By Adrienne Mayor and Josiah Ober
MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History (1991)
Introduction: Amazonomachy is a Greek word meaning combat between male and female warriors. In literature such scenes always take place far from the here and now” either “once upon a time” in the mythic past or beyond the bounds of civilization. Amazonomachies are common in modern pulp fiction; they usually go something like this:
She shouted with glee, leaping into the fray. Panic and confusion seized the men…She darted about, wielding her dagger with deadly effect. Three men fell in the first minutes… She was tall, slender, yet formed like a goddess; at once lithe and voluptuous. Her only garment was a broad silken girdle, a quiver at her back. Her whole figure reflected an unusual strength. Her strong limbs and the ivory globes of her breast drove a beat of fierce passion through the Cimmerian’s pulse, even in the panting fury of battle… Bright metal whirled…parried…flashed…slashed…plunged and ripped… through leather, flesh and bone… Her companions advanced, weapons crimson to the hilt – the warriors froze in fear. In the tempest of blood or iron, an arrow-storm whizzed through the air..The plain became a scarlet morass…
Such imagery is typically associated with modern fantasy fiction, but it would be familiar to a much earlier audience. The Greek hoplites would recognize in these passages their supposed archenemies, the original women warriors – the Amazons. In Greek legend and modern adventure tales alike, the Amazon dwells at the distant frontier – at the edges of geography or time. Whether in the glorious past of Greek myth or the lurid pages of pulp fiction, the life-and-death struggle between the fierce woman warrior and a valiant male is fraught with suspense. And whether it is Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonya of the Hyborian Age or Achilles and Penthesilea on the plauns of Troy, we know that the encounter will end in death or love – sometimes both.