Lift­ing the veil on our past

Daily Express - - TELEVISION EXPRESS - Vir­ginia Black­burn

HERE’S a snip­pet to make the jaw drop. The women of An­cient Greece ( you know, the place that cre­ated democ­racy) were so re­stricted in what they could do that they were no bet­ter off than the poor women of Afghanistan un­der the Tal­iban.

Mean­while just down the road in An­cient Egypt women were treated al­most as equals of men, so much so there were six lady pharaohs... who would have thought it?

All this and more came to light dur­ing the bril­liantly in­ter­est­ing

THE AS­CENT OF WOMAN

( BBC2) which took as its em­i­nently rea­son­able the­sis the fact that although women have al­ways com­prised half the hu­man race we don’t seem to have fea­tured very preva­lently in the history of mankind.

The noted his­to­rian Amanda Fore­man set out to find out why. Un­for­tu­nately, as schol­arly and thought- pro­vok­ing as this new four- part doc­u­men­tary se­ries was, I’m not sure she ever re­ally an­swered the ques­tion.

In the ear­li­est known so­ci­eties, as far as any­one can tell, men and women re­ally did live equally, shar­ing all man­ner of tasks.

But this all changed pretty sharpish when so­ci­ety be­came more pros­per­ous, re­sources were not shared equally and some peo­ple started to have greater sta­tus than oth­ers.

As so­ci­ety be­came richer, laws started to ap­pear that re­stricted the free­dom of women.

While a full four thou­sand years ago, the veil first ap­peared to sig­nify a woman’s sta­tus.

The veil did not, as so many of us might think, orig­i­nate with Is­lam: it is much, much older and be­came so sig­nif­i­cant that it even man­i­fested it­self in Europe in the wim­ples worn by nuns.

But the pro­gramme still didn’t ex­plain the di­vide be­tween An­cient Greece and An­cient Egypt or why other so­ci­eties, such as an­cient no­mads, also awarded women sta­tus.

No mat­ter. It brought plenty of other in­ter­est­ing facts to light. For ex­am­ple, did you know that the world’s first known writer was a woman, called En­hed­u­anna, who was born in 2285 BC in the Sume­rian city of Ur in what is now, iron­i­cally, Iraq.

Equally ironic is the fact that she was el­e­vated to the sta­tus of high priest­ess by her fa­ther, King Sar­gon of Akkad, who was also one of the peo­ple who be­gan bring­ing in those re­stric­tive laws.

By an in­ter­est­ing co­in­ci­dence the first nov­el­ist was also a woman, Murasaki Shik­ibu, who lived in 11th- cen­tury Ja­pan, some­thing the pro­gramme didn’t men­tion but I ex­pect it will get around to it. All fas­ci­nat­ing stuff. When the BBC de­cides that some per­former or another is a favourite you can ex­pect to see that per­former ev­ery time you turn on the TV.

At the mo­ment it’s Sue Perkins ( that the Beeb in all se­ri­ous­ness con­sid­ered giv­ing her Jeremy Clark­son’s job as lead host on Top Gear is a sign of how out of touch the or­gan­i­sa­tion is with its view­ers).

So there she was last night, as large as life, in KOLKATA WITH SUE PERKINS ( BBC1).

Heaven for­bid that her name shouldn’t ap­pear right up there with the an­cient city. At least the ti­tle gave the alert viewer a chance to switch off.

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