She’s his only savior. African in origin, her figure bears witness to her homeland: her hair twisted in dreads, her lips full, her color dark, her chest broad with pendulous breasts, her stomach flat and firm, her legs slender, her feet broad and ample.
The passage above translates the portrayal of Scybale, the black female slave of the farmer in the poem Moretum, that as discussed in an earlier post, is the source of the phrase ‘e pluribus unum.’ It is reasonable to infer it is a self portrait.
The case for Moretum being the work of a woman (and perhaps incorporating a self portrait) begins with the very fact that it portrays a woman so positively. Portrayals of women in such positive terms in ancient literature are rare. The details are impressive because they seem so real. The form of the description manifests a diagnostic technique (head to feet) well attested in ancient poetry. That includes Sappho’s self portrait (S. 58b), which reads as if composed while standing in front of a mirror, as does this portrait. Continue reading “E Pluribus Unum: The Woman From Africa by Stuart Dean”