I haven’t written in here for a while, and lately the weight of keeping the blog alive has been on Silver’s shoulders. His last post about ancient history finally gave me an idea to continue the history streak, and gather and present a few kick-ass stories of some kick-ass women from history.
But first, let me go through a little tangent before we get to all the ass-kicking:
In secondary school I had a history teacher who acted out in front of the class everything he taught. He added drama, flare, and comedy to historical events, basically translating them to us on an emotional level. Everyone loved going to his classes and no one had problems keeping their grades up.
By contrast, my grades plummeted in high school, when another teacher, looking like a bored toad behind her desk, barked out dates and events at the equally bored looking class.
History is an amazing source of inspiration for a storyteller. Not only does it offer precedents for hypothetical situations you’re trying to figure out, but if you dig deeper you realise that there’s multiple stories to be told for every event recorded, all of them coloured with emotions: tempers running hot, nostalgia, greed, joy, guilt, love.
Striving for objectivity when recording history is important, but I personally find it boring. From the perspective of telling stories, objectivity serves as little more than just a clinical dissection of time. But when you tell a story from the points of view of different people – or for a bigger picture: from the points of view of different cultures – you’ll end up with a huge spectrum of experiences and interpretations.
Unfortunately, one point of view omitted in most history books is the female perspective. For obvious reasons, women didn’t play the leading roles in most major historical events, and as a result many interesting stories have been left untold.
Luckily, our best friend Wikipedia doesn’t discriminate as much as our primary education, and we are able to read about countless kick-ass heroines. I wanted to introduce you to a few, that I’m itching to model some future story-characters on:
Julie D’Aubigny (1673-1707) aka Mademoiselle Maupin or La Maupin
Julie D’Aubigny had a life full of passionate affairs, opera performances, illegal duelling (during which she almost always dressed as a man), running from the law numerous times, and setting a convent on fire to rescue her lover from nundom. The latter story is my personal favourite.
With a life so vibrant and erratic, Julie’s story just begs to be told. Read more on Wikipedia!
Olga of Kiev (c.890-969) aka Saint Olga
Olga was the Queen regent of Kievan-Rus, ruling on behalf of her son, Svyatoslav, for 18 years. In order to preserve her son’s throne, she refused suitors from the neighbouring, hostile tribe, killing one group by trapping and burning them alive, and burying alive another group. Rest of the hostile tribe she invited for a mourning-feast, got them drunk and had 5000 of them killed. Whoever was left alive was begging for mercy at this point, but Olga had pigeons fly to their villages, dispersing sulphur from bags attached to their legs, and burned everything down, sulphur making the fire unquenchable.
Ching Shih (1775–1844)
Ching Shih was one of Asia’s strongest pirates, who terrorized the South China Sea. She was undefeated all her life, commanding a fleet that is estimated to go as high as 80,000 men, and was one of the only few pirates who retired from piracy by the end of her career.
She started out as a Cantonese prostitute, captured by pirates, eventually marrying the notorious pirate captain, Cheng I. After Cheng’s death she worked hard to rise to power and take his place, cultivating relationships and making herself indispensable to the huge fleet. Once in the leadership position she set up and ruled by tight rules, writing down a code of laws with severe consequences to prevent looting friendly villages, setting down strict distribution of the loot, and prohibited rape (the pirates were only allowed to have sex with the women they captured if they took them as wives/concubines and remained faithful to them).
Stories like these make you realise that even Game of Thrones can sometimes feel tame next to reality.