Ban Zhao 班昭 – 45 – c.116 – Anling, China

Ancient China, China

Ban Zhou

Ban Zhao was the first known Chinese woman historian and China’s best known female scholar.

Born in Shaanxi province, Ban Zhao already had a strong female role model in the form of her great aunt, Consort Ban, who had famously saved herself from persecution by using her education and gift for reasoning. Zhao’s father, Ban Biao, and her brother, Ban Gu were also well known historians – so the importance of education was instilled from a young age.

Like many women of this era, Ban Zhao married very young, at fourteen. This meant that she was still young when her husband died, leaving her a widow with two children. Rather than re-marry, Ban Zhao chose to devote the rest of her life to scholarly pursuits.

800px-Ming_Dynasty_wood_carving_books_in_Tian_Yi_Chamber_colllection

The Book of Han

She loved history and poetry, but also took an interest in astronomy and mathematics. When her brother, Ban Gu, was executed for political reasons in 92, he left an unfinished book on the history of the Western Han, which Ban Zhao chose to complete. She finished the work, known as The Book of Han and added her own touches – a treatise on astronomy, as well as a genealogy of the emperor’s mother.

Ban Zhao’s next great work was Lessons for Women, a guide for women’s conduct heavily influenced by Confucian morality. While the book urged women to be obedient and subservient to their husbands and fathers, it also advocated education for women and was dedicated to the daughters of the Ban family. Lessons for Women remained popular in China for centuries.

The book quickly gained the attention of the Emperor, who requested that Ban Zhao be Banzhaoinstalled as the royal librarian, and that she teach his concubines and chief wife Empress Deng Sui – who was to become a lifelong friend.

Ban Zhao quickly became known as the gifted one by the women at court, and Deng Sui had such respect for her that she made her a Lady-in-waiting – a high status position.

Ban Zhao’s rise continued as her sons were given positions as court officials. Deng Sui often asked for Ban Zhou’s advice in political matters, particularly when the Empress became regent on behalf of her infant son.

It seems that Ban Zhou’s only aspiration for herself was scholarship. She threw herself into her role as a royal librarian, managing the library assistants who worked to copy out manuscripts onto bamboo, silk and paper (which was a recent invention). In addition, Ban Zhou worked on expanding and editing Biographies of Eminent Women by Liu Xiang.

Ban Zhao lived to a great age, dying around 116 CE. When the Empress Dowager Deng Sui heard about her friend’s death, she dressed all in white as a symbol of mourning.

After her death, Ban Zhao’s daughter-in-law, gathered her works in the three-volume Collected Works of Ban Zhao, most of which is unfortunately now lost.


 

In Science:

The Ban Zhao crater on Venus is named after her.


References:

http://worldhistoryconnected.press.illinois.edu/9.1/lee.html

Notable Women of China: Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century – Barbara Bennet Peterson

On Wikipedia:


Image credits:

Banzhao” by http://www.ancestryimages.com/proddetail.php?prod=g6393 – Mémoires concernant l’histoire, les sciences, les arts, les mœurs, les usages, etc., des Chinois, par les missionaires de Pé-kin.

Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Ming Dynasty wood carving books in Tian Yi Chamber colllection” by Gisling – Own work.

Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons

 

 

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Pamphile – 1st Century – Epidaurus, Greece

Ancient Greece

Pamphile

Pamphile (or Pamphila) of Epidaurus was a historian during the first century.

Her family was probably Egyptian in origin, though she was brought up in Epidaurus, Greece. She married a man called Sorteridas who was very cultured and filled their home with interesting and intelligent visitors.

Pamphile was inspired by the many interesting people she met and the fascinating stories they had to share, so she began to write everything down. According to Photius, Pamphile wrote down everything she heard from the conversations taking place in her home, as well as things she learnt for herself in private study.

First page of an early print edition of the Suda

First page of an early print edition of the Suda

Her main work was known was the Historical Commentaries, which comprised of 33 books telling the history of Greece. The most interesting aspect of Pamphile’s work is the way she presented her histories. Rather than arranging the information by order of subject or chronology, Pamphile laid down each anecdote or fact just as she had heard it, or as it had come to her attention.

This was deliberate, as she felt that the variety of information would make the work more enjoyable to read.

Pamphile’s Historical Commentaries was a much admired text, praised not only by Photius, but historians Aulus Gellius and Diogenes Laërtius. The Suda describes Pamphile as a ‘wise woman’ and notes that she authored further texts On DisputesOn Sex and many others.


 

Notes:

The Suda is a huge 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world. It contains 30,000 entries, many drawing from ancient sources that have since been lost, and often derived from medieval Christian compilers.


 

References:

Suda Online: http://www.stoa.org/sol-bin/search.pl

Bibliotheca Cod. 175 – Photius

On Wikipedia:


 

Image credits:

Suda“. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Ennigaldi – fl. 547 BCE – Ur, Mesopotamia

Mesopotamia

The ultimate career woman, Ennigaldi devoted her life to no less than three full time occupations, including archaeologist and curator of the world’s first museum – “For the marvel of the beholders”.

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A day in the life of Princess Ennigaldi:

The Mesopotamian princess would have woken and eaten breakfast in her private quarters within the Palace at Ur, known as E-Gig-Par (now in Iran). Ennigaldi might then have gone to oversee the Priestess School which she administrated as High Priestess. The upper class women who were educated there were literate and learned a dialect known as Emesal, which was a special women’s language.

Ennigaldi was a beloved educator, spending less time than her predecessors had on the corporal punishment of her students. She herself loved to learn, and had a particular passion for history. Her father, King Nabonidus took an interest in antiques and restoration – in fact he is considered the first serious archaeologist, undertaking a number of excavations during his reign. The King clearly passed this fascination on to his daughter, who was inspired to create the first museum known to history.

The museum was built in the Palace complex, close to Ennigaldi’s living quarters. It contained artefacts excavated by her father, and some originally collected by famous Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. Many of them were centuries old by Ennigaldi’s time and she used them to educate others on the history of Mesopotamia and her dynasty’s heritage.

The antiquities were arranged neatly side by side, as in many modern day museums. Each individual piece was labelled with a description– carefully translated into a number of languages. Ennigaldi’s name is also inscribed throughout the museum as ‘Bel-Shalti-Nannar’, which is the title she was given after her ascension to High priestess. King Nabonidus shows an obvious affection and pride for his daughter, with whom he shared this common interest, writing:

I built anew the house of Bel-shalti-Nannar, my daughter, the priestess of Sin. And: May Bêl-shalti-Nannar the daughter, the beloved of my heart, be strong before them; and may her word prevail.

In her evenings, Ennigaldi would attend to her duties as High priestess. She worshipped Nanna (also known as Sin) the moon god in the Great Ziggurat of Ur, an enormous pyramid shaped Temple. She carried out her religious rituals and prayers in a small temple at the top of the Ziggurat known as the giparu, which her father had restored especially for her.


References:

The story behind the world’s oldest museumAlasdair Wilkins

Ur Excavations vol. IX: The Neo-Babylonian and Persian Periods Sir Leonard Woolley

On Wikipedia:


Notes:

Emesal – Meaning “fine tongue” or “high-pitched voice”, though often translated as “women’s language.” It is used exclusively by female characters in some literary texts. In addition, it is dominant in certain genres of cult songs.