Mythical race of female warriors. The name was popularly understood as ‘breastless’ (maza, ‘breast’) and the story told that they ‘pinched out’ or ‘cauterized’ the right breast so as not to impede their javelin‐throwing. No real etymology is known.
Amazons exist in order to be fought, and ultimately defeated, by men in an Amazonomachy (‘Amazon‐battle’). In the Iliad we hear of Bellerophon killing them in Lycia, and of their defeat at the river Sangarios in Phrygia. In Aethiopis (see epic cycle) their Thracian queen, Penthesilea ‘daughter of Ares’, arrives to help the Trojans, but Achilles kills her (and Thersites for alleging Achilles loved her). Heracles' ninth labour was to fetch the belt of the Amazon queen, Hippolytē, resulting in another Amazonomachy. Theseus joined Heracles and as a result had to defeat an Amazon invasion of Attica, a story told in a late 6th‐cent. bc Theseid. Amazon tombs are frequent in central Greece, presumably because of local Amazonomachy myths. Appropriately for a group inverting normal Greek rules, Amazons live at the edge of the world. Their usual homeland is next to a river Thermodon in a city in remote Pontic Asia Minor. Real Amazons would need men for procreation. Diodorus 2 Siculus' Amazons at the Thermodon cripple their male children, but his second set, in Libya, have house‐husbands to whom they return (like Greek males) after their period of military service. It is part of the mythologizing of Alexander 2 the Great that stories were quick to surface that he had met Amazons and threatened or pleasured their queen.
Women warriors and hunters are quite frequent in myth and folk‐tal and inversely reflect the actual distribution of roles between the sexes. Amazonomachies and genre studies of Amazons are represented copiously in art from the late 7th cent. on, propelled by their special importance at Athens.
Subjects: Classical studies