All along I've harbored a wistful desire to find an author with a more comprehensive view of female movers and shakers. Why not give readers a book with copious cross-references between history, art, and myth, backed up by hard data from archaeology and other emerging sciences? Now, my wish is granted! Stanford research scholar Adrienne Mayor has birthed The Amazons: Lives & Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World.
A readable work of staggering accomplishment, her offspring is a robust, beautifully illustrated volume of 500-plus pages. Unlike human babies, this newcomer arrives with plenty of apps and extra help, from generous captions to copious notes, maps, and massive bibliography.
The indefatigable Mayor explores controversies and confirms premises, all while shattering fond fairytales, such as the man-hating, one-breasted Amazons. Drawing from a huge stock of recent archaeological and osteological evidence, she demonstrates that so-called "legendary" Amazons were based on real-life warrior women in nomadic societies from around the Black Sea east to the Caspian and Aral Seas and south to North Africa."
Mayor makes the case that such cultures were mobile, fierce, and surprisingly egalitarian because they relied on horses and archer weaponry, both of which made females the physical equals of males in battle. And elsewhere. As she puts it, "Each individual was crucial to the survival of the tribe. Children dressed and ate alike, and all learned to tame and ride fast horses, shoot deadly arrows, bring home game, defend the tribe, and attack foes."
Mayor renders a further service by pointing out that the ancient Greeks' utter fascination with Amazons, as evinced by the plethora of art images and stories about them, was as much about admiring feminine courage and love as it was about aggression and defeat.
"The universal quest to find balance and harmony between men and women, beings who are at once so alike and so different, lies at the heart of all Amazon tales. That timeless tension helps to explain why there were as many love stories about warrior women as there were war stories."
The book's chapter on Sex & Love provides surprising details, including juicy for-instances from ancient writers.