The Anabasis of Alexander/Book VII/Chapter XIII

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CHAPTER XIII.

The Nisaean Plain.—The Amazons.

It is said that Hephaestion mucli against his will yielded to this argument and was reconciled to Eumenes, who on his part wished to settle the dispute.[1] In this journey[2] Alexander is said to have seen the plain which was devoted to the royal mares. Herodotus says that the plain itself was named Nisaean, and that the mares were called Nisaean[3]; adding that in olden times there were 150,000 of these horses. But at this time Alexander found not many above 50,000; for most of them had been carried off by robbers. They say that Atropates, the viceroy of Media, gave him a hundred women, saying that they were of the race of Amazons.[4] These had been equipped with the arms of male horsemen, except that they carried axes instead of spears and targets instead of shields. They also say that they had the right breast smaller than the left, and that they exposed it in battle. Alexander dismissed them from the army, that no attempt to violate them might be made by the Macedonians or barbarians; and he ordered them to carry word to their queen that he was coining to her in order to procreate children by her.[5] But this story has been recorded neither by Aristobulus nor Ptolemy, nor any other writer who is a trustworthy authority on such matters. I do not even think that the race of Amazons was surviving at that time; for before Alexander's time they were not mentioned even by Xenophon,[6] who mentions the Phasians, Colchians, and all the other barbaric races which the Greeks came upon, when they started from Trapezus or before they marched down to Trapezus. They would certainly have fallen in with the Amazons if they were still in existence. However it does not seem to me credible that this race of women was altogether fictitious, because it has been celebrated by so many famous poets. For the general account is, that Heracles, marched against them and brought the girdle of their queen Hippolyte into Greece.[7] The Athenians also under Theseus were the first to conquer and repulse these women as they were advancing into Europe[8]; and the battle of the Athenians and Amazons has been painted by Micon,[9] no less than that of the Athenians and Persians. Herodotus also has frequently written about these women[10]; and so have the Athenian writers who have honoured the men who perished in war with funeral orations. They have mentioned the exploit of the Athenians against the Amazons as one of their special glories.[11] If therefore Atropates showed any equestrian women to Alexander, I think he must have shown him some other foreign women trained ia horsemanship, and equipped with the arms which were said to be those of the Amazons.[12]
  1. Cf. Plutarch (Eumenes, 2).
  2. The march was from Opis to Media, as we see from the next chapter.
  3. Cf. Herodotus (iii. 106; 7ii. 40); Strabo, xi. 7 and 14; Diodor. xvii. 110; Ammianus, xxiii. 6. Sir Henry Eawlinson sajs: " With Herodotus, who was most imperfectly acquainted with the geography of Media, origiaated the error of transferring to that province the Nisea (Nesd) of Khorassan, and all later writers either copied or confounded his statement. Strabo alone has escaped from the general confusion. In his description we recognise the great grazing plains of Khawah, Alishtar, Huru, Silakhur, Burburud, Japalak, and Feridun, which thus stretch in a continuous line from one point to another along the southern frontiers of Media." Alexander probably visited the westernmost of these pastures which stretch from Behistun to Ispahan along the mountain range. The form διαρπαγῆναι is used only by the later writers for διαρπασθῆναι.
  4. Cf. Strabo, xi. 5; Diodorus, xvii. 77; Curtius, vi. 19; Justin, xii. 3; Arrian, iv. 15; Homer (Iliad, iii. 189); Aeschylus (Eumenides, 655); Hippocrates (De Aere, Aquis, et Locis, p. 553).
  5. The queen is called Thalestris by Diodorus and Curtius.
  6. This is a mistake, for Xenophon does mention the Amazons in the Anabasis (iv. 4, 16). For Trapezus and the Phasians see his Anabasis (iv. 8, 22; v. 6, 36.)
  7. See Diodorus, iv. 16. This was one of the twelve labours of Hercules.
  8. See Plutarch (Theseus, 26).
  9. "The Battle of the Amazons" was a celebrated painting in the Stoa Poecile at Athens, executed by Mioon, sou of Phaniohus, a contemporary of Polygnotus about b.c. 460. Cf. Aristophanes (Lysistrata, 678): "Look at the Amazons whom Micon painted on horseback fighting with the men." See also Pausanias (i. 15; viii. 11).
  10. Cf. Herodotus, iv. 110-117; ix. 27.
  11. See Isocrates (Panegyricus, 19); Lysias (Oratio Funebris, near the beginning).
  12. Strabo (xi. 5) declined to believe in the existence of the Amazons altogether. However, even Julius Caesar spoke of them as having once ruled over a large part of Asia. See Suetonius (Life of Julius Caesar, 22). Eustathius, on Dionysius Periegetes, p. 110, derives the name Amazones from , not, and μᾶζα, barley-bread:—διδ καὶ Ἀμαζόνες ἐκαλοῦντο οἶα μὴ μάζαις ἀλλὰ κρέασι θηρίων ἐπιστρεφόμεναι. This is not the usual derivation of the word.