3/13/12 - america is a woman

In today's excerpt - in the 1600s, Europeans thought of America as a woman, a virgin woman, ripe to be sexually conquered:

"Europeans had long viewed America as a 'belle savage' [primitive, beautiful young woman]. The word America is a feminized version of the name of the Italian explorer and car­tographer Amerigo Vespucci. The feminization was not inadvertent. On early maps the continent is often represented by a naked native woman. Columbus had set the tone at the outset, when he claimed to have discov­ered the Garden of Eden on the Caribbean coast of South America—it was shaped, he said, like a nipple on a woman's breast.

"Much later, when England entered the Caribbean, Walter Raleigh still saw the region as a woman ripe for taking: 'Guayana,' he said, 'is a country that hath yet her maidenhead.' The travel writer Sam Purchas, an active cheerleader for the Virginia Company, saw Virginia in similar terms, as 'a virgin ... not yet polluted with Spaniards lust'; the name Virginia (honoring England's Virgin Queen) encapsulates this point of view. The role of the colonizers, Purchas advised, was to woo her and make her 'not a wanton minion, but an honest and Christian wife.' Needless to say, as a wife she would serve in a subordinate position.

"If the early [investment] returns from the Virginia colony were not impressive, William Crashaw, in a sermon to 'Adventurers and Plant­ers of the Virginia Company,' advised, the suitors should not lose heart. Crashaw urged the 'adventurers' (investors) to be patient with the results of the 'planters' (settlers), on the grounds that even great leaders were once infants 'carried in the arms of sillie women.'

"In an elegy [of the period] entitled 'To His Mistress Going to Bed,' [English poet] John Donne in­verted the conceit of colonialism as sexual conquest, comparing his mis­tress to the continent:

"Licence my roving hands, and let them go
Before, behind, between, above, below.
O, my America, my Newfoundland,
My kingdom, safest when with one man mann'd,
My mine of precious stones, my empery;
How am I blest in thus discovering thee!
To enter in these bonds, is to be free;
Then, where my hand is set, my soul shall be."


Thomas Christensen


1616: The World in Motion




Copyright 2012 by Thomas Christensen


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