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The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across The AncientWorld by Adrienne Mayor: A Book Review

The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across The Ancient World
Author:  Adrienne Mayor
Genre: Nonfiction, History
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Release Date: 2014
Pages: 530
Source: My State Public Library
Synopsis: Amazons—fierce warrior women dwelling on the fringes of the known world—were the mythic archenemies of the ancient Greeks. Heracles and Achilles displayed their valor in duels with Amazon queens, and the Athenians reveled in their victory over a powerful Amazon army. In historical times, Cyrus of Persia, Alexander the Great, and the Roman general Pompey tangled with Amazons.

     But just who were these bold barbarian archers on horseback who gloried in fighting, hunting, and sexual freedom? Were Amazons real? In this deeply researched, wide-ranging, and lavishly illustrated book, National Book Award finalist Adrienne Mayor presents the Amazons as they have never been seen before. This is the first comprehensive account of warrior women in myth and history across the ancient world, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Great Wall of China.

     Mayor tells how amazing new archaeological discoveries of battle-scarred female skeletons buried with their weapons prove that women warriors were not merely figments of the Greek imagination. Combining classical myth and art, nomad traditions, and scientific archaeology, she reveals intimate, surprising details and original insights about the lives and legends of the women known as Amazons. Provocatively arguing that a timeless search for a balance between the sexes explains the allure of the Amazons, Mayor reminds us that there were as many Amazon love stories as there were war stories. The Greeks were not the only people enchanted by Amazons—Mayor shows that warlike women of nomadic cultures inspired exciting tales in ancient Egypt, Persia, India, Central Asia, and China.

     Driven by a detective’s curiosity, Mayor unearths long-buried evidence and sifts fact from fiction to show how flesh-and-blood women of the Eurasian steppes were mythologized as Amazons, the equals of men. The result is likely to become a classic.

     My Review: For centuries, Amazons have captured the imaginations of millions. Eleanor of Aquitaine accompanied her husband, Louis VII, during the Crusades dressed as Amazons. Just recently, Anne Fortier wrote a novel about the Amazons. Stories of certain Amazons have been retold again like Penthesilea, Atalanta, and Hippolyta. Even though the Amazons seems to be a myth, were they in fact real? If so, who were the real Amazons? What is the origins story to the legend of the Amazon? In this nonfiction work, the author attempts to answer our questions and provide us information to what the real Amazons might have been like.

     This book traces the theories that the Amazons were the Scythians. The Scythians were Iranian horse riding nomadic tribes. The women in the tribe were given more freedom than the Greek women. The women rode horses and fought in battle. They fascinated and frightened Greek society. For while the Greeks idealized them, they did not want their women to be like them. So, they spread many legends to warn the women to not be like the Scythian women.

     Overall, I found this book to be a very compelling account about the Amazons. The author has separated archaeological evidence from Greek mythology. I liked how she separated fact from fiction and how she explained the origins of the legends surrounding the Amazons. These women that she describes are strong and fascinating. They were equals to men. Because Greece was a patriarchal society, the men could admire them from afar but at the same time they feared they were a danger to society. While I did find the book to be dry, I found the topic to be very interesting. This book answers a lot of questions about the myths of the Amazons that I found to be very satisfying. I recommend this book to anyone who has always been fascinated by the legends of the Amazons and wants to learn the truth about them, those interested in Greek society and their views of women, or anybody who loves reading about a strong race of women.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars




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