(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Amazons

“I raised you up to fly to the heavens, not to brood over a clutch of eggs!”*…

Hippodrome poster featuring Sarah l’Africaine, female charioteers, and a Miss Cozett from America as “the woman Mazeppa”. Musée Carnavalet.

Susanna Forrest takes a deep dive into a fascinating subculture that lasted for almost a century: the Amazons of Paris…

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the social range of people who could ride for leisure widened, and more and more women rode. This was because horses became more accessible, but for women it was also due to an improvement in the sidesaddle. I will write more about sidesaddles and my – to me – unexpected love for them in another issue of the newsletter. All you need to know here is that in the early 1830s, either in England or in France, a much-disputed innovation made these saddles more secure, which meant in turn that women could attempt greater feats: more daring jumping, more radical “tricks”, and more sophisticated high-school or haute-école dressage. 

The term “amazon” was adopted to deal with these new horsewomen. The implication was of fearless, perhaps manly women like the she-warriors who fascinated classical Greece. They were overstepping into a male world, and while they were often admired, there was also something not quite feminine – or perhaps threateningly hearty – about them. The term is used in multiple European languages at this time. In French, it was also part of the term for riding sidesaddle, “monter en amazone” and for a sidesaddle riding habit or “amazone”, often masculine in style from the waist up, with, later in the century, breeches under an apron rather than a flowing skirt. Gradually the term became more feminised and general and seemed to be applied to any horsewoman.

The earliest named women performing on horseback are Philippine Tourniaire and Patty Astley in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. At the time, male performers did acrobatics and other stunts on horseback, and the women followed suit…

The Amazons were in the ring from, roughly speaking, the 1830s to the early twentieth century, when both circus and circus horsewomen were falling from fashion. They travelled across Europe and sometimes further afield to dance on and ride their horses, which leaves me with a huge variation of place, time, language, social class, and style of performance spread across many archives. I’ll try to both generalise here and introduce you to the subtleties of their professional and personal lives…

It’s an exciting ride. Stuntwomen, dancers, acrobats, jockeys, charioteers, Olympians, actresses, courtesans, dressage riders – and more: “Who were the Amazons of Paris?” from @Susanna_Forrest.

* Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus


As we saddle up, we might recall that it was on this date in 1978 that The Carol Burnett Show aired the last of its 279 episodes; Ms. Burnett had decided, after 11 seasons, to move on. The series had won 25 primetime Emmy Awards; it ranks number 17 on TV Guide‘s list of the 60 Greatest Shows of All Time, and figures in most “100 Best series” lists.

Consider, for example, the iconic “Went with the Wind” sketch…

“Why should anyone be frightened by a hat?”*…


Magician hat

The Magician, by Claude Burdele, 1751


A telling aspect of the magic hat, as a physical thing, is that its form is often mundane, appearing in the shape of a traveler’s or laborer’s hat, such as a cap or a simple fedora. Described as a “coarse felt hat” in an English play about a wishing hat published at the turn of the seventeenth century, and in a nineteenth-century Grimm’s fairy tale as a “little old worn-out hat” that “has strange properties,” it is similarly defined in many stories.

The magic hat’s association with the commonplace has continued into modern times. For example, the top hat used in the magician’s show, though linked with the wealthy, was a style worn by many men and women who lived on the lowest rungs of the class system. The Harry Potter Sorting Hat, so probing that “there’s nothing hidden in your head / The Sorting Hat can’t see,” was an old, bent “pointed wizard’s hat” that was “patched…frayed and extremely dirty.” The sacred hat, too, in many cultures has been based, like the magic hat, on the commonplace…

On wishing hats, top hats, the Helm of Death, and other mystical headgear: “The Strange Properties and Histories of the Magic Hat.”

* Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince


As we contemplate caps, we might send mighty birthday greetings to Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons of Themyscira and the mother of Wonder Woman.  She was created by Zeus (in answer to the mischief sown by Ares) on this date in an unnumbered (and unknown) year in antiquity (in the fictional DC Comics universe of which she is a part).


Hippolyta as depicted in her first appearance, in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941)



Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 8, 2020 at 1:01 am

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