Amazons and Gorgons: Women of valour

| February 25, 2014
Social and Cultural Anthropologist and contributor Scherin Barlow-Massay

Social and Cultural Anthropologist and contributor Scherin Barlow-Massay

Community news. Greek mythology about the Amazons first came to my attention during a lesson in primary school. The notion of warrior women who could fight and who were independent of men immediately drew my admiration.

Having recently left my homeland, a country that bordered Brazil, the home of the Amazon River; my childish reasoning rejected the Greek depictions of Amazons as Europeans and replaced them with an extinct race of tall Amerindian women who were more familiar with using the bow and arrow.

Like their Greek counterparts, they too had one of their breasts removed so that they could use their weapons more effectively.

The Amazons would have stayed in the recesses of my mind as pure fiction; however, while researching another article, I came across a piece of writing about the Amazons in Greek mythology that caused me to wonder whether they really existed.

The first mention of a class of female warriors named the Amazons came from the Greek historian, Herodotus (c. 484- 425 BCE).  Later, Diodorus Siculus, in his book, Library of History, written in the first century BCE, wrote the following commentary: But now that we have examined these matters, it will be fitting, in connection with the regions we have mentioned, to discuss the account which history records of the Amazons who were in Libya in ancient times.

For the majority of mankind  believe that the only Amazons who are reported to have dwelt in the neighbourhood of the Thermodon river on the Pontus; but the truth is otherwise, since the Amazons of Libya were much earlier in point of time and accomplished notable deeds.

Velasca. Photo courtesy www.fanpop.com

Velasca. Photo courtesy www.fanpop.com

Now, we are not unaware that to many who read this account, the history of this people will appear to be a thing unheard of and entirely strange; for since the race of these Amazons disappeared entirely many generations before the Trojan War, whereas the women about the Thermodon river were in their full vigour a little before that time, it is not without reason that the later people, who were  also better known, should  have inherited the fame of the earlier, who are entirely unknown to most men because of the lapse of time.

For our part, however, since we find that many early poets and historians, and not a few of the later ones as well, have made mention of them, we shall endeavour to recount their deeds in summary… about many other things which took place  in the most ancient times.

Now, there have been in Libya a number of races of women who were warlike and greatly admired for their manly vigour; for instance, tradition tells us of the race of the Gorgons… Furthermore, the manly prowess of those of who we are now about to write presupposes an amazing pre-eminence when compared with the nature of the women of our day.

We are told, namely, that there was once on the western parts of Libya, on the bounds of the inhabited world, a race, which was ruled by women and followed a manner of life unlike that which prevails among us.

For it was the custom among them that the women should practise the arts of war and be required to serve in the army for a fixed period, during which time they maintained their virginity; then, when the years of their service in the field had expired, they went in to the men for the procreation of children, but they kept in their hands the administration of the magistracies and of all the affairs of the state.

The men, however, like our married women, spent their days about the house, carrying out the orders which were given them by their wives; and they took no part in military campaigns or in office or in the exercise of free citizenship in the affairs of the community by virtue of which they might become presumptuous and rise up against the women.

When their children were born the babies were turned over to the men, who brought them up on milk and such cooked foods as were appropriate to the age of the infants; and if it happened that a girl was born, its breasts were seared that they might not develop at the time of maturity; for they thought that the breasts, as they stood out from the body, were no small hindrance in warfare; and in fact it is because they have been deprived of their breasts that they are called by the Greeks, Amazon.

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