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The Amazons

Guy Cadogan Rothery


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Fully illustrated. The legend of the Amazons is amazingly consistent across three continents, even though actual documentary proof seems elusive. In particular, the Athenians were most insistent about the historical reality of a nation of all-women warriors; their legends described a prehistoric conflict with the Amazons as one of their finest hours. Although later the Amazons became just another map-filling imaginary creature alongside Centaurs, Cyclops, and Giants, Greek legend gives many fine-grained details about the geography, history and anthropology of the Amazon nation.

This book has 152 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1910.

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Excerpt from 'The Amazons'

NEVER, perhaps, has the alchemy of Greek genius been more potent than in the matter of the Amazonian myth. It has bestowed a charm on the whole amazing story which has been most prolific in its results; but, unfortunately, by tending to confine it to the narrow vistas of poetry, the intensely interesting psychological aspect has been somewhat obscured. Yet to us the chief value of this myth is due rather to the insight it affords into the mental workings of primitive races, the attitude of man towards that which he dreads but does not fully comprehend, than to the influence of Hellenic art and literature, fruitful in beautiful and humanising manifestations though that influence has been. The Greek spirit, indeed, working upon a crude collection of stories, took the sting, out of the lessons they should have taught. For, as we shall endeavour to show, the message of the myth to a people struggling towards a higher civilisation to beware of barbarians and their ways, was softened to an attitude of admiration before physical beauty and courage, and a tender pity for woman, fomenter of strife though she might be.

We may unhesitatingly sweep away the story of the unnatural state about which so many Greek poets and historians entertain us. But while relegating the Amazonian state to the realms of imagination, we must recognise the Amazon herself as a not insignificant historic fact--a fact, indeed, of sufficient moment to have peopled a whole world of fiction, real enough to its original creators, and whose force is hardly spent even now.

Etymology will not help us much, though it has been relied upon by controversialists. Any argument founded on the descriptive nature of the word, or on its somewhat suspicious many-sidedness, must prove a double-edged weapon, as likely to injure the wielder as his opponent. Besides the obvious "breastless" (a-mazon) and "moon" (maza), we are offered a choice of a variety of interpretations conveying to us such meanings as "vestals," "girdle-bearers," and other synonyms, also "game eaters" and "eaters of strong foods." But after all the word is hybrid Greek, not a native name, and may be classed as a nickname, itself much younger than the supposed state; and then, naturally, it would be as comprehensively descriptive as the ingenuity of man could devise. We may, therefore, leave the etymologists to the labyrinthine twistings of their own wordy warfare.

The tale begins rationally enough with the perfectly familiar incident in the life-history of so many nations, the expulsion of a surplus growth of population and its emigration to new fields. In this case we have reference to a cabal against two youthful Scythian princes, who, being ordered into exile, carry with them a whole horde of followers--men, women, and children. There is the story of their settling down, of their casting off of the old Scythian simplicity before a growing desire for riches, which leads to conquest and ultimately to their undoing--the men being mostly massacred by their enraged neighbours. Then comes the extraordinary violent rage of the widows and orphans, first against the slayers of their husbands and fathers, and later against men in general, this aversion bringing about the founding of a state that is to be manless, the women throwing aside their girdles, that priceless symbol of the unmarried, only for a brief spell in the spring-time, when by commerce with their male neighbours means should be taken to guard against the extinction of the race.

That such a myth should have sprung to life and gained credence is not difficult to understand. To the inhabitants of the Archipelago and Magna Grecia, no matter whence they originated, distant Asia and the regions to the north-east of the Black Sea and round about the Caspian were lands of peril shrouded in mystery, out of which fierce hordes swept down bent on rapine and conquest. Beyond the fringe of the nearer Mediterranean coast there were worlds of darkness, peopled by the fertile Greek mind with many unnatural but by no means illogically conceived monsters; for the makers of the myths had hardly emerged from the influence of animistic interpretation of nature. All phenomena were explainable in the terms of human emotions, and man acknowledged himself the relation, and not always the superior relation, of the beasts of the field, nay, even of the stocks and stones. To such men, nomadic tribes from the sandy Asian wastes bursting out of clouds of dust on their fleet horses to pillage and slaughter and then as swiftly pass away, had suggested the Centaur myth, the man-horses lying behind the woods ready to swoop down upon the unwary. The aborigines of forest districts, whose attacks were as dangerous and unexpected as that of the wild boar and wild goat, naturally suggested the satyrs. That yet older terror, the herds of wild buffaloes with their irresistible onrush and indomitable fierceness, had given birth to the superhumanly cunning winged man-bulls of Assyria. Successive waves of invasion rolling seaward from the north-east made utter Scythia a constant source of danger, and when the reflux waves carried the over-swollen coast population north-eastward, they entered an inhospitable country, where pitchy lakes and unctuous soil belched forth fire, smoke, and steam, an ominous presage of what might be expected beyond. Towering above stood a further barrier of rugged black mountains, inhabited by a race of savage warriors whose very women fought with all the ferocity of lionesses. This ever-menacing danger, with dim recollections of an outworn stage of development, when a matriarchal polity prevailed, and the nearer, more ghastly remembrance of the worship of cruel, sensual Astarte, that moon huntress goddess who came out of the Far East smeared with human gore, surrounded by her women priests, evolved in the brains of men whose thoughts were prone to take the dramatic form the idea of a truly monstrous state, the very existence of which was a perpetual threat against humanity. Indeed, the Amazonian state, with its population of women warriors, ruled by a queen who banished all men save a few crippled slaves, and banded together with the express purpose of making war upon mankind, perfectly symbolised the peril that Greece had to face. For the myth told not merely of war, but of unnatural war, war which if successful foredoomed family and civic life.

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