Gender Interpretation Of Achilles And Amazon Penthesilea’s Fatal Love In Greek Art
Amazon queen Penthesilea was breathtakingly beautiful. “ Aphrodite, the noble bride of the potent War-god, made her beautiful indeed in death, so that the son of Peleus (Achilles), could be pierced by the arrow of chastising love," writes the fourth-century AD Greek poet Quintus Smyrnaeus in his poem Posthomerica (Things After Homer). In addition to her beauty, Penthesilea was also born into a family of queens. She was the daughter of Ares, the god of war, and Otrera, Queen of the legendary Amazons. Apart from Penthesilea, Ares and Otrera had three other daughters: Hippolyta, Antiope, and Melanippe. Hippolyta went on to become one of the most famous of the Amazon queens, while her other sisters Antiope and Melanippe ruled alongside her over their country's three major cities.
Reconstruction of the mosaic of the Amazon hunt with Melanippe, Hippolyta, Antiope and Penthesilea. Sanliurfa Haleplibache Mosaic Museum (Image: Courtesy Micki Pistorius)
Hippolyta owned a golden, jewel-encrusted belt, a gift from Ares himself, as a symbol of her authority. One day, Princess Admete, daughter of King Eurystheus, decided that she wanted to have that divine belt for herself. Her father then ordered the semi-divine hero Heracles, who happened to be at his service at the time, as a part of his 12 labours, to obtain this precious belt. Heracles led a band of warriors into Amazonian territory to either persuade or force Hippolyta to hand over her treasure.
Hercules and Hippolyta by Joseph Kuhn-Regnier (Public Domain)
Heracles and his men arrived in the land of the Amazons after a long journey and docked at the harbor. The queen, Hippolyta herself, came down to see these strange men when they disembarked from their ship. When Hercules told her why he had come, Hippolyta promised to give him the belt. Unfortunately, the goddess Hera was set to sabotage Heracles’ 12 labors. Therefore, disguised as an Amazon warrior, Hera rallied the Amazon army telling each woman that the strangers who had arrived intended to abduct their queen. Thus, the Amazons donned their armour and rode down to the harbor on horseback. When Heracles noticed the approaching Amazons in armour and carrying weapons, he knew he was under attack. Thinking quickly, he drew his sword and slayed their queen, Hippolyta.
Another version of this story claims that Theseus of Athens was among Heracles' warriors. Theseus declared his love for Hippolyta and took her to Athens with him.
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Top Image: Achilles and Penthesilea. Attic black-figure neck-amphora, ca. 520 BC. From Vulci. (Public Domain)
By: Martini Fisher