The Amazons

In my soon-to-be re-released novel, Medousa, the Amazons of Themiscyra feature in an important part of the story. Of course, I changed a fair portion of their legendary narrative in order to fit them into the story, but without changing anything of  significance in their mythos. I copied out and mixed narratives of the Iliad and Quintus Smyrnaeus’ Post Homerica. It was not my intention to plagiarize, but to alter the stories in the manner of Philip Jose Farmer– You have always heard the story told thus; now let me tell you what really happened! I hope that this part of my work is seen as homage rather than anything unethical. Here, let me share the actual myth of the Amazons….

There were four sisters, said to be daughters of Ares: Hippolyta, Pentheseleia, Melanippe, and Antiope. Some say that Melanippe and Antiope were simply conflated, and that there were only three sisters.

Hippolyta had been given a magic belt, or ‘girdle,’ by her father Ares, as a symbol of her power and station as queen. King Eurystheus sent Heracles, as the ninth of his twelve labors, to retrieve the belt, so that he could present it to his daughter as a gift. When Heracles left for Themiscyra, his friends, including the hero of the Labyrinth, Theseus, went with him.

Despite the might of Heracles and Theseus, the Amazon armies were able to fend off the invaders from Attica. But the tide of battle turned when the Greeks captured Antiope and Melanippe. The ultimatum was delivered that if the queen wanted to see her sisters again, she would have to give up the belt that Ares had given her. They further promised to depart their coasts and leave them in peace if the Amazons complied.

Some legends tell that Heracles had meant to peaceably ask Hippolyta for her belt, but that the Goddess Hera stirred up the Amazons, afraid of what the Greeks might do to them if they let down their guard. When Heracles saw the armed warriors coming to meet him in battle, he drew his sword, slew Hippolyta on the spot, and took her belt, and fled. This, then, became the cause of the Amazonomachy.

However, in the tales in which Hippolyta acquiesced to the Greeks’ demands, Heracles and Theseus left with many captives, including the queen’s sisters. Again, depending upon the specific version of the legends, a few different things were said to have happened:

Melanippe, aboard one of the Greek ships, broke her bonds, freed her Amazon sisters, and they rose up and slew every Greek sailor and soldier aboard ship. Alas, the Amazons were not very good sailors, and so they had to ride the ship where the winds and currents took them. It is said that they fetched up down the coasts, and founded a city of their own, and that this was the beginning of how the Amazons began to colonize Asia Minor, founding such cities as Ephesos and Pergamom.

Antiope, on the other hand, was taken back to Attica. Queen Hippolyta mounted a rescue, following the Greeks back to their home. Some legends say that when the Amazons descended upon Athens, the Greeks bound and leashed Antiope, and placed her in front of their phalanx formation, hoping to discourage the Amazon attack. But during the stand-off, Antiope was run through from behind on a Greek spear, and thus ensued the great Amazonomachy, or War of the Amazons.

Some stories say that Antiope fell in love with Theseus, and had eloped with him. Some stories claim that Queen Hippolyta herself went with the Greeks. But, either way, as the Athenians commonly tell the tale, they routed the Amazons, and sent them back to Anatolia. But then, they would, wouldn’t they? In any case, the Amazons spilled much blood before that war came to an end.

Some years later, the queen was out hunting with her younger sister Pentheseleia. Having sighted a stag, Pentheseleia lifted her spear, and threw it at their quarry. However, just as she let loose her javelin, her horse stumbled, the throw went wild, and pierced her sister Hippolyta.

Pentheseleia became queen after the death of her sister, but she could never forgive herself for her death, even if it was accidental. She took twelve of her most mighty and loyal generals, and traveled to Ilion– Troy. It was her intention to join in the fighting between the Trojans and the Greeks so that she could die honorably in battle to atone for her sister’s death.

The Amazons arrived at Troy shortly after the Trojans had been able to recover the body of Hector, king Priam’s son, and perform the funeral rites for him. The Trojans had assumed the Amazons were there for their benefit, and would somehow change the tide of the war.

Indeed, when the “Thirteen Shining Daughters of Ares” rode down upon the Greeks, no man could stand before them. Even in single combat, the best that mighty Ajax Telemon himself could do was to fight queen Pentheseleia, the Lioness of Themiscyra, to a draw. It took the famed Achileus himself, and then, only when breathed upon by Athena of the Grey Eyes, to overcome and slay the Amazon warriors.

Legend tells that after having killed Pentheseleia, Achileus was entranced by her beauty when he removed her helmet, and mourned for her, having fallen in love with her.

The Trojans were given time and space to bury the Amazons, and perform their funeral rites. And the queen’s niece, Antianeira succeeded her aunt as the new queen.


About Michael Butchin

I was born, according to the official records, in the Year of the Ram, under the Element of Fire, when Johnson ruled the land with a heavy heart; in the Cradle of Liberty, to a family of bohemians. I studied Chinese language and literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I spent some years in Taiwan teaching kindergarten during the day, and ESOL during the evenings. I currently work as a high school ESOL teacher, and am an unlikely martial artist. I have spent much of my life amongst actors, singers, movie stars, beautiful cultists, Taoist immortals, renegade monks, and at least one martial arts tzaddik. I currently reside in Beijing's Dongcheng district
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