Penthesilea: Queen of the Amazons

The Dramatic Life and Death of Penthesilea: Queen of the Amazons

(Read the article on one page)

Penthesilea was an Amazonian Queen from Greek mythology. She was the daughter of Ares and Otrera and the sister of Hippolyta, Antiope and Melanippe.  One of many famous Amazonian Queens, Penthisilea’s story is one of fierce dedication to being a warrior, and a tragic death at the hands of Achilles.

As an Amazon, Penthesilea was a member of a legendary race of warrior women. The Amazon women were so dedicated to being warriors, that they were known to cut off one of their breasts so that they would be better able to wield a bow. Whether this is true or not is debatable. Penthesilea was highly skilled with weapons, she was very wise, and she was beautiful.  It has been said that she invented the battle-axe. While hunting one day, Penthesilea accidentally killed her sister Hippolyta with a spear. This caused Penthesilea a great deal of grief, and led her to wish for death. However, as a warrior, and an Amazon, she could only die honorably and during battle.

Penthesilea

Penthesilea (1862), by Gabriel-Vital Dubray (1813-1892). East façade of the Cour Carrée in the Louvre palace, Paris. Image source: Wikipedia

Penthesilea’s reign as queen was during the years of the Trojan War. The Amazons did not take a particular side in the war, and Penthesiliea made an effort to stay away from the conflict for the most part. However, when Achilles killed the Trojan prince, Hector, and upon the accidental killing of her sister, Penthesilea decided that it was time for the Amazons to intervene, so the Amazons moved in on Troy.

During the war, Penthesilea was not a queen who sat by and watched the men fight. She was a warrior in the truest sense.  It is said that she blazed through the Greeks like lightning, killing many.  It is written that she was swift and brave, and fought as valiantly and successfully as the men. She wanted to prove that the Amazons were great warriors. She wanted to kill Achilles to avenge the death of Hector, and she wanted to die in battle.

Although Penthesilea was a ferocious warrior, her life came to an end, at the hands of Achilles. Achilles had seen her battling others, and was enamored with her ferocity and strength.  As he fought, he worked his way towards her, like a moth drawn to a flame. While he was drawn to her with the intention of facing her as an opponent, he fell in love with her upon facing her. However, it was too late.

Achilles defeated Penthesilea, catching her as she fell to the ground. Greek warrior Thersites mocked Achilles for his treatment of Penthesilea’s body after her death. It is also said that Thersites removed Penthesilea’s eyes with his sword. This enraged Achilles, and he slaughtered Thersites. Upon Thersites’ death, a sacred feud was fought.  Diomedes, Thersite’s cousin, retrieved Penthesilea’s corpse, dragged it behind his chariot, and cast it into the river. Achilles retrieved the body, and gave her a proper burial. In some stories, Achilles is accused of engaging in necrophilia with her body. In other legends, it is said that Penthesilea bore Achilles a son after her death.

Achilles cradles Penthesilea

Achilles cradles Penthesilea in his arms after killing her. Image source .

Ancient Roman poet Vergil wrote of Penthesilea:

The ferocious Penthesilea, gold belt fastened beneath her exposed breast, leads her battle-lines of Amazons with their crescent light-shields…a warrioress, a maiden who dares to fight with men.

He used the word “Bellatrix” to describe her, and it is rumored that this was JK Rowling’s inspiration for the naming of Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter series.

Penthesilea’s story is not told in the Iliad. The Iliad ends with Hector’s funeral, before the Amazons had arrived to avenge his death. Her story is told in the lost epic Aethiopis.

Penthesilea’s life and death were tragic. She is portrayed as a brave and fierce warrior who was deeply affected by the accidental death of her sister. This grief, compounded with her desire to be a strong warrior who would die an honorable death on the battlefield, led her to Troy, where her tragic death weakened Troy, but also led to unrest in the Greek camps due to her death’s impact on Achilles and his revengeful acts. In the end, she died the ‘honorable’ death on the battlefield that she had longed for, at the hands of the legendary Achilles, no less.

Featured image: A Renaissance representation of Penthesilea. Image source: Madeline Miller

Sources:

Mortal Women of the Trojan War: Penthesilea – Stanford University

Comments

were so consistently erased from the history books?? Tis vile & unjust...

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Myths & Legends

Edgar Cayce (Credit: Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment, Author provided)
For nearly 30 years I have returned to the famous “Sleeping Prophet” Edgar Cayce’s readings as a road map to try and piece together the complex origins of civilization and the creation of Homo sapiens. Cayce (March 18, 1877 – January 3, 1945) was an American Christian mystic born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky who answered questions on subjects as varied as healing, reincarnation, wars, Atlantis, and future events while in a trance state.

Human Origins

Edgar Cayce (Credit: Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment, Author provided)
For nearly 30 years I have returned to the famous “Sleeping Prophet” Edgar Cayce’s readings as a road map to try and piece together the complex origins of civilization and the creation of Homo sapiens. Cayce (March 18, 1877 – January 3, 1945) was an American Christian mystic born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky who answered questions on subjects as varied as healing, reincarnation, wars, Atlantis, and future events while in a trance state.

Ancient Technology

Detail of a star chart dating to the Middle Kingdom.
The calendar is one of mankind’s most important inventions. Calendars allowed societies to organize time for religious, social, economic, and administrative purposes. The calendar, or rather, two sets of calendars, were invented by the ancient Egyptians. One of these was a lunar calendar, which was used mainly for the organization of religious festivals.

Ancient Places

Healing Temple of Aesculapius (Asklepios) by Robert Thom
In the ancient world, many cultures built elaborate temple complexes dedicated to their healer gods - Imhotep in Egypt and Asklepios in Greece for example. These gods were recognized as having the power to cure supplicants from a variety of ailments within sleep and sacred dreams. Those who desired healing might travel many hundreds of miles to reach such a temple

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article