Perpetuating Misinformation about Mythology

Amazon5. Your reference to “scantily clad Amazons” who serve to “perfectly blend the allure of sex with the frisson of danger” gives a false impression of the ancient Greek artwork of Amazon women. There are multiple examples of Greek vase art such as the one accompanying this post that depict  Amazon horsewomen with a Phrygian cap and a flowing chiton worn over a shirt and leggings. Hardly “scantily-clad.” Additionally, your assessment that the Amazon women’s clothing was designed to combine sex with violence is simply a very modern, very patriarchal perspective. It is out of context and shows a contemporary bias.

6. Ascribing Homer to 8th century BCE is problematic. There is no definitive evidence on who Homer was or whether “Homer” was similar to an epithet given to several different oral storytellers (either prose or poetic). Recent underwater archaeology has proven that the ships mentioned in the Iliad are much older than historians and archaeologists had previously thought. Just this fact alone increases the likelihood that any probable “dating” of “Homer” to 8th c. BCE is itself outdated.

7. Using Herodotus as a credible source for Amazonian lore is awkward and troublesome. Many scholars from various disciplines have shown that Herodotus clearly did not travel to all the lands he writes or even meet and talk their various peoples. The kindest way to regard some of the Herodotus material is “hearsay.” To present Herodotus’ stories about Amazons without a strong disclaimer or caveat to your readers is at best a professional misstep.

8. As you noted, the etymology for “Amazon” is disputed. Another plausible one put forth by Robert Graves is that “Amazon” is an Armenian word that meant “moon-women.” Since the burial grounds mentioned above were found at the base of the Ural Mountains and thus, close to ancient Armenian lands, this etymology should also be reported to your readers.

9. “To the Greeks, the Scythian women must have seemed like incredible aberrations, ghastly even.” To the Athenians, this statement might sound fair. Athenian writers of the 6th through 4th centuries did much to discredit women and spread propaganda about them. Foreign women, like the Amazons, were certainly not off-limits as targets for their patriarchal disparagement.  To speak for the rest of the ancient Greeks can be seen as presumptuous.

It saddens me to see such an ill-prepared article published in the Smithsonian. I imagine this was an aberration for you, Ms. Foreman, and perhaps, merely a hastily-written piece. I am hopeful that your forthcoming book will shine with meticulous research and accurate material in order to offer your readers the riches that your topic contains.