Penthesilea: Daughter of War
Penthesilea was the daughter of Ares, the god of war and Otrera (or Orithyia), an Amazon queen.
Growing up amid the Amazons, Penthesilea became known not only for her bravery and skill with numerous weapons, but also for her intelligence and inventiveness. During a hunt, Boreas, god of the north wind, blew her spear off course and the spear struck Penthesilea’s sister, Hippolyte, and killed her. Grief-stricken, Penthesilea set out to expiate her sorrowful act. She visited King Priam of Troy, looking for his absolution. Against great odds, Penthesilea’s all-female army nearly beat the Greeks, until the great Greek hero Achilles interfered. He spotted Penthesilea in all her bloody glory across the battlefield, and approached with the intention of killing his seemingly unstoppable female enemy. Achilles fought her to the death, falling in love with the Amazon just as he delivered the final blow.
A warrior queen must have a death that befits a bold life, and the grisly events that occurred before and after Penthesilea’s death were subjects ancient artists revisited frequently. In addition to many appearances in ancient Greek verse, the battle between Penthesilea and Achilles was a favorite scene for Greek vase painters. Exekias signed a famous wine jar dating to about 540 BCE that depicts Achilles killing Penthesilea. Several other vases depicting the Amazon queen are credited to “the Penthesilea Painter.”
Penthesilea was recognized as a courageous woman warrior who almost beat the most dominant of male heroes. And although she was beautiful, she was as respected for her wisdom and military skills as much as she was for her appearance.
text: by Andrew Helm (compressed version)