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Amazons and the Legendary Heroes

The mythological heroes who fought and conquered the Amazons.

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Achilles and Penthesilea

Reliefs From The Sebasteion of Aphrodisas: Achilles and Penthesilea

CC Flickr User Ken and Nyetta

Amazons Were "the Other"

"For a particular society the Amazon becomes the Other, the being upon whom are projected all of the society's doubts, fears and prejudices; the Amazon is the exact opposite of what a proper woman should be, her culture is the unnatural opposite of the natural order."
[www.geocities.com/Wellesley/1582/amazons.html] Amazons

"The simultaneous existence of nomadic warrior women and subjugated Athenian housewives suggests that two thousand years ago, relations between the sexes varied enormously from one population to the next."
Source: www.linguafranca.com/9712/ nosborne.html Lingua Franca 08/24/98

Heroic Age Greek Women Were Seen as Highly Competent

During the Trojan War (most familiar from the Iliad attributed to Homer) and the homecoming of Odysseus (see: Odyssey) Penelope remained at home, in Ithaca, without an adult male to defend the homestead. Penelope's home was thrown into turmoil -- but it took 20 years. For 20 years Penelope, the wife of Odysseus and his presumed widow, supplied family, retainers, and even the parasitical suitors with food.

Clearly, women of the Homeric world were competent. Not only were they efficient, but they held political power, or at least the key to it. While Odysseus was away, control over Ithaca was largely in the hands of his queen, so ambitious suitors wished to marry Penelope so they might gain control of her land.

This was the world of the heroes Achilles, Hercules and Theseus, and the legendary Amazons, their brave, noble, worthy, and female adversaries.

Achilles and Penthesilea

While the Iliad and Odyssey have survived, they were only part of the Epic Cycle. After Homer, Arktinos of Miletos (fl. 776 B.C.) wrote the Aithiopis as a direct sequel to the Iliad [Proclus' Summary of the Aithiopis, attributed to Arctinus of Miletus]. It is best known for its opening scene in which Penthesilea and her Amazons come to the aid of the Trojans after the death of Hector. Achilles kills the queen, then mourns for her. When Thersites makes fun of him for this, Achilles slays him, too. Only fragments remain of Aithiopus, but Quintus of Smyrna is thought to have re-written Arktinos' poems.

"So peerless amid all the Amazons Unto
Troy-town Penthesileia came.
To right, to left, from all sides hurrying thronged
The Trojans, greatly marvelling, when they saw
The tireless War-god's child, the mailed maid,
Like to the Blessed Gods;
I.61-66

They fall not short of men in anything
I.621

So that death-ravening spear of Peleus' son
Clear through the goodly steed rushed on, and pierced
Penthesileia. Straightway fell she down
Into the dust of earth, the arms of death,
In grace and comeliness fell, for naught of shame
Dishonoured her fair form."


I.843-88
From The Fall of Troy, by Quintus Smyrnaeus (fl. mid 4th C A.D.).

Sources:

  • A Handbook of Greek Literature, by H. J. Rose.
  • Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns and Homerica: An Introduction

Hercules and Hippolyte

The most familiar Amazon story is the Ninth Labor of Hercules. Hercules has been commanded by Eurystheus to fetch for his daughter the girdle (or belt) of the Amazon Queen, Hippolyte. This wouldn't be a problem, even though it was a gift to her from the war god, Ares, because she is willing to oblige, but Hercules' nemesis, Hera, tries to thwart her hated step-son. She makes the Amazons suspicious enough to attack Hercules' men. In the end, Hercules kills the Amazon Queen and takes the belt.

"Having put in at the harbour of Themiscyra, he received a visit from Hippolyte, who inquired why he was come, and promised to give him the belt. But Hera in the likeness of an Amazon went up and down the multitude saying that the strangers who had arrived were carrying off the queen. So the Amazons in arms charged on horseback down on the ship. But when Hercules saw them in arms, he suspected treachery, and killing Hippolyte stripped her of her belt."
- Apollodorus Library II.v.4
"[5.11.4] On the other rods is the band that with Heracles fights against the Amazons. The number of figures in the two parties is twenty-nine, and Theseus too is ranged among the allies of Heracles."
- [www.perseus.tufts.edu/cl135/Students/Colin_Delaney/abridgedpaus.html] The Abridged Version of Pausanias

Bellerophon

Stheneboea or Antea is an example of the proverbial woman scorned. Pretending that Bellerophon tried to seduce her, she persuades her husband Proteus to get rid of Bellerophon. Sent to the Lycian king Iobates, Proteus' father-in-law, with a hostile letter of introduction [see:Myth Monday - Bellerophon and the Chimera], Bellerophon undergoes a series of nearly impossible tasks in order to redeem himself. After slaying the Chimaera [see the offspring of Echidna] and fighting the Solymi, Bellerophon's third task is to fight the Amazons. In the end, he wins the favor of the Lycian king and the hand of his daughter.

"Thirdly, he killed the Amazons, women who were the peers of men, and as he was returning thence the king devised yet another plan for his destruction...."
- Iliad VI
"After that contest Iobates ordered him to fight the Solymi, and when he had finished that task also, he commanded him to combat the Amazons, And when he had killed them also...."
- Apollodorus Library II.iii.2

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