Warrior Women

Black-figured amphora (wine-jar) signed by Exekias as potter and attributed to him as painter. Image (and caption) taken from the British Museum website

In Greek Mythology the Amazons were probably the ultimate nightmare for Greek men. These tribes of warrior-women subverted every rule of life like no other group of people or God could. At least they turned upside down the one aspect of life that guys cared the most for during those days: gender roles. First of all the Amazons were barbarians (that just meant they were not Greek), then they were women who fought fiercely and were able to kill many men in battle. To make things worse they could not care less about marriage, so whenever they needed men to get pregnant they simply used one of the slaves they had acquired when raiding villages. Once they had the babies they would kill the male child and keep the female ones.

The myth obviously plays with a very basic male fear: women in power. If you disregard the issue of male anxiety though you may think these ladies were pretty cool, and I partly suspect that the Ancient Greeks, even when they would never say it, thought the same way. It is true that the big heroes fought against the Amazons (Achilles, Theseus and Heracles did, which could be seen as a way to “restore” order), but it is also true that these guys liked them. Theseus had Hippolytus with the Amazon Antiope for instance and nothing surpasses the intense tragedy of Achilles falling in love (*) with Penthesilea (and vice versa) as soon as he has fatally stabbed her (very bad timing on his part). The image at the beginning of the post (by one of my favorite vase painters from antiquity, Exequias) represents this scene. Many years ago I had the chance to see it at the British Museum, and it is sublime.

(*) We tend to think he and she fell in love at the same time, but maybe they just thought the other one was hot. It is like when people say that Aphrodite was the Goddess of love. Sort of… Maybe sometimes, but overall Aphrodite was not that much into being all sweet and romantic really.


2 thoughts on “Warrior Women

  1. It always surprises me how very romantically Greek and Roman myths sound, but when it comes to warrior women (aka “feminists”) in the real life… it often seems so horrible.

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