Did Amazons Really Amputate a Breast?
Sunday, October 16th, 2011

Did Amazons Really Amputate a Breast?

Amazon shooting a bowThis is the second in the Women in War series that started with Women Have Always Gone to War. Again, the quote that follows is from The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest , written by Stieg Larsson.

An Irish law from the year 697 forbids women to be soldiers – which means that women had been soldiers previously. Peoples who over the centuries have recruited female solders include Arabs, Berbers, Kurds, Rajputs, Chinese, Filipinos, Maoris, Papuans, Micronesians, and American Indians.

There is a wealth of legend about fearsome female warriors from ancient Greece. These tales speak of women who were train in the art of war from childhood-in the use of weapons, and how to cope with physical privation. They lived apart from the men and went to war in their own regiments. The tales tell us that they conquered men on the field of battle. Amazons occur in Greek literature in the Iliad of Homer, for example, in 600 BC.

It was the Greeks who coined the term “Amazon.” The word literally means “without breast.” It is said that in order to facilitate the drawing of a bow, the female’s right breast was removed, either in early childhood ar wath a red-hot iron after she became an adult. Even though the Greek physicians Hippocrates and Galen are said to have agreed that this operation would enhance the ability to use weapons, it is doubtful whether such operations were actually performed. Herein lies a linguistic riddle-whether the prefix “a-” in their language does indeed mean “without.” It has been suggested that it means the opposite-that an Amazon was a woman with especially large breasts. Nor is there a single example in any museum of a drawing, amulet, or statue of a woman without her right breast, which should have been a common motif had the legend about breast amputation been based on fact.

When I read the bit about the Irish law against women warriors I immediately wondered whether it had anything to do with the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. Sure enough, that was around the time the celtic church was being established. Although Christianity had been introduced earlier, it had pretty much established itself as the dominant religion by that time. It seems that organized religion of any kind frowns on women warriors, while the more pagan societies accept it as a natural part of life.

As far as the story about Amazons whacking one of their boobs off so they could shoot a bow better is concerned, that could only have been believed by someone who has never actually fired an arrow. It takes a lot of upper body strength to draw a powerful bow. Any surgery to remove a breast, especially burning it off with a hot iron, would damage the musculature in the chest so much that the woman wouldn’t have been able to draw a bow. Or swing a sword for that matter. The picture there shows an archer with 2 breasts, and it comes from greeka.com. Check out the article for more detailed info about Amazons.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Category: Women in War
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.