Myrtis – 6th Century BCE – Anthedon, Greece

Ancient Greece

Trigger warning – Rape

A number of lyric poets emerged from Boeotia in Greece in the sixth century, of which Myrtis is the earliest…

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Myrtis came from a very small town in the Boeotia district, and possibly travelled, as she is sometimes described as the teacher of Pindar and Corinna, both highly esteemed Boeotian poets.

Unfortunately, none of Myrtis’ poetry has survived, though Plutarch paraphrased one of her works, mentioning that she wrote a story explaining why women were forbidden to enter a sacred grove in Tanagra, which was dedicated to the heroic Eunostos:

The story goes that a woman called Ocna fell in love with Eunostos, but he rejected her advances. Furious, Ochna went to her brothers and told them that Eunostos had raped her. Ochna’s brothers murdered Eunostus and were captured by his father. Feeling guilty, Ochna admitted that she had lied and killed herself by throwing herself from a cliff. Her brothers were sent into exile.

We have evidence that Myrtis competed with Pindar, considered one of the greatest poets of his time. She was described as ‘sweet-sounding’ and ‘clear voiced’ by contemporaries.


Notes:

Lyric poets are so called because they usually spoke or sang their verses accompanied by music and often played a lyre.


References:

The Woman and the Lyre: Women Writers in Classical Greece and RomeJane McIntosh Snyder

On Wikipedia:

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Khuwyt – c.1960 BCE – Thebes, Egypt

Ancient Egypt, Egypt

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Khuwyt was a musician who lived and worked during the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt. She is known from a carving in the tomb of a Vizier (court official), where she is portrayed playing a harp and singing. She is identified as ‘Chantress Khuwyt, daughter of Maket’.

Many musicians (though not all) in ancient Egypt were women, and the position was open to people from all walks of life. Khuwyt may have been a noble woman whose father paid for her training, a member of the King’s harem, or even a slave from Nubia.

She likely danced, as well as sang, performing complex acrobatic movements in time to the music. She would have worn a thick black wig over her own hair, and painted her eyelids with kohl. Many musicians and dancers performed nude or wearing very little, but if Khuwyt did wear clothes, she would have dressed in a very thin, almost transparent white dress.

Musicians of Amun, Western Thebes.

Musicians of Amun, Western Thebes.

Music played an important part in ancient Egyptian culture, and musicians attended religious ceremonies as well as parties and festivals.

Music was considered an art form, and so talented musicians were held in high esteem, and in some cases could move up the social scale.


References:

Kelsey Museum page on music in Egypt

Details of the Chapel in which Khuwyt is mentioned

On Wikipedia: