Thursday, September 10, 2009

The girdle of the Amazon queen

The Scirra Amazon (Roman, 30 Bc - 500 Ad).

The ninth labour can be described in two ways; there’s a rather short version (the one I will present here) and there’s a longer one with innumerable additions that can be put in and out of the myth as the story teller wishes.

That the story allows other myths and legends to be added is important. You may have noticed if you’ve read the Iliad or Odyssey that Homer (if there was any such person) goes through extensive namedropping (especially in book two, the catalogue of ships). It is generally considered that all these names were added by bards as they retold the story at different places – every ruler wanted a connection to the epic heroes. We are probably facing some kind of similar phenomena here.

Anyway, this is the short version of the ninth labour:
Hippolyte (called Melanippe by the ancient author Diodorus) was the queen of the Amazons and she owned a gift from Ares (the God of the bloody, ruthless war), a girdle. Erystheus daughter unfortunately wanted this girdle and talked her father into sending Heracles after it. The hero took a number of companions with him and it is the travels before (and after) he found the queen that contains the side stories.

Heracles was welcomed by the queen who even promised to give him the girdle. However, Hera didn’t like how things were playing out, and she took the form of an Amazon and went into the camp spreading the rumour that a stranger was robbing the queen. The other Amazons rose up to her defence and Heracles killed her as he thought that she had betrayed him, snatched the girdle and returned home with it. A bard could add a number of adventures on the way home as well, one important is how Heracles became an enemy of Troy (he would come to destroy the city, but more on that later).

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