Some Girls

When Medieval Badass Ladies Had
to Crossdress to Survive the Times

It’s unlikely that they’ve ever heard of each other. Or imagined they’ll be featured together on an obscure blog post of the future. Yet, these remarkable women left a mark for their sheer independence and fiery personalities. (And for being luckier than doomed heroine Joana D’Arc.)
Ching Shih ruled the Chinese waters. Caterina Sforza almost killed a pope. As a man, Catalina de Erauzo was a warrior. But like Chevalier d’Eon, she was actually a lady. These fab four may have had to kill or bed many men. Some did it both. But none owed their outstanding reputation to any of them, or had to take what they didn’t choose.
Gender does say something about the foursome, but not all. Yes, they all led bloody lives, and many perished on their wake. But the odds they’ve faced for not being male, and having to conceal that fact, turned them into formidable characters who rose high above the fray.
Besides the ever present foes of women’s right to independence, such as religious zealotry, class barriers, and society prejudice, they had to survive typical Middle Ages threats, such as the Inquisition and burning at the stake. No wonder they were all sharp fencers (swordswomen?).
They’ve achieved more than most, and their lives did rewrite the rules of was expected from women, then or at any time, regardless the body count. Theirs were partial paybacks for what many of their gender didn’t live long enough to collect, despite earning and deserving it.

THE PIRATE WHO RULED CHINA’S SEAS
History books tell that Ching Shih was a prostitute before reaching command of the Red Flag Fleet. That she only climbed to the top through murdering the powerful pirate Zhèng Yi, who kidnapped her as a whore and made her his wife. Only to be betrayed, etc. History books were probably written by a man.
In fact, she expanded the fleet and redefined how it’d manage its riches, and did so out of a keen business and strategy acumen. And unlike most male pirates we’ve know of, she negotiated a pardon for her and her charges, who all retired with a comfortable keep. She died at the ripe age of 69.

THE HUSBAND & WOULD-BE POPE KILLER
Much briefer, if no less intense, was Caterina Sforza‘s life. Infamous too, thanks to no other but Machiavelli himself. He wrote Cesare Borgia-based ‘The Prince,’ so it’s not hard to guess whose pope she had a rift with, and came out singed by history. Alexander VI, a.k.a. Rodrigo de Borgia, was Cesare’s dad and his own patron.
She did bury a few husbands, but the anecdote that survived Sforza was that she exposed her pregnant belly to the sword of an enemy: Go ahead, she said, slay my baby. I can make more. Whether (more)
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Read Also:
* The Flow
* First Ladies
* The Other Half of the Sky

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Remarkable Apparatus

Kafka’s Harrow Contraption & Cute  
Names for Chinese Torture Devices 

This won’t hurt a bit. But as far as absurd literature master Franz Kafka was concerned, worst than physical pain was not to know its origins. His tragic characters were often at loss to fully grasp why they were being accused, punished, and ostracized. Or acted numb, while being described in detail a despicably grotesque torture device, as in the 1919 story In the Penal Colony.
That device, the Harrow, has now been recreated for a show, and unless you’ve read the book in its original German, it may pack an equivalent emotional punch in its visual brutality. It certainly invokes the horrors of the Inquisition, but everything about it, including its name, greatly contrasts with the almost light-hearted names the Chinese had given to similar contraptions.
Without dwelling much in the horrors of torture, an ever present but rarely discussed issue in times of political turmoil, and under the banner of war on terror, for example, we do tend to think about the Catholic Church and its systematic use of it for over 600 years, in many parts of the ‘civilized’ world. And all supposedly in the name of a loving god, no less, of course.
But alas, with all its consistency and increasingly sophisticated methods, the church was far from being the first, the last, or even the worst at it. We’ve been physically torturing each other since, well, you give us a date, as far back as you can conceive it, and we’ll add a few thousand years even farther than that.
Every single conqueror and emperor and invader and king and sheik and warlord and centurion and clan-leader, their followers, family and friends, all went after their opponents with every possible means of inflicting pain till dismemberment and death. All in order to extract Continue reading

Disposal Economics

Ecology of Death Penalty or
Being Buried in a Watery Grave

Immortality is one of those dreams that would turn into a nightmare if it’d ever become reality. Even without the proverbial zombies roaming the earth, we still need desperately to die on a regular basis.
Not a pretty picture, to be sure, but a point of support to all blessed forms of natural death, the economics of crime and punishment, and the ecology of making sure we dispose properly the bodies of those who passed away.
According to the Annals of Improbably Research, modern forms of execution went through considerable changes until reaching Continue reading