Overview for Chapter E: What Catherine de Medici was for sixteenth century France and what Cixi was for nineteenth century China, Eleni was for early modern Ethiopia: a female regent who personified an era. Eleni served as regent three times in forty years, and she astutely sought European alliances to help her resist Muslim expansion in the Horn of Africa. She also grappled with issues between the Coptic Church and the Orthodox Church in Ethiopia, the distribution of land grants, and court factionalism. The chapter addresses the myth and symbolism of Prester John, Portuguese military intervention in Ethiopia in 1541, and female leadership in Africa more generally.
(Note: I know of no image capturing Eleni's likeness; the one on the left is an Ethiopian painting of the Virgin Mary sitting on a throne. ("The Virgin Mary gives water to a thirsty dog," [detail], Princeton Ethiopic MS No. 65, image 199. Dated to 1700s. https://pemm.princeton.edu/illuminations/ )
1. What similarities and differences do you see between the Epiphany ceremonies in Chapter B and Chapter E?
2. What was the most important reason Eleni became such an essential figure in late 15th and early 16th century Ethiopian history? Was is her personality? Historical circumstances? Something else?
3.How does the Portuguese intervention in Ethiopia fit into the framework presented in Chapter A?
4. Why do you think medieval and early modern Europeans were so captivated by the idea of Prester John?
5. Explore the evidence for those times when the Ethiopians and the Portuguese held equal standing and compare that to the times when one party held superior standing. What changed?
1. Compare how a famous Biblical event is portrayed in Christian art and Ethiopian art in different time periods. What similarities and differences to you see?
2. St. George is the patron saint of both England and Ethiopia. How do the stories about St. George compare in both countries?
3. Draw you own depiction of a Biblical story in the Ethiopian manner.
LINKS TO BE ADDED
• This book chapter offers an analysis of the liturgy of Eleni's church. See: Emmanuel Fritsch and Habtemichael Kidane, “Chapter 7: The Medieval Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Its Liturgy,” A Companion to Medieval Ethiopia and Eritrea (Leiden: Brill, 2020), 162–193, https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004419582_008
This video of a service in London features Zemari Tewodros Yosef.