Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Death of an Amazon Queen - Article by Barbara Lambert

A special treat! 
Today we have a guest post from Barbara Lambert, a fellow Canadian author!
The Death of an Amazon Queen!

Welcome Barbara!
Thank you for taking the time to stop by and tell us about this fascinating woman in history.

Death of an Amazon Queen

Article Written by Barbara Lambert

I met my first Amazon in the British Museum.

A painting on a Greek black-figure-wear vase shows a grisly scene from the Iliad -- Achilles in the act of slaying Penthesilea, the Amazon queen who had brought her forces to fight on the Trojan side.

And Achilles is altogether a black figure, from head to toe, terrifyingly so, his black visor pulled down, showing just one black-dotted eye, his skin-tight black armour accented by a black-striped cloth at his meaty thigh, one black arm twisting Penthesilea to her knees, the other raised to plunge his spear into the queen’s white throat.

According to the myth, Achilles falls in love with Penthesilea, the moment that he kills her.

And no wonder. The scene is so skillfully done that even on the ancient red clay surface we see her beauty and her spirit -- refusing to relinquish her spear, looking him boldly but calmly in the eye. And she is so beautiful (not to mention wearing an outfit so different from the loose-fitting, form-disguising garment of a good Greek maiden) that Achilles, at such close quarters, must have been equally struck by her beauty and her exotic apparel: the filmy tunic over the short coin-dotted dress, the vibrant patterned tights....

And he falls in love with her, even as he kills her.

Now there’s a squeamish-making sidebar to the great roiling saga of the Iliad. It would seem that the Greeks were so intrigued with this story that it was repeated on any number of painted pots. So much so that one of their most skilled artists has in modern times been dubbed, “The Penthesilea Painter”.

Over the ensuing centuries, much ancient art has disappeared. But thanks to the extraordinarily detailed paintings on Attic pottery (much of it exported to Italy for those avid collectors, the Etruscans, to stash in their lavish tombs) we are able to recapture details of ancient lives, and clues to the ancient mind-set too.

And it has struck me, at the start of Women’s History Month, that the phenomenon of the Amazons would be interesting (and relevant) to explore. Not just the way the story of Penthesilea resonates into modern times: (He fell in love with her as he killed her! -- just as all through history the urge to destroy has been eerily bound into encounters with the exotic, the unknown) but why it might have been that Attic pottery portrays so many other quasi-historical incidents involving those shocking, horse-riding, hard-fighting (remarkably dressed) women who lived just at the edge of the known world.

In the next couple of posts, I would like to take a look at the political and social implications of the way the Amazons were treated both in art and in discourse. And -- yes! -- why they appear dressed the way they are.

Barbara Lambert


Barbara Lambert is the Canadian author of two critically acclaimed works of fiction.

Her novella, A Message for Mr. Lazarus, won the Malahat Review Novella Prize
 and was later published, along with seven of her stories, in a book that won the
Danuta Gleed Award for best first collection of Canadian short stories, was named
as a ‘best book’ by The Globe and Mail and was a finalist for the 
Ethel Wilson Prize for B.C. Fiction. Her previous novel, The Allegra Series,
(about an artist who steals scenes from the life of a beautiful lover ill with multiple
 sclerosis) was published to critical praise. 

Lambert’s stories have appeared in prominent Canadian journals and been nominated for both 
British Columbia and National Magazine Awards and for the Journey Prize.

Her new novel, The Whirling Girl, was written after time spent in Cortona, Italy, 
where she and her husband rented a 500-year-old mill house and Lambert researched 
Etruscan archaeology.

Barbara lives on a cherry orchard in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia with 
her husband Douglas Lambert.

A Message for Mr. Lazarus is a stunning piece of work.”
Starred review, Quill and Quire.

“One of those haunting stories that stay with you long after the initial reading ... 
in the same literary league as those penned by master storytellers Raymond Carver and Shirley Jackson.”
Georgia Strait. 


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