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Maryana Marrash

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Maryana Marrash

Maryana Marrash
Born Maryana bint Fathallah bin Nasrallah Marrash
Aleppo, Ottoman Syria
Died 1919 (aged 70–71)
Aleppo, Ottoman Syria
Occupation Poet, writer
Literary movement Al-Nahda
Notable works Bint fikr
Tarikh Suriya al-hadith
Spouse Habib Ghadban
Relatives Francis Marrash (brother)
Abdallah Marrash (brother)

Maryana bint Fathallah bin Nasrallah Marrash (Arabic: مريانا بنت فتح الله بن نصرالله مرّاش / ALA-LC: Maryānā bint Fatḥ Allāh bin Naṣrallāh Marrāsh; 1848–1919), also known as Maryana al-Marrash al-Halabiya, was a Syrian writer and poet of the Nahda movement—the Arabic renaissance. She revived the tradition of literary salons in the Middle East and was the first Syrian woman to publish a collection of poetry. She may have been the first woman to write in the Arab daily newspapers.


Background and education

Maryana Marrash was born in Aleppo, a city of Ottoman Syria (present-day Syria), to an old Melkite family of merchants known for their literary interests.[1] Having earned wealth and standing in the 18th century, the family was well established in Aleppo,[2] although they had gone through troubles: a relative of Maryana, Butrus Marrash, was martyred by Greek Orthodox fundamentalists in April 1818.[3] Other Melkite Catholics were exiled from Aleppo during the persecutions, among them the priest Jibrail Marrash.[4][1] Maryana's father, Fathallah, tried to defuse the sectarian conflict by writing a treatise in 1849, in which he rejected the Filioque.[5] He had built up a large private library[6] to give his three children Francis, Abdallah and Maryana a thorough education, particularly in the field of Arabic language and literature.[7] As quoted by Marilyn Booth, Maryana's mother was from "the famous al-Antaki family".[8]

Aleppo was then a major intellectual center of the Ottoman Empire, featuring many thinkers and writers concerned with the future of the Arabs.[9] It was in the French missionary schools that the Marrash family learnt Arabic with French, and other foreign languages (Italian and English).[9] By providing their daughter with an education, at a time when Middle Eastern women received none, Maryana's parents challenged the then widespread belief that a girl should not be educated "so she would not sit in the men's reception room", as quoted by Marilyn Booth.[10] Thus, Fathallah put his five-year-old daughter in a Maronite school.[8] Later on, Maryana was educated by the nuns of St. Joseph in Aleppo.[11] She finally went to an English school in Beirut. In addition to her formal education in these schools, where she was exposed to French and Anglo-Saxon cultures, she was tutored by her father and brothers, especially on the subject of Arabic literature.[6] The first biographies of Maryana mention that she excelled in French, Arabic and mathematics, and that she played the qanun and sang beautifully.[12]

Aleppine historian Muhammad Raghib al-Tabbakh wrote that she was unique in Aleppo, and that "people looked at her with a different eye".[13] Although she had many suitors, she initially wished to remain single.[14] However, she was persuaded to marry after her mother's death, and chose for husband Habib Ghadban, a scion of a local Christian family.[15] They had one son and two daughters.[16]

Literary career

Title page of Bint fikr.

As early as 1870 or 1871, Marrash started contributing articles and poems to journals—especially Lisan al-hal and al-Jinan, both of Beirut.[17] In her articles, she criticized the condition of Arab women, urging the latter—regardless of their religious affiliations—to seek education and express themselves on matters of concern to them.[18] Her collection of poetry Bint fikr (A Daughter of Thought) was published in Beirut in 1893. Marrash was granted permission by the Ottoman government to print her book after composing a poem exalting Sultan Abdul Hamid II.[19][2] In some of the several other panegyrics included in the collection, she also praised Ottoman governors of Aleppo.[21] Her poetry was much more traditional in style than her brother Francis', as exemplified by the elegy she composed to lament his death;[22] yet, she was at home with the poetry of French romantics, especially that of Alphonse de Lamartine and Alfred de Musset.[22] Sami Kayyali said about Marrash:

The emergence of a woman writing in the press and composing poetry in this dark era was a significant event. Our recent history shows that it was rare for even men to read and write; her appearance in these dark nights was thus like a bright star in the center of the heavens.[23]

Her non-fiction works also include a history of late Ottoman Syria, Tarikh Suriya al-hadith, the first book on the subject.[24]

Marrash's salon

Marrash was famous for the salon she held in the home she shared with her husband.[25] She had travelled to Europe once, and was impressed by what she saw of life there.[26] As related by Joseph Zeidan:
Upon her return in Aleppo, Maryana Marrash turned her house into a gathering place for a group of celebrated writers who met there on a regular basis to cultivate each other's friendship and discuss literature, music, and political and social issues.[6]

However, according to Joseph Zeidan, there are no proofs supporting whether or not she created her salon after seeing similar ones in Europe; in any case, it did not start from scratch, since "most of the participants were regular visitors to her family's home, where they used to meet with her father and two brothers."[19] The members of Maryana's salon included prominent Aleppine intellectuals of both sexes,[3] in addition to politicians and members of the foreign diplomatic corps.[26] Marrash was fully engaged in the intellectual discourse and would also entertain her guests by playing the qanun and singing.[6] Antun Sha'arawi has described typical evenings spent at Marrash's salon:

Wearing either all black or all white dresses ordered from Paris, Marrash hosted the mixed evening get-togethers in which literary topics as varied as the Mu`allaqat—a cycle of seven pre-Islamic poems—or the work of Rabelais were discussed. Chess and card games were played, and complicated poetry competitions took place; wine and 'araq flowed freely; participants sang, danced, and listened to records played on a phonograph.[28]

However, Heghnar Zeitlian Watenpaugh has presumed Sha'arawi's description to be partly apocryphal.[29]


  1. ^ Little is known about the lives of Butrus Marrash and Jibrail Marrash. Butrus was married by the time he was killed, and the name of his father was Nasrallah Marrash; Niqula al-Turk wrote a funeral ode for him.[3]
  2. ^ She had dedicated the following lines to the mother of Abdul Hamid II upon the latter's accession to the throne: "As she raised him up from childhood fearful of her responsibilities / So must he now guide the nations with the reins of kingship" (translation by Bruce Alan Masters).[20]
  3. ^ Joseph Zeidan and Antun Sha'arawi have mentioned, among these intellectuals: Jibrail al-Dallal, Kamil al-Ghazzi, Rizqallah Hassun, Qustaki al-Himsi, Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi, Victor Khayyat, Antun al-Saqqal and his son Mikha'il, and Abd al-Salam al-Tarmanini.[27]


  1. ^ Wielandt, p. 119; Zeidan, p. 50.
  2. ^ Wielandt, p. 119; Hafez, p. 274.
  3. ^ a b Wielandt, p. 120; Charon, p. 115.
  4. ^ Charon, p. 115.
  5. ^ Wielandt, p. 120.
  6. ^ a b c d Zeidan, p. 50.
  7. ^ Wielandt, p. 122; Bosworth, van Donzel, Lewis & Pellat (ed.), p. 598.
  8. ^ a b Booth, p. 125.
  9. ^ a b Bosworth, van Donzel, Lewis & Pellat (ed.), p. 598.
  10. ^ Watenpaugh, H. Z., p. 235; Booth, p. 125.
  11. ^ Dabbāgh; Watenpaugh, K. D., p. 52.
  12. ^ Watenpaugh, H. Z., pp. 226–227.
  13. ^ Watenpaugh, H. Z., p. 226.
  14. ^ Watenpaugh, H. Z., p. 227.
  15. ^ Watenpaugh, H. Z., p. 227; al-Mawsū‘at aṣ-ṣuḥufīyat al-‘Arabīyah, volume VI.
  16. ^ Al-Mawsū‘at aṣ-ṣuḥufīyat al-‘Arabīyah, volume VI.
  17. ^ Watenpaugh, H. Z., p. 227; Dorigo (ed.), p. 43; Zeidan, p. 50.
  18. ^ Zeidan, p. 50; Ende & Steinbach (ed.), p. 623.
  19. ^ a b Zeidan, p. 284.
  20. ^ Masters, p. 179.
  21. ^ Zeidan, p. 57.
  22. ^ a b Somekh, p. 44; Zeidan, p. 58.
  23. ^ Ashour, Ghazoul & Reda-Mekdashi (ed.), p. 61.
  24. ^ Ashour, Ghazoul & Reda-Mekdashi (ed.), p. 440.
  25. ^ Watenpaugh, H. Z., p. 227; Watenpaugh, K. D., p. 52.
  26. ^ a b Watenpaugh, H. Z., p. 227; Zeidan, p. 50.
  27. ^ Zeidan, p. 50; Watenpaugh, H. Z., p. 229.
  28. ^ Watenpaugh, K. D., p. 52.
  29. ^ Watenpaugh, H. Z., p. 228.


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