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Guy Cadogan Rothery
Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 152
Publication Date: 1910
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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.
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RUNNING through the works of early Greek writers we find a moving and circumstantial story of the rise and fall of a nation of women, who, having been deprived of their husbands, sons, and brothers through the fortunes of battle, and then persecuted by the cruelty of their enemies, took up arms to avenge their wrongs. Thus having tasted blood, these women, we are told, acquired an unappeasable longing for the lust of carnage, and spurred on by the exaltation of victory, they decided to forswear the rule of man and become their own mistresses. Banishing, or mutilating, the few males left in their midst, they set about laying the foundations of a state, and, either through the necessities of the case or a liking for the calling, adopted arms as a national career. This monstrous experiment succeeding, the boundaries of the state were, if we are to believe various writers, vastly extended, the fame of the women warriors flying swiftly before their advancing legions, carrying terror into distant countries. Occasional war alliances were then formed with neighbouring people, to enable far-off and hazardous expeditions to be undertaken with greater ease. The women swept west as far as Bohemia, and some say into Gaul, reached the Mediterranean, penetrated India with conquering Dionysius, invaded Northern Africa to make treaties with Horus, son of Osiris and Isis, attacked Attica, actually sat down before proud Athens and almost beat her to the dust, founded colonies in Europe and Asia Minor, and built many cities renowned in history. Here, indeed, was a theme to inspire poets with eloquence, to be dwelt upon, embroidered and otherwise ornamented with diverse fantastic details by chroniclers; to endow the brush of painters, the chisel of sculptors with a fine frenzy, which has left us sometimes quaintly grotesque but frequently loftily conceived works of art.
It is a curious tale this story of the Amazons, disturbingly elusive when the positive evidence of monuments or other contemporary records are inquired after: a tale full of contradictions and pitfalls for the unwary, yet in its main outline consistent enough. It is impossible to date the story, though many compute it to have commenced between 2500 and 1500 years before our era, and others much earlier, taking into account the far-off expeditions and their merging into the realms of mythology. At all events, in some nebulous period and in an equally cloud-obscured region, the distant lands north-east of the Caucasus barrier, a conspiracy arose among the Scythians against two of their princes, named, we are told, Hylinos and Scolopotos, with the result that the milder alternative of banishment was resorted to. The princes and their families, their followers and their families, their partisans and their families--a nation in miniature--were pushed over the borderland, and came rushing to the foot and up the slopes of the Caucasus like the swollen yellow flood of an overfull river. Naturally they slew and stole, settling down to fill places high and places low of the dispossessed. Then, as we might expect, came an uprising of the oppressed when least looked for, but an uprising so successful in its first deceptive appearance that the festering sore caused by the implanted strangers was well-nigh wiped off the face of the land. The slaughter of the Scythian men was terrific, and of a thoroughness characteristic of those good old times. But the women of the hardy race, inured to hardships by their tribe's recent experiences, retired fighting to the dark mountains.
In exile from their own ancestral homes, suddenly deprived of their mankind, and fearing the dire humiliation of subjugation by the vanquishers, in the solitude of their mountain refuge, they came to the desperate resolve to form a women's state.
Their first step was to adopt the sacred girdle, that almost universal symbol in the east and Eastern Europe of the unmarried condition; then expelling or mutilating the few males left in their midst, they elected two queens, who alternately presided over home affairs while the other organised defence. But from the defensive the dauntless women soon took the offensive and reconquered their late homes. Such a condition of affairs naturally leading to constant reprisals, the manless state insensibly became organised on a perpetual war footing, an organisation which inevitably led to conquests beyond the original borders. Hence a new problem in statecraft: the ravages of time and the sword woefully thinning the population brought urgently under the attention of their rulers the imminence, more or less postponed by possible recruits, of complete extinction. A remedy had to be found. So truces were periodically declared, and those of the younger members of the state who had slain men in battle, discarding their girdles, visited their neighbours and formed temporary unions, then returning, reassumed the magic circlet. Of the children born of such unions, the males (some report) were sacrificed, or (as others say) mutilated and retained as serfs or sent back to their fathers. The girl babes being fed on mares' milk, on the pith of water-reeds, and as speedily as might be on the flesh of game, were brought up rigorously, and early made acquainted with hardship, with the use of arms, and with horse exercise. They wore a scanty tunic, protected themselves with small shields, and wielded the bow and arrow, the lance and the battle-axe. The better to secure the utmost freedom in archery, the right breast was either amputated or atrophied by searing with red-hot irons, or by close binding; and so the Greeks, when they came into contact with them, called them Amazons, or the breastless. With reminiscences of the steppes of their ancestral home, they cultivated horse exercise assiduously, and are said to have fought equally well on foot and on horseback. Thus were various precautions taken against the dying out of the race.
With a war organisation perfected and adopted as the basis of the social economy, and a population on the increase, conquest became necessary to the community. Great queens arose who led forth the restless swarms. Marpesia is among the first named of these militant rulers, riding at the head of armies to seize upon adjacent kingdoms, making good their hold on the Caucasus. Climbing the comparatively easy northern slopes, they descended the rugged southern declivities and overran Cappadocia, finally settling on the Thermodon, which empties itself into the Euxine (Black Sea), and built thereon their capital of Themyscira, which became the second and greatest cradle of their race. Thence they pushed their way down to the Ægean Sea, swept over most of Asia Minor into Syria, founding many towns, such as Ephesus and Smyrna. We are told of their ever-restless energy, of their organising harassing expeditions, threatening both ancient and rising civilisations, clashing with the armed Trojans in Phrygia, reaching Egypt by way of Syria, and in the train of Dionysus passing through Parthia and so on into India, where, some say, they founded colonies, and then, after harassing the Grecian settlements, flaunted Athens itself.
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