lecture

Warrior Women. Amazons. Spartans.

Identifications
— Amazons
— antianeirai
— Spartan women

1. Herodotus, Histories (5th c. BCE) 4.113-114:

[4.113] At midday the Amazons would scatter and go apart from each other singly or in pairs, roaming apart for greater comfort. The Scythians noticed this and did likewise; and as the women wandered alone, a young man laid hold of one of them, and the woman did not resist but let him do his will; [2] and since they did not understand each other’s speech and she could not speak to him, she signed with her hand that he should come the next day to the same place and bring another youth with him (showing by signs that there should be two), and she would bring another woman with her. The youth went away and told his comrades; and the next day he came himself with another to the place, where he found the Amazon and another with her awaiting them. When the rest of the young men learned of this, they had intercourse with the rest of the Amazons.

[4.114] Presently they joined their camps and lived together, each man having for his wife the woman with whom he had had intercourse at first. Now the men could not learn the women’s language, but the women mastered the speech of the men;  and when they understood each other, the men said to the Amazons, “We have parents and possessions; therefore, let us no longer live as we do, but return to our people and be with them; and we will still have you, and no others, for our wives.” To this the women replied: “We could not live with your women; for we and they do not have the same customs. We shoot the bow and throw the javelin and ride, but have never learned women’s work; and your women do none of the things of which we speak, but stay in their wagons and do women’s work, and do not go out hunting or anywhere else. So we could never agree with them. If you want to keep us for wives and to have the name of fair men, go to your parents and let them give you the allotted share of their possessions, and after that let us go and live by ourselves.” The young men agreed and did this.

2. Attic black-figure vase (amphora) by Exekias, c. 530 BCE. Achilles (left) kills the Amazonian queen, Penthesilea (right). Image: British Museum.

BM Penthesilea

3. Attic red-figure vase (calyx krater), c. 450 BCE. Battle between Greeks and Amazons. Image: Met Museum.

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4. Strabo, Geography (1st c. BCE) 11.5.3:

A peculiar thing has happened in the case of the account we have of the Amazons; for our accounts of other peoples keep a distinction between the mythical and the historical elements; for the things that are ancient and false and monstrous are called myths, but history wishes for the truth, whether ancient or recent, and contains no monstrous element, or else only rarely. But as regards the Amazons, the same stories are told now as in earlytimes, though they are marvellous and beyond belief. For instance, who could believe that an army of women, or a city, or a tribe, could ever be organised without men, and not only be organised, but even make inroads upon the territory of other people, and not only overpower the peoples near them to the extent of advancing as far as what is now Ionia, but even send an expedition across the sea as far as Attica? For this is the same as saying that the men of those times were women and that the women were men. Nevertheless, even at the present time these very stories are told about the Amazons, and they intensify the peculiarity above-mentioned and our belief in the ancient accounts rather than those of the present time.

5. Adrienne Mayor, The Amazons (2016: 19):

“Their [=the Amazons] heroic exploits were imaginary, but their characters and actions arose from a common historical source: warrior cultures of the steppes where nomad horsemen and -women could experience parity at a level almost unimaginable for ancient Hellenes. Myth and reality commingled in the Greek imagination, and as more and more details come to light about Scythian culture, the women of Scythia were explicitly identified as ‘Amazons.’ Today’s archaeological and linguistic discoveries point to the core of reality that lay behind Greek amazon myths.”

6. Mary Beard, Women and Power (2017: 60-62):

“There’s a similar logic in the stories of that mythical race of Amazon women, said by Greek writers to exist somewhere on the northern borders of their world. A more violent and more militaristic lot than the peaceful denizens of Herland [=pp49-51], this monstrous regiment always threatened to overrun the civilised world of Greece and Greek men. An enormous amount of energy has been wasted on trying to prove that these Amazons did once exist, with all the seductive possibilities of a historical society that was really ruled by and for women. Dream on. The hard truth is that the Amazons were a Greek male myth. The basic message was that the only good Amazon was a dead one, or…one that had been mastered in the bedroom. The underlying point was that it was the duty of men to save civilisation from the rule of women.”

7. The Black Sea, Caucasus, and Caspian Sea region. Map by Michele Angel. Map 2.4 in A. Mayor (2016: 42). Image: @amayor 3rd Jan. 2017.

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8. Adrienne Mayor, The Amazons (2016: 20):

“The Scythians themselves left no written records. Much of our knowledge about them comes from the art and literature of Greece and Rome. But the Scythians did leave spectacular physical evidence of their way of life for archaeologists to uncover…Archaeology shows that Amazons were not simply symbolic figments of the Greek imagination, as many scholars claim. Nor are Amazons unique to Greek culture, another common claim. In fact, Greeks were not the only people to spin tales about Amazon-like figures and warrior women ranging over the vast regions east of the Mediterranean. Other literate cultures, such as Persia, Egypt, India, and China, encountered warlike nomads in antiquity, and their narratives drew on their own knowledge of steppe nomads through alliances, exploration, trade, and warfare.”

9. “Amazon” understood as Greek a + mazos = “without breast” 
9a. Strabo, Geography (1st c. BCE) 11.5.1:

…the Amazons spend the rest of their time off to themselves, performing their several individual tasks, such as ploughing, planting, pasturing cattle, and particularly in training horses, though the bravest engage mostly in hunting on horseback and practise warlike exercises; that the right breasts of all are seared when they are infants, so that they can easily use their right arm for every needed purpose, and especially that of throwing the javelin

9b. “Apollodorus”Library (1st/2nd c. CE) 2.98:

For the Amazons cultivated a manly spirit; whenever they had sex and gave birth, they raised the female children. They would constrict their right breasts so that these would not interfere with throwing a javelin, but allowed their left breasts to grow so they could breastfeed.

10a. Homer, Iliad, 3.188-190. Priam speaking to Helen (see wk 2). 

“For I, too, being their ally, was numbered among them on the day when the Amazons came, the peers of men (Amazones antianeirai). But not even they were as many as are the bright-eyed Achaeans.”

10b. Adrienne Mayor, The Amazons (2016: 22):

“There is something remarkable about Homer’s earliest use of Amazones in the Iliad. The form of the name falls into the linguistic category of ethnic designations in epic poetry (another Homeric example is Myrmidones, the warriors led by Achilles at Troy). This important clue tells us that Amazones was originally a Hellenized name for ‘a plurality, a people,’ as in Hellenes for Greeks and Trooes for the Trojans. The Greeks used distinctive feminine endings (typically –ai) for associations made up exclusively of women, such as Nymphai (Nymphs) or Trooiai for Trojan women. But Amazones does not have the feminine ending that one would expect if the group consisted only of women. Therefore, the name Amazones would originally have been ‘understood as… a people consisting of men and women.’ As classicist Josine Blok points out in her discussion of this puzzle, without the addition of the feminine epithet antianeirai ‘there is no way of telling that this was a people of female warriors.'”

11a. Adrienne Mayor, The Amazons (2016: colour plate 3). Warrior woman’s skeleton, with a large iron dagger in her right hand and two iron arrowheads between her legs, 4th-3rd centuries BCE, necropolis 8, Kurgan 1, burial 6. Photos by James Vedder, Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads, 1992. Image.

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11b. Adrienne Mayor, The Amazons (2016: 64-65):

“Now that modern bioarchaeological methods can determine the sex of skeletons, we know that in some cemetery populations on the steppes armed females represent as many as 37% of the burials…[p64] In the not-too-distant past, archaeologists routinely identified Scythian burials as “male” or “female” based on preconceived notions about the types of grave goods expected for each gender. Weapons and tools were assumed to belong to men, while spindles, jewelry and mirrors were [p65] supposed to be feminine.”

12. Plutarch (1st/2nd c. CE), Sayings of Spartan Women 241

When a woman from Ionia showed vast pride in a bit of her own weaving, which was very valuable, a Spartan woman pointed to her four sons, who were most well-behaved, and said, “Such should be the employments of the good and honourable woman, and it is over these that she should be elated and boastful.

Another, as she handed her son his shield, exhorted him, saying, “Either this or upon this.”

13. Xenophon (4th c. BCE), Constitution of the Spartans 3-4

[3] In other states the girls who are destined to become mothers and are brought up in the approved fashion, live on the very plainest fare, with a most meagre allowance of delicacies. Wine is either withheld altogether, or, if allowed them, is diluted with water. The rest of the Greeks expect their girls to imitate the sedentary life that is typical of handicraftsmen—to keep quiet and do wool-work. How, then, is it to be expected that women so brought up will bear fine children? [4] But Lycurgus thought the labour of slave women sufficient to supply clothing. He believed motherhood to be the most important function of freeborn woman. Therefore, in the first place, he insisted on physical training for the female no less than for the male sex: moreover, he instituted races and trials of strength for women competitors as for men, believing that if both parents are strong they produce more vigorous offspring.

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lecture

Epic Heroines or Antagonists? Penelope.

Identifications
— 
Penelope
— women and speech
— masculinity

1a. [Drawing of] Attic red-figure vase (skyphos), 450-400 BCE in Chiusi, Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Penelope, seated on a stool. Telemachus with spears. Loom. Cloth with pegasus and griffin pattern. Image: perseus.tufts.edu.

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1b. a modern retelling…

2. Penelope’s name derived from pēnē (πήνη) = “the threads of a spool.” Or…?:

3a. Tatiana Blass (2011), “PENÉLOPE.” Chapel of Morumbi (São Paulo, Brazil). Photography: Everton Ballardin.

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3b. weaving as a literary metaphor; from antiquity to modernity:

4. Homer, Iliad (8th c. BCE), 6.429-444. Andromache and Hector. 

[Andromache speaking] “Nay, Hector, thou art to me father and queenly mother, [430] thou art brother, and thou art my stalwart husband. Come now, have pity, and remain here on the wall, lest thou make thy child an orphan and thy wife a widow. And for thy host, stay it by the wild fig-tree, where the city may best be scaled, and the wall is open to assault. [435] For thrice at this point came the most valiant in company with the twain Aiantes and glorious Idomeneus and the sons of Atreus and the valiant son of Tydeus, and made essay to enter: whether it be that one well-skilled in soothsaying told them, or haply their own spirit urgeth and biddeth them thereto.” [440] Then spake to her great Hector of the flashing helm: “Woman, I too take thought of all this, but wondrously have I shame of the Trojans, and the Trojans’ wives, with trailing robes, if like a coward I skulk apart from the battle.”

5a. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 1.325-344:

They were sitting calmly,
listening to the poet, who sang how
Athena cursed the journey of the Greeks
as they were sailing home from Troy. Upstairs,
Penelope had heard the marvelous song.
She clambered down the steep steps of her house,
not by herself — two slave girls came with her.
She reached the suitors looking like a goddess,
then stopped and stood beside a sturdy pillar,
holding a gauzy veil before her face.
Her slave girls stood, one on each side of her.
In tears, she told the holy singer, “Stop,
please, Phemius! You know so many songs,
enchanting tales of things that gods and men
have done, the deeds that singers publicize.
Sing something else, and let them drink in peace.
Stop this upsetting song that always breaks
my heart, so I can hardly bear my grief.
I miss him all the time — that man, my husband,
whose story is so famous throughout Greece.”

5b. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 1.345-361:

Sullen Telemachus said, “Mother, no,
you must not criticize the loyal bard
for singing as it pleases him to sing.
Poets are not to blame for how things are;
Zeus is; he gives to each as is his will.
Do not blame Phemius because he told
about the Greek disasters. You must know
the newest song is always praised the most.
So steel your heart and listen to the song.
Odysseus was not the only one
who did not come back home again from Troy.
Many were lost. Go in and do your work.
Stick to the loom and distaff. Tell your slaves
to do their chores as well. It is for men
to talk, especially me. I am the master.”
That startled her. She went back to her room,
and took to heart her son’s deliberate scolding.
She went upstairs, along with both her slaves,
and wept there for dear Odysseus,
until Athena gave her eyes sweet sleep.

5c. Emily Wilson on Telemachus: 

6. Ira Glass, “Freedom Fries,” in This American Life 545, Jan. 23. 2015. 

7. Plutarch (1st/2nd c. CE), Advice to Bride and Groom 31 = Moralia 142d. 

Theano [=wife? of philosopher, Pythagoras], in putting her cloak about her, exposed her arm. Somebody exclaimed, “A lovely arm.” “But not for the public,” said she. Not only the arm of the virtuous woman, but her speech as well, ought to be not for the public, and she ought to be modest and guarded about saying anything  in the hearing of outsiders, since it is an exposure of herself; for in her talk can be seen her feelings, character, and disposition.

8. Dio Chrysostom (1st/2nd c. CE), Speech 33.38-39. 

Well then, supposing certain people should as a community be so afflicted that all the males got female voices and that no male, whether young or old, could say anything man-fashion, would that not seem a grievous experience and harder to bear, I’ll warrant, than any pestilence, and as a result would they not send to the sanctuary of the god and try by many gifts to propitiate the divine power? And yet to speak with female voice is to speak with human voice, and nobody would be vexed at hearing a woman speak. [39] But who are they who make that sort of sound? Are they not the creatures of mixed sex? Are they not men who have had their testicles lopped off?

English translations: Homer’s Iliad from old Loeb reproduced by Perseus. Homer’s Odyssey, Emily Wilson (2018). Plutarch and Dio Chrysostom from old Loebs reproduced by Lacus Curtius.

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lecture

Epic Heroines or Antagonists? Helen.

Identifications
— 
weaving
— matrilocality vs. patrilocality
— Helen
— witchiness

1. Attic red-figure vase (skyphos), c. 490 BCE in the Boston MFA. Side A: Paris leading Helen away. Aphrodite and Eros flank Helen. The personification of persuasion (Peitho) follows behind. Side B: Helen fleeing to Apollo sanctuary during sack of Troy. Menelaus draws his sword to kill her. Aphrodite behind Helen. Priest of Apollo (Chryses) and his daughter (Chryseis) behind Aphrodite. Images: MFA.

mfa helen cup 2 copy

mfa helen cup 1 copy

2. Sarah PomeroyGoddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves (1975: 25): 

“In an atmosphere of fierce competition among men, women were viewed symbolically and literally as properties — the prizes of contests and the spoils of conquest — and domination over them increased the male’s prestige.”

3. Homer, Iliad (8th c. BCE), 3.121-190:

(3.121-138) But Iris went as a messenger to white-armed Helen in the likeness of her husband’s sister, the wife of Antenor’s son, her that lord Helicaon, Antenor’s son, had to wife, Laodice, the fairest of the daughters of Priam. She found Helen in the hall, where she was weaving a great purple web of double fold on which she was embroidering many battles of the horse-taming Trojans and the bronze-clad Achaeans, which for her sake they had endured at the hands of Ares. And swift-footed Iris came up to her, and spoke to her, saying: “Come here, dear sister, so that you may see the wondrous doings of the horse-taming Trojans and the bronze-clad Achaeans. They who formerly were waging tearful war against one another on the plain, their hearts set on deadly battle, they now sit in silence, and the battle has ceased, and they lean on their shields, and beside them their long spears are fixed. But Alexander [=Paris] and Menelaus, dear to Ares, will fight with their long spears for you; and the one who wins, his dear wife will you be called.”

(3.139-145) So spoke the goddess, and put into her heart sweet longing for her former husband and her city and parents; and immediately she veiled herself with shining linen, and started out of her chamber, letting fall round tears, not alone, for with her followed two handmaids as well, Aethra, daughter of Pittheus, and ox-eyed Clymene; and quickly they came to the place where were the Scaean gates.

(3.146-160) And they who were about Priam and Panthous and Thymoetes and Lampus and Clytius and Hicetaon, offshoot of Ares, and Ucalegon and Antenor, men of prudence both, sat as elders of the people at the Scaean gates. Because of old age they had now ceased from battle, but they were good speakers, like cicadas that in a forest sit on a tree and pour out their lily-like voice; such were the leaders of the Trojans who were sitting on the wall. When they saw Helen coming on to the wall, softly they spoke winged words to one another: “Small blame that Trojans and well-greaved Achaeans should for such a woman long suffer woes; she is dreadfully like immortal goddesses to look on. But even so, though she is like them, let her go home on the ships, and not be left here to be a bane to us and to our children after us.”

(3.161-170) So they said, but Priam spoke, and called Helen to him: “Come here, dear child, and sit in front of me, so that you may see your former husband and your kinspeople and those dear to you—you are in no way to blame in my eyes; it is the gods, surely, who are to blame, who roused against me the tearful war of the Achaeans—and so that you may tell me who is this huge warrior, this man of Achaea so powerful and so tall. To be sure there are others who are even taller in stature, but so fair a man have my eyes never yet seen, nor one so royal: for he looks like a kingly man.”

(3.171-180) And Helen, fair among women, answered him, saying: “Respected are you in my eyes, dear father of my husband, and dread. I wish that evil death had been pleasing to me when I followed your son here, and left my bridal chamber and my kinspeople and my daughter, well-beloved, and the lovely companions of my girlhood. But that was not to be; so I pine away with weeping. But this will I tell you, about which you ask and inquire. That man is the son of Atreus, wide-ruling Agamemnon, who is both a noble king and a mighty spearman. And he was husband’s brother to shameless me, if ever there was such a one.”

(3.181-190) So she spoke, and the old man was seized with wonder, and said: “Ah, happy son of Atreus, child of fortune, blest by the gods; many youths of the Achaeans have been made subject to you I see. Before now I have journeyed to the land of Phrygia, rich in vines, and there I saw in multitudes the Phrygian warriors, masters of glancing steeds, the men of Otreus and godlike Mygdon, who were then encamped along the banks of Sangarius. For I, too, being their ally, was numbered among them on the day when the Amazons came, the peers of men. But not even they were as many as are the bright-eyed Achaeans.”

4. Homer, Iliad (8th c. BCE), 3.380-420:

(3.380-394) But him [=Paris] Aphrodite snatched up, very easily as a goddess can, and shrouded him in thick mist, and set him down in his fragrant, vaulted chamber, and then herself went to summon Helen. Her she found on the high wall, and round about her in throngs were the women of Troy. Then with her hand the goddess laid hold of her fragrant robe, and plucked it, and spoke to her in the likeness of an old woman, a wool-comber, who used to card the fair wool for her when she lived in Lacedaemon, and whom she especially loved; in her likeness fair Aphrodite spoke: “Come here; Alexander calls you to go home. There he is in his chamber and on his inlaid bed, gleaming with beauty and garments. You would not say that he had come there from fighting with a foe, but rather that he was going to the dance, or was sitting there having just recently ceased from the dance.”

(3.395-398) So she spoke, and stirred Helen’s heart in her breast; and when she caught sight of the beauteous neck of the goddess, her lovely bosom, and her flashing eyes, she was struck with wonder, and she spoke, and addressed her, saying:

(3.399-412) “Strange goddess, why is your heart set on deceiving me in this way? Will you lead me still further on to one of the well-peopled cities of Phrygia or lovely Maeonia, if there too there is some one of mortal men who is dear to you, because now Menelaus has defeated noble Alexander and is minded to lead hateful me to his home? It is for this reason that you have now come here with guileful thought. Go, sit by his side, and abandon the way of the gods, and turn not your feet back to Olympus; but ever be anxious for him, and guard him, until he makes you his wife, or maybe even his slave. There I will not go—it would be shameful—to share that man’s bed; all the women of Troy will blame me afterwards; and I have measureless griefs at heart.”

(3.413-417) Angered, fair Aphrodite spoke to her: “Provoke me not, hard woman, lest I desert you in anger, and hate you, just as now I love you exceedingly, and lest I devise grievous hatred of you from both sides, Trojans and Danaans alike; then would you perish of an evil fate.”

(3.418-420) So she spoke, and Helen, sprung from Zeus, was seized with fear; and she went, wrapping herself in her bright shining mantle, in silence; and she escaped the notice of the Trojan women; and the goddess led the way.

5. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 4.119-136: 

As he [=Menelaus] was hesitating, Helen
emerged from her high-ceilinged, fragrant bedroom,
like Artemis, who carries golden arrows.
Adraste set a special chair for her,
Alcippe spread upon it soft wool blankets,
and Phylo brought her a silver sewing basket,
given to her by Alcandre, the wife
of Polybus, who lived in Thebes, in Egypt,
where people have extraordinary wealth.
He gave two silver tubs to Menelaus,
a pair of tripods and ten pounds of gold.
His wife gave other lovely gifts for Helen:
a golden spindle and this silver basket
on wheels; the rims were finished off with gold.
Phylo, her girl, brought out that basket now,
packed full of yarn she had already spun.
A spindle wound around with purple wool
was laid across it.

6. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 4.219-234:

… Then the child of Zeus,
Helen, decided she would mix the wine
with drugs to take all pain and rage away,
to bring forgetfulness of every evil.
Whoever drinks this mixture from the bowl
will shed no tears that day, not even if
her mother or her father die, nor even
if soldiers kill her brother or her darling
son with bronze spears before her very eyes.
Helen had these powerful magic drugs
from Polydamna, wife of Thon, from Egypt,
where fertile fields produce the most narcotics:
some good, some dangerous. The people there
are skillful doctors. They are the Healer’s people.
She mixed the wine and told the slave to pour it,
and then she spoke again.

English translations: Homer’s Iliad, A. T. Murray, revised by W. F. Wyatt. Loeb Classical Library, 1924. Homer’s Odyssey, Emily Wilson (2018). 

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