It’s safe to say that Wonder Woman is one of the most recognisable superheroes in the world. As Princess of the Amazons, Diana is the perfect balance of strength and beauty. But how closely does she live up to the real life Amazons? This is one of many questions that are addressed in John Man’s Amazons: The Real Warrior Women of the Ancient World. The book takes the reader through the entire history of the women who became known as the Amazons, and the answers might surprise you.
The popular view of Amazons are fierce women who lived together on a mythical island and battled against the likes of Hercules and Theseus. Man starts off by going back to the earliest legends and comparing them with real life evidence. The Amazons of Ancient Greece were derived from tribes of Scythians who lived around the Carpathian Mountains and up into western China. The Scythians were nomadic horse-people who fought alongside each other, with men and women participating in battle.
The book goes on to dispel several other myths about Amazons, including the rumour that they cut off their right breast to make them more efficient with a bow. The myth may have come from some Greeks being fixed on the idea of ‘a’ standing for ‘asexual’ and ‘mastos’ meaning ‘mastectomy.’ As a result, Amazon literally meant ‘without a breast’ to them.
Man goes through different kind of warrior women, such as the Russian Night Witches of WW2. They were women fighter pilots who flew behind enemy lines to sabotage and interrupt the opposition.
The chapter on Wonder Woman’s origin is very interesting. Man cites William Marston, a professor of psychology, as the creator of Wonder Women when he was made a consultant for DC. This was during a time when WW2 was raging and characters like Superman looked like a Nazi stormtrooper. Marston developed a character who could conquer violence through love, rather than with more violence.
Marston’s argument for Wonder Woman was that “men actually submit to women now. Give them an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to and they’ll be proud to become her willing slaves!” Marston was a feminist, of a sort. He wrote the first comic strip himself and Wonder Woman debuted in All Star Comics #8 in December 1941. It’s very likely Marston had an agenda and presented Wonder Woman as “psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.”
Man’s writing is conversational and funny, making light of several ‘facts’ that have been thrown out about Amazons in ancient sources. After finishing the book, I learned a lot about a mythical group that I’d always been fascinated with.
If you’re a fan of Wonder Woman, Amazons or history in general, then I’d recommend buying the book. It’s an informative, easy read that will give you an insight into the truth about the most popular warrior women in history.