Sunday, September 21, 2014

Adrienne Mayor's "The Amazons"

Adrienne Mayor is a research scholar in Classics and History of Science at Stanford University; her book The Poison King, a biography of Mithradates, was National Book Award nonfiction finalist in 2009.

Mayor applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World, and reported the following:
The Amazons is the first comprehensive account of warrior women in antiquity, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Great Wall of China. For this Encyclopedia Amazonica, I combed through classical myth, literature, art, the nomadic traditions of Eurasia, and archaeological evidence to uncover intimate details and new insights about the imagined and actual lives of the women of the steppes, known to the Greeks as "Amazons." Sifting fact from fiction, I wanted to show how real, flesh-and-blood women were mythologized as Amazons.

The Greeks first encountered the warlike barbarian women of Thrace and Scythia, the vast territory from the Black Sea to Mongolia, in the seventh century BC. As they learned more about these peoples through trade and travelers' reports, artistic depictions of Amazons' clothing, weapons, and other features took on myriad realistic details.

Page 99 falls in Chapter 6, "Skin: Tattooed Amazons," which tells how Greek travelers described the tattoo customs of many individual tribes and how Athenian vase painters lovingly detailed exuberant patterns and deer designs on fierce warrior women. This is one of the most lavishly illustrated chapters; fittingly page 99 has a picture of an exquisite vase painting of 480 BC. A red-haired Thracian woman is running with a sword and scabbard; her outstretched arms and legs are tattooed with deer, zigzags, and wavy lines, calling to mind some "tribal" tattoos popular today.

Page 99's text continues a discussion of the tattoos illustrated in Greek vase paintings:

Another fine vase of the fourth century BC "depicts a gang of ferocious barefoot and booted women dressed in Thracian-Scythian-Amazon-style patterns. Their arms and legs are completely covered with sunbursts, geometric lines, and snake and deer figures. Another elegant example of tattooed Thracian women appears on an engraved silver drinking cup discovered in 2007 in a fifth-century BC royal Thracian tomb in southeastern Bulgaria. The cup was made around the same time as the Athenian vase paintings of tattooed Thracian women."

We now know that Greek knowledge of Scythian tattoo designs was surprisingly accurate. The chapter concludes with photographs of actual tattoos engraved on the skin of Scythian women whose frozen bodies were preserved in permafrost for 2,500 years.
Learn more about The Amazons at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue