In The Land Of The Amazonsbyfmcchris©
Troy had fallen. That once noble city, Pram's glory and the jewel of Troas, would no longer sing her proud songs under the gaze of Mt. Ida. Betrayed by a wooden gift, the invention of the cunning Odysseus, she now lay ashen and desolate, her spirit and her people vanquished by ten years of war and Greek treachery, bringing death and destruction upon all.
I see them before me now, like specters arisen from the dead, these fallen warriors both Trojan and Hellene alike, in their aspect resplendent like gods, yet doomed to mortal weakness. Menelaus, Paris, Agamemnon, Aeneas, Deïphobus, Ajax, and the greatest of these, the valiant Hector and the haughty Achilles, stand yet opposed, their great shields held high and their spears anxious to draw blood. I see too the image of my ancestor, three generations now removed, the brave Penthesileia, queen of the Amazons, whose sword cut down the Greek host like a scythe separates wheat from the chaff. I see her now as she faces Achilles, whose life was never in jeopardy while Paris' bow remained unstrung, her beautiful face hidden to her enemy but her intent clear, challenging the mighty warrior to single combat and brought low by him with a spear thrust to her unprotected neck.
Behold Amazons! Daughters of Artemis and Ares, goddess of the hunt and god of War! In remembrance of Hippolyta, our ancient queen, of pure Scythian blood, founder of Palus Maeotis, the birthplace of our race, it is I Xanthippe who records these events for those who will come after me. We who now make Themiscyra our home on the banks of the swift-flowing Thermodon, I beseech you by the blood of our sisters who lay buried in the earth in far away Troy, do not despair; for to despair is to turn our backs on the gods.
Our proud and noble race shall endure. This I have read in the omens of the sky and of the earth and of the water. Soon the ancient prophecy will be fulfilled, and the name of the Amazons will become one with the immortal gods. I, Xanthippe, daughter of Andromache, high priestess of Artemis and keeper of the sacred texts, swear this to be true, or else may death be swift upon me.
Xanthippe of Themiscyra, the Histories
Chilon stood at the prow of the merchant vessel, a single-mast, thirty-oared ship owned and operated by a family friend, a rich Athenian merchant named Polyphemus, as it ploughed its way through the rough seas of the eastern Aegean on its way to Megara, where his future bride, and third cousin on his distaff side, awaited him. The arrangement to book passage had been made months earlier, and had cost Chilon a very handsome price, for despite Megara's rich and flourishing economy, and the propitious omens offered by the Athenian soothsayers promising a safe voyage, Polyphemus distrusted the unpredictable and often violent weather that greeted those wary ships that entered the Hellespont, many of which had met their doom at the bottom of her turbulent waters. As a result, he had only made the journey once in all his years at sea. But the huge sum of money Chilon had paid him for the trip, and something in the noble demeanor of Chilon himself, compelled him to stir up his courage. And as the lure of profit was never far from Polyphemus' mind, he diligently filled the hold of his ship with a plentiful supply of tradable goods, hopeful of amassing a substantial return for his new-found boldness to confront the fickle waters of the Propontis.
Upon the death of Chilon's father, his mother Aglaia decided to return with her son to Athens, her ancestral home. It was her wish that she remain in the city while her son made the journey to Megara, thereupon to return to Athens with his new bride once the affairs of marriage had been concluded. Chilon was sorry to leave her behind, but she was still grieving for her dead husband and was not fit to make the long journey. Demagetus, Chilon's father, was a proud man and descended from a noble lineage; his father being Agamemnon, King of Mycenae and his uncle Menelaus, King of Sparta, whose beautiful wife, Helen, had been abducted by the villain Paris, who took her to Troy and to her ruin.
Aglaia had once been regarded as the most beautiful woman in Greece, and when Damagetus visited Athens on a diplomatic mission, he met and fell in love with her, taking her back to Sparta with him when peace negotiations between the two great city states had been settled. Chilon had been born a year later and grew into one of the greatest warriors Sparta had ever produced, achieving great fame in the war against Corinth at only seventeen years old when he broke the lines of the Corinthian phalanx by using several small units of cavalry to attack the enemy from its unprotected rear.
But Chilon was also a man of great intellect. Even as a youth he would debate with the elders of the city on such varied topics as war, philosophy, mathematics, and music. Sparta's two kings indulged the young man and his questioning mind because it amused them, but many others saw him as being overly influenced by his Athenian mother, who sought to instill in her son a love for all things philosophical. To the Spartans he was something of an anomaly; a proud and fearsome warrior but also a man of great erudition, insight, and sensitivity; the latter quality not usually recognized by the Spartans as a particularly manly virtue. Yet none dared openly ridicule him on this account, since his noble bearing and great virtue precluded any attempt at such vulgar admonishments. It did not hurt that he was also blessed with a face that, in its masculine incarnation, mirrored his mother's unsurpassed beauty; large almond eyes, high cheekbones, a small, aquiline nose, and a smile that could melt the heart of the most cold-hearted person. The long, luxuriant, auburn hair which framed this perfect face created an image of beauty whose transcendence made it seem to others that he must be the male embodiment of Aphrodite herself.
There had been some speculation that his father's death had been due to slow poisoning, administered by a rival for a grievance never redressed. The speculation was not altogether unfounded since Damagetus had many enemies amongst the nobility. His rash, often impetuous, behavior led him to openly insult those men whose physical and moral lassitude he could not countenance. And sometimes his imperiousness involved him in physical altercations with the kings' highest advisors, some of whom were above him in station. He had even threatened Lysander, a cousin and favorite of king Orestes, with death because the outspoken nobleman had dared to disparage Damagetus' feebly wrought plan to invade a troublesome neighboring city. Upon hearing of this, Orestes flew into a rage, forbidding Damagetus to set foot in the council chamber until he made a formal apology to Lysander, which he refused to do. In light of these circumstances, Aglaia advised her husband to act cautiously and avoid any confrontations that might place him and his family at risk. Wisely, he took his wife's advice to heart and stayed clear of Lysander and his powerful faction. But the damage had already been done. Out of favor with Orestes and never on good terms with the younger king, Dion, Damagetus now saw himself as being ill-favored in the eyes of his peers. The only thing that kept him from being completely alienated from his people was the love they felt toward Chilon, whose great deeds in war had placed him in an exalted status, and whom they regarded as favored by the gods.
It had taken almost seven full days to navigate the Aegean, travelling in a northeast direction toward the western coast of the island of Lesbos where they stopped for provisions, and then further north, skirting the coast of the small island of Tenedos, past the ancient ruins of Troy and into the Hellespont, a narrow straight that separated the Thracian Chersonesus on the west from the mainland of Asia Minor. Megara yet lay many leagues to the north on the eastern coast of Thrace, and the great ship would have to navigate the unpredictable waters of the Propontis, which were sometimes beset by unexpected and violent storms. Megara was situated on a promontory near the mouth of the Bosporus, a very narrow straight that connected the Propontis with the Black Sea and the barbaric peoples that lived beyond.
Chilon had often heard tales of a female warrior race that supposedly lived on the shores of the Black Sea, and how these women, for all intents and purposes the female equivalent of the warlike Spartans, had fought at the battle of Troy on the side of the Trojans, killing many Greeks in their quest for glory. He dismissed these tales as mere fabrications and laughed when the city elders, some of whom had fought at Troy, tried to convince him that this race called Amazons did indeed exist. To him these stories were the product of fanciful imaginings resulting from an overindulgence of wine, and many of the more educated of his people invariably felt as he did. It mattered little that these ancient war veterans had based their story upon actual empirical observation; for it was well known that men of such advanced years loved to tell tall tales and derived a perverse sense of enjoyment from the telling of them. Yet, the idea of a female warrior race intrigued him. And as he stood grasping the wooden rail of the ship, the fine mist of the early morning fog forming tiny droplets on his crimson Spartan cloak, he turned his eyes toward the vague stretch of land that lay to the northeast, that part of the world that lay on the southernmost shore of the Black Sea, and wondered if the ancient warrior's wild accounts of the mythical Amazons might indeed be true.
But he had little time now to think about such things. His bride, an eighteen-year-old, blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty whose name was Tethys, his distant cousin, was soon to be his wife, and all his thoughts were centered upon her. In fact, he was so preoccupied with her that he had barely slept much at all on the journey. His mother and father had arranged the marriage long ago, when the two were still children, having met only once in Athens when Chilon was only eleven years old. His mother had often reminded him that when the two children first met, the gods must have blessed their union, for the two of them became hopelessly attached to each other, happily spending each day of their month-long visit in each other's company.
He wondered what his future bride must look like now. That she would be beautiful he had no doubt. But what if the two of them were no longer enamored of each other the way they had been when they were children? After all, they had not seen each other in almost nine years. And more importantly, what kind of a person was she? Was she loving and kind and dutiful as a woman should be? Would she always show deference to her husband and obey him in all things? Would she be happy to live in Sparta, where the women did not enjoy the same freedoms they did in Megara, or even Athens for that matter? All these questions ran through his mind as the first rays of the morning sun danced playfully upon the waves.
"Good morning to you, friend Chilon," the shipmaster said cheerfully as he patted the young man on the back. "It seems Poseidon has blessed us with good weather this day."
Polyphemus inhaled the morning air into his lungs and rubbed his chest vigorously. Like Chilon, he was a tall man for an Athenian, standing just over six feet in height. He was not much older than thirty, and his thin, agile body had been hardened by a life spent at sea, which he called his home. This vessel, the Helios, named after the god of the sun, was one of many such ships owned by him, an inheritance from his seafaring father.
"Are the men still asleep?" Chilon asked.
"Yes, but they won't be for long. The winds will soon die down and we will need to put the ship to oar."
"How do you know that?"
"Every sailor who has sailed these waters knows that my friend. My father used to make the voyage several times a year, but I'm afraid I'm not as courageous as he was. He told me that the weather in this part of the world could change very quickly, and without warning."
"Then he knew the Propontis well."
Polyphemus smiled. "As well as any man can know the sea. If the gods are with us, then the winds will be favorable. If not, we might be in for a rough time."
The sun was beginning to rise in the eastern sky and along with it the mist began to dissipate, revealing the northern coastline in finer detail.
"What is that land called?" Chilon asked, pointing to a prominent mountain range off to the east.
"Those are the Caucasus mountains. It is the land of Colchis, a very old and mysterious country. I have never been there, but it is said that Jason and his Argonauts once visited that kingdom to reclaim the Golden Fleece."
"But that's just a myth."
"Many myths are shrouded in truth," Polyphemus replied solemnly.
"I suppose you'll be telling me that there is some truth to the legend of the Amazons too."
"You don't believe they exist?"
"No. Do you?"
"I don't know. I am willing to make port at Megara. But I will not take my ship any further."
"Why? Are you afraid the Amazons will get you?"
Polyphemus laughed. "The thought of a horde of women chasing after me is something I can't say I find altogether displeasing. But the reason I will not journey there is because there are many barbaric peoples that inhabit those cities along the coast—Scythians, Thracians...and I've heard that some have taken to piracy."
"Amazons too?" Chilon asked, with a touch of mockery.
"I cannot say, friend Chilon. My father once told me that there is a city on the southern coast called Themiscyra, the home of these female warriors."
Chilon sighed heavily and looked the shipmaster in the eye. "Tell me, Polyphemus. Did your father ever see an Amazon?"
"I don't believe so. But he did say that the city lies inland about a mile from the river Thermodon."
"How did he know that?"
"The Megarians told him."
"How far away is this city?"
"It's a two day voyage from Megara."
Chilon's face suddenly turned pensive.
"The Spartans, the old ones who served with my great uncle Menelaus at Troy, swear that there were Amazons amongst the Trojan host. They say these women fought bravely and that there were no more than a dozen of them, but that they all died fighting. I myself do not believe these Amazons exist. But it will be interesting to see if the tales the Megarians tell are similar to the ones I've heard from my own people."
"I wouldn't put too much faith in what they say. They claim that the Amazons are haters of men and will not suffer a man to enter their lands. Those foolhardy enough to do so are never heard from again."
"How convenient," Chilon said, wryly. "To make such claims when no one has ever survived to tell the tale!"
Polyphemus laughed again, this time more loudly. "In the absence of proof we must remain skeptical, friend Chilon. Or it may be that these Megarians are nothing more than liars and fools."
After enjoying a breakfast of salted pork, cheese, and wine with Polyphemus and his crew, Chilon found a spot in the stern of the ship and lay down upon his cloak. His mind still focused on his bride-to-be, he soon fell into a deep sleep. The rowers, thirty in all, plied their oars with great diligence, knowing that the Bosporus was now within sight. If they rowed well and the winds remained favorable, they could reach Megara before nightfall. Polyphemus and several of his shipmates began to take a final inventory of their cargo, which contained mostly olives, wine, clothing, and other practical goods. Sometime during late afternoon, Chilon awoke, the sound of bickering men filling his ears.
Rising to his feet, he watched as the ship entered the mouth of the Bosporus, the narrow inlet that led to the city of Megara, which lied unassumingly on a promontory on the near western shore. Above him dark clouds were quickly gathering and the once azure sky had now turned into a menacing opaque gray. As the wind began to pick up in speed, he wrapped his cloak around him to ward off the chill. He asked one of the oarsmen, whose name was Demetrius, what was wrong.
"There is a storm coming," Demetrius said, pointing to the black clouds approaching from the south. "You had better seek shelter below."
"No. I'd rather stay here," Chilon replied. "I'll take my chances with you and the men."
Polyphemus was busy barking commands to his crew. This was not the first time he had encountered bad weather at sea, but there was something about the way this storm had increased so suddenly in ferocity that made him anxious and worried. The anxiety transferred itself to his crew, who now reacted to his orders with sullen haste, the sense of impending dread filling every heart. Chilon felt it too, but all he could offer the shipmaster was only a few words of encouragement as the winds increased in velocity, driving the ship forward mercilessly.
Megara now stood less than a mile away, and on the shore Chilon could see tiny figures standing at the edge of the city walls, gesticulating, screaming; their shrill voices carried on the raging winds like disembodied spirits. It seemed as if they were seeing something he could not see.
Suddenly, a brilliant arc of fire shot through the twilight sky, followed by a huge thunderclap. And in the light of the illuminating bolt, Chilon and the crew now beheld what the people on shore were seeing. It was coming from behind them; a wall of water over thirty feet high approaching at terrific speed, forced through the narrow mouth of the straight by the hurricane-force winds.
"You must lower the sail, Polyphemus!" Chilon shouted, grabbing the shipmaster by the arm. "That wave will carry us to our ruin!"
"We will gain no headway if we do. If we take down the sail, we'll be swamped."
"But look at the size of it! We'll be driven onto the rocks!"
Before Polyphemus could offer a reply, the monstrous blue-gray wave was upon them. The angry waters broke over them with such force that the ship dipped into the water as if she were going down nose first. The men held their breaths and clutched onto their oars, offering prayers to Poseidon to save them as yet another smaller, yet just as powerful, tidal wave crested and fell over them.
"Row! Row! You sons of Hades!" Polyphemus shouted to the men, realizing that the oars would be their only means of prevailing against the tempest.
Both Chilon and the shipmaster clung onto the mast for dear life as another great wave overtook the beleaguered ship. As the water rushed forward, the men once again held their breath, expecting at any moment to be submerged in the cold, dark waters. Then, suddenly, the ship lurched up with her bow and the water rushed back until the prow was almost perpendicular to the water.
Struggling to breathe and holding onto the mast with almost superhuman strength, Chilon saw that Polyphemus was still with him, coughing and spitting up water, but holding fast to the mainstay with both hands. He watched in horror as several of the rowers in the aft part of the ship were suddenly swept away in the confrontation, their cries for help quickly diminished in the unforgiving maelstrom. Yet the men continued to row and pray to their gods, shouting out the names of their favored deities as the ship was tossed to and fro in the violent sea.
"We're going to die here, Polyphemus!" Chilon exclaimed.
"The gods will decide our fate now," Polyphemus replied. "Pray, my friend. Pray!"
And that's exactly what Chilon did. And as he prayed, he looked up toward Megara, which was now so close he could hear the screams of the people as they watched in horror while the tormented vessel struggled to keep afloat in the churning sea below. To his amazement, he saw a young woman standing on the edge of the eastern wall, her long, disheveled blonde hair and white cloak, now thoroughly saturated in the terrible downpour, waving frantically at him and crying out as if she were making supplication to the gods. And then he heard his name being called, carried on the wind and as audible as if she had been standing right next to him. There could be no doubt. The crimson Spartan cloak, worn by no other Greek, had given him away.