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Interpreting Amazons: Ancient vs. Modern. Amazonomachy relief of a sarcophagus (ca. 180 BC), found in Salonica, 1836.

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Presentation on theme: "Interpreting Amazons: Ancient vs. Modern. Amazonomachy relief of a sarcophagus (ca. 180 BC), found in Salonica, 1836."— Presentation transcript:

1 Interpreting Amazons: Ancient vs. Modern

2 Amazonomachy relief of a sarcophagus (ca. 180 BC), found in Salonica, 1836

3 Pseudo-Hippocrates Amazon women dislocate the joints of their male children at birth…some at knees, some at hips... to make them lame … so that the male race might not conspire against the female race. And in Europe there is a Scythian race, dwelling round Lake Maeotis, which differs from the other races. Their name is Sauromatae. Their women, so long as they are virgins, ride, shoot, throw the javelin while mounted, and fight with their enemies. They do not lay aside their virginity until they have killed three of their enemies, and they do not marry before they have performed the traditional sacred rites. A woman who takes to herself a husband no longer rides, unless she is compelled to do so by a general expedition. They have no right breast; for while they are yet babies their mothers make red-hot a bronze instrument constructed for this very purpose and apply it to the right breast and cauterise it, so that its growth is arrested, and all its strength and bulk are diverted to the right shoulder and right arm.

4 A-Mazon: A Folk Etymology WORD HISTORY In classical legend the Amazons were a tribe of warrior women. Their name is supposedly derived from Greek a- mazos, “without a breast,” because according to the legend they cut off their right breasts so as to be better able to shoot with a bow and arrow. This folk etymology, like most folk etymologies, is incorrect, but the Amazons of legend are not so completely different from the historical Amazons, who were also warriors. The historical Amazons were Scythians, an Iranian people renowned for their cavalry. The first Greeks to come into contact with the Iranians were the Ionians, who lived on the coast of Asia Minor and were constantly threatened by the Persians, the most important of the Iranian peoples. Amazōn is the Ionian Greek form of the Iranian word ha-mazan, “fighting together.” The regular Greek form would be hamazōn, but because the Ionians dropped their aitches like Cockneys, hamazōn became amazōn, the form taken into the other Greek dialects.

5 Herodotus 4.116-117 It is reported of the Sauromatae, that when the Greeks fought with the Amazons, whom the Scythians call Oior-pata or "man-slayers," as it may be rendered, Oior being Scythic for "man," and pata for "to slay"- It is reported, I say, that the Greeks after gaining the battle of the Thermodon, put to sea, taking with them on board three of their vessels all the Amazons whom they had made prisoners; and that these women upon the voyage rose up against the crews, and massacred them to a man. As however they were quite strange to ships, and did not know how to use either rudder, sails, or oars, they were carried, after the death of the men, where the winds and the waves listed. At last they reached the shores of the Palus Maeotis (Sea of Azov) and came to a place called Cremni or "the Cliffs," which is in the country of the free Scythians. Here they went ashore, and proceeded by land towards the inhabited regions; the first herd of horses which they fell in with they seized, and mounting upon their backs, fell to plundering the Scythian territory. The Scyths could not tell what to make of the attack upon them- the dress, the language, the nation itself, were alike unknown whence the enemy had come even, was a marvel. Imagining, however, that they were all men of about the same age, they went out against them, and fought a battle. Some of the bodies of the slain fell into their hands, whereby they discovered the truth. Hereupon they deliberated, and made a resolve to kill no more of them, but to send against them a detachment of their youngest men, as near as they could guess equal to the women in number, with orders to encamp in their neighbourhood, and do as they saw them do- when the Amazons advanced against them, they were to retire, and avoid a fight- when they halted, the young men were to approach and pitch their camp near the camp of the enemy. All this they did on account of their strong desire to obtain children from so notable a race.


7 Herodotus 4.116-117 So the youths departed, and obeyed the orders which had been given them. The Amazons soon found out that they had not come to do them any harm; and so they on their part ceased to offer the Scythians any molestation. And now day after day the camps approached nearer to one another; both parties led the same life, neither having anything but their arms and horses, so that they were forced to support themselves by hunting and pillage. At last an incident brought two of them In the middle of every day the Amazons used to split up into ones or twos and go some way apart from one another in order to relieve themselves. When the Scythians noticed this, they did the same thing. One of them approached one of the women who was all alone and the Amazon did not repulse him, but let him have intercourse with her. She could not speak to him because they did not understand each other, but she used gestures to tell him to return the next day to the same place and to bring someone else with him; she made it clear to him that there should be two of them, and that she would bring another woman with her too. The young man returned to his camp and told the others the news. He kept the appointment the next day, taking someone else along too, and found another Amazon there as well, waiting for them, When the other young men found out, they joined in and tamed the remaining Amazons. After that the two sides joined forces and lived together, forming couples consisting of a Scythian and the Amazon with whom he first had sex.

8 Herodotus 4.116-117 The two camps were then joined in one, the Scythians living with the Amazons as their wives; and the men were unable to learn the tongue of the women, but the women soon caught up the tongue of the men. When they could thus understand one another, the Scyths addressed the Amazons in these words- "We have parents, and properties, let us therefore give up this mode of life, and return to our nation, and live with them. You shall be our wives there no less than here, and we promise you to have no others." But the Amazons said- "We could not live with your women- our customs are quite different from theirs.To draw the bow, to hurl the javelin, to bestride the horse, these are our arts of womanly employments we know nothing. Your women, on the contrary, do none of these things; but stay at home in their wagons, engaged in womanish tasks, and never go out to hunt, or to do anything. We should never agree together. But if you truly wish to keep us as your wives, and would conduct yourselves with strict justice towards us, go you home to your parents, bid them give you your inheritance, and then come back to us, and let us and you live together by ourselves."

9 Herodotus 4.116-117 Cont. The youths approved of the advice, and followed it. They went and got the portion of goods which fell to them, returned with it, and rejoined their wives, who then addressed them in these words following:- "We are ashamed, and afraid to live in the country where we now are. Not only have we stolen you from your fathers, but we have done great damage to Scythia by our ravages. As you like us for wives, grant the request we make of you. Let us leave this country together, and go and dwell beyond the Tanais (River Don)." Again the youths complied. Crossing the Tanais they journeyed eastward a distance of three days' march from that stream, and again northward a distance of three days' march from the Palus Maeotis. Here they came to the country where they now live, and took up their abode in it. The women of the Sauromatae have continued from that day to the present to observe their ancient customs, frequently hunting on horseback with their husbands, sometimes even unaccompanied; in war taking the field; and wearing the very same dress as the men. The Sauromatae speak the language of Scythia, but have never talked it correctly, because the Amazons learnt it imperfectly at the first. Their marriage-law lays it down that no girl shall wed till she has killed a man in battle. Sometimes it happens that a woman dies unmarried at an advanced age, having never been able in her whole lifetime to fulfil the condition.

10 Achilles killing the Amazon Queen Penthesilea Greek, about 540-530 BC Made in Athens, Greece; found at Vulci (now in Lazio, Italy)

11 The Amazon Penthesilea killed by Achilles (a love story). Athenian Cup from Vulci, around 460 BC Munich / Germany, Antikensammlungen 2688. Penthesilea in a Greek dress (due to her emotional bond with Achilles), while the other Amazon is shown with a non-Greek dress.

12 Heracles fighting with the Amazons, detail from a volute krater attributed to Euphronius, c. 500 bc; in the Archaeological Museum, Arezzo, Italy.

13 Hippolyta Theseus Hippolyta Hippolytus Euripides’ play

14 Did Amazons Really Exist?

15 Tennyson’s “Princess” Tennyson’s “Princess” library/bl- etexts/atennyson/bl-aten- princess.htm Alfred Tennyson, 6 August 1809 – 6 October 1892)

16 Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Princess Ida”

17 Our statues! —not of those that men desire, Sleek Odalisques, or oracles of mode, Nor stunted squaws of West or East; but she That taught the Sabine how to rule, and she The foundress of the Babylonian wall, The Carian Artemisia strong in war, The Rhodope, that built the pyramid, Clelia, Cornelia, with the Palmyrene That fought Aurelian, and the Roman brows Of Agrippina. Dwell with these, and lose Convention, since to look on noble forms Makes noble thro’ the sensuous organism That which is higher. Thereupon she took A bird's-eye-view of all the ungracious past; Glanced at the legendary Amazon As emblematic of a nobler age; Appraised the Lycian custom, spoke of those That lay at wine with Lar and Lucumo; Ran down the Persian, Grecian, Roman lines Of empire, and the woman's state in each, How far from just; Ingres.Grande Odalisque Louvre, Paris 1814


19 Charter Myths Bronsilaw Malinowski (1884-1942) Selected Bibliography: S/Anthro/Anth206/malinowski.htm belief-systems set up to authorize and validate current social customs and institutions.

20 War and Gender

21 Internalist Theories: Myths as Products of the Mind Individual Mind Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) Laistner (1889) All monsters of myth originated in nightmares. Roheim (1952) disguised version of the Oedipus complex Collective Mind Carl Jung (1875-1961)

22 Feminist Approaches to Myth Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994) Marija Gimbutas was an archaeologist with a scholarly background in folklore and linguistics, making her uniquely qualified to synthesize information from science and myth into a controversial theory of a Goddess-based culture in prehistoric Europe. Joseph Campbell said that, if her work had been available to him, he would have held very different views about the archetypes of the female Divine in world mythology. Primacy of Matriarchy

23 Lefkowitz Study Questions 1. Who is Princess Ida and what is her relationship to Amazons? 2. What does Lefkowitz think is the purpose of myth? 3. What does Lefkowitz mean when she says that “every feature of Amazonian society has a direct antithesis in ordinary Greek practice”? 4. Does Lefkowitz think that Aeschylus’ Eumenides can be used to claim that the discovery of paternity was a key factor in the shift from matriarch to patriarchy? Why or why not? 5. Does Lefkowitz think that the myths of Amazons and other wild destructive women can be used as examples of the psychological conflict imposed by the customary segregation of the sexes in Athenian society and men’s apprehensions about female sexuality? Why or why not?

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