Amazons: The Real Warrior Women of the Ancient World by John Man - review by Philip Womack

Philip Womack

Lady Killers

Amazons: The Real Warrior Women of the Ancient World


Bantam Press 301pp £20 order from our bookshop

The Amazons of popular imagination, as descended from Greek mythology, are a beguiling, terrifying nation of warrior women. They cut off their right breasts to enable ease of movement. They mate once a year with local tribes, keeping the resulting girls and abandoning the boys. Their queens encounter the great Greek heroes, in some versions coming off better and in others dying beautiful, poignant deaths (often represented in art, it must be said, wearing very few clothes). They are also, eternally, located ‘over there’ – beyond the next mountain range, across the next sea or at the end of a very long river.

Hercules has to steal their magical girdle from Hippolyte; Achilles falls in love with Penthesilea as he kills her outside the walls of Troy; either Theseus captures Antiope or ‘she follows him home’. The heroes show their prowess by defeating or bedding these extraordinary women. Folk etymology suggests that their

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