Sometimes described as the Shakespeare of India, Kālidāsa mastered various literary genres in his lifetime and continued to thrive, even in Western translations, into modern times. He composed three plays, two epic poems, and a series of shorter poems. Among these is the Meghadūta, or The Cloud Messenger, in which a man asks a passing cloud to carry a message to his beloved wife, who is awaiting him in the Himalayas. Translated from the Sanskrit into English in the early nineteenth century, The Cloud Messenger served as the inspiration for composer Gustav Holsts 19091910 choral work The Cloud Messenger.
The Code of Manu deals with many different features of Hindu life, such as the proper behavior of different castes and methods for ritual purification. The “Manu” referred to in the title is the legendary “first man” of Hindu culture, also recognized as the first lawgiver. Thus, the Code of Manu is thought of within Hinduism as a text based on human traditions (smriti), but it is also believed to be consistent with the values included in texts that are divinely revealed (shruti), such as the “Purusha Hymn.” As a result, it restates and reaffirms traditional values and structures, but it does so on the basis of religious authority.
The responsibilities described for women in the Code of Manu need to be understood within the context of Hinduism. A central component of Hinduism is the concept of dharma (“that which is firm”). Hindus believe that by living up to the religious and social responsibilities attached to one’s social position (caste and gender), one sustains the proper order of the universe and gains good karma, moving up the scale of reincarnation toward unity with the brahman, or World Soul. Composed following a period of unrest, the Code of Manu represents a vigorous attempt to reestablish order within the Hindu world.
The Law of Manu, in The Sacred Books of the East, vol. 25, trans. G. Bühler (Oxford: Clarendon, 1886), 194–197, 328–330, 332, 335, 344–345.
The Chinese had to deal with nomadic neighbors on their northwestern frontier from an early date, and many of the patterns of that relationship were established, or at least explored, under the Han dynasty (202 BCE–220 CE). The Xiongnu was the Chinese name of the peoples, more or less politically united at different times, who were the dominant nomadic power on the frontier during Han rule. In addition to Chinese agricultural goods and metallurgy, the Xiongnu had developed a taste for Chinese silk, which became the principal luxury item used by nomadic leaders to build their political coalitions on the steppes: the more silk a leader could give away, the larger a following he could create.
As with all government business under the Han and subsequent Chinese dynasties, voluminous records were kept of (1) court deliberations over policy with regard to the frontier and (2) of diplomatic correspondence with the Xiongnu, whose leader had the title Shen-yu. Official court historians used these records extensively when writing their histories. The following selections are from the Hanshu, a Chinese history concerning the history of the Chinese empire from 206 BCE to 25 CE. It gives much detail about Chinese attitudes toward the “barbarians” who caused them so much trouble, as well as opening a few windows into the attitudes of the nomads themselves. Although colored by Chinese assumptions, the descriptions are generally accurate, receiving confirmation from other written sources and from archaeology. The selections describe an early period in Han relations with the Xiongnu, before 140 BCE, that can be described as conciliatory, being characterized by the payment of tribute by the Chinese to the Xiongnu (though the Chinese sources tend to call the goods “gifts”), use of diplomatic marriages, and other techniques designed to acculturate the “barbarians” to Chinese ways.
Excerpted from the Hanshu, trans. A. Wylie, Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 3 (1874): 401–50.
Agatharcides of Cnidus
The societies and trade networks that flourished along the Red Sea (or “Erythraean Sea” as the Greeks called it) in antiquity were well documented by writers of many different cultures. Gold was one of the most sought after trade items. In the second century BCE, a Greek historian named Agatharchides of Cnidus vividly described the dangerous circumstances under which gold was mined in Nubia.
Agatharchides of Cnidus, “The Gold Mines of Lower Nubia,” from Ancient African Civilizations: Kush and Axum, Stanley Burstein, ed. (New Jersey: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1997); pp. 49-52.
This is a small sample of the array of painted, scratched, and scribbled graffiti archaeologists have discovered on the walls of the city of Pompeii, which was sealed in ash after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE.
Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, eds., Roman Civilization: Selected Readings, vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 276–278.
Ban Biao and Ban Gu
This dynastic history was a continuation of the Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji), originally compiled by Sima Qian (ca. 145–86 BCE), and it repeats many of the phrases and situations Sima Qian had described verbatim. However, these histories provide remarkable insights into the behavior of emperors and their families at court—while also suggesting developing notions of gender and education. This segment of the Han Shu covers the reign of Hsiao-Ai, in roughly 6–1 BCE.
Han Shu, Book 11 (Annals of the Emperor Hsiao-Ai), Chinese text and English translation: http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/saxon/servlet/SaxonServlet?source=xwomen/texts/hanshu.xml&style=xwomen/xsl/dynaxml.xsl&chunk.id=d2.49&toc.depth=1&toc.id=0&doc.lang=bilingual.>
Titus Livy was born in the last century BCE (either 59 or 64 BCE) in northern Italy. Livy was a Roman patriot, and his history reflected his pride in Rome’s accomplishments. Unfortunately, only about a quarter of his original History survives. Nonetheless, it is still the best single source for Roman history, and for the parts of his History that survive, Livy is an irreplaceable primary source.
The incident related in the passage presented here involves an extremely rare instance of public political protest on the part of the women of Rome. The issue was the proposed repeal of the Lex Oppia, or Oppian Law. In 215 BCE during the Second Punic Wars, one of Rome’s three great conflicts with Carthage over dominance in the western Mediterranean, the famous Carthaginian general Hannibal inflicted a devastating defeat on the Romans at the battle of Cannae. In the wake of that defeat, the Oppian Law was passed, prohibiting women from having more than half an ounce of gold, wearing clothes in public adorned with expensive purple dye, or riding in a carriage except on religious holidays. These restrictions were implemented to suppress public displays of wealth at a time when Romans were forced by Hannibal’s successes to undergo enormous sacrifices in order to raise and equip new armies. In 195 BCE a movement arose, supported by public demonstrations by women, to repeal the restrictions. The women appealed to the consuls. One of them, Marcus Porcius Cato, adamantly opposed repeal, and the other consul, Lucius Valerius, supported repeal.
Women were denied political rights in Rome. In fact, Roman law invested the father of the family with extraordinarily broad powers (patria potestas), including even the right to kill unwanted children at birth. During the Republic, women were ordinarily under the control (manus) of their husbands, and other women had guardians who made all major decisions. The protest was a real-life effort by women to make themselves heard.
From Livy in History of Rome, Book XXXIV 1-H, Roland Mellor, ed., The Historians of Ancient Rome, 1998, 332–33, 335–36, 338. Routledge, a division of Taylor & Francis Books, LTD.
This is an inscribed rendering of some of the major male and female characters of the Mahabharata. According to this legend, a king surrenders power to his blind brother and has five sons (the Pandava) by his queen, Kunti. The five brothers are collectively married to the beautiful princess Draupadi. In Indian tradition, her role is analogous to the way the palm of a hand holds together the hand’s five fingers.
Courtesy of Ed Sentner
Ban Zhao (45–ca. 116 CE) was by far the most educated woman of her day, and she trained many important male scholars. The Han Shu (the continuation of Sima Qian’s Shiji) was originally undertaken by her father, Ban Biao (3–54 CE), and continued by her brother Ban Gu (32–92). Ban Zhao is credited with the giving the Han Shu its present shape after the deaths of her father and brother, but she is most famous today for her advice book, directed toward young women.
Nancy Lee Swann, Pan Chao: Foremost Woman Scholar of China (New York: London Century, 1932), 82–90.
Born around 360 CE and instructed by her father, Theon, a mathematician and the last librarian of the famous Library of Alexandria, Hypatia directed the Platonic school in the city, teaching students who were of mixed religious commitments but were, presumably, all men. The few sources that mention her agree that she was abducted, stripped of her clothes, and stoned to death with roof tiles by a deranged group of Christians, but the precise sequence of events that led to this atrocity has always been controversial.
Because all of these sources were composed by Christians—with the exception of her own correspondence with a former student, the bishop Synesius of Cyrene—the lynching of Hypatia may be interpreted as an instance of fanaticism attempting to destroy reason, or as the elimination of a dangerous pagan influence in the midst of a Christianizing Egypt. The latter approach has, unfortunately, been more common, given Christian influence—and misogyny—in Western societies and the installation of her main opponent, Bishop Cyril of Alexandria, as one of the “fathers of the church.”
Socrates, Ecclesiastical History 7.15, available online at http://www.stoa.org/diotima/anthology/wlgr/wlgr-religion451.shtml.