Arabic Language Blog

The Legend of Love and Genius; Mai Ziyada (1886 – 1941) Posted by on Feb 23, 2012 in Arabic Language, Culture, Vocabulary

The Legend of Love and Genius  أســْــطـــُــورَة الــحــُــبّ و الــنــُــبــُــوغ ;

Mai Ziyada (1886 – 1941)

    Born on the 11th of February, 1886, Mai Ziyada مـَـيّ  زيــَــادة  was a famous Arab Poet,  writer,  and  translator. She was a key figure of the Nahda نــَــهــْـــضــَـــة  (renaissance) of the nineteenth century Arabic literary scene. Her original name is Mary Elias Ziyada مـَــارى إلـيــَــاس زيــَــادة but later on, she chose the name Mai for herself. She spoke many languages; like French, English, German, Italian, Spanish and Latin. She wrote a volume of poetry in French. She was a woman of letters as she exchanged letters for 20 years with Khalil Gibran خــَــلـيـــل جــــــبـران with whom she was in love  though they never met in person. She was born inPalestine, raised inLebanon and lived and died inCairo,Egypt.

      Ziyada was born in the city of Al-Nassirah الــنـــَــاصــِــــرَة ,Palestine. She was the only daughter  of her  Lebanese father and Orthodox Palestine mother. She got her primary education in Al-Nassirah and attended secondary (high) school inLebanon. In 1907, her family moved toCairo,Egypt where she attended theCollege ofArts. Ziyada studied the Arabic Literature and Islamic History and Philosophy atCairoUniversity.

     In Cairo, Ziyada’s father founded Al-Mahrousah الـمــَــحـــْــرُوســَــــة newspaper and she contributed some of her articles to  this newspaper. It is said that she published her first article at the age of 16. She also wrote for so many famous  newspapers and magazines. In 1912, She established a literary salon صــَـــالــــُـــون أدبــــِـــيّ  that met on Tuesdays. It was the most famous literary salon in the Arab world. The salon hosted so many well-known men and women from intellectual, literary  and political circles across the Arab world. Among those who attended the salon were; Taha  Hussein, Khalil Moutrane, Ahmad Lutfi El-Sayed, Antoun Gemayel, Abbas Al-Aqqaad, Ahmad Shawqi and Yacoub Sarrouf. She and her guests ضــُــيـُــوف also published letters they wrote from conversations in the salon. The salon evenings lasted for about twenty years and ended after Ziyada’s mother’s death.

      The period from 1929 to 1931 was very difficult for Ziyada as she suffered many losses of her beloved ones; father, Gibran and mother. Ziyada was very sad and fell into deep depression اِكـــْـــتـــِــــئـــَــــاب so she returned to Lebanon  where she spent some time in hospital. After she had  recovered, she returned to Cairo where she died on October, 17th 1941.

     All her life, Ziyada was interested in the Arab women Liberation تــَــحــْــريــــر . She wrote  about ignorance and out-of-date traditions. She considered women to be the basic element of every human society. She thought that a woman enslaved could not breastfeed her children with milk if that milk had the servitude smell. In 1921, she held a conference under the heading, “Le but de La Vie” (The Goal of Life هــَـــدف الــحـــَـــيــَـــــاة) where she urged  women to aspire for freedom and to be open to the west الــغــَــرْب without forgetting their oriental identity. She was a pioneer of oriental feminism.

      Ziyada had a strong romantic background since her childhood طــُـــفـــُــولــَـــــة . She was greatly influenced by Lamartine, Byron, Shelley and Gibran. The influence is so clear in her works. She often reflected on her nostalgia حــَـــنــِــيـــــن for Lebanon. Her fertile, energetic and sensitive imagination خــَــيــَـــــال is as obvious as her mystery, melancholy and despair.


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About the Author: Fisal

Well, I was born near the city of Rasheed or Rosetta, Egypt. Yes, the city where the Rosetta Stone was discovered. It is a small city on the north of Egypt where the Nile meets the Mediterranean. I am a Teacher of EFL.