Cameos featuring detailed profiles of Black men and women in precious metals and jewels were popular in many European countries. The ones above date circa 1600-1800. Some art historians relate the style above to depictions of the goddess Diana, others relate them to the association of Blackness and wealth that came though trade in the Middle ages and Renaissance.

You can read more about cameos like these in Black Africans in Renaissance Europe By K. J. P. Lowe, p. 204-206, and Early Modern Visual Culture: Representation, Race, and Empire in Renaissance England By Peter Erickson & Clark Hulse, p. 193-198.

Library Haul 10/27/2015

Library Haul 10/27/2015 – Victorian Era & New Orleans research edition

This time, my library haul is kind of focused on one thing: research! I’m looking at Gothic Romance/Horror and trying to put my own spin on it. The story I’m working on is focused on a young biracial woman (daughter to a West Indian mother and a white American lawyer who doesn’t acknowledge her paternity) whose new husband isn’t anything like she expects. I wanted to look at subverting genre…

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Oh, if only it were permitted for me to hold your clasped little arms
against my neck and to bring kisses to your tender little lips.
Now, go entrust your desires to the winds, girl.
Believe me, men’s nature is fickle.
Often I lay awake in the middle of the night, love-crushed,
thinking these thoughts to myself: many are the men who Fortune raised up high
and these same men, suddenly cast down, she now presses hard.
Thus just as Venus suddenly joined the bodies of lovers
the daylight has divided them again, and if …

O utinam liceat collo complexa tenere
braciola et teneris oscula ferre labellis
i nunc, ventis tua gaudia, pupula, crede.
Crede mihi, levis est natura virorum.
Saepe ego cu(m) media vigilare(m) perdita nocte,
haec mecum medita(n)s: multos fortuna quos supstulit alte
nos modo proiectos subito praecipitesque premit.
Sic Venus ut subito coiunxit corpora amantum
dividit lux et se …

corpus inscriptionem latinarum iv. 5296

archaeologists found this poem inscribed into a wall in the entranceway to a house in pompeii (ix. 9 f., now blocked to the public due to extensive damage to the block).  pompeii has an extensive and well preserved tradition of graffiti that serves as an excellent source for how poetry, literature, and song functioned in the everyday roman’s life.  for this reason alone CIL iv. 5296 is worth considering.  general consensus among classicists is that this poem is a mish-mash of misquotations from “high literature” like propertius, contemporary folk songs, and possibly some original composition.  however, what i find much more exciting about this poem is what it might reveal about the lives of women in rome, especially women who loved other women.

my translation doesn’t explicitly carry this through, but the genders of various adjectives in the original latin reveal that both the speaker of this poem and the love interest to whom the poem is addressed are women.  feminine grammar and vocabulary is used to describe both of them (perdita for the speaker, pupula for the love interest).  in all likelihood this could be the only extant piece of love poetry in the roman world written by a woman for a woman!  it’s amazing!!  of course, scholars have tried to weasel around the possibility of a “lesbian” reading of the poem.  some think it’s a piece of friendly advice from one gal pal to another, some think it’s a man speaking to a woman.  some even propose that the speaker is an artificial character created by a male author/poet/graffitist.

while it’s certainly not unprecedented in roman poetry for men to write from the perspective of women, they usually do so in the context of a larger narrative.  at least, they signal the fact that they the author are separate from the female persona they assume for the purpose of writing.  besides, assuming that the author is a woman opens some really interesting avenues for interpretation of the piece.

the use of diminutive language (braciola, labellis, pupula; “little arms,” “little lips,” “little girl”) is specifically concentrated into the first portion of the poem.  this leads one to believe that such vocabulary is not the poet’s natural tendency, but an intentional move.  women are often depicted in roman literature as typically using these blanditiae (essentially flattering baby talk distinguished by diminutives) in romantic contexts.  the artificially constructed language of the opening leads me to believe that a female author might be taking a jab at this assumption, parodying male assumptions of women’s speech (and thus writing) before moving on to the rest of her poem.

another roman cliche about women and love is that they are flighty.  in fact, the imagery of winds blowing away promises or desires is commonly evoked by male love poets when they lament the unfaithfulness of their women.  the author of this poem takes up that imagery and gives it a spin, asserting that it is men (virorum) who cannot be trusted.  the fickleness of men is then immediately contrasted with the sleepless nights of the ever-faithful female speaker, who, crushed by love, wishes that she could have the opportunity to give the unconditional love a man could not.  this instability is further underscored when the author invokes the goddess fortune, who flings her (masculinely gendered) victims from the heights of success to the depths of despair.

kristina milnor argues in graffiti and the literary landscape in roman pompeii (from which i paraphrased heavily) that this hyper-awareness of gender roles in roman poetry and erotic discourse may point toward a female author.  “an additional proof, and perhaps a more interesting one, is the ways in which throughout the poem she marshals and redeploys negative stereotypes about women to frame her suit: from the lisping diminutives in the opening lines … to the winds which will carry away not a woman’s faithless promises but her hopes for an enduring love affair, to the ‘natural’ instability which, it turns out, marks the lives of men rather than women … a female poet may (indeed, must) have a different relationship to poetry and poetic discourse from her male counterparts.”

(via tinycatfeet)


70 years ago today, the 6th of August at 8.15 am, the United States government committed an atrocity of almost unimaginable proportions, dropping an atomic weapon on the people of Hiroshima, Japan, without warning.

80,000 men women and children, young and old, were killed where they walked, sat and lay. Of those who weren’t killed instantly, another 60,000 would die of radiation poisoning by the end of that year.

95% of those killed were women, children and other non-combatants.