Saturday, December 29, 2007

Which woman is history's most famous seductress?

The latest World History Blog Poll question has closed. It was, "Which of these women is history's most famous seductress?" The choices were Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, Mae West, and Wallis Windsor.

The winner was easily Cleopatra with over 60% of the vote. Helen of Troy got slightly over 20%. Mae West and Wallis Windsor both finished in single digits.

What do you think? Here are some more information on each of the choices.

Helen of Troy is normally reported to have been seduced by Paris. She did not seduce him. Some feminist scholars are claiming she was raped. It is hard to determine if she even ever existed.

Betsy Prioleau, author of Seductress: Women Who Ravished the World and Their Lost Art of Love, said of Cleopatra, "The way Cleopatra got Julius Caesar is totally amazing. Here is a guy -- you can imagine Mick Jagger -- he was surrounded by groupies. All the women wanted this guy. Men went into battle singing this little ditty about all the women he'd had. Not only that, he was bisexual -- he had all the beautiful boys too. He had everybody. He was a jaded ladies' man. Here's a guy maybe 56 when Cleopatra saw him. When she rolled out of that rug, she was about 18 and not beautiful at all. Plutarch is clear about that. She rolled out and barraged Caesar with such a stream of charming conversation -- a 'charm offensive' through language. She addressed him in perfect Latin. Then perfect Greek. She told him jokes. Stories. Displayed her magnificent erudition. She was a brilliant women. She wrote a tract on weights and measurements, of all things. She was happiest in a library. It was said she had a 'voluptuous' love of learning. Caesar had never encountered a woman like this. He was so charmed he made her his mistress that night."

Mae West was mostly a seductress on the screen. Kendahl Cruver wrote, "When vaudeville became less lucrative, Mae wrote her first play, under the pen name Jane Mast, and starred herself. From the moment it opened, Sex was notorious. The critics despised it, but ticket sales were good enough to threaten the deputy mayor. A year into its run, he had the production raided for indecency. Along with the principal cast and producers, Mae was sentenced to ten days in jail. She served eight, with two days off for good behavior. She spent a comfortable conviction, even convincing the warden to let her wear silk underwear instead of the scratchy prison issue variety. Mae continued to write plays. With salacious titles such as The Wicked Age, Pleasure Man, and The Constant Sinner, they were plagued by controversy and production difficulties. If indecency didn't shut down a play, slow ticket sales would."

Wallis Windsor did not start a war like Helen of Troy. But she did bring down a king. From the Royal Scribe, "The question became, How could a woman like her get a man like him; so handsome and promising; to give up the British Empire? The most obvious answer became that she was a seductress who had tempted him from his duty. With two husbands behind her, she must have some strange sexual hold over men. And, with witnesses claiming that she ordered the King about and treated him like a wayward child, the popular theory came about that she must be some sort of dominatrix. Rumors abounded that, while in China, Wallis had frequented notorious brothels where she had learned special sexual techniques that no man could resist. Not only that, this information was said to be gathered, as it were, by British Intelligence."

Of course, my short list may have left off the most famous historical seductress. Feel free to comment on any other historical figure you feel belongs on this list.

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