Daily Express

Lifting the veil on our past

- 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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