Great Ladies of History is a Patreon-sponsored essay series for tansyrr.com! One of the rewards at the $10 tier (Great Ladies Patron!) and at the $20 tier (Deluxe Super Special Queen-Emperor of Glorious Patronage) gives you the magical ability to choose any woman of history, fiction or art (yes, superhero comics count) for me to write about.
You can check out this and many other exciting Patreon rewards at my sponsorship page.
D. Franklin requested one of two amazing Ancient Greek ladies, and my policy in life is when in doubt, pick the Amazon. (the other option was Hypatia, but I don’t feel guilty about not picking her, because there’s a fabulous post about her here at The Original Black Woman).
The Amazons are a staple of Greek mythology – women warriors who are often held up these days as symbols of strength and feminism. In the ancient world, however, they were generally framed as monstrous, unnatural figures serving as the antagonists (or the objects) of male quests. It’s no coincidence that when the Amazons turn up in a story, it’s almost always at the point of being conquered, or killed – they are treated in art as equivalent to centaurs or other monstrous foes for the Greeks to battle against.
Most of the discussion around the Amazons in the ancient texts concerns their male-free culture, which sparked various theories as to how they acquired babies: by visiting a friendly tribe regularly to conceive, only to murder/hand back any boys born; or by enslaving the men conquered in battle. The rumour that they actually cut off a breast in order to free themselves for easier archery (because dying of infection, so convenient in the military) has been largely debunked, as it is not supported by the artistic depictions.
Those of the ancient world certainly believed Amazons had once existed, but even the oldest accounts we have describe them as a long-lost race, whose traditions were maintained by some cultures (Herododus claimed the Scythians were descended from Amazons, which is why they let their wives ride horses).
It’s more fun to believe they really existed, so let’s go with that.