Wonder Woman’s origins (in both comics and now film *squee*) are deeply rooted in well-known classical myth and legend. Tidbits, nods and outright lifts from Greek and Roman mythology are rife in the new blockbuster film–each with their own unique, modern spin. Some of these spins work really well, some of these spins, less so.
Wonder Woman’s own name, Diana; shows this off well as her name echoes that of the Roman goddess Diana, identified with Greece’s Artemis, who was the Goddess of hunting, childbirth, the wilderness and protection.
The Amazons, personally, were my favourite part of the film. Badass, diverse, working as a collective together, strong, these women were undoubtedly the shining stars of WONDER WOMAN though only getting a little screen time in the beginning.
The Amazons of Greek and Roman mythology have a pretty rich and far reaching history. For the most part they were long believed to be purely imaginary. They were the mythical warrior women who were the archenemies of the ancient Greeks. Every Greek hero or champion, from Hercules to Theseus and Achilles, had to prove his mettle by fighting a powerful warrior queen.
In the earliest echoes of their mythos, the Amazons are said to be the daughters of God Ares and Harmonia (a nymph of the Akmonian wood). Their fortified Amazonian capital Themiscyra, was believed to be located on the banks of the Thermodon River near the coast of the Black Sea in what is now northern Turkey.
The eighth-century B.C. poet ‘Homer’ was the first to mention the existence of the Amazons. In the Iliad—which is set 500 years earlier, during the Bronze or Heroic Age—Homer referred to a tribe of entirely women, the Antianeirai “Those who fight like men”, who were considered worthy, formidable and epic opponents for Homer’s male characters to boast battling.
Most versions of the original Amazon myth call to the idea of the Amazon women cutting or cauterizing their right breasts in order to have better bow control (which is an absolutely physiologically ridiculous idea, I mean we’ve all watched archery contests, the HUNGER GAMES etc.)
Other versions detail that no men were permitted to have sexual encounters or reside within Amazon country (The Themiscyra) with the Amazon women only once a year visiting the Gargareans, a neighbouring tribe, for procreation. Any baby boys coming from this structured breeding would be fostered back to the Gargareans, any daughters would grow up within the Amazon community. The idea of Amazon girls growing up unable to wed until they had killed a man in battle also started to become a part of Amazonian canon.
Future generations of poets went further and gave the Amazons a fighting role in the fall of Troy—interestingly on the side of the Trojans. In the Iliad one Amazon Penthesileia, arrived on the battlefield during the funeral of Hector, and went out to battle after the eleven prescribed days of mourning. Achilles was the one to kill her in battle, something he later came to regret upon discovered she was a woman as her helmet fell.
From this simple add on, the Amazons soon begun to play an indispensable role in the foundation legends of Athens. Hercules, for example, last of the mortals to become a god, in his legend of the twelve labours, for number nine was tasked with stealing a magic girdle from the Amazon queen Hippolyta. This Heracles vs the Amazons myth was adapted in the mid sixth century to include Theseus, King of Athens (who was considered the unifier of ancient Greece) who came storming after Theseus who abducted their sister Antiope and sailed back to Athens to marry her. The ensuing battle between the Amazons and Athenians was known as the Attic War, and was apparently a pretty neck and neck deal.
According to the first century A.D. Greek historian Plutarch, the Amazons “were no trivial nor womanish enterprise for Theseus. For they would not have pitched their camp within the city, nor fought hand-to-hand battles in the neighbourhood of the Pynx and the Museum, had they not mastered the surrounding country and approached the city with impunity.” As ever, though, Athenian bravery saved the day yet Antiope was lost in the battle to a stray arrow but not before giving birth to Theseus’ first son, Hippolytus.
In some other versions Theseus went alone to Themiscyra after the time of Heracles and kidnapped Hippolytus instead of Antiope. In another myth the God Dionysus united with the Amazons to fight against Cronus and the Titans predating the Amazons before almost all other ‘human’ mythic figures.
The battle between the Athenians and Amazons is often commemorated in an entire genre of art, amazonomachy, in marble bas-reliefs such as from the Parthenon or the sculptures of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. The idea of amazonomachy quickly caught on in the ancient Greek art circles. Soon pictorial representations of Amazon women could be found everywhere from pottery, to household items, jewellery, friezes. Amazons became a ubiquitous trope with Greek culture becoming pretty important to the Athenian national identity and celebrated through art.
The one major difference between the depictions of Amazons in art and in poetry was their breasts. Namely the fact that they often only had one in the poetry yet the Greek artists refused to depict this vision, shying away from presenting anything less than deemed ‘physical perfection’ because sex sells, or because they knew that really, breasts don't impede on archery skills. The Amazon women are shown mostly in depictions of battle or hunting; with bows, spears, axes, a half shield, nearly in the shape of a crescent, called pelta, and in early art a helmet. The model in the Greek mind had apparently been the goddess Athena. In later art they look more like depictions of Artemis.
In works of art, battles between Amazons and Greeks are often likened and associated with battles between the Greeks and centaurs. Their existence is thought to be inspired by 'real world' women warriors found amongst the nomadic Scythian or Sarmatian people.
Myth or fact, symbol or the deep-seeded patriarchal fear of the Archaean men of ancient times; the Amazons are pretty kick arse, generally revered and deeply interesting figures of Greek and Roman mythology entirely deserving of their own blockbuster film.