Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mata Hari: "Artist" Not "Spy"?

Mata Hari was executed by a French firing squad on this date in 1917, having been convicted of spying for the Germans during WWI. Despite the fact that she's one of history's most famous spies, I found I actually knew relatively little about her beyond the famous name.

It turns out that 'Mata Hari' was an exotic stage name appropriate to her career as an "exotic dancer and courtesan" in pre-war Paris.  In reality she was a divorced Dutch woman named Margaretha Zella who was almost 30 years old before she gained fame as a Parisian exotic dancer in 1905 and was 40 at the time of her arrest in 1917. And as you can see in this 2 minute clip on You Tube HERE, like Cleopatra before her, she was no great beauty by modern standards either, despite her historical reputation.

She may not even have been a spy for Germany at all. As a famous 'courtesan' she may have been guilty of little more than sharing pillow talk with a variety of powerful men from multiple European capitals simultaneously. (Though invisible ink was found in her rooms.) "Prior to World War I, she was generally viewed as an artist and a free-spirited bohemian," states Wikipedia, "but as war approached, she began to be seen by some as a wanton and promiscuous woman, and perhaps a dangerous seductress."

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