Restoration of the Chimney Map

The Restoration of the Chimney Map

Written by Emma Marriott.

In the heart of Edinburgh, our University and the National Library of Scotland (NLS) have been working in collaboration to research the mystery that is known as the restoration on the ‘Chimney Map’. Fifteen years ago a rare antique map was deposited into the NLS after having been found in a rural country house in Aberdeenshire. The map is now dated as a seventeenth-century map of the world, and there are only two other known copies in existence. It had been rolled up in a shambolic ball and stuffed up a chimney, and now lies out, restored to a condition that little believed possible, thanks to the time and careful attention of Claire Thomson, Conservator at the NLS.

Now that the map has been restored and can be studied, Dr Esther Mijers of the History Department sought four student researchers, Amy Hollander, Sarah Thew, Julia Weingaertner, and Emily Hall (from the University’s The Student), to embark on a ‘fact-finding’ research project during the Festival of Creative Learning in February to provide some insight into the origins of the map. It was a fascinating discussion to have been privy to as these four girls demonstrated very extensive and concise research, and they each embarked on their own avenues of interest such as the genealogy of the potential owners of the map, the map makers themselves and the smaller maps that bordered the main centre piece. Sarah considered the ownership of the map, and it proved more difficult to her than she originally thought. Most owners all seemed to be called Robert Gordon. She then studied parish records to find the dates for the Gordon family’s ownership of the Cluny Estate, to whom it is believed that the map was owned by. She pegged joint ownership of the estate in 1687 when a Robert Gordon married Katherine Arbuthnot, who outlived Robert, and was written down in a parish record as ‘Lady Dowager of Cluny. She looked into the Arbuthnot name and found that a church on their land was home to one of the first ministers of the Protestant faith after the Scottish Reformation. Sarah concluded that she believed that by the third branch of the Gordon family, they were steadfastly Protestant.

Julia found that the small inscriptions and drawings around the border of the map were illustrations of European cities, which were either capitals and well-established trading centres. For example, one illustration was of Batavia, which was the capital city of the Dutch East Indies. Batavia now corresponds to the present-day city of Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. Her research into the etchings of the map has spurred her interest with a possible connection to Rembrandt, as there may have been a specialized market pool of specialized professionals there. A significant feature of the Chimney Map which sets it apart from other maps of its era and its kind is the frequency of illustrated churches surrounding it. Emily embarked on a research path that looked into the significance of these churches. There are six labelled churches on the map in total, and Emily looked to identify the Church labelled Ulster, and considered the copper plates, etchings, and focused on the typology in Dutch art. She suggested that the copied maps in the British Museum did not have the same focus on churches. The group highlighted that this may be due to the religious uncertainties that were experienced in Scotland in the later years of the seventeenth century. Scotland’s monarchy was politically and religiously problematic in this period, as King James VII and his wife, Anne Hyde both converted to Roman Catholicism in 1667 and, following her death in 1671, King James married the Catholic Mary of Modena, who many viewed as an agent of the Pope. Emily highlighted that that the religious paintings in the map focused more heavily on the Old Testament, such as David’s fight with Goliath, which she suspected was a demonstration to Scotland’s underdog, but persistent presence in global movements.

Amy Hollander’s research delved into the social aspects of the map and what it reveals and about society of the time. On the map are featured the images of King William III and Queen Mary of Orange in the middle of the map, the new Protestant monarchs of Britain in 1689. The images of William and Mary may highlight the religious tensions between Catholicism and Protestantism in Scotland at the time. Amy considered the migration of Scots and Scottish Kirks to Rotterdam, which

had become a port at the centre of a trading empire, as the Dutch were one of the first nations in Europe to value trade more than just religion. The Dutch took in many religious refugees from across Europe, including Scots, whose Calvinistic views were tolerated by the Dutch state. The Scottish religious refugees in the Netherlands saw William as their future Protestant hero, with great expectations. However, their hopes were dashed, as William seemed less interested in Scotland and, as a further insult to injury, the massacre at Glencoe in 1692 further deepened negative Scottish public opinion of William. Maps of this size and statute symbolized power and prestige, designed to demonstrated knowledge and were considered to exhibit colonial importance, that which William and Mary were a part of. Furthermore, the inclusion of the celestial designs was modern for the late-seventeenth century.

The evident excitement in this project was undeniable and the motivation from seeing the physical map stimulated the students’ research on these varied topics of colonialism, religious and political tensions, and the genealogy of ownership. The map demonstrates the shift from divine wisdom to human wisdom, and thus brings cartography into modern history. This map helps connect the dots of Scottish and Dutch history and challenges traditional assertions of such history. Emily stated that ‘the map was an interesting example of humanity’s attempt to map their knowledge of the natural and human world’. The girls’ enthusiasm was infectious, and Dr Mijers’ organisation of the project definitely suggests that research leads to practical understanding and greater learning.

The Illusive Window: Insights into an Irish Tale

Written by Deana Davis.

The extent to which written sources can be relied upon has constantly plagued historians in their attempt to recreate and “see” the past. In Ireland’s case, its unique plethora of cycles, or tales, contain pseudo-historical stories that have been fertile ground for such recreation. One such collection of tales, the Ulster Cycle, has famously been called a ‘window on the Iron Age’ by scholar K. Jackson. The world depicted here is full of cattle raiding, head-trophies, and pagan duels. The tales were passed down orally until they were put in writing beginning at the very least in the 7th century c.e. Nativist scholars have believed that scribes preserved the tales in their original form, were ‘mindless conduits,’ (as D. Ó Corráin quipped) and that life in the 1st-4th centuries was easy enough to recreate in the 7th and 8th. However, the introduction of Christianity, literacy, and Latinate culture in the 5th century cannot be so easily ignored. In fact, the very environment that made the transferring of oral tales to paper possible left an indelible influence. Evidence from an episode in the Táin bó Cuailnge will highlight recent scholarship’s argument that Latinate culture and the decline of Ulster in the intervening centuries did not lead to a careful transfer from speech to print, but a contemporary, intelligent reinterpretation with a view of a distant past.

The textual history of the Táin bó Cuailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley), part of the Ulster tales, is typical in its fragmentary nature. The manuscripts that contain all or parts of the Táin are of late dates: the late eleventh or early twelfth century manuscript Lebor na hUidre (The Book of the Dun Cow) with Recension I, the later twelfth century Book of Leinster with a Recension II extensive version of the Táin, and the fourteenth century Yellow Book of Lecan containing elements of Recension I. Scholars have shown that the manuscripts work off of a text originating in the 8th century. Nevertheless, the core story of the Tain is believed to originate in the period between the first and the fourth century AD, or in other words, before the coming of Christianity to Ireland, and represent Iron age life. Considering the Táin’s survival in manuscripts written centuries after its origination, I will analyse how the Latinate culture of the scriptorium may have altered the Táin from its oral origins.

First, a brief introduction: the Táin begins when Ailill and Medb, king and queen of Connaught, lead an army into neighbouring Ulster, with the help of the exiled king of Ulster Fergus mac Roich, to capture a prized bull. Along the way, Ailill and Medb suspect Fergus of sympathising with his countrymen. Medb decides to use her feminine wiles to distract Fergus, and the uninformed Ailill sends his charioteer to spy on the lovers, and steal Fergus’ sword as proof. Upon receiving the sword, however, he charitably deduces that Medb’s sole intention is to ‘keep [Fergus’] help on the Táin.’ In the following episode, a concerned Fergus enters Ailill’s tent with Medb to ask about his sword, only to have the king confront him with the affair in a game of fidchell (a type of chess). What could the scribes have changed? The prime evidence of contemporary influence is in the details of how story is presented.

The Latinate culture that arrived with Christianity introduced not only writing, but also knowledge of the Classical authors. Thus, the Táin was written down amidst two cultures; the first, a Christian one, which made use of the Old Testament and drew upon Classical tradition when confronted with the pre-Christian culture, the second, a pagan one. The manuscripts were likely all produced in monastic scriptoria, but the scribes writing them were either Irish filid, a learned class, now sharing training in monasteries with monks, or literati influenced by the filid background and interested in combining pre-Christian Irish tales with the Latinate culture they were already acquainted with.

Though the outline of the Táin likely remained the same upon the innovation of written manuscripts to accompany oral heritage, the presentation of scenes likely developed in writing. An example of such development is the elaborate rhetoric, mostly in the form of dialogues. These dialogues, enhanced with deliberately archaic language, are meant to give a sense of realism set in the past. When Fergus enters Ailill’s tent, a lengthy dialogue takes place, with Medb chiming in, which is used to create an intricate understanding of their relationships. This rhetoric, to would counter J. Carney’s proposition, actually shows influence of Homer rather than Virgil in this instance, since Homer writes conversations between two or more characters, in contrast to Virgil’s soliloquys. The narrative makes use of flowery archaisms, such as ‘có clos ni.’ Though it is usually translated as ‘said,’ it literally means ‘somewhat was heard.’ This phrase is also encountered in a roughly contemporary ninth century In Tenga Bithnua (The Ever-new Tongue). There is also a wide range of metaphors, such as Fergus calling armies ‘spear flock sword flock,’ and Ailill claiming Fergus attempts to act ‘in kingly form/ with fire of dragon/ hiss of snake/ blow of lion.’ The elaborate conversations and metaphors show a ‘literary veneer’ that suggest monastic influence; the ‘lion’ is a case in point. It would hardly be referenced in pre-Christian times before it came to Ireland as the symbol of St. Mark.

In addition, this scene takes place in a tent, or a pavilion, and it has been observed that this imaginative retelling is ‘regarded as an exotic feature.’ This assembly of characters shows similarities with the gathering of the Apostles, Mary and the Virgins around the Lord in Fis Adomnán (The Vision of Adomnán), which appears in Lebor na hUidre alongside the Táin. It is hard to believe that the Táin keeps ‘allusions and traditions preserved with fidelity’ after coming ‘through centuries of oral transmission,’ as Nativist scholars M. Dillon and N. Chadwick have asserted. In addition, hints of scribal ignorance in details of pre-Christian Ireland pervade, as the main characters say variants of ‘I swear the oath of my people,’ rather than naming pagan deities, indicating a Christianised society attempting to recreate a vague idea of the past. This is not surprising, given that the ‘monastic setting’ was ‘nearly unique to Ireland,’ as D. Cróinín stated, and Irish scholarship existed almost exclusively in this setting.

Though it is clear literati compiled the Tain, and in the process influenced its telling, there is doubt as to where they were located. The main conflict in the Táin is between the historical cóiceda of Ulster and Connacht, yet while scholars have indicated a bias towards the mighty Ulster, neither side is shown as particularly heroic. The satirical element in the above episode is the stealing of Fergus’ sword at the expense of sleeping with a woman. When Ailill sees Fergus, he ‘started laughing at him,’ and as Fergus is still seen as an outsider, an Ulsterman, at the same moment Ailill is ‘laughing’ at a shamed Ulster. With regard to Connaught, Medb, the initiator of the cattle raid, is constantly disregarded as simply a woman, Ailill even ‘lay[s] first fault/ straight at women’s/ own sweet swellings.’ This is contrary to previous opinion that the Táin had strong Ulster bias. Perhaps the reason for neither side being shown in the best of light, especially with a sinning queen and a shamed exile, is that, due to political changes, the scribes seem to be situated outside either cóiced and the use of the archaic ‘somewhat was heard’ implies a distancing from the story. Considering the contemporary political decline of Ulster, a proposition can be made that the scribes belonged to the Uí Néill, a túath that conquered Ulaid lands, a people who populated Ulster up to the fifth century. Therefore, we see Ulster, or Ulaid, as historian J. Gantz has stated, ‘for all its splendour…a society in decline.’ The argument for Uí Néill scribes would also explain the knowledge of the region, such as in an episode where Fergus carves a sword from a tree, thus giving ‘Fid Mórthruaille, the Wood of the Great Scabbard’ its name. Apparently, not only did the literati want to copy down an old tale, but they saw an opportunity for propaganda as well.

The Táin bó Cuailnge, in the form of the later manuscripts it has been preserved in, does not accurately or objectively portray prehistoric Irish society as an Iron Age living fossil, as per the traditional view. Instead, the Táin does provide an example of how Irish oral tradition underwent changes under the influence of Latinate culture, with the arrival of Christianity, and changing political realities. The literati of the Táin shone a vague light on some aspects of early Irish culture, but opened a window on their contemporary, early Irish history. It would be a disservice to the scribes to assume otherwise, since the Tain, and the other cycles, rather, reveal the flourishing of a dynamic Irish culture.

My Year Abroad

My Year Abroad: Studying History in France

Written by Martin Greenacre.

In Britain, we have an absurd fixation with university league tables. In the absence of a similar system in France, I knew little of what to expect when I arrived in Dijon for my year abroad studying history at the Université de Bourgogne. The titles of the courses were not even released until the first week of classes, and the course choice was so limited that I, with a preference for modern social history, found myself writing an essay about the history of bears in the middle ages.

This is because students at Dijon are required to take courses from Antiquity, medieval, modern and contemporary periods. It was interesting to note the differences in terminology. L’histoire moderne is what we refer to as the early modern period, ending at the French Revolution, followed by histoire contemporaine, which is the period we call modern history. I also took a course entitled Temps présent, which was essentially post-war French history stretching all the way up until the 2005 French riots, and which brought in sociological concepts and demographic trends.

In their final year, history students at Dijon choose between continuing this broad historical degree, or studying ‘approaches to the contemporary world’, which focused on contemporary history, but which brought in courses on international relations, sociology, and the media. There is a significant stress on the interdisciplinary nature of history.

Similarly, a common complaint of non-British history professors at the University of Edinburgh is the monolingualism of students, which is a product of our culture. In Dijon, every history student is made to take a language throughout all three years of their degree. Interestingly, language courses are delivered in classes uniquely composed of history students, the courses being tailor-made to fit with the discipline. Other disciplines such as geography and sociology are also seen as essential to the historian, and are made requisites of the course.

Partly as a result of this rigid course structure, a French university often feels like a factory, where everybody arrives knowing their future career path and chooses a degree in service of this. One professor, while giving feedback on a student’s presentation, said, ‘If you want to become a teacher, you cannot write on the board in abbreviations’, without first asking whether said student wished to become a teacher. Skills such as critical thinking did not seem to be such a priority, and there were no tutorial-style discussions as I was used to in the UK. That being said, professors were nonetheless passionate about their subjects, and had the freedom to tailor courses to their interests.

My favourite course was entitled ‘La table des Européens’, and gave a history of food in Europe, including the development of restaurants, the arrival of colonial ingredients, and the link between food and cultural identity. It is a course only a French professor could come up with. And he duly began the first lecture with a game of finish-the-sentence, which went like this: “Italians eat… Pasta. The British eat… badly. The French eat… well.’

The events in Paris on 13 November 2015 were a sombre reminder of the importance of what we have chosen to study, prompting some difficult speeches from professors. One professor of Temps présent had a particularly important reminder for us. Terrorism, she said, is “not the radicalisation of Islam, but the Islamisation of radicalism”.

While I was not necessarily impressed by the educational system during my year at a French university, the academic experience was more valuable than I had anticipated. It is always interesting to see how another country approaches history. This is not even to mention the extraordinary opportunities outside of the classroom that a year abroad offers. It would be a great tragedy were future students to miss out on similar opportunities to study abroad.

I promised myself I would not mention Brexit. That’s it, I need to go and hide under my desk.

The Great War Column: Edinburgh’s Fallen Alumni

Written by Ashleigh Jackson.

James Crozier was a former medical student at the University of Edinburgh and was tragically killed within the first few weeks of World War I.

The University’s Roll of Honour from 1915 lists the first of those to be killed during the opening months of the conflict. The document, which can be found at the National Library of Scotland, records 16 Edinburgh alumni killed between August 1914 and January 1915. The Roll of Honour further lists those that were wounded, as well as details of the various roles of alumni in the conflict.

James Crozier is the second name on the Roll of Honour, which is organised alphabetically rather than chronologically. Crozier is reported as having been killed in action on 27 August 1914. Further records tragically reveal that he had only arrived in France a mere 13 days earlier and that his death occurred on his first day of active combat. James served in the B Company of the 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers, after having joined the Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1912 before enlisting in 1914.

Crozier was originally from Cheshire but had moved to Scotland where he attended Loretto School in Musselburgh between 1906-1909. From 1910, he read Medicine at Edinburgh for two years while living with relatives in Longyester. We can only assume that his medical ambitions were put on hold in 1912 when he joined the RSF. Tragically, they would never be resumed.

The chronology of events surrounding Crozier’s premature death remains fragmented. However, from the limited information available, it is possible to put together a timeline of his experiences. Having enlisted in 1914, he was taken to Flanders, landing at Le Havre on 14 August 1914. Within two weeks, he would be dead.

On 27 August 1914, his unit prepared for their first day of active service. They were based near Etreux, in northern France, and had been given the task of halting a German advance. However, they were outnumbered six to one by the German troops. Crozier is alleged to have shouted, ‘There they are, come on men!’ as he exposed himself to the onslaught of the enemy’s rifles. From Crozier’s unit, a mere four officers survived their first day of battle.

The first British casualty of the war is reported to have been on 21 August 1914, less than a week before the death of James Crozier. John Parr is widely believed to have been the first British Commonwealth soldier to be killed in action during the conflict.  Both deaths marked the start of a long and bloody war.

News of Crozier’s death did not reach home until October 1914. An obituary was printed in the Haddington Courier, which provides biographical information and highlights the importance of newspapers as an archival resource in historical research. Memorials across Midlothian pay further tribute to Crozier, including those at Loretto School and the Holy Trinity Church in Haddington. He was repatriated, unlike so many of those killed during the First World War. His gravestone is located at St Mary’s Church in Haddington, along with other members of his family.

James Crozier may have been the first Edinburgh University alumnus to be killed, but he would not be the last.  In the first year of the war, 18 alumni were counted among the war dead, however this would increase to over 160 in 1916 alone. The University suffered the deaths of hundreds of alumni, as well as many wounded, as a result of the conflict.

Thomas Jackson: The Stonewall of Confederate Honour

Written by Kevin Kempton.

On 21 July 1861, Union Brigadier General Irvin McDowell fought against Confederate Brigadier General Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard at First Bull Run (or First Manassas). As the Confederate lines began to crumble under McDowell’s heavy Union assault, a brigade arrived, providing significant reinforcements on Henry House Hill. Confederate Brigadier General Barnard Elliott Bee Jr., exhorted his own troops to re-form, realising that the men in the brigade could become crucial to Confederate victory. After the order Bee was killed almost immediately, but the Confederate army survived the Union assault, resulting in one of the first major victories during the Civil War. After his death it was reported that Bee had shouted, ‘There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians!’

The man who led this ‘stone wall’ was Thomas Jonathan Jackson, a Virginian who would later make his name as one of the most legendary military figures of the Civil War. Now known for the nickname ‘Stonewall’ because of the brigade he had led at First Bull Run, Jackson was also nicknamed ‘Old Jack’, ‘Old Blue Light’ and ‘Tom Fool’. Born in Clarksburg, Jackson was an ordinary Southerner who believed in Southern customs, seeing himself as a devout believer sent by God to destroy Unionist evils. After many successful military campaigns, Jackson was accidentally shot after the victory at Chancellorsville on 2 May 1863 and died from pneumonia on 10 May. Hearing of Jackson’s death that evening, Confederate General Robert Edward Lee reportedly told his chef, ‘William, I have lost my right arm’ and ‘I’m bleeding at the heart.’

What has attracted historiographical attention is how Jackson, an unusual individual, entered popular culture as a Virginian who fought to defend the Confederacy. Jackson suffered many physical ailments, but it is noteworthy that he was able to cope with his concerns and concentrate on the campaigns he wanted to win. A religious fanatic who saw himself as God’s instrument, Jackson sought to fight a holy war against the Unionist invaders, while preserving his Presbyterian ideology. Jackson’s command style has also influenced modern-day military ideology, with many historical researchers concentrating on his unusual tactical and leadership qualities. With this in mind, Jackson is an individual whose legacy has entered popular culture and distinguished him from other figures of the American Civil War.

Jackson’s sometimes unusual command strategies and personality characteristics contribute to his legacy as one of the most remarkable generals of the American Civil War. Although martial and stern in attitude, he was profoundly religious and a deacon in the Presbyterian Church in the United States and willing to implement his fanatical ideology. One of his many nicknames  was ‘Old Blue Light’, a term which referred to Jackson’s evangelical zeal burning with the intensity of the night-time blue display light. As part of the Presbyterian ideology, Jackson disliked fighting on Sunday, the day of the Sabbath, although that did not stop him from doing so. Thus also strongly invested in family values and principles, he appeared to love his wife, Mary Anna Morrison Jackson, deeply and sent her letters. Unremarkable in appearance, Jackson was not a striking figure, often wearing old, worn-out clothes, rather than fancy, aristocratic uniform with a sword, as was common for Lee. In part because of these traits and the physical ailments from which he suffered, Jackson is an unusual individual with a command style and personality that attracts historians.

A lifelong belief held by Jackson as part of the concern that he showed about the physical ailments which he faced, was that one of his arms was longer than the other. Therefore, Jackson would usually hold what he saw as the longer arm up to equalise his blood circulation:s a practice which concerned the people he knew. He was described as a ‘champion sleeper’ because he would occasionally fall asleep with food in his mouth, which was another physical ailment that concerned Jackson. The Society of Clinical Psychologists believed that Jackson had Asperger syndrome, although other possible explanations, such as a herniated diaphragm, exist. He sought relief through hydrotherapy while visiting establishments at Oswego at New York in 1850 and Round Hill at Massachusetts in 1860, although with little success. He also suffered a significant hearing loss in both of his ears as a result of his prior service in the Union Army as an artillery officer, where he  had experienced intensive gunfire. Noteworthy about these physical difficulties is the conflict of this preoccupation with his feeling that he had a duty to protect the future Confederacy.

Another recurring story illustrating Jackson’s physical ailments relates tohis apparent love of lemons, which he allegedly gnawed whole to alleviate symptoms of indigestion. The Lieutenant General Richard Taylor wrote in his war memoirs that, ‘Where Jackson got his lemons ‘no fellow could find out,’ but he was rarely without one.’ However Doctor James I. Robertson, Jr. argues that Jackson thought of a lemon as a ‘rare treat … enjoyed greatly whenever it could be obtained from the enemy’s camp’. In fact Jackson was fond of many fruits, particularly peaches, ‘but he enjoyed with relish lemons, oranges, watermelons, apples, grapes, berries, or whatever was available.’Jackson’s religion has often been discussed, as he was a fanatic who believed that he was God’s instrument sent to protect the Confederate homeland from the Unionist invaders. Jackson’s biographer, Robert Lewis Dabney, agreed with this view and illustrated it, suggesting that ‘It was the fear of God which made him so fearless of all else.’ Jackson, an ardent believer in Presbyterian ideology as well as strict moral codes, reportedly said himself, ‘My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed.’ With religion an important force in sustaining Confederate morale throughout the conflict, Jackson was committed to the maintenance of morality within the army. Jackson’s religion was a significant factor in his military conduct.

Stephen Ward Sears, a famous historian working on the war, suggests ‘Jackson was fanatical in his Presbyterian faith, and it energized his military thought and character.’ However, according to Sears, this can be simplistic since ‘this fanatical religiosity had drawbacks. It warped Jackson’s judgment of men, leading to poor appointments.’ Robertson, in direct contradiction to the argument that is conveyed by Sears, has suggested that Jackson was, ‘a Christian soldier in every sense of the word.’ It is clear that Jackson, according to Robertson, ‘thought of the war as a religious crusade’ and, ‘viewed himself as an Old Testament warrior – like David or Joshua’. Although this religious fanaticism had drawbacks in the sense of creating only Presbyterian soldiers, Jackson was able to prove his military prowess on the battlefield.

Jackson had encouraged the Confederate States Army revival that occurred in 1863, although it was probably more of a grass-roots movement than a top-down revival. Strongly believing in Puritan Sabbatarianism, Jackson refused to fight on Sundays, and he would order his men, who were mostly Presbyterians, to follow their morality. Working on Jackson’s belief in observing the Sabbath, Robertson notes that, ‘no place existed in his Sunday schedule for labor, newspapers, or secular conversation.’ Throughout the conflict, Confederate churches had convinced the Southern population that God was on their side, and not on the side of the ‘heaviest battalions’. By following the example of the churches in the trust given by God, Jackson was influential in sustaining Confederate morale until the going got tough.

In command, Jackson was extremely secretive about his plans and meticulous about military discipline, illustrating his unusual and sometimes unsuccessful strategies. This secretive nature did not attract his subordinates, who were not aware of his intentions until the last minute, and who complained of being left out of key decisions. However, it is noteworthy that despite his subordinates being unaware of his decisions, Jackson was crucial to Confederate victories, including First Manassas. Except for a below-par performance during the Seven Days of 1862, Jackson displayed military prowess, especially in the Valley Campaign in spring 1862. Jackson’s unusual command style, although unsuccessful in attracting his subordinates, was effective in fighting Union armies who were seen to be the ‘heaviest battalions’.

One exceptional individual was Lee, who trusted Jackson with undetailed orders that conveyed the overall objectives, what modern doctrine calls the ‘end state’. Jackson had a talent for understanding Lee’s sometimes unstated goals, so the pair trusted each other in taking whatever actions were necessary. Few of Lee’s subsequent corps commanders could repeat this pattern, which resulted in a series of missed opportunities for the Confederacy after Jackson’s death. At Gettysburg it led to lost opportunities, with Jeb Stuart famously forgetting to inform Lee of Union Army movements, under Joseph Hooker and George Meade. With the Union Army trying to regroup, Lee had sent Lieutenant General Richard Stoddert Ewell orders that Cemetery and Culp’s Hills had to be taken ‘if practicable.’ Without Jackson’s intuitive grasp of Lee’s battle orders or the same instinct to take advantage of sudden tactical opportunities, Ewell chose not to attempt this assault. With the exception of James Longstreet, Jackson was the only corps commander under Lee who had the command style necessary to produce major victories.

Although his religious fanaticism produced a majority of Presbyterians in his army, Jackson energised the Confederate cause, inspiring Southerners to fight to the end. Events including the revival of 1863 illustrate how Jackson was able to encourage a grass-roots dimension to the Confederate cause, producing a sense of will among Southerners. Jackson’s religious fanaticism, especially in observing the Sunday Sabbath, was crucial in sustaining Confederate morale until the going got tough in 1865.

Finally, in command, Jackson’s style of secrecy in planning military operations and imposing discipline helped to produce major Confederate victories including First Bull Run. Although the nature of Jackson’s planning did not attract his subordinates, he was, overall, the only corps commander under Lee who could produce necessary results. Individuals including Lee realised Jackson’s strategy in planning deliberately undetailed orders, which conveys the difference separating the young Southerner to others. The fact that Jackson’s command style was unique in comparison to other commanders including Ewell contributes to the historiographical debate on the Civil War. Even with his death after Chancellorsville, many Southerners today still believe in Jackson’s final words: ‘Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.’

Image: Beau Considine

Bibliography

Eicher, J.H. and Eicher, D.J., Civil War High Commands (Stanford, 2001).

Farmer, A., The American Civil War 1861-65 (London, 2002).

Freeman, D.S., Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command (New York, 1946).

Henderson, G.F.R., Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War (New York, 1995).

McPherson, J.M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York, 1988).

Pfanz, H.W., Gettysburg – The First Day (Chapel Hill, 2001).

Robertson, J.I., Jr., Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend (New York, 1997).

Sears, S.W., Gettysburg (Boston, 2003).

Taylor, R., Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Late War (Nashville, 2001).

Wert, J.D., General James Longstreet: The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier: A Biography (New York, 1993).

5 Minutes With… Dr Robert Crowcroft

Written by Sophia Fothergill.

Dr Robert Crowcroft has been teaching at the University of Edinburgh for five years, and currently teaches an honours class entitled ‘From New Jerusalem to New Labour: The Labour Party in Contemporary Britain’. The interview below was conducted in October 2016.

Can you briefly summarise your area of interest in history?

I work on modern British political history. Most of my work is underpinned by an interest in the character, and imperatives, of democratic politics. That is what I am most concerned with. I have written on the Conservative and Labour parties, the history of Britain during the Second World War, and political leadership. I have also edited mass-market reference books on British history for Oxford University Press.

Why did you become interested in political history specifically?

An excellent question! The answer, quite simply, is that in my view political history is the most important form of history there is. Other approaches are immensely valuable, but everything flows from political history. As the historian John Vincent wrote, ‘there are too many dead bodies on the stage to begin anywhere else’. Everyone appears to enjoy discussing it. Political history no longer holds the same position of pre-eminence within the discipline that it once did, and, arguably, that is a real shame. Political historians should never have capitulated so meekly. We have a strong group of political history scholars here at Edinburgh, thank goodness.

To what extent do you feel that all voters should have an understanding of the history of political parties, and why?

One of the ways in which political history serves a valuable social purpose is in encouraging the public to be more aware, thoughtful citizens. To take two, rather obvious examples. The Thatcher era within the Conservative party marked a significant break with traditional Conservative statecraft, and yet, in our era, Thatcherism is now widely considered to represent ‘real’ conservatism. That’s historically dubious. The current state of the Labour party is quite novel, and history does not provide much of a guide to what will happen next. That said, many of Labour’s current problems have deep historical roots. The party has always been fixated with the spectre of ‘betrayal’, and this has long impacted its politics. Every Labour leader has had to worry about being compared to James Ramsay MacDonald, who (allegedly) betrayed the party in 1931.

Why do you think Jeremy Corbyn has become leader of the Labour Party?

The current ascendancy of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell is fascinating. I think there are a number of factors. The New Labour period was one in which the leadership showed little respect for the party, and this stored up considerable resentment.  The Blair and Brown governments also made what are now seen by some as unacceptable compromises with capitalism and free markets; there has been a backlash against it. The Iraq War is now an emotive part of Labour folklore. Overall, there is a sense that the New Labour leadership were guilty of betraying (that word again) various things, and this eventually led to a radical shift in the culture of the Labour party. One also has to recall that Corbyn encouraged lots of new members to join the party and vote for him, something which has certainly compounded the discomfort of so-called Labour ‘moderates’. Something else one has to bear in mind is the general existential crisis of Labour statecraft provoked by the fall of New Labour. Labour enjoyed thirteen years in power, including a prolonged period of global economic prosperity, electoral popularity and a weak opposition. And yet Labour was still unable to create the kind of society that it desires. That is an acute intellectual problem, one that the party does not appear able to resolve. It is intriguing!

One approach to the history of the Labour Party emphasises the frequent divides in the party between the ‘left’ and ‘right’ factions. Why do you think this problem is specific to the Labour Party, and can you offer any explanation as to why the Conservative Party tend to appear more united?

Every party is factionalised, the Conservative party being no exception. Historically, the Conservatives have usually been cunning enough to keep this away from the glare of public view, though that has changed in the last thirty years. Yet thinking about the divisions within Labour in terms of ‘left versus right’ often tells us little. For one thing, there have always been multiple factions on ‘the left’ and ‘the right’. Moreover, many of the most important conflicts within Labour have not actually been related to doctrinal inclination. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown spent more than a decade manoeuvring against one another. At stake was power, not ideology. The same happened between Clement Attlee and Herbert Morrison. Their rivalry shaped politics atop the Labour party between 1935 and 1955. Framing one’s objections to somebody else as ideological is a useful way of presenting your ambitions in a more acceptable fashion. A lot of the time, at least, we should not take these claims too seriously.

Pan-Africanism and Western Domination

Pan-Africanism and Western Domination

Written by Pablo Perez Ruiz.

“Toussaint’s failure was the failure of enlightenment, not of darkness.” – C.L.R James, Black Jacobins.

“This is where the African intellectual lives in paradoxical terms: powerful yet powerless.” – Toyin Falola, Nationalism and African Intellectuals.

Pan-Africanism, when taken as a broad ‘group of movements’ with ‘no single nucleus’ and stemming from the experiences of the African diaspora, cannot be seen as a simple, reactive response to Western domination and discrimination, but rather as a creative, transterritorial solidarity movement that predated some of the current debates around transnational migration. After defining the concepts of African diaspora and pan-Africanism, this essay will discuss the ‘Western’ origins of pan-Africanism, and the case for pan-Africanism as a response rooted in Western epistemology and according to Western expectations of the colonised. Two case studies will be analysed: that of Senghor’s Negritude and Diop’s Afrocentrism, together with their respective critiques by Fanon and Appiah. The Western-dependent nature of some pan-African thought can be understood through Foucault’s notion of bounded resistance, although with certain qualifications. Ultimately, although agreeing with El Saadawi that ‘migrants cannot replace those who continue to struggle and work at home in Africa’, the merits of pan-Africanism, with its legacy of trans-territoriality as a particular example, have to be recognised as open spaces of resistance through which the African intellectual diaspora asserted their agency and negotiated their conflicted identities. This article does however fall into two common biases that follow from the nature of the existing sources: it prioritises the literate African elites over the many others that left no written records, and it provides a male-centric perspective of pan-Africanism.

The notions of pan-Africanism and African diaspora are highly elusive terms in the literature. Starting from Adi and Sherwood’s assertion that ‘there has never been one universally accepted definition of what constitutes pan-Africanism’, this article advocates for Shepperson’s view of pan-Africanism as a ‘group of movements’ with no ‘single nucleus’. That allows for the inclusion of different perspectives such as Afrocentrism and Negritude, seeing pan-Africanism as both a series of movements and ideas celebrating ‘Africanness’ and resisting racism and exploitation. Lemelle and Kelley have eloquently framed pan-Africanism as an ‘oppositional ideology’; a crucial point when assessing its reliance on Western epistemology and expectations. Pan-Africanism’s status as a ‘transnational solidarity’ is also important to understand its relation to the African diaspora; pan-Africanism’s trans-geographical and long-lasting nature has made it take different forms at different times and locations, sometimes leading to conflicting agendas. In what refers to the term ‘African diaspora’, a broad definition is preferred to accommodate a range of perspectives. Shepperson is again helpful in his view of the African diaspora as more extended in time and space than has been commonly supposed. Although originally intended as a counter-narrative of American slavery and European colonial discourse and in an attempt to develop an affirmative version of African history, the idea of African diaspora has now become accepted in the mainstream literature. Two problematic issues arise from this notion of diaspora: first, the danger of emphasising common experience over differences, which Falola has dealt with by talking about different strategies but common struggles; second, the danger of using the term African diaspora as a pretext to talk about something else, what Achille Mbembe sees as the West’s tendency to use Africa as an intermediary to ‘accede to its own subconscious.’ A broad conception of diaspora and pan-Africanism are thus necessary to contextualise the experiences of the thinkers considered below.

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To understand the wider nature of pan-Africanism we need to first look at its roots. Although Falola has pointed out the difficulties in dating the origins of the movement, which included experiences of slavery in America, colonization of Africa by Europeans, and worldwide racism, influential thinkers like W.E.B.D have asserted that pan-Africanism ‘had no deep roots in Africa itself’, but rather originated in the places of the African diaspora.  Before 1945, the core of the pan-African movement resided in the diaspora and it was the shared experience of racism across ethnic-lines that created the first opportunities to mobilize. Early pan-Africanism was thus considerably influenced by its place of origin, i.e. North America and Britain, and the frames of thought it provided. The case of North America is particularly interesting, as the difficulty of tracing back one’s origin led to the ‘adoption of Africa as one single “nation”.’ The adoption of Christian elements in early North-American pan-Africanism is evident in its ‘bias towards imperialist forms of progress and Christianisation’ and its ‘evangelistic approach to Africa.’ Early civil rights leader Thomas Fortune affirmed that ‘Christian religion [in Africa] is destined to supplant all other religious systems of belief, because it is the best code of moral philosophy ever given to man’. Others like Edward Blyden expressed similar thoughts, and the Bible was the key text for many pan-Africanists of the nineteenth century. At the other side of the Atlantic, the pan-Africanism originating in Britain with the founding of the African Association in 1897 and the First pan-African Conference held in London in 1900 also exhibited some features derived from its origin within the West. The publicity announcing the conference did not call for the complete destruction of Empire, but was framed in terms of the need to ‘influence public opinion on existing proceedings and conditions affecting the welfare of Natives in various parts of the Empire’. The aim was to persuade the metropole and to influence domestic public opinion by using the frameworks of thought of the coloniser.

Whether the use of the oppressor’s language and discourse by pan-Africanists in North America and Britain was a conscious strategic move or an unconscious, dependent reaction to Western domination requires a brief mention of the Western (mis)education received by many of those in the African intellectual diaspora. As Adi has highlighted, the British had a vested interest in ‘developing a class of Africans sympathetic to the interest of the British ruling class’ and in teaching these Africans the British traditions of governance. With this in mind, tracing the education of many of the leaders of the African diaspora shows the influence that Western education may have had on their thought and behaviour. Molony’s exhaustive biography of Nyerere’s formative years has shown the influence that being educated in Edinburgh had on Nyerere’s political thought, and also how the experience of exile heightened his awareness of racism and colonialism. The experience of exile reinforced an ‘African identity’ in many intellectuals; Horton, also educated in Edinburgh, adopted the name ‘Africanus’ during his time in Britain. C.L.R. James’ Letters from London is another good example of the disappointment faced by a ‘Black Englishman’ in Britain, and his writing simultaneously uses the colonisers’ most refined language while being critical of the realities in the metropole. Although being subjects of the French rather than the British Empire, both Diop and Senghor studied at the Sorbonne, and the first was granted French citizenship, joined the French army, and became the first African ‘immortal’ member of the Académie Française. There is a crucial element of class in the African diaspora’s elites adoption of Western epistemology and attitudes, and subsequently in their response to the West through pan-Africanism. Ultimately, ‘the way in which a group enters a society has a profound impact upon their social status and their social psychology’, and the position of the African diaspora intellectual as both powerful and powerless was key in their articulation of pan-Africanism.

The study of the particular cases of Senghor’s Negritude and Diop’s Afrocentrism can help elucidate some of the tensions mentioned above. In ‘Negritude: A Humanism of the Twentieth Century’, Senghor argues for a ‘black personality,’ the African’s certain way of ‘conceiving life and of living it,’ and defines negritude as ‘the sum of the cultural values of the black world’. Building on the ideas of ‘African uniqueness’ developed by German ethnologist Leo Frobenius, Senghor opposes African and European ontologies: the first ‘conceives the world as a fundamentally mobile reality’, the latter as ‘objective, static, and dichotomic.’ Senghor creates the philosophical category of the ‘African Man’ (note the gendered language), and elevates him to the highest form of being after God. Negritude thus becomes ‘morality in action’, deriving from the African’s natural trait of living according to the moral law. There is a feeling of essentialism and disconnection from reality all throughout the piece, which can be read as an attempt for self-confirmation and reassurance by an intellectual member of the African diaspora. Fanon was highly critical of Senghor, and saw his search for a ‘black culture’ as a product of the ‘anxiety shared by native intellectuals to shrink away from that Western culture in which they all risk being swamped.’ There is indeed a tension within the piece, and it is not clear who Senghor is writing for. Senghor seems to be, as exposed by Fanon, trying to ‘rehabilitate himself and to escape from the claws of colonialism’, but his thought is still too inscribed within the same epistemology as that of the coloniser. Moreover, Fanon criticised a particular kind of African intellectual for dedicating his/her efforts to comparing ‘coins and sarcophagi’ instead of joining the political struggle against colonialism. Culture would ultimately be created through national struggle rather than through intellectuals trying to ‘renew contact with the oldest and most pre-colonial springs of life of their people.’

Pan-Africanism

Turning now to the pan-Africanism of Diop, his Afrocentric ideas need to be framed as an attempt to emancipate Africa from the Euro-centric vision of history. Against the Western imperial version of history, Diop formulated an alternative thesis which saw Egyptian civilization as a black civilization and as the ‘initiator’ of Western civilization, thus challenging the Western view of civilization originating in Ancient Greece. Ancient Egypt is seen as the basis of African cultural (and political) unity and as a reason for African pride.  In The African Origin of Civilization, Diop reversed European ideas of Africa as an ‘indispensable negative trope in the language of modernity.’ European conceptions of history relied on Africa being backwards for Europe to be modern, and it is this rhetorical artifice that Diop set out to challenge by calling to rehabilitate African people’s place in history through a ‘cultural revolution’ that allows Africans to explain their own historical past. This cultural revolution would allow Africans to ‘define the image of a modern Africa reconciled with its past and preparing for its future.’ The mention of Africa’s future means political engagement against European chauvinism, and not just intellectual lucubrations. However, writers like Appiah have been highly critical of Diop, calling his writings ‘Europe Upside Down’: criticizing the West through Western (specifically Victorian) modes of thinking. The preoccupation with the Ancient world, the prejudice against cultures without writing, and the prioritising of the ‘great male leader’ make Diop’s Afrocentrism an ‘essentially reactive structure’ according to Appiah. Trying to identify a common origin on African civilization only replicates European attempts to find an origin for Western culture.

With these two case studies in mind, Foucault’s notion of resistance can be a helpful framework to conceptualise the tensions in the pan-Africanism of the African intellectual diaspora. Foucault’s view of resistance as dependent on power and existing within power seems to fit the argument so far: African intellectuals in the diaspora, having received a Western education, could only contest their own upbringing with the tools that this education had provided them. Thus, Senghor disputes the idea of the European superior subject by creating an even more superior African subject, while Diop contests European history of civilization by creating an African-Egyptian alternative. They are both oppositional but dependent accounts existing within the wider framework of pan-Africanism as an ‘oppositional ideology’. But merely dismissing Diop and Senghor’s account as incomplete, co-opted modes of resistance, would be unfair, and would assume the existence of a ‘true’ form of resistance derived from ‘pure’ or ‘authentic’ African culture which has been untouched by the West. Moreover, it would assume that the intellectual diaspora’s Western education and access to Western culture is more problematic in their relation to pan-Africanism and African modernity than that of the masses. Re-reading Foucault, true resistance is possible if seen as a ‘multiplicity of points of resistance’ with no single ‘soul of revolt’. This fits C.L.R. James’ idea that ‘those people who are in Western civilization, who have grown up in it, but made to feel and themselves feeling that they are outside, have a unique insight into their society’. To the idea of resistance as revisited above, it is fundamental to add an awareness of both discursive and political-economic forms of oppression, as highlighted by both Fanon and Sekou Toure among others. The intellectual decolonization must come hand in hand with an awareness of the social realities on the ground, and Diop had been quite successful in his call for a ‘politically engaged objectivity’, playing with Western ideals of objectivity while calling for action.

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Looking more closely at both Senghor and Diop can therefore not only expand our ideas of resistance and of the agency of the African intellectual diaspora but also enrich our understanding of migration and transnationalism. Tageldin has eloquently argued that Senghor’s pan-Africanism predates contemporary debates of trans-territoriality and trans-nationalism. By manipulating ‘race and culture to defy the limits that politics might impose on more “worldly” histories and geographies’, Senghor (and other pan-Africanists) transcended geographical lines. Despite his sometimes ‘nativist’ conception of Africa, Senghor’s negritude can be also read as transborder and transcontinental, i.e. including those in the diaspora. Migration was the context for the writings of both Diop, Senghor and others, and their writings have to be read in light of their concerns for Africa and for themselves, especially in what refers to the tension between assimilation and individuality. As Falola has highlighted, ‘migration can create a profound need to understand the homeland’, and the impossibility for many in the diaspora to become full citizens of their host countries may have played in their transnationalism and connections with their homeland. Although the experiences of transnationalism in the first half of the twentieth century may have been limited to a small African elite, they were in many ways precursors of the later generations in their tendency to build and maintain multiple linkages with their countries of origin.

Despite the origins of pan-Africanism within the West and the role of a Western-educated elite of pan-African thinkers, the thought of intellectuals such as Senghor or Diop cannot merely be seen as futile, ‘impure’ resistance but as creative attempts to deal with multiple issues ranging from identity and the experience of migration to racism and oppression. Although elements of class are important, and some thinkers such as Senghor might have lacked an awareness about or involvement in the political and economic realities in Africa, the members of the African intellectual diaspora can be seen as precursors of later debates around transnationalism and trans-territoriality. Despite its focus on the more intellectual side of pan-Africanism, this essay does not suggest the separation between the ideological and the practical in pan-Africanism, as they have both been highly intertwined across pan-African history. Moreover, the individual treatment of writers and intellectuals does not intend to abstract them from the broader movements of which they were part, but was used as a more manageable approach to the topic. Ultimately, the stretch in time and space of pan-Africanism and the African diaspora makes this account one of the multiple possible explorations of pan-Africanism, one of multiple ‘points of resistance’, one trace of agency in the larger span of African history.

Fiction: I Lost My Heart at Wounded Knee

Written by Lewis Twiby.

Snow drifted gently from the grey sky, matching the sadness in his heart: the heart that had been ripped from him. All the warmth that had been in his mother’s body had started to drift away. A warmth that had kept him safe through his ten years. A warmth that ended when the blue-coated soldier had fired upon his mother. Her body was the only thing that stopped him from sharing her fate. He was so scared. His entire body shivered through fear and the biting cold. What was going to happen to him now?

He had been scared when they had fled with the other Hunkpapa to join Chief Spotted Elk when the Indian agents had killed noble Sitting Bull. Almost a man, he had vowed not to cry but his mother let him weep into her shoulder as they fled to the new reservation. Life had been hard on the old reservation: the ground was dry, crops refused to grow, wasting diseases took people like his father away, the rations were meagre, and the warriors could not hunt the buffalo even if the Indian agents said they could because there was none left. Sitting Bull had given them hope, though. Sitting Bull who had managed to get so many to safety when they went to war against Long Hair Custer. Who had parlayed with the Americans on behalf of the Sioux people. Who had visited the big cities in the east with the funny-man Buffalo Bill. Now he was gone. Gone like his father, his grandfather… and now his mother.

Tears had frozen on his cheeks. Gently he kissed her on her forehead and took off the Ghost Shirt which he wore over his normal one. He placed it around his mother’s body so she would not get cold. She hated the cold. For that reason, he used to throw snowballs at her when the snows came.

“I hope the Ghost Shirt works better for you, mother,” he sniffed. A smiling warrior had given him the shirt during their flight after Sitting Bull’s death. He had never taken it off since. He had even urged his mother to wear it. Were the southern Navajo right? He had heard from the warriors that they had rejected the Ghost Dance. The young warriors had partaken in the ritual to make them immune from the bullets of the bluecoats, drive the invaders from their land, bring back their ancestors, and bring back the buffalo. He had been so excited. A chance to see his father again. It did not matter in the end. The dead remained dead, the buffalo were nowhere to be seen, bullets still killed them, and their land continued to be taken.

The snow crunched with his every step. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Before he lost his heart he had loved that sound. In a distant memory, he remembered his father showing him how to make a man out of snow. They had stuck stones into it to make a head and found some crow feathers, as dark as the night sky, to make hair. He and his friends had then pelted his father with snow. It was only two years ago but it felt like a lifetime. The bluecoats had taken everyone he loved from him: his father from the wasting disease, his mother from the bullet, his friends lost during their exodus from the reservation. For all he knew they could be lying in the snow like his mother.

All around him were tepees flattened by the long departed roar of the soldiers’ bullets, snow greedily drinking up the red blood, and gouges in the white from people fleeing, along with their pursuers. He was not scared of encountering any of the soldiers. It would be a relief. He could join his mother and father. Or maybe the stories of the young scouts were true about soldiers taking children to be raised by white families. Maybe he could tell a white family about what was happening to his people and they could tell the leader of the Americans what was happening. The leader of the Americans would see what the army and agents were doing and would give them back their lands, and give them medicine and guns and buffalo. Except that the only people around, Lakota or American, were lying dead in the snow.

A loud snort and the crunch of snow brought his mind back to the frozen reservation. Was it an American soldier, or a Lakota warrior? The rider wore a rifle across his back, brown trousers, and a white Ghost Shirt. His dark hair had smatterings of white, but not thanks to the snow. Upon his face were tell-tale lines of age. The aged warrior nimbly jumped off his horse like a man of half his years to land in the snow with a crunch. He waded through the snow to kneel before him.

“Are you lost my boy?” he asked in Lakota. “Where are your parents and kin?”

He felt tears welling up behind his eyes. To avoid his shame, he looked at the snow seeing it melt as his salty tears dropped to the earth. He felt the warrior grasp him in an embrace. “Do not fear child. We may be separated from them for now but we shall be reunited. Come, I shall take you somewhere safe.” He took the warrior’s hand and together they waded through the snow. The aged warrior gently lifted him onto the horse.

“I am Mahpiya Icahtagya,” the warrior said smiling.

“Chaska,” he replied.

Not wasting any time they soon left the scene of broken dreams and hearts. The snow continued to fall as if they had never been there.

Bibliography

Brogan, Hugh. The Penguin History of the United States, Second Edition, (1999, London).

Brown, Dee. Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee, (1971, New York).

Foner, Eric. Give me Liberty!: An American History, (2004, New York).

The Great War Column: The University of Edinburgh, Rudyard Kipling, and the Great War

Written by Ashleigh Jackson.

The University of Edinburgh, like many other institutions across the country, did not escape the Great War unscathed. A Roll of Honour was published in 1921, after the cessation of hostilities, to commemorate the fallen alumni of the university. This record provides a wealth of information for those hoping to research the war and its impact on society.

The introduction of the document is written by J.A. Ewing, the principal and vice-chancellor of the university from 1916 until his retirement in 1929. The duration of his appointment meant he presided over the university during part of the conflict, witnessing the effects of the war on further education first hand. 944 members of the university were killed in action during the war.  The record comprises a ‘Roll of the Fallen’, as well as a record of those who survived the conflict, detailing alumni who served during the war, chiefly concerning those at the front. Where possible, the record includes photographs of alumni [as can be seen above]. The editor has also sought to include personal details such as education, occupation, military service details and where they died.

Upon the outbreak of war, 600 students and graduates received commissions in the army. A significant proportion of university alumni became medical officers, owing to Edinburgh’s large and prestigious medical school. It is clear then, that the war significantly disrupted university life. Notably, Lord Kitchener, who was Secretary of State for War in 1914-1916 was also the rector of the University during this period. As such, his portrait is included in the Roll of Honour, highlighting a significant connection between the university and the First World War.

Interestingly, Rudyard Kipling visited the university in July 1920, delivering a speech which is included at the beginning of the Roll of Honour: “That they turned without fear or question from the Gates of Learning to those of the Grave in order that free men might still continue to learn freedom, is their glory but not their glory alone.”

Kipling captures the great sacrifice made by these men, who fought not only for their freedom but for the freedom of others. Throughout the war, Kipling was a prolific orator, supporting the war effort by calling for recruits.  He is famous for his poetry and short stories but during the First World War, he also became a key propagandist. His articles sought to uphold morale. He stressed the bravery of the soldiers at the front and wrote in an upbeat tone, becoming something of a spin-doctor. When reporting on the Battle of Jutland in 1916 he gave a positive interpretation of the conflict despite huge losses to the British army.

Kipling’s poignant speech at Edinburgh in 1920 connected the fallen alumni through their mutual commitment to academia. He sought to highlight how their sacrifice enabled future generations to ‘continue to learn’. Kipling’s attitude was perhaps at odds with the general feeling of grief that captured the nation after the war, despite victory. This speech, like many of his other speeches, is undoubtedly a piece of propaganda, an attempt to revive a nation paralysed by loss.

This column will endeavour to bring this document to life throughout the coming academic year. Forthcoming articles will focus on individuals from the Roll of Honour, in an attempt to understand the university’s connections to the Great War and the experiences of alumni during the conflict.  The size of the record alone indicates the scale of the sacrifice and the university’s contribution to the war effort.

Wicked Women: The Stepmother as a Figure of Evil in the Grimms' Fairy Tales

Wicked Women: The Stepmother as a Figure of Evil in the Grimms’ Fairy Tales

Written by Anahit Behrooz.

The recent scholarly resurgence of fairy tales and folklore, and the litany of rewrites, spin offs and adaptations, prompts a reexamination of many of the genre’s characteristics and tropes. The character of the wicked stepmother has gained notoriety as one of the most evil villains to be found in fairy tales, frequently set up as a foil to the innocent and virtuous step daughter whom she mistreats and who ultimately gains victory over her. Indeed, the evil stepmother was the first antagonist to be portrayed in a Disney feature-length film, and since then her terrifying presence remains one of the key features of many fairy tale adaptations. Yet why did this particular figure gain such popularity as a literary villain, and what role specifically did the fairy tales of the Brother Grimm have to play in this? By referencing four specific tales within the Kinder- und Hausmärchen collection – Aschenputtel (Cinderella), Hänsel und Grethel (Hansel and Gretel), Rapunzel and Sneewittchen (Snow White) – this essay sets out to explore these questions: Why did a stepmother provide such a suitable figure of evil? In what ways did the Brothers Grimm set out to emphasise her brutal and malevolent nature? And, finally, whether, despite these strategies of characterisation, the figure of the stepmother in fairy tales arouses any sympathy as a character who is more complex and multi-faceted than a simple, two-dimensional foe.

Firstly let us begin by examining the reasons behind why the stepmother was selected as an appropriate antagonist within the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. The term ‘selected’ is apropos here as, through an examination of the editorial changes made by the brothers throughout their various editions, it becomes clear that the stepmother was not always the original villain of the story. This is not to say that the Brothers Grimm invented the stepmother as a fairy tale antagonist; if we examine earlier versions of the tales, such as Perrault’s Cendrillon, written in 1697 and equivalent to the Grimms’ Aschenputtel, we see that the stepmother is a key character who behaves in the malicious, cruel way that modern readers have come to expect of her. This is not the case for all the tales, however, and a comparison of the Grimms’ original edition and their later editions quickly reveals this: while all the later versions of Sneewittchen – that is, from 1819 onwards – begin by describing a queen who longs for a daughter and dies in childbirth, only to have the father remarry, the 1812 version depicts a queen who longs for a daughter and quickly becomes jealous of her when the child grows and is deemed fairer than her. Thus in the original version, the role famously played by the stepmother is played by Sneewittchen’s real, biological mother. Similarly, in Hänsel und Grethel, it is not until the 1840 edition that the mother who encourages the father to abandon the children in the woods becomes a stepmother. It is therefore evident that the decision to make the stepmother a villainous figure in the tales was a conscious one. What is less clear is why such a selection was made.

Critics have offered various explanations as to this deliberate change: Bruno Bettelheim takes a decidedly psychoanalytical approach in arguing that ‘the typical fairy-tale splitting of the mother into a good (usually dead) mother and an evil stepmother serves the child well – the fantasy of the wicked stepmother not only preserves the good mother intact, it also prevents having to feel guilty about one’s angry wishes about her’. Thus the child is able to compartmentalise and justify their negative reactions to a maternal figure without becoming overwhelmed by what they consider at that stage to be unnatural feelings. Although it is unlikely that the Brothers Grimm would have had a similarly Freudian rationale for making the change, it could be argued that they did not wish to disturb young children with tales of murderous parents, or destroy the ideal of a close family unit: an outsider to the family would be far simpler to villainise. Yet it must be pointed out here that, particularly in the case of their first few editions, the Grimms’ intended audience was not small children, but rather scholars and academics, who would presumably be far less easily horrified by tales of a wicked mother. Perhaps then the key reason for this change was in order to reflect the social reality of the period. Given the high mortality rate for childbearing women, the presence of a stepmother in a family would have been far more common than it is today. Furthermore, older widowed men would often marry much younger women as their second wives, thus radically reducing the age difference between the daughter and the stepmother and creating a dynamic which is open to much of the jealousy and competition seen between the female characters within fairy tales.

We can therefore begin to understand why the figure of the stepmother was vulnerable to appropriation and transformation into an evil character. But what narrative and characterisation strategies did the Brothers Grimm employ in order to emphasise her wicked nature within the tales themselves? One of their most striking strategies is to draw parallels between the character and actions of the stepmother, and other malevolent figures and creatures of folklore. One such example is the stepmothers’ tendency towards cannibalism, which draws direct links between her and the ogres of tales such as Blaubart (Bluebeard). In Sneewittchen, the stepmother demands that the huntsman bring back Sneewittchen’s lungs and liver: ‘Der Koch mußte sie in Salz kochen, und das boshafte Weib aß sie auf und meinte sie hätte Sneewittchen’s Leber und Lungen gegessen‘ (‘The cook was ordered to boil them with salt, and the wicked woman ate them and believed she had eaten Snow White’s liver and lungs’). The jarring simplicity with which this horrific deed is told, combined with the Grimms’ judgement of her as a ‘boshafter Weib‘ (‘wicked woman’) serve to underline the almost unnatural, evil nature of her act. In Hänsel und Grethel meanwhile, the witch in the gingerbread house – who I argue is strongly implied to be the stepmother, given her malevolent attitude towards the children, and the mysteriously convenient death of the stepmother at the end of the tale – cruelly plays on the starvation of the children in order to lure them into her house and eat them. Moreover, she forces Grethel to aid her in her attempts to eat Hänsel, and would have thus made her complicit in the crime if her attempts had succeeded.

There have been many different interpretations of the stepmothers’ urge to cannibalise her stepchildren: it could be argued that the stepmother in Sneewittchen believes that by consuming the girl’s body, she will somehow imbibe her beauty, while Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar defend that the act symbolises an attestation of power, pointing out that by ‘thinking she is devouring her ice-pure enemy, the Queen consumes instead the wild boar’s organs; that is, symbolically speaking, she devours her own beastly rage, and becomes (of course) even more enraged’. I would add that the act of cannibalism is specifically used in this context as it defies all the characteristics normally associated with a maternal figure: one who is nurturing, caring and protective. As Maria Tatar states, ‘cannibalistic female villains withhold food and threaten to turn children into their own source of nourishment, reincorporating them into the bodies that gave birth to them’. Thus by going against their intended maternal natures, these women transform into something monstrous and ogre-like.

Another way in which the Brothers Grimm emphasise the evil nature of the stepmother is through her association with witchcraft. Witches, as evidenced by the large-scale witch-hunts and trials which took place particularly throughout the Europe of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries, were considered to be figures of great terror and misfortune. In the fairy tales, it is the power which the witches wield what sets them apart as characters to be feared. In the majority of the editions of Rapunzel (those from 1837 onwards), the first mention of the stepmother cum witch describes her as ‘[eine]…Zauberin…die große Macht hat, und von aller Welt gefürchetet wurde‘ (‘A witch with great power who was feared by all the world’). By immediately making the second clause follow the first, the Brothers Grimm imply causality. This is to say, the fear with which everyone reacts is a direct cause of her great power. This is also evident in the true parents’ reaction: the father is so frightened by the witch’s presence and her anger that he agrees to give up his own child to her immediately rather than risk her wrath. In Sneewittchen, meanwhile, the queen uses her witchcraft to kill Sneewittchen not only once, but three times, thereby highlighting her great power. Alfred David and Mary Elizabeth David also draw attention to the queen’s reaction to her supposedly successful murder as the glee with which she reacts is more pronounced in the Brothers’ last editions. So, while in the first ones, the reader is simply told, ‘sie freute sich‘ (‘she was pleased’), in editions of 1837, her pleasure has become sadistic: ‘[sie]…lachte überlaut, und sprach »weiß wie Schnee, roth wie Blut, schwarz wie Ebenholz! diesmal können dich die Zwerge nicht wieder erwecken’ (‘she laughed aloud and said: “white as snow, red as blood, black as ebony! This time the dwarfs cannot wake you.”’). By taking pleasure in the evilness of acts brought about by dark magic, the queen reveals herself to be irredeemably wicked.

Furthermore, the way in which this power manifests is noteworthy. The evil stepmothers are not the only beings who have magical abilities in the fairy tales, the virtuous characters can have them too. In Aschenputtel, the eponymous character calls to the birds to help her sort the lentils as her stepmother has ordered, and when her stepmother abandons her at home, she goes to the tree next to her mother’s grave for aid and says: “Bäumchen, rüttel dich und schüttel dich/ wirf Gold und Silber über mich” (‘Little trees, rustle and shake, throw gold and silver over me’). Written in this rhymed form, Aschenputtel’s words becomes almost incantation-like, and the results are certainly magical – they cannot be explained in any rational or scientific way. The profound difference between this type of magic and that of the evil stepmothers is that Aschenputtel’s magic is linked firmly to nature – to the work of the birds and animals and plants. This positive representation of the power of nature is perhaps a reflection of Romantic ideology, and provides a strong contrast to the magic of the stepmothers, which is unexplained, unnatural and dark. Thus, it is not only their link to witchcraft which paints the stepmothers as evil beings, but the way in which they harness and use this power.

What is striking in the tales is how the power the stepmothers have reflects itself in the narrative. Unlike the pure, virtuous protagonists, these women provide much of the narrative drive of the tales and possess a considerable amount of agency in their actions. The main action of Sneewittchen only happens when the stepmother takes a violent dislike to Sneewittchen and acts on it; Aschenputtel lives an uneventful existence until her father remarries; it is the stepmother’s decision in Hänsel und Grethel, firstly to drive them out, and then to attempt to kill them and, it is the actions of the witch in Rapunzel which bring about almost all of the key points of the plot – the taking of the child, locking her in the tower, abandoning her in the wilderness. Gilbert and Gubar argue that the stepmother in Snow White is indeed driven by want of an ‘”unfeminine” life of stories and story-telling’; each of her three attempts on Sneewittchen’s life become three tales or plots which she invents, and through such subversive “story-telling”, she attempts to control the narrative of her own life. Therefore, through their overwhelming influence on the plot of the tales, these women demonstrate again their strength and power, and pit themselves against the fragile, passive heroines.

Although the stepmothers assert their superior power over the young girls they terrorise, they are ultimately vanquished, usually not by the girls themselves (although Hänsel und Grethel is an exception) but rather by men: by the princes who fall in love with and ultimately rescue the heroines. Although throughout the majority of the tale, these women are depicted as strong, dominating characters, they are rendered ultimately powerless in the face of these male figures. I would argue that these endings are in fact indicative of a pervasive trend from the very beginning of the tales: that of the power of the patriarchy in controlling these women’s lives and ultimately contributing to the development of their evil nature. Thus, these fairy tales become part of a patriarchal literary tradition which seeks to undermine powerful and dominant women by presenting them as malignant and associating them to witchcraft and cannibalism. The shift from mother to stepmother as seen through a patriarchal lens also becomes more profound: evil, destructive mothers presented a challenge to patriarchal family values, whereas stepmothers were outsiders and could therefore act as a warning to other women without completely defying patriarchal structures. These depictions of stepmothers were so powerful that even today, we have internalised the narrative of a powerful woman equating to an evil woman.

The ultimate powerlessness of the stepmothers at the hands of men is not only portrayed through their violent endings, it is also depicted in female dependence on male approval throughout the texts. In Sneewittchen, for example, the main conflict revolves around the jealousy between stepmother and daughter surrounding the daughter’s beauty when she begins to mature from a small child. The idea of beauty within the Grimms’ tales is highly gendered; Lori Baker-Sperry and Liz Grauerholz carried out a study by coding references to beauty and physical appearance within the tales, and cross-referencing this with mentions of gender and age. Their findings, rather unsurprisingly, revealed that references to beauty were highest among the female characters and especially amongst the youngest ones. This attitude towards the importance of physical attractiveness in females is presumably indicative of the general social attitude of the time, and goes some way towards explaining the stepmother’s bitterness and jealousy towards the character she naturally sees as a rival. Gilbert and Gubar argue that the voice in the mirror which haunts the stepmother can be seen as the voice of her husband or, I would argue, the voice of any dominant male which ‘rules the Queen’s (and every woman’s) self-evaluation…’. In Aschenputtel we see the darker side of this beauty ideal, where the stepmother encourages her daughters to mutilate their feet in order to fit into the slipper and trick the prince. Particularly for modern readers, this will be uncomfortably reminiscent of the present-day beauty industry, of the plastic-surgery, Photoshop and eating disorders which twist and conform women into the requisite beauty ideal. If this is the world the stepmother is forced into, where she must viciously compete with other women in order to attract and keep men, and therefore status, stability and significance, her resorting to evil in order to maintain her position becomes, if not justifiable, at least understandable. By seeing the stepmother as a victim of patriarchal values, much in the same way the heroines are a victim of her, her character becomes more than the trope of “Wicked Queen” or “Evil Stepmother”, but rather a complex character deserving of the reader’s consideration and sympathy.

In conclusion, the Brothers Grimm played a great part in contributing to the construction of the “evil stepmother” character in fairy tales. Through the editorial changes they made, and their emphasis on the monstrous, cruel and unnatural aspects of her character, they transformed the figure of the stepmother into the ultimate fairy tale villain whose legacy continues to this day. Yet, as feminist critics such as Tatar, Gilbert and Gubar have demonstrated, the stepmother has also become a scapegoat, a terrifying figure who goes against all of the expectations of women and motherhood, but who is nevertheless herself a victim of the situation and the society she finds herself in.

Bibliography

Abate, Michelle Ann, ‘”You Must Kill Her”: The Fact and Fantasy of Filicide in Snow White’, Marvels and Tales, Vol. 26 (2012), pp. 178-203.

Baker-Sperry, Lori and Grauerholz, Liz, ‘The Pervasiveness and Persistence of the Feminine Beauty Ideal in Children’s Fairy Tales’, Gender and Society, 17 (2003), pp. 711-726.

Bettelheim, Bruno, The Uses of Enchantment: The Importance and Meaning of Fairy Tales, (London, 1976).

David, Alfred and  David, Mary Elizabeth, ‘A Literary Approach to the Brothers Grimm’, Journal of the Folklore Institute, 1 (1964), pp. 180-196.

De Blecourt, Willem, Tales of Magic, Tales in Print: On the Genealogy of Fairy Tales and the Brothers Grimm, (Manchester, 2012).

Gilbert, Sandra M. and Gubar, Susan, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Imagination, (London, 2000).

Grimm and Grimm, Kinder- und Hausmärchen, <www.khm.li> ; accessed 28 March 2014.

Haase, Donald, ‘Feminist Fairy-Tale Scholarship: A Critical Survey and Bibliography’, Marvels and Tales, 13 (2000), pp. 15-63.

Robinson, Orrin W., ‘Does Sex Breed Gender: Pronominal Reference in the Grimms’ Fairy Tales’, Marvels and Tales, 21 (2007), pp. 107-123.

Tatar, Maria, The Hard Facts of the Grimm Fairy Tales (Princeton, 1987).

Williams, Christy , ‘Who’s Wicked Now? The Stepmother as Fairy-Tale Heroine’, Marvels and Tales, 24  (2010), pp. 255-271.

Zipes, Jack, The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World, (Houndsmill, 2002).

Pharaoh Akhenaten’s Ordained Benevolence

Written by Jenisha Sabaratnam.

As Pharaoh of Lower and Upper Egypt, King Akhenaten undoubtedly had immense power over his land and subjects throughout his seventeen year rule of the 18th dynasty of Ancient Egypt. Though it was common for Pharaohs to justify their rule through religion, Akhenaten took it one step further. He changed the primary god of worship from Amun to Aten, and used poems and steles* – among other things – to assert his dominance, validate his rule, and defend his religious reforms.

Akhenaten uses both the poem, ‘Hymn to the Aton’, and the stele ‘House-shrine’ to promote his authority and power over Egypt and his subjects. Throughout ‘Hym to the Aton’, Akhenaten unduly praises the God Aten to the point where he indirectly asserts his own kingly power to be greater than even that of Aten’s. While in stark contrast, the image carved into the stele depicts Akhenaten as affectionate and familial, with Aten approving and blessing the Pharaoh in this respect. However, though the stele presents the king’s supposedly tender and benevolent personality, rather than his military might – as earlier Pharaohs had done – Akhenaten uses the altruistic message of the stele as a way to deceptively promote his own kingly supremacy and justification of his reign.

King Akhenaten asserted his dominance as a righteous ruler of Egypt by focusing on religious power exclusive only to the king. Upon becoming king, Akhenaton changed the traditionally central god of worship from Amun (known as the king of all gods) to Aten, the sun god, while also evidently merging Aten’s name into his own. In fact, Akhenaten dedicated so much of his time on religion and religious reforms, that he ended up ‘…ignor[ing] the military and administrative problems of the Egyptian empire.’ It is interesting to note however that Akhenaten experienced no dire consequences to his extreme actions, whether it be heavily controlling one aspect of everyday life or having a complete lack of control in another. In fact it wasn’t until Akhenaton’s son, Tutankhamen, came into power that these religious reforms – to many of the people’s relief – ended. This clearly shows that those under the Pharaoh, either out of respect or fear of his power, were constrained from speaking out – no matter how much the Egyptian people may have disliked his actions. This speaks immensely of a Pharaoh’s power during the height of Egyptian civilization.

In ‘Hymn to the Aton’, Akhenaten excessively praises the god Aten; his position as the only ruler to actually worship this god portrays him as the supreme leader. This further indicates that he has power matching, even surpassing that of Aten’s. Akhenaten’s praises to the god are seen right from the beginning of the poem in which he declares: ‘Thou appearest beautifully on the horizon of heaven, / Thou living Aton, the beginning of life!’ Though Akhenaten continues to compliment Aten, he does so by referring to himself in the third person: ‘Thou art in my heart, / And there is no other that knows thee / Save thy son [Akhenaten], /For thou hast made him well-versed in thy plane and in thy strength.’ Akhenaten indirectly honors himself by claiming that God Aten’s actions have in fact been to elevate himself as the king. This is emphasised in the final lines of the poem: ‘But when thou risest again, / Everything is made to flourish for the king, / Since thou didst found the earth / An raise them up for thy son, / Who came forth from thy body: /The king of Upper and Lower Egypt, … Ahk-en-Aton’ Thus, regardless of the manner or expanse that Akhenaten credits the God Aten with, it is only another technique employed in order to benefit the establishment of his own authority. The subjects reading this poem are presented with the image that their king, ordained by god, has a direct link to an immeasurable amount of holy power.

In contrast, Akhenaten use the stele – titled ‘House-shrine’ – to similarly boast of his power, but in a more modest and shrewder way than in ‘Hymn to the Aton’. The stele features his family gathered under the blessing of Aten, and illustrates to the people that Akhenaten’s family – his wife, Nefertiti, and his three daughters – is privy to the authority and access that comes with being descendants of Aten. The stele shows that Akhenaten along with his wife are the only representatives of God on Earth.

Anything Aten claimed to express to Akhenaten relating to religion, rule and power had to be taken as the utmost truth. This gave him power beyond that of any earlier Pharaoh. He could single-handedly make decisions for Egypt based on his personal preferences and opinions, while using religion and his sole connection with Aten as the justification for his judgments and actions. This stele was small enough to be mass produced and for people to keep in their homes, serving as a physical reminder of  Akhenaten’s authoritative governance in his subjects’ private homes. Akhenaten managed to deceive his people and bring them to believe that his power was really just a byproduct of his humbleness and kindness.

The stele also has a second component that is subtler in the way Akhenaten defends his power. One major feature of the stele is the way Akhenaten is portrayed in relation to his wife, Nefertiti. In a day and age when women were undoubtedly secondary to men, and when Pharaohs themselves had multiple wives, the stele would have had a huge impact on the population of that time to see Akhenaten not only carved to be directly facing his wife, but also sitting on the same plane, as opposed to above her. He is tenderly and carefully holding his child, probably his eldest due to the larger size of this child compared to the others, for a kiss, while his wife holds their other two children. This image of a complete family is significant as it depicts to the people that Akenaten is both loving and caring. 

To add to this message, Aten, portrayed as a sun disc, is centered directly above the family, extending his rays in the form of hands out towards them and his hands almost touching both Akhenaten’s and Nefertiti’s faces, approving and blessing them as the rightful rulers of Egypt. By changing the primary god of worship and therefore the religion of Egypt during this reign, Akhenaten became the only link between the god Aten and his subjects. This would have given him immeasurable power in the way he could rule by using Aten’s name as a validation for any of his actions. However in so doing, he also needed to prove to his people that he was as powerful, or even more so, as previous kings. 

Through ‘Hymn to the Aton’ Akhenaten desired to show his direct authority by praising the god Aten and ended up honoring himself more than the god. He is able to gain justified supremacy through the worship and reverence of his people towards him. ‘Hymn to the Aton’ and the ‘House-shrine’ are valuable sources in understanding how the Pharaoh wished to portray himself – as more commanding than the gods themselves – and, therefore, cannot be used as the consensus for the beliefs of the common population.

Bibliography

Edited by Pritchard, James B. “Hymn to the Aton: Religious Reform and Monotheism”. Ancient

Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1969. Translated by John A. Wilson.

“House-shrine” stele. New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, ca. 1340 BCE.

Notes

* A stele is a stone or wooden slab, erected as a tall monument and was used in Ancient Egypt for funerary purposes, to mark sacred territories and as territorial boundaries, as used by Akhenaten.

The Legend of Classical Greek Theatre

Writtten by .

When reading Euripides’ The Bacchae and Medea, a comparison with Arthur Miller’s The Crucible does not instantly come to mind. Their settings are very different: The Bacchae and Medea are set in ancient Greece, and the Massachusetts town Salem is well known as the setting of Miller’s Puritanical play. However, within these geographical settings, all three plays revolve around male-dominated environments where the roles of women are seen to be traditional and inferior to men. Although the plays were written thousands of years apart, they share distinct similarities in their themes and their characterization of leading females. For a leading female, it seems near impossible to gain and retain a position of power or influence without losing it in a tragic way. This often results not only in her social and moral collapse but also the demise of those closest and dearest to her. Comparing these plays within the context of history exposes the limitations that leading female characters have constantly faced throughout written history.

In The Crucible, Abigail Williams uses her position of power and influence among her female peers to create religious hysteria in Salem in pursuit of revenge as a scorned lover. After her lover, John Proctor, rejects her she is dismissed from the Proctor’s employment. She feels rejected and humiliated and extremely jealous of John’s wife’s position, so much so that she goes to extreme lengths to destroy their marriage. She uses her position of control over the gullible young Puritan girls by creating a situation where witchcraft is a believable phenomenon. By exploiting her sexual precocity Abigail develops manipulates naive and susceptible teenage girls within the puritanically oppressed community. Abigail’s extreme and calculated measures result in her unintended ending of Proctor’s life following his confession, and, as a consequence, she ruins her own future.

In The Bacchae, vengeance is carried out by Queen Agave, via the god Bacchus. Bacchus seeks to clear his betrayed mother’s name and punish the city of Thebes by using his divine and supreme powers to entrance Queen Agave and the Theban women by controlling them in a subconscious state of hysterical frenzy. Within this emotionally volatile state, Queen Agave brutally murders her son, King Peleus. In doing so she ruins the royal household of Thebes and destroys the royal legacy. Bacchus’ true usurping intentions are revealed via his tragic manipulation of the Theban women. By entrancing Agave and taking away her power and consciousness she becomes a vehicle for Bacchus’ omnipotence. In a state of hysteria, and thinking Peleus to be a lion she is hunting, Agave beheads her son and returns to the royal palace to present the trophy head to Cadmus.  Being under Bacchus’ control, Queen Agave’s savage act causes her downfall.  The divine gods were believed by the Greeks to have heightened emotions, therefore explaining Bacchus’ extreme barbarous and fierce retribution. Nevertheless, Agave and her royal family are publicly humiliated and stripped of authority by Bacchus.

In Medea, the lead female, Medea, is a barbarian princess who marries the hero, Jason, after assisting him and his Argonauts in their quest for the golden fleece. As a barbarian, Medea is implicitly portrayed as uncivilized and inferior, and her power is removed from her by King Creon of Corinth, who wishes Jason to marry his daughter Princess Glauce and inherit his throne. Despite his marriage to Medea, Jason abandons her and their two sons and agrees to Creon’s proposal. Hence, Medea seeks harsh vengeance not only on Jason but also on the city of Corinth. Religious hysteria plays a central role as Medea uses her sorcery skills to carry out cruel acts of revenge; she kills Princess Glauce with a poison-laced dress and crown. Upon seeing his daughter suffer such a hideous death, Creon joins her in an embrace and they die together. In removing her position as a powerful woman, Medea retaliates through vengeance and religious hysteria to carry out the murder of her own two sons to ensure Jason’s eternal misery. Revenge gives her a position of power and she destroys Jason’s future as a powerful ruler of Corinth. Medea triumphs in her regained power by causing misery for Jason. The first act of Medea’s revenge by proxy on Creon and Jason and the turning point of the play is the death of Princess Glauce. This hideous murder changes the direction of the play and creates a hateful abyss in Medea and Jason’s relationship. Medea’s downfall is poignant by being so conscious, in that by ensuring Jason’s suffering, she destroys herself; her family and marriage have collapsed and her sons are dead. Yet her family and marriage would have been destroyed with Jason marrying Princess Glauce and inheriting the throne of Corinth. The imbalance of Medea’s vengeance is emotionally overwhelming in that she must sacrifice her own children to succeed.

Therefore, only after the removal of their power do the leading females in each of these plays actually have an impact on the outcome of the play. However, this impact is often self-inflicted and ultimately leads to their downfall and demise. For Abigail Williams, as an inferior woman in her society, the loss of her power ruins her life for the worse. In The Bacchae, Agave’s fate, too, is that of a powerless woman whose fate is decided by men. In Medea, Medea fulfils her vengeance on her husband with drastic and fatal results and sacrificially denies herself of her children. Hence, in all three plays, none of the female leads are left happy.

The desperate situations of the central female characters undoubtedly draw on the audience’s sympathy towards the portrayal of women in each of the plays. Euripides is generally sympathetic towards women, by depicting their disasters in situations often out of their own self-control; whereas, Miller has no intention of portraying Abigail as a pitied victim; she is the master of her own downfall. The themes that affect the central female characters in both the plays and theatrical society over the last two millennia reveal that even in our current society there has not been a hugely obvious and evident mark of change to society regarding the position of women. Clearly, there has been dramatic change, but considering the role of women in Euripides’ and Miller’s plays, it can be argued that the change has not been heavily altered. Their recent revival of the study and performance of Greek tragedies is partly due to the revival and resurge of the academic subjects of Classics, Greek and Latin. The legend of Greek tragedies is increasingly relevant in our current society. Looking back and reflecting on ancient times sheds much light on our present society and informs that there is much to be developed regarding the portrayal of women in the 21st century.