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Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons

Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons

The race of female warriors known as the Amazons are largely agreed to have dwelt in the Black Sea region, in what is present-day Ukraine. One of the most famous of these warrior women was Queen Penthesilea, who rallied her forces and took part in the Trojan war, defending Troy against the Greek invasion.

Her story was most tragic and brief, but it was a love story, a short but turbulent storm. She was a whirlwind on the battlefield, a single minded leader who bested any and every man she came across, save for Achilles, who was famously invincible until he led the Greeks to victory. The prophecy meant that Penthesilea had no chance, but being a warrior with the heart of Athena, she caught sight of the wrathful Achilles on the great open field and cut her way towards him.

Blinded by sun and rage, but still sensing the threat moving towards him, Achilles turned to Penthesilea, thrusting his spear wildly forward, nearly catching a sword to the neck.

Only just as the tip of the spear pierced her armor, did Achilles realize his foe was a woman. A fierce woman, a warrior who had made her way across the battle to him, and covered in sweat and blood as she was, in his eyes, she was strikingly beautiful. Had he seen her a moment before, he would have faltered.

Achilles had never seen the likes of Penthesilea before, and he never would again. It was too late to drive backwards. The spear cut through Penthesilea’s armor, and the warrior queen fell to one knee.

He caught her up in his arms, his battle-clear mind suddenly lost, clouded with horror at what had just come to pass. The Amazon queen looked up into the eyes of Achilles, and saw desperation and love flickering there as he memorized every contour of her face.

“...the moment so small, so precise,

it was easy to love everything

we knew of each other—I had a gift

and she had a desire

to accept that gift—we were whole—

we were cured—had advanced

the cause of being

ever so slightly along the path

it wanders with us, little bits of dust

caught in its hair.”

— Bob Hicok, “Sweet”

The Amazons are common enough in myth, but lived not only in story. Herotodus wrote, in the fifth century BCE, of women who pillaged around the Black Sea and founded cities where they would train young girls in the arts of war. They eventually intermarried with Scythians, and founded a new tribe. “The women of the Sauromatae have continued from that day to the present,” wrote Herodotus, “to observe their ancient customs, frequently hunting on horseback with their war taking the field and wearing the very same dress as the men....Their marriage law lays it down, that no girl shall wed until she has killed a man in battle.”