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Women of History By Various

Women of History


Available in PDF, epub, and Kindle ebook. This book has 175 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1890.


Women of History is a book published in 1890, and which contains various short writings on famous women of the past. Included are Lucretia, Sappho, Aspasia of Pericles, Xantippe, Aspasia of Cyrus, Cornelia, The Mother of the Gracchi, Portia, Octavia, Cleopatra, Mariamne, Julia Domna, Zenobia, Valeria, Eudocia, Hypatia, The Wife of Maximus, The Lady Rowena, Olga, The Lady Elfrida, The Countess of Tripoli, Jane, Countess of Mountfort, Laura de Sade, The Countess of Richmond, Elizabeth Woodville, Joan of Arc, Jane Shore, Catharine of Arragon, Anne Boleyn, Margaret Roper, Elizabeth Lucas, Gaspara Stampa, Anne Askew, Queen Elizabeth, Lady Jane Grey, Tarquinia Molza, Mary, Queen of Scots, Gabrielle D'Estrees, Anne, Duchess of Pembroke, Esther Inglis, Margaret, Duchess of Newcastle, Lady Pakington, Noor Mahal, Pocahontas, Lucy Hutchinson, Lady Fanshawe, Dorothy Osborne, Catherine Philips, Madame de Maintenon, Countess de Grammont, Mademoiselle de la Valliere, Madame Dacier, Lady Masham, Anne Killigrew, Queen Anne, Esther Johnson, Esther Vanhomrigh, Mary Astell, Madame des Ursins, Lady Grizel Jerviswoode, Madame de Pontchartrain, Elizabeth Halkett, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Madame du Deffand, Phœbe Bentley, Marquise du Chatelet, Lady Huntingdon, Maria Theresa, Meta Moller, Elizabeth Blackwell, Lætitia Barbauld, Hannah More, Anna Seward, Catherine Cockburn, Elizabeth Berkeleigh, Caroline Herschel, Madame D'Arblay, Madame Roland, Marie Antoinette, Sarah Siddons, Mrs Grant, Elizabeth Inchbald, Elizabeth Hamilton, Countess de Vemieiro, Joanna Baillie, Josephine, Anne Radcliffe, Miss Edgeworth, Charlotte Corday, Madame de Stael, Madame de la Rochejaquelein, Madame Recamier, Mary Brunton, Felicia Hemans, Augustina Saragoza, and Charlotte Bronte.

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Excerpt from Women of History


[B.C. 500.]

A ROMAN dame, illustrious for her beauty and the nobleness of her birth, and more for her virtue. She was married to one Collatinus, a relative of Tarquin, king of Rome. Her tragic story runs thus: Tarquin, not having been able to render himself master of the town of Ardea so promptly as he had calculated, besieged it in form, and the languidness of the operation comported very well with the inclination of the princes to amuse themselves in the way princes are in the habit of doing. At one of the suppers given by Sextus to his two brothers, and to Collatinus their kinsman, a question was raised, not as to the beauty of their mistresses, as is the custom in our day, but as to that of their respective wives. Each maintained that his wife was fairer than those of his companions; and the dispute rising high, Collatinus suggested a means of terminating it. "What is the use of so many words," said he, "we can in a very short time have the proof of the superiority of my Lucretia. Let us mount our horses; let us surprise our wives; and the decision of our question will be the more easy that they are not prepared for us." Inflamed by wine, the princes accepted the proposal, and they rode to Rome at the top of their horses' speed. They there found sitting at table the fair daughters of Tarquin, who were engaged in pleasure with companions of their own age. They next went to Collatium; and though it was now late at night, they found Lucretia in the midst of her servants, engaged in needlework. They all agreed that she carried off the palm, and thereupon returned to the camp; but Sextus, without uttering a word of his purpose, found his way secretly back to Collatium, and was received by Lucretia with that attention and civility that was due to the eldest son of the king, and without the slightest suspicion that he entertained any purpose other than what was honest and good.

After he had supped, he was conducted to the chamber intended for him—not to sleep, for he had other intentions. As soon as he thought that all had repaired to their beds, he stept, sword in hand, into the private chamber of the unsuspecting Lucretia, and after having threatened to kill her if she made any noise, he told her his passion—bringing to serve his purpose prayers the most tender, and menaces the most terrible; in short, employing all the arts by which an impassioned man might attack the heart of a woman. All was in vain: Lucretia was firm, and persisted in her firmness, altogether undismayed by the fear of death; but she trembled at the threat which he made to expose her to the last infamy of woman. He declared that, after despatching her, he would kill a slave, put his dead body on her bed, and make it be believed that the double murder had been the punishment of the adultery in which they had been surprised. Having accomplished his purpose, he retired, as pleased with himself and as proud of his triumph as if it had been a feat of honest war, and all conformable to the rules of gallantry.

Plunged in the deepest grief, Lucretia sent a message to her father, who was at Rome, and her husband, who was at the siege, praying that they might come to her immediately. They obeyed the message; she straightway informed them of all the circumstances of her dishonour, and entreated them to revenge her wrong. They promised that they would comply with her request, and set about endeavouring to console her by what means that were within their power; but she resisted all their efforts of consolation, and, drawing forth a dagger which she had concealed in her clothes, she plunged it into her heart. Brutus, who was present at this spectacle, found in it an occasion for which he had longed to deliver Rome from the tyranny of Tarquin, and he made such excellent use of it, that the royalty was abolished.


[B.C. 568.]

ACCORDING to established data, the more brilliant portion of Sappho's career may be placed in the first half of the sixth century before Christ, while her childhood and early youth belong to the close of the seventh. Her birthplace, according to the more trustworthy authorities, was Mitylene, the metropolis of the isle of Lesbos. Others make her a native of the neighbouring town of Eresus. Whether Sappho was ever married is doubtful; but the balance of evidence is strongly on the negative side of the question. She is familiarly alluded to by Horace as the "Lesbian maiden;" nor is there any notice of a husband, but on a single recent and very questionable authority, where the broadly indecent etymology of the names, both of the man on whom the honour is conferred, and of his birthplace, sufficiently proves them to be fictitious. How far the circumstance of her having had a daughter can be considered as admissible evidence of her having been married, is a point the settlement of which must depend on a closer inquiry into her moral habits. That such was the fact, however, is stated on respectable authority. The name assigned to the maiden is Cleis, the same as that of Sappho's reputed mother.

Sappho is described, by the only authors who have transmitted any distinct notices on the subject, as not distinguished for personal beauty, but as short of stature, and of dark, it may be understood swarthy, complexion. The laudatory commonplace of kalë, or "fair," which Plato and others incidentally connect with her name, no way militates against this account, as implying nothing more, perhaps less, than does the English phrase by which the Greek epithet has above been rendered, and which is as frequently bestowed in familiar usage on plain as on handsome women. Alcæus describes her simply as "dark haired" and "sweetly smiling." No notice is taken of her actual beauty, which an admiring lover would hardly have passed over in silence had it offered matter for warmer eulogy.

Of the extent to which Sappho was brought under the sway of the tender passion which, in one shape or other, formed the theme, with little exception, of her collective works, sufficient evidence exists in her only remaining entire composition, the first ode in the published collections. She there describes herself, in the most touching and impassioned strains, as the victim of an unrequited love, and implores the aid of Venus to ease her pangs by melting the heart of the obdurate or inconstant object of her affection. The person to whom this ode is supposed to refer, or who at least obtained, in the popular tradition, the chief and longest sway over the affections of Sappho, was a Lesbian youth called Phaon, distinguished for his personal attractions and irresistible power over the female heart. For a time he is described as having corresponded to her ardour; but, after cohabiting with her during some years, he deserted her, leaving her in a state of despair, for which the only remedy that suggested itself was that habitually resorted to in such cases—a leap from the summit of the Leucadian promontory into the sea. That she actually carried this purpose into effect was the popular opinion of antiquity, from the age, at least, of Menander downwards, and seems to have passed current as an authentic fact, even with the more intelligent authorities.

Both these points in the history of the poetess, her love for Phaon, and her leap from the Leucadian cliff, have been questioned with more or less plausibility by distinguished critics of the present age. In respect to the first, it has been denied not only that Phaon was the name of the hero of this tragical drama, but that such a person ever existed. The Leucadian leap of Sappho, though ranked by various modern commentators, like the name of her lover, among the mythical elements of her biography, will not perhaps be found, on a critical estimate of the circumstances connected with it, to offer any serious ground of scepticism.

End of excerpt.

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