In ancient history the roles of men and women were not very different from their respective roles today. Our selected readings show that the influences of men and women differed between cultures. In The Confessions of Lady Nijo we see that in ancient Japan women played a more important part in politics than they did in other parts of the ancient world. In Sundiata we are told the story of a young African prince who unites the twelve kingdoms of ancient Mali. And in The Epic of Gilgamesh we read of an ancient Sumerian king and his quest for knowledge and immortality.
The way that Lady Nijo recounts her story in journal form is very interesting and gives a whole aspect to the story that could not be captured otherwise. The inner feelings of a young girl put in situations such as hers just could not be conveyed in any other way. It is crucial to the story that it is told that way. As a child Nijo was promised to the Prince, soon to be Emperor. As she grows closer to him she is not so disturbed by him and she begins to notice things that go on in the imperial court, the way that the Emperor's concubines and other women play a role in politics. In most cultures that we hear stories about, the king's concubines were nothing but his slaves, who's only purpose was to please his sexual appetite and bear him sons. But here we see that in Japan things were different, both men and women, despite their occupation, played a part in the legislative process and in court politics. Because of her father's influential position in the court, and the fact that she was from the Minamoto clan, Nijo was expected to play a part in the imperial court. The favor of the Emperor only increased these expectations and caused them to become reality much more quickly than they would have otherwise. She was a concubine to the Emperor GoFukakusa and bore him a son, which briefly increased her position in society, but this child died while still an infant, which was a bad sign, and kept her from rising to an influential position.