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.
- 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.
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.
- 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 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.