Amazon women are the stuff of fantasy and Greek mythology. They’re drop-dead gorgeous – and they fight as well as (if not better than) any man, wielding swords and shooting bows with lethal brilliance.
We’ve read and heard about the Amazons for centuries (try eighth century B.C.) through lore and pop culture. Greek author Homer wrote of them, as has the DC Universe in creating Wonder Woman – who will get her own movie next summer. These female warriors epitomize strength and serious woman power.
But wouldn’t it be amazing if women like Wonder Woman actually existed in history? Author Amanda Foreman recently pondered that possibility in a Smithsonian article. She recalled her childhood awe when watching Wonder Woman: “She seemed to be speaking directly to me, urging, ‘Go find your own inner Amazonian.’”
And find it we shall, through archery.
Foreman’s article said ancient tales described the Amazons as beautiful and mysterious: “Arktinos of Miletus added a doomed romance, describing how the Greek Achilles killed the Amazonian queen Penthesilea in hand-to-hand combat, only to fall instantly in love with her as her helmet slipped to reveal the beautiful face beneath. From then on, the Amazons played an indispensable role in the foundation legends of Athens. Hercules, for example, last of the mortals to become a god, fulfills his ninth labor by taking the magic girdle from the Amazon queen Hippolyta.”
You might have heard Hippolyta’s name before. She’s Wonder Woman’s mother.
Those stories might be mythical, but Foreman’s Smithsonian article offers archaeological evidence that Amazons could have existed, based on unearthed graves: “One young female, bowlegged from constant riding, lay with an iron dagger on her left side and a quiver containing 40 bronze-tipped arrows on her right. The skeleton of another female still had a bent arrowhead embedded in the cavity.”
“Nor was it merely the presence of wounds and daggers that amazed the archaeologists,” Foreman continued. “On average, the weapon-bearing females measured 5 feet 6 inches, making them preternaturally tall for their time.”
Evidence of regular horseback riding, arrows in their graves, and ancient arrow wounds … Such physical evidence sounds intriguing, even promising.
CNN seconds this motion, citing Stanford historian Adrienne Mayor, author of “The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World.”
“Excavations of Eurasian graves have uncovered battle-scarred female skeletons dressed in tunics and trousers, and buried with quivers full of arrows, battle-axes, spears, and horse gear,” Mayor told CNN.
Even so, others write off the Amazons as a case of mistaken identity. As Foreman wrote in the Smithsonian: “In the 20th century, one school of thought claimed that the real Amazons were probably beardless ‘bow-toting Mongoloids’ mistaken for women by the Greeks.”
Whatever they were, the fact they knew how to use those bows would be intimidating.
The Greeks certainly didn’t dismiss them as mythical. “Their very name was a puzzle that mystified the ancient Greeks,” Foreman wrote. “They searched for clues to its origins by analyzing the etymology of Amazones, the Greek for Amazon. The most popular explanation claimed that Amazones was a derivation of a, ‘without,’ and mazos, ‘breasts’; another explanation suggested ama-zoosai, meaning ‘living together,’ or possibly ama-zoonais, ‘with girdles.’ The idea that Amazons cut or cauterized their right breasts in order to have better bow control offered a kind of savage plausibility that appealed to the Greeks.”
Talk about extreme possibilities! We’re all for finding ways to improve our shooting, but that seems beyond reasonable. After all, we’re talking about an era long before reliable anesthetics, antibiotics and blood transfusions existed.
CNN, for one, isn’t buying that possibility: “All Amazons in Greek and Roman art are double-breasted. And as any fan of ‘The Hunger Games’ knows, breasts do not hinder female archers.”
Whether you believe in Amazonian women or not, one fact remains certain: Any female can become Wonder Woman by picking up a bow and arrow, and mastering this ancient weapon.