Gentlemen and Amazons: The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory, 1861-1900

Gentlemen and Amazons: The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory, 1861-1900

Gentlemen and Amazons: The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory, 1861-1900

Gentlemen and Amazons: The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory, 1861-1900

Synopsis

Gentlemen and Amazons traces the nineteenth-century genesis and development of an important contemporary myth about human origins: that of an original prehistoric matriarchy. Cynthia Eller explores the intellectual history of the myth, which arose from male scholars who mostly wanted to vindicate the patriarchal family model as a higher stage of human development. Eller tells the stories these men told, analyzes the gendered assumptions they made, and provides the necessary context for understanding how feminists of the 1970s and 1980s embraced as historical "fact" a discredited nineteenth-century idea.

Excerpt

In 2003, Dan Brown became an overnight success and a media sensation with the publication of The Da Vinci Code. The novel is formulaic: a thriller. Before the reader can adjust her chaise longue and slather on her sunscreen, our hero, Dr. Robert Langdon, is falsely accused of a heinous crime at the world-famous Louvre Museum in Paris. A beautiful, intelligent Frenchwoman—Sophie Neveu—appears and helps Langdon escape. At first, he does not even realize that he is the intended prey of the authorities. Chases ensue, on foot, by automobile, and by airplane. The mystery begins with strange signs accompanying the murder of Jacques Saunière, a curator at the Louvre, and spirals out from there. Our hero, a Harvard “symbologist,” does not have the leisure to sit and cogitate, as he is undoubtedly accustomed to doing back home in the Widener Library stacks. No, he has to run fast and think faster. Not only must he be clever and quick, he must also be physically agile—even forceful—and attuned to the twisted channels of the minds of criminals, religious fanatics, eccentric historians, cunning priests, and corrupt officials… all of whom turn out to have a lot in common, since they are on the side of evil. Whom can he trust?

As Western Christian history unravels before him, the apparently good turn out to be evil, and vice versa. Jesus, Christian readers may be relieved to learn, is good, very good. So is his mother, the Virgin Mary. So far so… Catholic. But wait: don’t start to genuflect yet! Yes, Jesus is good, and his mother is good, but so is his wife! That’s right, Jesus’s wife, Mary Magdalene. And his great-greatgreat-etc. granddaughter, our hero’s beautiful sidekick and skilled code cracker, Sophie Neveu. If you’ve never heard of Jesus’s wife—or you had, but thought she was a reformed prostitute and devoted disciple, but not a “special friend” of our . . .

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