Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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On the Bravery of Women: The Ancient Amazon and Her Modern Counterparts

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posted on 2021-11-10, 23:15 authored by Whalley, Jo

In a favourite mythological motif of the Greeks, the Amazons fought many of the most celebrated Greek heroes and lived in independent societies on the fringes of the known world. These warrior women appear throughout Greek literature and art of every kind, defined by characteristics which differentiated them from ‘ordinary’ women: heroic capability and skills in battle; an unusual lifestyle, marked out by traditions often the very opposite of those of the Greeks, including unique mothering customs; and a significant independence from men, including systems of gynaecocracy or the wholesale exclusion of men from their society. Yet despite their reputations as fierce and talented combatants, the Amazons were constantly bested by their male counterparts and either killed in battle or abducted for marriage. It seems that whenever they fought against the Greeks, they lost. In an interesting case of the adaptation of myth to the modern world, the archetypal features of the Amazon (as the Greeks imagined her) can also be found in a variety of television and film characters. Through an analysis of both the ancient and ‘modern’ Amazon, I show how this symbol benefits greatly from the vastly different social context of western society in the twentieth century which enables the Amazon to become an affirmative model of female heroism. The case-study approach adopted here examines instances of the ‘modern’ Amazon in Wonder Woman, Xena: Warrior Princess, Alien/Aliens, The Terminator/Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Kill Bill Volume 1 and 2 and notes that, while encompassing many of the same traits as their ancient predecessors, these Amazons are no longer constantly on the losing side of the battle. The successes of feminism and the changing expectations which accompany them transform the Amazon from the defeated warrior into the triumphant victor.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies


Pomeroy, Art