Early modern French accounts of travel to the Middle East document two types of ululation performed by Levantine women which were then-as now-aurally and visually dramatic. The one, zaghareet, is a kind of tongue trilling that communicates joy. The Other is wailing, used to express grief during mourning rites for the dead. Pierre Belon du Mans pioneered in describing both zaghareet and ritual lament in the mid sixteenth century. A contrasting account of lament soon followed, in Jean de Léry's account of his voyage to Brazil. Subsequently, a scattering of seventeenth-century writers returned to the topic of ululation in the Levant: Pietro della Valle wrote of zaghareet, while Jean Coppin and Jean de Thévenot described practices of mourning. Taken as a group, these five writers demonstrate a certain homogeneity: Catholics (with one exception), French (with one exception), traveling as observers rather than for mercantile purposes. Assuming that the passage of time accounts to some extent for their varying reactions to the sound and spectacle of ululation, we detect from the mid-sixteenth to mid-seventeenth century a closing of the European ethnographic ear. Misogyny played a role, as did the increasing hegemony of Orientalism. But this literature also coincided with the revival and expansion of classical tragedy in the vernacular in France. Without arguing for direct influences that are impossible to document, we can nonetheless detect parallels between travelers' descriptions of zaghareet and ritual lament and evolving cultural attitudes regarding the uses of dramatic vocal and bodily gesture by women in public settings.


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pp. 269-283
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