Not all badasses have to be, well, badasses. In fact, some of them can be saints.
Kassia was a famous beauty born in Constantinople between 805 and 810. Not content to play the docile part required of her as the daughter of a wealthy family, she famously bandied words with the young Byzantine Emperor Theophilos when presented to him at his prestigious “bride show.” The unfortunate emperor deemed it wise to make a crack about women being responsible for the downfall of mankind. Kassia declared instead that they were its salvation. The emperor decided this cheeky young thing was too hot to handle, and her family’s royal aspirations were dashed.
Not content to be married off—since even the emperor wasn’t good enough for her—Kassia chose the only path where a woman could wield power in her day and age: she founded a convent. Fiercely opinionated and fearless in the face of possible execution, the new abbess spoke out against the emperor’s anti-religious icon stance and allegedly lent help to imprisoned monks and others facing condemnation for the cause, earning herself a beating—some sources claim she was even whipped—for her convictions. But Kassia would not be cowed.
Kassia made her voice heard through her music: already having a prolific amount of secular songs under her belt, the abbess used the resources of her position to have her new, religious works performed and preserved long before any other female could claim the same. And one song in particular hints that perhaps the story of Kassia and Theophilos was not as simple as it seemed.
Kassia was writing what would become her most famous work, The Hymn of Kassiani, late one night when the emperor himself, now close to death, rode up to her convent. Despite, or perhaps because of Kassia’s public opposition to his policies, Theophilos found himself smitten all the same with the untouchable abbess he had once rejected. Did Kassia fall weeping into her emperor’s arms? No, she hid in a closet, and watched as he read her song, cried, and added his own lines to hers: “Those very feet whose sound Eve heard at the dusk in Paradise and hid herself in fear.” In fear? You keep telling yourself that, Theo.
Brave, bright, and independent, Kassia lived her own life when very few women could, and for that, she earns the title of an Awesome Lady in History.