Adonis Diaries

A Great Scholar: May Ziyadeh

Posted on: January 2, 2017

A Great Scholar: May Ziyadeh

“No great scholar was born among the women of Syria during the last centuries such as Marie Ziyadeh.”  Precious few male scholars could match her for her eloquence, wit and integrity.

Marie Elias Ziyadeh (1886-1941), who became known as “Miss May”, was of Lebanese-Palestinian origin. She was born in Nazareth on 11 February 1886 to Elias Ziyadeh, who had moved to Palestine from his native Lebanese village of Shatoul, and Nozha Mu’ammer, a well-educated Palestinian woman.

Kamal Nader shared this link
Edmond Melhem shared a photo to Kamal Nader‘s timeline. 6 hrs ·

By Dr. Edmond Melhem

Antoun Sa3adeh labelled May a “great scholar” and a “blessing from Providence for a defeated nation and, resultantly, a misplaced blessing.”

He wrote: “No great scholar was born among the women of Syria during the last centuries such as Marie Ziyadeh.” According to him, precious few male scholars could match her for her eloquence, wit and integrity.

And Sa3adeh elaborates:

I say with conviction that among the male scholars of Egypt and Syria with whom I have made contact and whose works I have read, I have found but precious few who can stake a claim to be like her [May Ziyadeh] in terms of education, sentiment and talent.

Few articles were written by Sa´adeh which detailed his involvement in the affair of May Ziadeh. These articles, which are published in Al-‘Athar al-Kamilah (Complete Works), provide sufficient information to describe his intervention and the actions he took to help release May.

Who was May Ziyadeh?

Marie Elias Ziyadeh (1886-1941), who became known as “Miss May”, was of Lebanese-Palestinian origin. She was born in Nazareth on 11 February 1886 to Elias Ziyadeh, who had moved to Palestine from his native Lebanese village of Shatoul, and Nozha Mu’ammer, a well-educated Palestinian woman.

At the turn of the century, the Ziyadeh family migrated to Egypt and settled in Cairo, where Elias became the owner of a successful newspaper, Al-Mahrusa, in which May started publishing her poetry in both French and Arabic under the pen name Isis Copia.

In 1911, she translated several poems from her first French collection “Fleurs de Réve” into Arabic and published them in Jurji Zaydan’s renowned Al-Hilal newspaper.

The same year, May published – under the pseudonym Aidah, her second poetry collection, “Aidah’s Diary,” – also in French. When she began writing in Arabic, she settled on the pen name “May,” which was proposed by her mother and composed of the first and last letters of her original Christian name. It was under this name, more acceptable to Arabic readers, preceded by the appellation “Miss,” that she was to achieve fame.

In 1917, May graduated from the newly opened Egyptian University, where she had studied history, philosophy and modern sciences. The fact that she learnt French before Arabic during her early education in Lebanon did not prevent her from becoming one of the most distinguished Arabic writers of the early 20th century.

In Egypt, May studied the Qur’an under a number of Azharite shaykhs and was guided through the labyrinthine structures of Arabic language and calligraphy by famed Egyptian liberal theorist Lutfi al-Sayyid (1872-1936).

Poetry was the first literary genre she explored.

Her book Dhulumat wa Ashi’a (Darkness and Rays), published by Al-Hilal in 1933, revealed her skill in poetic composition. Still studying, she continued to publish her prose poetry (shi’r manthur) as well as other literary pieces in Arabic newspapers and magazines like Al-Hilal, Al-Ahram, Al-Siyasa and the Lebanese magazine Al-Zuhour.

Her famous poetic prose work Ayna Watani? (Where is My Homeland?) reflected her feeling of being an outsider in a society traditionally dominated by men.

Professor Yunan Labib Rizk, elaborating on May’s relationship with Al-Ahram- which quickly invited her to join its editorial staff, publishing her writings extensively and allocating considerable space on its front page to her frequent lectures, states:

Clearly Al-Ahram felt she was a great asset.

It featured her articles prominently, published the poems of the ‘the brilliant poetess’ amid great fanfare, honoured her by choosing her to preside over an event called ‘the Journalistic Feast’ and hailed her using such tributes as: ‘If the Lebanese had difficulties in coming to Egypt to participate in the homage to the Prince of Poets [Ahmed Shawqi], at least we, since we are in Egypt, should pay homage to the “Princess of Writers,” whose country we have long envied for its claim to her’.

May turned out to be a prolific writer, contributing to the modernization of Arabic language and thought in nearly every field. Having mastered at least five languages, she skilfully translated novels from English, German and French into Arabic.

She also experimented with the genre of short stories and consistently championed women’s rights in her books and lectures.

Being herself an activist for the emancipation of women, she wrote sensitive biographical studies of three pioneering female writers and poets: A’isha al-Taymouriyya, Malak Hifni Nasif and Warda al-Yaziji.

In Cairo, May ran the most famous literary salon in the Arab world during the 1920s and ’30s. Open to men and women of varied backgrounds and modelled on the French example, the salon attracted the greatest writers, poets and intellectuals of the region.

Among those who attended the frequent gatherings were Khalil Mutran, Abbas Mahmud Al-‛Aqqad, the Azharite Shaykh Mustafa ‘Abd al-Raziq, Shibli Shumayyil, Ya’qub Sarruf, Antoine Al-Jumayyil, owner of Al-Zuhour, Taha Hussein, Nile poet Hafez Ibrahim and the “Prince of Arab Poets,” Ahmad Shawqi.

With her passing, May left behind more than 15 books of poetry, literature and translations.

Various collections of her previously unknown works have appeared during the last few years. These include prose poems, speeches, short stories, theatrical plays as well as collections of essays and articles on travel, literature, art, criticism, linguistics and social reform.

The last days of May, Sa´adeh proclaimed, were the worst ever experienced by a Syrian writer.

But there probably was not another scholar in the entire world who could have endured the pain and oppression suffered for so long by May.

In the end, she succumbed to the terrifying and destructive Ghoul – the Ghoul that had stalked her for so long – the Ghoul that the Syrian Social Nationalist Movement has prepared a sharpened sword to slay.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

January 2017
M T W T F S S
« Dec   Feb »
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

Blog Stats

  • 919,583 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.adonisbouh@gmail.com

Join 461 other followers

%d bloggers like this: