who exudes great style and confidence and expresses her unique personality without letting others define who she should be. In my mind, a diva is a woman who stands in her sovereignty and blazes a trail for other women. We all need to claim our inner diva to truly dance in our power. And if you’re looking for inspiration, I present three herstorical divas to die for.

 

Pompei-Sappho.nocrop.w840.h1330.2x

  1. Sappho ca. 630 – 580 BCE

 

Sappho of Lesbos wrote the book on love. Literally. Her searing love poetry addressed to other women gave us the word lesbian. She was the first—and the best!—to describe passion as a visceral experience, in which we are seized and transfixed by Aphrodite, Goddess of love. Though much of her work was destroyed by the patriarchal fun police, the fragments of her poetry that survive are timeless, haunting, and utterly true.

What we must remember is that Sappho’s poetry wasn’t just romantic or erotic–it was sacred, each poem a holy offering to Goddess Aphrodite.

Must read:

 

Blast of Love

Like a mountain whirlwind

punishing the oak trees,

love shattered my heart.

 

-For a deeper dive into Sappho’s poetry: Sappho, translated from the ancient Greek by Mary Barnard.

 

 

Esther-1024x640

  1. Queen Esther c. 520 – 450 BCE

 

The heroine of the biblical Book of Esther won a beauty contest in ancient Persia, the dubious prize being marriage to King Ahasuerus, who banished his previous wife after she refused to parade herself in front of his drunken friends. Esther, an orphan whose real name was Hadassah, wisely kept her Jewish identity a secret. Haman, one of her new hubby’s top advisors, was a nasty piece of work. Not only did Haman want to execute Esther’s cousin Mordecai, but he was plotting to wipe out all the Jews in Persia. Esther, however, turned tables on him and had him executed instead. Revenge is a dish best served on a golden platter at a royal banquet. With Haman out of the way, Esther came out to her husband as Jewish and so saved her people. Her victory is celebrated every year in the festival of Purim.

Must read: Esther by Rebecca Kanner

 

hildegard

 

  1. Hildegard of Bingen 1098 – 1179

 

How can a nun be a diva, you ask? When she’s a nun who founds two monasteries, receives visions of the Feminine Divine, composes an entire body of sacred music that’s still being performed today, writes nine books on subjects as diverse as medicine and theology, and writes the first description of the female orgasm, that’s how. When the emperor and various popes misbehaved, Hildegard wrote them angry letters full of prophetic doom and they hung their heads in shame. You seriously did not mess with this woman.

Must listen: Hildegard’s heavenly music – Canticles of Ecstasy by Sequentia

Wonderful history podcast on Hildegard – The Visionary: Hildegard

Also my novel Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen explores the great 12th century abbess, composer, polymath, and powerfrau in all her glory.

 

Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write overlooked women back into history. Her novel, Ecstasy, about composer and life artist Alma Mahler is new from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Visit herwebsite.

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Categories: General, Herstory

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22 replies

  1. Thank you Mary for another wonderfully informative post!

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  2. Brava! Three good choices. And I bet you could think of another dozen or two dozen divas for us to read about and think about. Some are no doubt pretty well hidden from history–or at least their true lives are hidden under patriarchal lies about them that diminish them into mere wives and daughters–but they were really there and when we dig them up (so to speak) they’re still powerful. Maybe glamorous, too! The subjects of more novels??

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  3. Thank you for your words, Mary, that came winging to me early this morning. I wanted to respond but felt called away by the fascinating book I am reading, your Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen! I have been deeply immersed in this book yesterday and half of the night. It is so deep and moving. And then suddenly your article called me back to offer you my heartfelt thanks for sharing these wonderful women of herstory with us – and especially for your story of Hildegard and her revelations of the Feminine Divine. What delicious synchrony!

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    • Thank you so much for reading, Betty! I’m so happy you’re enjoying Illuminations. It was such a journey and pilgrimage into Hildegard’s history to write. May Hildegard bless our fractured world! Our world needs her more than ever! <3

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  4. Whoa, I knew Hildegard of Bingen was awesome, I just didn’t realize how awesome! I definitely need to read her work.

    (And thank you so much for not “straightening” Sappho…an annoying number of people still do that to this day!)

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  5. These divas are all some of my favorites! Besides the divas who are well-known, history is so full of lost divas — women who had the qualities of divas but yet lived what others would call “ordinary” lives and so are lost to history besides what little biographical information they may leave behind. I’ve been doing some genealogy and finding so many women who, based on the little I can find out about them, I imagine were divas among my ancestors – they are all around us to inspire us if we will only look!

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  6. Love Illuminations and all your novels. Right on, write on!

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  7. Please tell us who painted that beautiful picture of Hildegarde.

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  8. The “What’s Her Name” site looks interesting Mary, and full of divas! Thank you for an introduction to three powerful women.

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  9. Thank you for the list and thank you for the podcast recommendation.

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