Gender Interpretation Of Achilles And Amazon Penthesilea’s Fatal Love In Greek Art

Achilles and Penthesilea. Attic black-figure neck-amphora, ca. 520 BC. From Vulci. (Public Domain)

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’s Girdle

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.

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