Women have always been heroes. But it is no longer enough just to say so. As we shake off the last traces of a major patriarchal hangover, women need a new name of their own. As sheroes, all women can fully embrace their fiery fempower and celebrate their no-holds-barred individuality. From the serhoic foremothers who blazed trails and broke barriers, to today's women warriors from sports, science, cyberspace, city hall, the lecture hall, and the silver screen, Sheroes paints 200 portraits of powerful and inspiring role models for women poised for the future. Drawn from the fictional and real worlds, the sheroic profiles include: Dian Fossey, Martina Navratilova, Sojourner Truth, Indira Ghandi, Aretha Franklin, Margaret Mead, Coretta Scott king, Georgia O'Keeffe, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Agent Scully, Joan Baez, Eleanor Roosevelt, Coco Chanel, Anita Hill, Thelma and Louise, Ripley, Roseanne, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Maathai, and others.
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Bold, Brash, and Absolutely Unabashed Superwomen From Susan B. Anthony to Xena
By VARLA VENTURA
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 1998 CONARI PRESS
All rights reserved.
WarriorSheroes: Amazons Among Us
Since the fall of Troy, Amazons have never gone out of style. Now, at the fall of the millennium, they have never been hotter! The global phenomenon of Xena, Warrior Princess and her Amazon sidekick, Gabrielle, is proof positive that Amazons are, once again, ruling the world. Archetypically, Amazons represent aggressiveness on the part of women. (Say, if you can call upon the muse, why can't you invoke Amazonian courage? And tell me why, for that matter, has there yet to be a self-help book for empowering women by "embracing your inner Amazon"?)
The myth of the Amazon nation tells of an all-woman country by the river Thermodon with a very advanced gynocentric government and the finest army on earth. Occasionally, they socialized with the men of other nations for the purpose of begetting children. The fate of male babies in Amazonia was woeful; they were neutered and enslaved. The ancient historian Diodorus Siculus recorded stories of Amazon military campaigns on swift and well-trained horses, sporting bows, arrows, double-headed axes, and a single breast (they would cut off one breast in order to wear their special shields), with which they conquered a wide swath from Asia Minor to Egypt.
Greece and Africa weren't the only cultures to celebrate womanly valor. Norse mythology has a sort of afterlife Amazon, the Valkyries, "choosers of the slain" from Old Norse. Handmaidens of Odin, the Valkyries pick the most valiant warrior from among the slain on battlefields to be in the celestial army of the gods. In the Edda, the Valkyries include Gondul, "she-wolf"; Skuld; death-bringer Skorn; Brunnhilde, "she who calls out"; Hrist, "storm"; and Thrud, "force" who ride through the heavens on charging horses getting ready for Ragnarok, the battle marking the end of the world.
These and all other avenging angels and hell-spawned hags break all stereotypes about women as the gentler gender. Epitomizing the "take no prisoners" attitude, these women warriors punched, kicked, stabbed, shot, and charioteered their way to the top. Gorgons, furies, pirate queens, warrior princesses, martial nuns, maenads, gladiatrices, and guerrillas from antiquity to the twenty-first century represent sheroism at its most visceral and thrilling.
Penthesilea: The Real Thing
The daughter of Orithia, Penthesilea was the ruler, along with her sister Hippolyte, of Amazonia, the Bronze Age Amazon nation in an area of the Black Sea. A fierce warrior, Penthesilea's name means "compelling men to mourn." During Orithia's reign, repeated attacks from Greek war parties eroded the borders of their once widespread empire. The nation of Amazonia itself, however, lived in peace; its women warriors were regarded as the most highly skilled soldiers among all the armies of the world. Even the piratical adventurers of myth, the Argonauts, dropped their plans to invade Amazonia when they saw how peaceful and self-sufficient the country was.
Penthesilea was the greatest Amazon of all times. At first, her excellence with weaponry was primarily for the purpose of hunting. When her sister died falling on Penthesilea's spear during a hunt, Penthesilea chose to channel her grief and rage into battle. At the request of Queen Hecuba, she liberated the city of Troy, under siege by the Greeks for years. The link between Troy and Amazonia predates Homer and Euripides by centuries and many scholars believe that Homer adapted his famous story from the Egyptian poetess Phantasia and reoriented it toward the patriarchal tastes of his Greek audience.
Essentially, Penthesilea's Achilles heel was her desire to lead the attack on Troy, the last Goddess worshiping city-state in Mediterranean Asia Minor. The legends vary, but consensus among herstorians is that Achilles took one look at the powerful and pulchritudinous Penthesilea and fell deeply in love. They battled ruthlessly one-on-one, and the Amazon queen proved to be the only soldier Achilles had ever encountered who was his equal. One version depicts the great Penthesilea taking Achilles and dozens of Greeks' lives in the battlefield surrounding Troy, only to be confounded when the God Zeus brings Achilles back to life. In this version, she died but Achilles' grief was so severe that he killed several of his allies who had mutilated her corpse (in one version he rapes her corpse in a wanton necrophilic lust). Other tellings of the tale have Penthesilea brutally killing the Greek and falling in love with him as his dying eyes locked with hers, then setting upon his corpse and devouring him, in a final act of savage love.
Only sections of the ancient poem Aethiopis that describe Penthesilea and the liberation of Troy managed to survive from antiquity. They include a suffragistic speech made by the amazing amazon herself: "Not in strength are we inferior to men; the same our eyes, our limbs the same; one common light we see, one air we breathe; no different is the food we eat. What then denied to us hath heaven on man bestowed? O let us hasten to the glorious war!"
Other Fighting Femmes of the Ancient World
Marpesia, "The Snatcher," was the ruler of the Scythian Amazons along with Lampedo. In frenzies, Maenads were fierce creatures, not to be toyed with, especially after a few nips of ritual new grape wine. Agave wrestled and tore off the head of her own son, Pentheus, in one of her ecstasies, mistaking him for a lion. She then paraded around proudly holding his decapitated head up for all to see. Her husband met a similar end in another rite. Agave was a Moon-Goddess and was in charge of some of the revelries that were the precedent for Dionysus' cult. Euripes celebrated the ferocity of Agave and her fellow Maenads, Ino and Autonoë in his Bacchae as soldiers report how "we by flight hardly escaped tearing to pieces at their hands" and further describing the shock of witnessing the semi-divine females tearing young bulls limb from limb with their terrible "knifeless fingers." In his version, Pentheus dies while trying to spy on the private ritual of the Maenads in transvestite disguise.
Aba was a warrior who ruled the city of Olbe in the nation of Tencer around 550 B.C. She got support from some very high places such as the likes of Cleopatra VII and Marc Antony! Tencer remained a matriarchy after her rule, passing to her female descendants.
Abra was the Queen of Babylon, according to medieval Spanish accounts. Along with Queen Florelle and a flotilla of 50,000 expert women archers, Abra defended her kingdom against the Greeks.
Ada was Artemesia's (Queen of Caria and military advisor to Xeres) sister and a warrior-queen (circa 334 B.C.) in her own right. The brilliant military strategist Alexander helped her regain her throne from her invasive brother. She led and triumphed in the siege of the capital's acropolis, after which she was able to take the city. Her ferocity was aided by the intense emotions of a cross-gender civil war within her family, "the siege having become a matter of anger and personal enmity," according to Strabo.
Hercules was the fiercest, that is, until he ran up against Admete, aka "eTh Untamed," who bested him and made him serve the Goddess Hera, the wife of Zeus who detested Hercules. Hera rewarded Admete for her loyalty and excellence by appointing her head priestess of the island refuge Samos; Admete, in turn honored her Goddess with her evangelical fervor, expanding the territory of Hera's woman cult to the far reaches of the ancient world.
Aëllopus was a Harpy who fought the Argonauts; her name means "Storm-Foot."
Cratesipolis was Quee of Sicyon around 300 B.C. She stood in battle beside her husband, the famous Alexander the Great, and fought on even after he died. She ruled several important Greek cities very successfully and managed a vast army of soldier-mercenaries. She went on to take Corinth for Ptolemy and nearly married him, but the plans fizzled.
Larina was an Italian Amazon who accompanied Camilla in the Aeneid along with fellow comrades-in-arms, Tulia, Acca, and Tarpeia. According to Silver Latinist poet Virgil, "they were like Thracian Amazons when they make the waters of the Thermodon tremble and make war with their ornate arms, either around Hippolyte, or when warlike Penthesilea returns in her chariot and the female armies exult, with a great ringing cry and the clashing of crescent-shaped shield."
Rhodogune, queen of ancient Parthia in 200 B.C., got word of a revolt when she was taking a bath. Vowing to end the uprising before her hair was dressed, she hopped on her horse and rushed to lead her army to defense. True to her word, she directed the entire, lengthy war without ever bathing, or combing her hair. Portraits of Rhodogune always faithfully depict her dishevelment. (Another queen of the ancient world, Semiramis, also pulled herself from the bath to the battlefield act when her country needed a brave leader.)
Of the royal lineage of Cleopatra, Zenobia Septimus preferred the hunt to the bath and boudoir. She was queen of Syria for a quarter-century beginning in 250 A.D. and was quite a scholar, recording the history of her nation. She was famed for her excellence on safari, specializing in the rarified skill of hunting panthers and lions.
When the Romans came after Syria, Zenobia disgraced the empire's army in battle, causing them to turn tail and run. This inspired Arabia, Armencia, and Periso to ally with her and she was named Mistress of Nations. The Romans licked their wounds and enlisted the help of the barbarians they conquered for a Roman army including Goths, Gauls, Vandals, and Franks who threatened to march Zenobia's league of nations. When Caesar Aurelius sent messengers requesting her surrender, she replied, "It is only by arms that the submission you require can be achieved. You forget that Cleopatra preferred death to servitude. When you see me in war, you will repent your insolent proposition." And battle they did. Zenobia fought bravely, holding her city Palmyria against the mass of invaders for longer than anyone thought possible. Upon her capture, Zenobia was taken to Rome in chains, jewels, and her own chariot, and she was given her own villa in Rome where her daughters intermarried into prominent families who ruled Rome.
Boudicca's name means "victorious" in the language of the Celts. She is the legendary warrior-queen of the Iceni of Norfolk who led a rebellion against the invading Romans in the year 61 A.D., and sacked the Roman's settlements, including Verulamium and Londinium, which she put to the torch. She took the lives of 70,000 Romans in her battles and was reputed to be "tall of person, of a comely appearance, and appareled in a loose gown of many colors. About her neck she wore a chain of gold and in her hand she bore a spear. She stood a while surveying her army and, being regarded with a reverential silence, she addressed them an eloquent and impassioned speech." She died in battle, at her own hand, taking poison rather than be killed by an enemy of the Celts. Many women fought to defend their land and culture; the Celtic army consisted of more women than men!
European Battle Axes and Freedom Fighters
The Germanic princess Modthryth referenced in Beowulf was an actual female ruler in 520 A.D., "a good folk queen" with soldierly aspirations. According to folktales handed down in Sweden, any man who looked upon her with desire was challenged to fight her and be felled by her sword!
Lathgertha was also a ruler immortalized in Halfdanar Saga, which tells her story under the name Hladgerd. She rallied to hero Halfdanar's cause, leading twenty ships in battle to save the day. She is also commemorated in a Saxo Grammaticus tale where he supplied more background about what inspired Lathgertha to take up the battle girdle—she and a group of noblewomen were taken for slaves by invading Norwegians who locked them into a prison brothel. The noblewomen refused to suffer this indignation and turned the tables on their captors, taking their weapons and going into battle. Grammaticus describes her as endowed with "a man's temper in a woman's body. With locks flowing loose under her helm, she fought in the forefront of the battle, the most valiant of warriors. Everyone marveled at her matchless feats."
Aethelburg was an ancient British battle-queen of Ine. According to the writings of Damico, she erected a fortress in Taunton in 722 A.D.
One hundred-fifty years after Aethelburg's rule, Aethelflaed took up the sword and swore herself to chastity-belted celibacy after her intensely unpleasant experience of childbirth. She and her husband became friends and fellow warriors. When her husband died in 912 A.D., she kept on fighting to defend her father, Alfred the Great, and his kingdom against invading Danes. She had a brilliant tactical mind, uniting the pre-England kingdoms of Wales and Mercia. She died in battle at Tammoth in the borough of Stratsfordshire and her one child, daughter Aelfwyn, ascended the throne until her jealous, power-hungry uncle managed a coup.
Good King Wenceslas was actually quite mad. His wife, Queen Sophia of Bohemia had to hold by herself the royal stronghold against German's invading emperor Sigismund and a barbarous cyclopean Bohemian named Ziska who fancied he would overtake and rule Bohemia himself. Ziska's Army of Women, was a ragtag bunch of Bohemian reformers and patriots, largely women and children, who took down Sophia's professional soldiers with such original tactics as removing their clothes and tossing them on the battlefield to entangle the legs of the warhorses the Bohemian Royal Army rode.
The Knights Templar are quite well known, but their counterparts, the numerous crusading battle nuns known as the Martial Nuns are not, having been effectively "whited-out" of history—probably by jealous scribe monks! But there were armed nuns who accompanied fighting monks in the Crusades in the 1400s. But even nuns who stayed home were often armed—they had to defend their convents by themselves in the aggressively territorial Dark Ages. For example, when the anti-Christian Espartero invaded Spain in his famous siege, the nuns of Seville fought back and won. One nun who took up the pen and the sword wrote of her crusade to Jerusalem at the time of Saladin's attack on the holy city, "I wore a helmet or at any rate walked on the ramparts wearing on my head a metal dish which did as well as a helmet. Woman though I was I had the appearance of a warrior. I slung stones at the enemy. I concealed my fears. It was hot and there was never a moment's rest. Once a catapulted stone fell near me and I was injured by the fragments."
Careful study of European military history shows a number of women armies, including many women of the cloth. Ultimately, success was too threatening to the men they fought beside and several popes declared such women to be heretics. Joan of Arc, or course, was the most famous. She was burned at the stake in 1431 on the letter of a law that was hundreds of years old that forbade women from wearing armor. At the time, Joan was the national shero of France, having led the battle to free the French from the foreign power of England, at the advice of the voices of saints. Several women were inspired by Joan's example and moved to courage by her murder. The most successful was Joan, the Maid of Sarmaize, who attracted a religious following that supported her in Anjou. She claimed to be the Joan of Arc returned and, like her predecessor, dressed in men's clothing and armor. Several of Joan of Arc's friends and family took her in and accepted her. Her actual identity was never known.
Onorata Rodiani was an ahead-of-her time portrait and mural painter who was busy immortalizing the Tyrant of Cremona in oils when an "importunate nobleman" barged into the sitting. Onorata whipped out her dagger and ended the rude noble's life on the spot, but was forced to go underground as a fugitive. She put down the brush and took up the sword as the captain of a band of mercenaries and died in 1472 in an attempt to defend her birthplace of Castelleone.
In 1745, a Scottish woman named Mary Ralphson fought at Fontenoy right beside her husband. Known as "Trooper Mary," she wasn't deterred by having only five fingers and one thumb, living through war to the grand age of 110.
The Amazon of the Vendeans, Mademoiselle de la Rochefoucalt fought the Republicans when Louis XVI was murdered. She was only a teenager, but was famed for her speeches on the battlefield, "Follow me! Before the end of the day we either sign our victory on earth, or hymns with the saints in heaven."
Excerpted from SHEROES by VARLA VENTURA. Copyright © 1998 CONARI PRESS. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword by Vicki Leon
Introduction: The Shero with Ten Thousand Faces
1. WarriorSheroes: Amazons Among Us
2. EcoSheroes: Saving Mother Earth
3. SportSheroes: Leveling the Playing Field
4. Scholarly and Scientific Sheroes: Breaking New Ground
5. SistahSheroes: Doin' It For Themselves
6. PoliSheroes: Stormin' the Halls of Power
7. Musical Sheroes: Taking Center Stage
8. Pen and Camera-wielding Sheroes: Unchaining the Muses
9. Celluoid Sheroes: Conquering the Cathode Ray and Dominating the Silver