When talking about ELISA to people, I am always interested in the reaction – this is the latest – I include it for your interest and enjoyment:
Whatâ€™s in a name?
ELISA â€“ also spelt Elissa or Elisha â€“ was an ancient Phoenician princess, the sister (or according to some versions, the daughter) of Pumayatton, King of the island state Tyre just off the Lebanese coast. Unusually for a princess â€“ or, indeed, for any women of that time or since â€“ Elisa was also one of the worldâ€™s major maritime venturers: a Phoenician Christopher Columbus. She was married to Synchaeus, a fellow Phoenician, but her brother/father King Pumayatton had Synchaeus murdered, possibly because he was a rival claimant to the Tyrian throne through his marriage to Elisa. Hence, Elisa was forced to flee her homeland and set sail for the West with a small group of followers. On landing on a distant North African shore in 814 BC, Elisa founded a new city, called Qart Hadasht which in her native Phoenician language means exactly that – â€˜new cityâ€™. It was destined to become one of the great cities of the Mediterranean, more familiar from the Latin variant of its name, Carthage.
Then Latin mythology takes up the story. Here Elisa is better known â€“ to Purcell and to opera, as well as to the Romans â€“ as Dido. The love affair in Carthage of Dido with a hero fleeing from the burning walls of Troy was the subject of Berliozâ€™s great epic opera â€“ the Prince Aeneas. From this celebrated encounter with this Phoenician princess, Aeneas sails on to found another city that was destined to become Europeâ€™s greatest: Rome itself.
Elisaâ€™s brother/father, Pumayatton, also has his fair share of associated legends. Just as Elisa is better known in the West under a different name, Pumayatton entered Greek mythology under the Greek variant: Pygmalion. According to one version of the legend, Pygmalion was in love with the goddess Aphrodite and made a statue in her image. Pygmalion fell passionately in love with his creation; Aphrodite took pity on him and so brought the statue to life for a brief time, bearing children by Pygmalion. Thus, sister or daughter of Pygmalion, Elisa is a catalyst where Phoenician, Anatolian, Greek and Roman mythologies draw together. Which is why in George Bernard Shawâ€™s version of the story, the main protagonist is called: Eliza.
So we have Greece, Rome, Carthage, Troy and Tyre; love, murder, art and war; Purcell, Berlioz and Shaw; and now libraries â€“ all in the one short name â€“ ELISA!