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Penthesilea

17 Mar 2018

 

Thursday was International Women’s Day, which last year HH marked with the story of Zenobia—a queen of Palmyra who took on the might of the Roman Empire. And this year was no different: to mark the day, we tweeted about the legendary Amazonian queen Penthesilea, whose name has likewise become a metaphor for any equally strong and commanding woman:

 

 

 

According to Greek myth, Penthesilea was a daughter of the war god Ares and a sister of the Amazons Antiope (a wife of Theseus in some stories), Melanippe (whose name means “black horse”), and fellow queen Hippolyta (whose girdle Heracles had the unenviable task of retrieving as part of his Twelve Labours). 

 

According to some accounts of Penthesilea’s life, she accidentally killed her sister Hippolyta with a spear while out hunting one morning, and was so wracked with guilt that she resolved to sacrifice her own life in the only way a self-respecting warrior queen could be expected to: honorably, in the throes of the very next battle to come her way. 

 

Ultimately, Penthesilea became embloyed in the Trojan War, and eventually found herself fighting to defend the city of Troy from the invading Greeks.

 

It was there that she was killed by Achilles—who appears to have instantly regretted his actions the moment Penthesilea was struck down. Cradling the dying queen in his arms, Achilles is said to have been struck immediately by the queen’s beauty and courage, and treated her so tenderly in her dying moment that after her death, when his actions were jeered at by a fellow Greek soldier named Thersites, Achilles instantly killed him.

 

But precisely what Achilles saw in Penthesilea is precisely what has ended up gifting her name to the language: feel free to use her name allusively of any unendingly honourable, courageous, or powerful woman.

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