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What's an Amazon? | The Amazons by Name | Read More

What's an Amazon

Hippolyta, by Adrienne MaplesIt appears obvious that Amazons were women who did not fit into the patriarchal Athenian establishment's Rules For Women. They rejected typical marriage roles - some sources say they simply were uninterested in male marriage partners, others suggest that the women did marry men who stayed at home to take care of the children and perform other "feminine" tasks while the women participated in public life as warriors and leaders. Inseparable from their approach to love, sex, marriage, and reproduction is their approach to battle - in fact, Herodotus says they could not marry until they had killed an enemy in battle. Amazons show up in myth principally as warriors, and were said to have conquered many nations and be fierce fighters. As Sue Blundell says, "Whatever the reason for this, we can be sure that it had nothing to do with heartwarming messages about the empowerment of women." Yes, of course that's depressing, but it is undeniably true. Amazons almost certainly true. Amazons exist through Athenian myth, and in those stories they never, ever win against Greece. There's more of course, and I can recommend reading on it, but Sue Blundell sums it up best: "This fantasy of a horde of rampant women could be safely enjoyed because of the cautionary nature of its ending: the Amazons were everything that an Athenian woman ought not to be, and ultimately they failed. There can be little doubt that ... one of myth's functions was the provision of a negative role model." They appear to have titillated the ancient Greeks much as they titillate us today - but we have not heard an ancient Greek woman speak on the subject, so who knows? They were considered foreign, and exotic, and were mythic even in their own time.

The Amazons By Name

The Amazons of Xena: Warrior PrincessAello
Aello means "whirlwind", and was so appropriate because she was a killer fighter. She was a double-axe wielder and was killed by Heracles when he came to take Hippolyta's girdle. She was the first to attack him when war broke out. She was easily killed as Heracles' lionskin made him invulnerable. There were actually nine women who challenged Heracles to single combat, knowing full well that he was invulnerable, before there was a group attack. In order of attack, those women who died against Heracles were:
  • 1. Aello
  • 2. Phillipis
  • 3. Prothoe
  • 4. Eriobea
  • 5. Deianeira
  • 6. Asteria
  • 7. Marpe
  • 8. Tecmessa
  • 9. Alcippe, "powerful mare"
After Alcippe died, the Amazons attacked in force.
Amazon, by Erte
Ainia was one of Penthesilea's followers who fought with the queen at Troy against Achilles. Her name meant "swiftness."
Andromache, which means "man-fighter" or "man-killer," and she was a famous and great Queen. Among other things, she fought with Herakles.
Antiope was the only Amazon ever known to marry. She was an Amazon Queen who was abducted by Heracles and brought to Athens where she fell in love and married Theseus (the King of Athens). She gave birth to a son during their marriage, and named him Hippolytus after her sister Hippolyta. Later in life, the Amazons attacked Athens, and Antiope fought on the side of Athens. She was run through with a spear by the Amazon Molpadia. Other stories say that after Antiope's love affair with Theseus, he planned to marry another. She attacked on their wedding day, and it took Theseus, Herakles, and an army to kill her.
Hippo was a famous queen who helped found the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Cyrene, and Myrina. She conquered the Asia Minor and Syria, and then set up a wooden statue of Artemis next to a beech tree in Ephesus. Amazons would often go there to perform rituals like the shield dance, beating the ground in unison to the accompaniment of pipes playing a wild, warlike melody. The name Hippo, is the Greek word for "horse", and not surprisingly, appears in many Amazon names.
Barring perhaps Penthesilea, Hippolyta was the most well-known of the Amazons. She was the daughter of Ares (God of War) and the Amazon Otrera. Hippolyta was a famous queen who fell in love with Heracles when the hero came on his mission to retrieve the golden girdle of Amazonian queenship as his ninth labor (see the Myth Pages for more). She would have been happy to give him the girdle without issue, but the rumour was spread around the Amazon camp (by Hera in disguise) that Heracles had come to steal from Hippolyta, and the Amazons made war on him. Heracles assumed Hippolyta had planned it, killed her, took the girdle, and left. By the way, the girdle was a belt made to carry a sword.
Lysippe was another Amazon Queen with a tragic story. But like almost all Amazon tales, her's was a story of strength instead of martyrdom. Lycippe had a son named Tanais who was completely devoted to war and scorned marriage. Though this was totally normal in Amazon society, Aphrodite was none too pleased and cursed him with falling in love with his own mother. Unable to deal with this, he threw himself into a river and drowned. Lycippe buried her pain in work. She built the Amazon capital city Themiscrya, consolidating the Amazon Nation and building lots of temples to Artemis (NOT Aphrodite). She established the policies that the Amazons are known for, and she was a very cool woman. She was a notable general, and the first to lead an attack force with cavalry.
An Amazon, by Franz von Stuck
Marpesia was one of the cool and important military Queens who made a name (and an empire) for the Amazons. On her own she took over Thrace and Syria and later she teamed up with Hippo and they conquered Ephesus and Cyrene and basically anything that was in their way up until the Aegean Sea. She should have quit then, but an uprising in conquered land called her back to battle and she died fighting. She had a daughter named Orithia.
Molpadia was smart and quick and brave and a model Amazon warrior. She came with the Amazon army to Athens to rescue Antiope from her kidnapper Theseus and was one of the only ones able to infiltrate the castle. She found Antiope and tried to rescue her, but Antiope wanted to stay with Theseus so Molpadia threw a spear through her former Queen and killed her. Theseus quickly killed Molpadia, too, but that didn't do much for Antiope. Molpadia is buried near Antiope and a temple of Gaia.
Boreas and Oreithyia, by Evelyn de Morgan
Orithia, or Oreithyia, was the daughter of the Queen Marpesia who inherited her position and went to work as soon as she got the job. She created an alliance with the King of Sythia who sent his son with and army and together they destroyed the Asian barbarians who killed her mother. She was also known as the mother of Chione and Cleopatra (different Cleopatra) and the two Argonauts Calais and Zetes. These children were the result of a kidnapping and rape by the North Wind, Doreas.
Otrera was the ancient ancient original Goddess of the Amazons. When the patriarchy of the Sky Gods came along, Otrera became the mother, with Ares, of the Amazon Nation. Otrera also became the DAUGHTER of Ares and the mother of the Amazon Queens Hippolyta, Antiope, Lysippe, and Melanippe, the first queens of the Amazons.
The Death of Penthesilea at the hand of Achilles
Penthesilea was one of the greatest of the Amazon warriors and a hero by Greek standards. She was a daughter of Ares and Orithia and had a huge amount of skill with weapons and battle. She was known for her wisdom. During a hunt, she accidentally killed her sister, Hippolyta II, and in her grief decided to leave her tribe and fight in the Trojan War. 12 warriors followed her to Troy and they killed many of the Greeks. Penthesilea was especially deadly because of her parentage, but she died fighting Achilles (because of his "invincibility" clause) in single combat. Achilles mourned when he ripped off her helmet and saw who he'd killed and "loved" her corpse, as it is written. When one of his comrades suggested his lust was unnatural, Achilles killed him. These are the names of the 12 warriors who accompanied her to Troy:
  • Ainia, "swiftness"
  • Alcibie
  • Antandre, "one who goes before men"
  • Antibrote
  • Bremusa, "raging female"
  • Clete, was looking to join Penthesilea at Troy, but was blown off course and founded a city in Italy instead, her name means "the Invoked"
  • Derimacheia
  • Derinoe, killed Laogonus
  • Harmothoe, "sharp nail"
  • Hippothoe, "imperious mare"
  • Polemusa
  • Thermodosa

An Amazon from Bullfinch's mythology
Thalestris was a ledgendary Amazon Queen in the 320's BC. She was the best of the best and she knew it, likewise she knew that Alexander the Great was the best of the best and so she decided that if she had a daughter of this union only this daughter could be greater and would bring the Amazon nation great respect. So Thalestris went, armies in tow, to Alexander and explained her plan. He agreed as long as he got any male children. For thirteen days (a sacred number to Moon-worshippers like the Amazons) the two spent all their time together - hunting stag and having lots and lots of sex. After, Thalestris returned to Themiskrya and waited for the results - but they never came and Thalestris died soon after (randomly) without a child or a real legacy.

Read more

  • Osborn, Kevin and Dana L. Burgess. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Classical Mythology. New York: Alpha Books, 1998
  • Blundell, Sue. Women in Ancient Greece. Harvard University Press: 1995.
  • Tyrrell, Wm. Blake. Amazons: A Study in Athenian Mythmaking. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984
  • Bell, Robert E. Women of Classical Mythology: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991
  • Lefkowitz, Mary R. Women in Greek Myth. Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007
    An ancient greek pot Amazon and Centaur, by Franz von Stuckbronze statue of an Amazon rider

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    Last Updated January 3, 2008