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Homeric world (5)
Nations & tribes
It was a woman tribe of warriors, that lived at the valley of Themiscyra in Pontus. Homer mentions that Bellerephon defeated the Amazons in a battle (Il. 6. 186) and that they invaded in Phrygia (Il. 3.189).
Amazones, a warlike race of females, who act a prominent part in several of the
adventures of Greek mythology. All accounts of them agree in the statement, that
they came from the country about the Caucasus, and that their principal seats
were on the river Thermodon, in the neighbourhood of the modern Trebizond. From
thence they are said to have at different times invaded Thrace, Asia Minor, the
islands of the Aegean,Greece, Syria, Arabia. Egypt, and Libya. The country about
the Thermodon with its capital Themiscyra was inhabited only by the Amazons, who
were governed by a queen. The Gargareans, a race of men, were separated from them
by a mountain, but once every year the Amazons met the Gargareans in the mountains
for the purpose of propagating their race, and then returned to their own country.
Their children, when of the female sex, were brought up by the Amazon mothers,
and trained in their customary pursuits of war, riding, hunting, and cultivating
the land; but each girl had her right breast cut off: their male children, on
the other hand, were sent to the Gargareans, or put to death (Strab. xi.; Diod.
ii. 45, &c., iii. 52, &c.; Justin, ii. 4). The principal gods they worshipped
were Ares and Artemis Tauropolos. The foundation of several towns in Asia Minor
and in the islands of the Aegean is ascribed to them, e. g. of Ephesus, Smyrna,
Cyme, Myrina, and Paphos. Strabo doubts the existence of such a race of females,
while Diodorus attempts to give an account of them, which assumes all the appearance
of history. That the Amazons were regarded as a real historical race down to a
late period, is evident from the tradition, that, when Alexander the Great approached
the country of the Amazons, their queen Thalestris hastened to him, in order to
become mother by the conqueror of Asia (Plut. Alex. 46).
But we confine ourselves here to noticing some of the mythical adventures
with which the Amazons are connected. They are said to have invaded Lycia in the
reign of Iobates, but were destroyed by Bellerophontes, who happened to be staying
at the king's court (Hom. Il. vi. 186, &c.; Schol. ad Lycoph. 17). At the time
when Priam was yet a young man, they invaded Phrygia, and fought with the Phrygians
and Trojans (Hom. Il. iii. 189, &c.). The ninth among the labours imposed upon
Heracles by Eurystheus, was to take from Hippolyte, the queen of the Amazons,
her girdle, the ensign of her kingly power, which she had received as a present
from Ares (Apollod. ii. 5.9; Diod. iv. 16; Hygin. Fab. 30; Quint. Smyrn. xi. 244).
In the reign of Theseus they invaded Attica (Paus. i. 2; Plut. Thes. 31, 33).
Towards the end of the Trojan war, the Amazons, under their queen Penthesilcia,
came to the assistance of Priam; but the queen was killed by Achilles (Quint.
Smyrn. i. 669 ; Paus. v. 11.2; Philostr. Her. xix. 19).
The question as to what the Amazons really were, or rather, what gave
rise to the belief that there was such a race of women, has been much discussed
by ancient as well as modern writers. Herodotus (iv. 110) says, that in the Scythian
language their name was Oiorpata, which he translates by androktonoi. The Greek
name Amazones is usually derived from mazos, the breast, and is supposed to mean
"breastless," or "not brought up by the breast," "beings with strong breasts,"
or "with one breast". Others derive it from the Circassian word maza, said to
signify the moon, or from Emmetch, which, according to a Caucasian tradition,
is said to have been their original name. Among the various ways in which it has
been attempted to account for the origin of the story about the Amazons, two deserve
to be mentioned. One opinion is, that the peculiar way in which the women of some
of the Caucasian districts lived, and performed the duties which in other countries
devolve upon men, together with the many instances of female bravery and courage
which are noticed as remarkable even by modern travellers, were conveyed to the
inhabitants of western Asia and the Greeks in vague and obscure reports, and thus
gave rise to the belief in the existence of such a warlike race of women, and
that these rumours and reports were subsequently worked out and embellished by
popular tradition and poetry. Others think that the Amazons were originally priestesses
of Artemis (the moon), whose worship was widely spread in Asia, and which they
are said to have established in various parts. It is further inferred, from the
name Amazones, that these priestesses mutilated their bodies by cutting off their
breasts in a manner similar to that in which the Galli and other priests mutilated
their bodies, and that thus the Amazons represented the male ideal in the female
sex, just as the Galli represented the female ideal in the male sex. But it would
be difficult, in the first place, to prove the existence of such priestesses,
and in the second, to show how they could have occasioned the belief in a whole
female race of this kind. Neither the poetical nor historical traditions about
the Amazons contain anything to render this opinion very plausible ; and, in the
absence of all positive evidence, the first opinion has much more to recommend
The representation of these warlike women occupied the Greek artists very extensively,
and we still possess a large series of the most beautiful works of art, such as
paintings on vases and walls, bronzes, reliefs, and gems, in which the Amazons
and their battles with men are represented. The most celebrated works of this
kind in antiquity were the battle of the Amazons with the Athenians in the Poecile
at Athens, by Nicon (Paus. i. 15.), on the shield of Athena, and on the footstool
of the Olympian Zeus, by Phidias (i. 17.2). Amazons were also represented by Alcamenes
in the pediment of the temple of Zeus at Olympia (v. 10.2).
This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited Oct 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology (ed. William Smith)
Amazones or Amazonides (Amazonides). "Breastless." A mythical
race of warlike women, who are said to have come from the Caucasus, and to have
settled in Asia Minor, about the river Thermodon, where they founded the city
Themiscyra. They were governed by a queen, and the female children are said to
have had their right breasts cut off that they might use the bow with more ease.
They constantly occur in Greek mythology. One of the labours imposed upon Heracles
was to take from Hippolyte, the queen of the Amazons, her girdle. In the reign
of Theseus they invaded Attica. Towards the end of the Trojan War, they came,
under their queen, Penthesilea, to the assistance of Priam; but she was killed
by Achilles. In works of art, the Amazons are always represented with two breasts,
often on horseback, and in Scythian or Grecian dress, armed with shield, axe,
spear, bow, quiver, etc. Phidias, Polyclitus, and Cresilas are among the famous
artists in antiquity who made statues of them. The traditional derivation of the
word, from a priv. and mazos, is doubtless fanciful, and is not even supported
by ancient works of art, which usually show the breasts unmutilated.
This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Nov 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
- Amazon: Perseus Encyclopedia