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When Greek Hero Achilles Fell in Love with an Amazon

achilles amazon penthesilea
Achilles and the Amazon Penthesilea (on the ground) as depicted on the Bassae Frieze. Credit: Sarah Murray/Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY 2.0

The famed ancient Greek hero Achilles was known as a fierce warrior, but the deeply emotional story of his love for the Amazon Queen Penthesilea is less well known.

According to Greek mythology, Penthesilea was a strong and brave Amazonian queen. Born of Ares, the god of War, and Otrera, the first queen of the Amazons, Penthesilea was an impressive warrior.

According to multiple ancient myths, the warrior woman Penthesilea went mad after she caused the death of her sister during a hunting accident.

Driven by the demons haunting her, she decided to go on a suicide mission to fight for Troy against the Greeks in the Trojan War.

Other sources state that both she and the twelve other Amazon women who fought in the Trojan War were paid mercenaries of the Trojan king, Priam.

The tragic love story of Achilles and Amazon Penthesilea

In both the Aethiopis, which was an ancient epic describing the Trojan War that was likely written by Arctinus of Miletus in the 8th century, and in Homer’s Iliad, Penthesilea is described as a stunning fighter on the battlefield.

The Queen of the Amazons killed many men in battle, and become feared amongst the Greek fighters. She even held her own in a fight against Ajax, one of the greatest heroes of Greek mythology.

After taking down many Greek warriors, Penthesilea eventually challenges Achilles, the famous Greek hero.

Achilles eventually kills the Amazon warrior, but the moment that he deals the final blow, he is said to have looked in her eyes and fallen in love with the warrior woman at the moment she died.

The tragic tale of Achilles falling in love with the beautiful warrior woman at the moment of her death became famous in antiquity and even throughout the Middle Ages.

According to the Aethiopis, Achilles is taunted and mercilessly teased by fellow fighter Thersites for falling in love with Penthesilea.

Thersites taunts Achilles so much that the Greek hero kills him and is forced to go to the island of Lesvos to be purified before continuing the fight in Troy.

According to the poem “Posthomerica” by 4th century AD Greek author Quintus Smyrnaeus, Penthesilea was extremely beautiful:

She was made a wonder of beauty even in her death by Aphrodite glorious-crowned, the Bride of the strong War-god, to the end that he, the son of noble Peleus, might be pierced with the sharp arrow of repentant love…

Achilles’ very heart was wrung with love’s remorse to have slain a thing so sweet, who he might have borne home, his queenly bride, to chariot-glorious Phthia; for she was flawless, a very daughter of the Gods, divinely tall, and most divinely fair.

The Amazons may have actually existed

The fierce, fearsome, war-loving female warriors known as Amazons existed in ancient Greece, according to American historian Adrienne Mayor.

The Stanford University historian’s book The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World, reveals that such women may have actually existed in the ancient world and were likely from the Eurasian Steppe, which stretched from eastern Europe to central and northern Asia.

“Excavations of Eurasian graves have uncovered battle-scarred female skeletons dressed in tunics and trousers, and buried with quivers full of arrows, battle-axes, spears, and horse gear,” Mayor told CNN.

“So we know that genuine warrior woman really existed at the time and places reported by the ancient Greeks and other cultures,” she added.

Amazons were immortalized in ancient artifacts, such as perfume jars and jewelry boxes.

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